Elizabeth Warren is off to a running start in her new leadership role with the Senate Democratic caucus. She called out Walmart for its terrible labor practices. She wrote an op-ed this week warning the president against appointing Wall Street insiders to the Federal Reserve. And Tuesday morning, she called on financial institutions to prove that they can protect customer data from cybercriminals.
Over the past year, cyber attackers have stolen roughly 500 million records from financial institutions, according to federal law enforcement officials. In a joint letter also signed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Warren asked 16 firms—including Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—for detailed information about cyberattacks they experienced over the past year and how they plan to prevent future breaches.
"The increasing number of cyberattacks and data breaches is unprecedented and poses a clear and present danger to our nation’s economic security," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Each successive cyberattack and data breach not only results in hefty costs and liabilities for businesses, but exposes consumers to identity theft and other fraud, as well as a host of other cyber-crimes."
Warren and Cummings requested the firms provide information on the number of customers that may have been affected by breaches, data security measures the companies have taken in response, the value of the fraudulent transactions connected with the cyber attacks, and who is suspected to have carried them out. The letters also request that IT security officers at each firm brief the lawmakers on how they are protecting their data from cybervillains.
The lawmakers hope to use the information the firms provide to inform new federal cybersecurity legislation. Current cybersecurity law is unclear about when companies are required to notify the government about a data hack. Warren has previously called on Congress to give the Federal Trade Commission more power to regulate data breaches.
The American financial sector is one of the most targeted in the world, according to the FBI and Secret Service officials. The hackers who stole data from JPMorgan Chase earlier this year—compromising information from 76 million households—also targeted 13 other financial institutions, Bloombergreported last month.
As early as this week, President Barack Obama is expected to announce an executive order that would give some 5 million undocumented immigrants a respite from deportation. Part of the order, according to early reports, will involve reforms to Secure Communities, a program that requires police to share arrestees' fingerprints with federal immigration officials, who can turn around and use the information to deport suspects who are here illegally. Change would a good thing, here, because while the program—which began in 2008 under President George W. Bush and was expanded under Obama—has deported some serious criminals, it has screwed over a lot of other people. From the start, immigrant rights organizations slammed "S-Comm" as a costly, ineffective program that tramples on people's civil liberties. Even Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson has suggested that it may need an overhaul. Here's a rundown of what the program does—and why so many people hate it.
S-Comm sweeps up serious criminals… When local police book someone, that person's fingerprints are transmitted to the FBI to determine whether the arrestee is a fugitive or a former convict. Under Secure Communities, those prints go to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which checks to see whether the suspect is undocumented. If so, it orders the local cops to detain him or her for potential deportation. More than 3,000 American counties now participate. Of the more than 2 million immigrants deported on Obama's watch, more than 306,000 came to the feds' attention through Secure Communities, which has led to the deportation of more than 288,000 convicted criminals.
And immigrants just trying to live and work… Local police share fingerprints with ICE when a suspect is arrested—not convicted. Which means that even though the purported aim is to deport criminals, people who are never charged or convicted often get the boot. "Federal officials have held people whose worst alleged violation was selling tamales without a permit or having a barking dog," California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said last year. "Even crime victims have been deported." More from Elise Foley of the Huffington Post:
The program has ensnared parents driving without a license because they need to work and can't get authorization to drive in their state. It has caught young people arrested for small levels of drug possession. Many of those caught are people who have previously been deported but came back to the US to work or be with their families—immigrants who could be aided by a policy that put less emphasis on deporting repeat immigration law violators.
Of the people deported through S-Comm between 2008 and 2013, 21 percent were never convicted of a crime.
And American citizens… According to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, thousands of United States citizens have been swept up by S-Comm—something the study's authors hadn't anticipated. "What we're finding is that ICE is arresting and then investigating," one of the authors informed a reporter. If you're brown, you'd better watch your back. The same study found that 93 percent of the arrestees ordered to be detained by ICE were Latino, even though Latinos make up about 77 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States. "There is a concern that police officers working in areas that have Secure Communities in their local jails may have an incentive…to make pretextual arrests of persons they suspect to be in violation of immigration laws," notes the Immigration Policy Center. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have urged the White House to scrap the program entirely.
But it doesn't reduce crime: The program has had "no observable effect on the overall crime rate," according to a study released in early September.
In fact, it may actually make your community less safe… Research has shown that undocumented immigrants living in counties that participate in Secure Communities are afraid to report crimes or come forward as witnesses for fear of deportation.
And it's costing you money: The program requires local authorities to hold arrestees longer than they otherwise would, meaning a higher bill for taxpayers. For example, Secure Communities cost Los Angeles County law enforcement an extra $26 million per year, according to a 2012 report. Washington state's King County determined that it cost county taxpayers $3 million annually.
By the way, S-Comm was supposed to be optional: The Department of Homeland Security—ICE's parent agency—originally touted S-Comm as voluntary—states and localities could opt out. But in late 2010, after numerous jurisdictions chose to do just that, ICE made it clear that was virtually impossible. Because the FBI already gets the fingerprints for arrestees, ICE can access them regardless. In 2011, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) demanded an investigation into whether DHS intentionally misled the public. "I believe some of these false and misleading statements…were made recklessly, knowing that the statements were ambiguous and likely to create confusion," she wrote in a letter to DHS. Some localities have devised other ways to limit their cooperation with ICE. A total of 59 jurisdictions have said they will no longer comply with ICE requests to hold detainees so that the feds can come pick them up. Two states—California and Connecticut—have enacted measures prohibiting law enforcement from honoring ICE requests to hold immigrants unless those people have committed serious crimes.
So how might the administration fix this thing? We won't know the details until Obama makes his executive order, but Vox's Dara Lind reported in May that one option being considered was to limit the program to so-called Level 1 criminals—those who have committed one "aggravated felony" or two felonies. However, Lind notes, "independent data shows that immigrants can be labeled Level 1 criminals for everything from disturbing the peace to cashing a check with insufficient funds." In any case, such a change could mean 20,000 to 50,000 fewer deportations per year.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has it out for Walmart. On Tuesday, the freshman senator will hold an event on Capitol Hill calling out the retail giant for its low wages and terrible employment practices. The briefing will be held a week ahead of the nationwide anti-Walmart protests planned for Black Friday.
Walmart has retaliated against employees who have protested these low wages. In January, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company illegally fired, threatened, or disciplined more than 60 workers in 14 states for publicly complaining about wages and working conditions.
OUR Walmart is planning on holding a wave of protests at 1,600 Walmart stores the day after Thanksgiving to call for a $15 minimum wage and more opportunities for full-time hours. Last year, the group held demonstrations at more than 1,200 stores.
"The Walmart economy—a business model where a few profit significantly on the backs of the working poor and a diminishing middle class—perpetuates the income inequality problems that are devastating our country," OUR Walmart and the United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement Monday.
As early as next week, President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order that would allow as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country without facing deportation. Not unexpectedly, Republicans are outraged, and some have hinted that the only way to stop the plan is impeachment. Here are seven conservative politicians and pundits who have preemptively dropped the I-word in response to Obama's rumored immigration policy:
Sarah Palin: "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa): "We know there is the 'I' word in the Constitution that none of us want to say or act on… In this context, everything is on the table. We cannot have a president of the United States that believes that he can make up the law as he goes."
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.): "[Obama] either enforces the laws on the books—as he was hired and elected to do—or he leaves Congress no option… This is not our choice, this is the president's choice and I would advise him to uphold the law on the books."
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas): "Well, impeachment is indicting in the House and that's a possibility. But you still have to convict in the Senate and that takes a two-thirds vote. But impeachment would be a consideration, yes sir."
Fox News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano: "If [Obama] tells Homeland Security and Border Patrol, 'Look the other way when illegals come in,' that is violating his oath because it's a failure to enforce the law… so if the practical effect of his executive order is the opposite of what the law requires, I hate to say this—Republicans don't want to do it, and I understand why—he's a candidate for impeachment."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.): "We've got three years to get this guy out… Hopefully he—well, let me put it this way, I think he probably has been engaged in these unconstitutional approaches that may make his own ability to stay in office a question."
Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "For all I know, Obama is preparing to process five million illegal immigrant kids and teenagers into the United States… He wants us to impeach him now, before the midterm election because his senior advisers believe that is the only chance the Democratic Party has to avoid a major electoral defeat. Evidently Obama believes impeachment could motivate the Democratic Party base to come out and vote."
Bonus: Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) says she would also move to impeach Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Jonson:"I would nominate [impeaching] the head of Homeland Security who will execute the laws on the border."
On Wednesday, six massive international banks agreed to pay $4.3 billion to settle allegations from regulators in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland that their traders tried to manipulate the $5.3-trillion-a-day foreign-currency exchange market. But Wall Street watchdogs say the banks got off with a slap on the wrist.
From 2008 through 2013, traders at JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, and UBS colluded to coordinate the buying and selling of 10 major currencies to manipulate prices in their favor. The penalties—announced Wednesday by an alphabet soup of American and foreign regulatory agencies—mark the end of the first phase of investigations into the banks that could lead to further fines. They "should be seen as a message to all market participants that wrongdoing and foul play in the financial markets is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," Tim Massad, the chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), said in a statement.
"It's corrupt, as usual," says one House staffer. Regulators should "send crooks to jail."
But critics say the banks, which were not forced to admit wrongdoing, deserved a much harsher punishment. "The global too-big-to-fail banks are again allowed to evade responsibility and accountability by using shareholders' money to pay big fines, which will generate headlines but do little if anything to stop the relentless Wall Street crime spree," Dennis Kelleher, the president of Better Markets, a financial reform advocacy shop, responded in a statement.
David Weidner, who covers Wall Street for MarketWatch, agrees. The settlements "appear to be just another cost-of-doing-business budget line for the banks," he wrote.
What's more, financial reformers say, none of the employees involved in the rate-fixing will face criminal charges. "It's corrupt, as usual," says one House staffer. Regulators should "send crooks to jail."
As part of the deal, the CFTC and Britain's Financial Conduct Authority called on the banks to strengthen their internal monitoring of foreign exchange trading activity. But "while the banks did agree to take certain steps to better supervise their traders, that is laughably inadequate" to prevent future wrongdoing, Kelleher says.
The Justice Department and New York's Department of Financial Services have been pursuing separate criminal investigations into the alleged rate manipulation. Those probes could result in criminal charges, although "if history is any indication," Weidner says, the people charged won't be high-level executives. To date, only one top banker who helped cause the financial crisis went to jail because of it. This time, he adds, they will likely "single out low-ranking traders who pushed the buttons."