Tag Archive: Financial Crisis

Sep 30 2013

The Looting of American Workers’ Pensions

In his latest expose at Rolling Stone, contributing editor Matt Taibbi reports how Wall Street is making millions in profits looting the pension funds of American workers. He opens the piece with an outline of Rhode Island Treasure Gina Raimondo’s Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 and how state workers ended up funding their own “disenfranchisement”

What few people knew at the time was that Raimondo’s “tool kit” wasn’t just meant for local consumption. The dynamic young Rhodes scholar was allowing her state to be used as a test case for the rest of the country, at the behest of powerful out-of-state financiers with dreams of pushing pension reform down the throats of taxpayers and public workers from coast to coast. One of her key supporters was billionaire former Enron executive John Arnold – a dickishly ubiquitous young right-wing kingmaker with clear designs on becoming the next generation’s Koch brothers, and who for years had been funding a nationwide campaign to slash benefits for public workers.

Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo’s strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion – 14 percent of the state fund – to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb’s Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina’s Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer’s Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 “Urban Innovator” of the year. [..]

Today, the same Wall Street crowd that caused the crash is not merely rolling in money again but aggressively counterattacking on the public-relations front. The battle increasingly centers around public funds like state and municipal pensions. This war isn’t just about money. Crucially, in ways invisible to most Americans, it’s also about blame. In state after state, politicians are following the Rhode Island playbook, using scare tactics and lavishly funded PR campaigns to cast teachers, firefighters and cops – not bankers – as the budget-devouring boogeymen responsible for the mounting fiscal problems of America’s states and cities.

Not only did these middle-class workers already lose huge chunks of retirement money to huckster financiers in the crash, and not only are they now being asked to take the long-term hit for those years of greed and speculative excess, but in many cases they’re also being forced to sit by and watch helplessly as Gordon Gekko wanna-be’s like Loeb or scorched-earth takeover artists like Bain Capital are put in charge of their retirement savings.

In a preview of the article, Matt outlines three reasons to follow this scandal:

1)     Many states and cities have been under-paying or non-paying their required contributions into public pension funds for years, causing massive shortfalls that are seldom reported upon by local outlets.

2)     As a solution to the fiscal crises, unions and voters are being told that a key solution is seeking higher yields or more diversity through “alternative investments,” whose high fees cost nearly as much as the cuts being demanded of workers, making this a pretty straightforward wealth transfer. A series of other middlemen are also in on this game, siphoning off millions in fees from states that are publicly claiming to be broke.

3)     Many of the “alternative investments” these funds end up putting their money in are hedge funds or PE funds run by men and women who have lobbied politically against traditional union pension plans in the past, meaning union members have been giving away millions of their own retirement money essentially to fund political movements against them.

(all emphasis is mine)

Last week, Matt joined Amy Goodman and Juan González on Democracy Now! to discuss how hedge funds are looting the pension funds of American workers



Transcript can be read here

“Essentially it is a wealth transfer from teachers, cops and firemen to billionaire hedge funders,” Taibbi says. “Pension funds are one of the last great, unguarded piles of money in this country and there are going to be all sort of operators that are trying to get their hands on that money.”

Sep 20 2013

What We Really Should be Yellin About When it Comes to Who Runs the Fed

Effective regulation, and on that note, it is a positive thing that the Summers of our discontent can finally be laid to rest. After all the damage Larry Summers has caused in being one of the architects of this crisis, from boxing in Brooksley Born and ignoring her warnings with regard to derivatives which brought down Long Term Capital Management during the Clinton administration, to his sexism among everything else. He has now thankfully taken himself out consideration for the job.

It’s a good thing he did. Rather than fighting for something or someone that helps people suffering from this economic crisis, President Obama strongly recommended and fought for Larry Summers to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a guy who lost a billion dollars as President of Harvard betting on interest rates. Yeah, let that sink in for awhile.

It’s really not OK. This is why making excuses for everything the President does, as too many Democrats do without thinking of the damage, is dangerous, immoral, and unprincipled. Now it looks like the front runner to replace Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve is going to be Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and once President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Janet Yellin. Unlike Larry Summers, she at least saw the crisis coming as early as 2005.

Jun 21 2013

The Financial Crisis: The Ratings Agency Did It In The Back Room

Earlier this year, the Justice Department brought a $5 billion fraud law suit against the ratings agency Standard and Poors for knowingly giving triple “A” ratings to financial products the agency’s analysts understood to be unworthy. The financial crisis that began in 2007 was mostly caused by those fraudulent ratings. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Roger Wicker (R-MI) worked together on an amendment that was included in  Dodd-Frank (pdf) to bring accountability and transparency to the ratings process. The amendment also required that the Securities and Exchange Commission conduct a study, that study has been completed (pdf). It found that there were “inherent” conflicts of interest in the system contributed to the 2008 crisis.

Contributing editor and investigative journalist for Rolling Stone Matt Taibbi published an in depth look at the ratings agencies and how ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s helped trigger the meltdown with new documents. The documents surfaced from two lawsuits that files against S&P by  a diverse group of institutional plaintiffs with King County, Washington, and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank. The plaintiffs claimed that S&P, along with Morgan Stanley, fraudulently induced them to heavily invest in a pair of doomed-to-implode subprime-laden deals. Matt calls these new revelations the “Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis:

What about the ratings agencies?

That’s what “they” always say about the financial crisis and the teeming rat’s nest of corruption it left behind. Everybody else got plenty of blame: the greed-fattened banks, the sleeping regulators, the unscrupulous mortgage hucksters like spray-tanned Countrywide ex-CEO Angelo Mozilo.

But what about the ratings agencies? Isn’t it true that almost none of the fraud that’s swallowed Wall Street in the past decade could have taken place without companies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s rubber-stamping it? Aren’t they guilty, too?

Man, are they ever. And a lot more than even the least generous of us suspected.

Thanks to a mountain of evidence gathered for a pair of major lawsuits, documents that for the most part have never been seen by the general public, we now know that the nation’s two top ratings companies, Moody’s and S&P, have for many years been shameless tools for the banks, willing to give just about anything a high rating in exchange for cash.

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

Matt joined MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes to discuss how these newly-revealed documents are “the smoking gun of the financial crisis” revealing the corruption and dishonesty at the core the industry.

Jan 26 2013

ROTFLMAO: Tax the Banks to Punish Obama

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

Dave Camp Bank Tax Bill Would Punish Obama-Friendly CEOs

by Zach Carter and Ryan Grim, The Huffington Poat

WASHINGTON — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) is considering legislation that would significantly increase taxes for the nation’s largest banks while providing tax breaks to struggling homeowners. [..]

The bill would significantly strengthen the Volcker Rule, which bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer money. The Volcker Rule’s implementation has been delayed as bank lobbyists have flooded regulatory agencies in Washington, pillorying the ban with loopholes. Hefty tax burdens for proprietary trading would reduce bank incentives to engage in the risky activity.

Camp’s legislation also would permanently establish a homeowner aid plan advocated by former Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who retired this month. When banks grant homeowners mortgage relief, the IRS considers the debt-reduction taxable income. As a result, struggling homeowners can face an unmanageable tax burden. A $50,000 debt reduction can spark an $18,000 tax bill — money that borrowers struggling to avoid foreclosure simply do not have. Miller successfully lobbied to include a one-year fix on the tax policy in the fiscal cliff deal. Camp’s legislation would permanently end the tax policy.

Steve Benen at The Maddow Blog aptly notes that “hell hath no fury like a House Ways and Means committee chairman scorned” but points out Camp’s “big deal” won’t impress the bank lobby:

Camp sent an angry letter to the Business Roundtable a month ago, and now Republicans are saying if there must be new revenue, it should be “on their backs.”

How big a deal is Camp’s bill? I think it’s safe to say the bank lobby won’t be impressed.

   Camp’s new bill would harvest government revenues from complex financial transactions involving derivatives, some of which figured prominently in the 2008 banking collapse. Although the 2010 financial reform legislation would curb some excesses in the derivatives market, the legislation isn’t yet fully implemented, and leaves much of the market unregulated. Financial reform advocates have urged new taxes on derivatives to deter excessive risk-taking by big banks. […]

   Camp’s bill would establish a new tax regime for derivatives, requiring banks to declare the fair market value of the products at the end of each year. Any increase in value would be considered corporate income, subject to taxation. It’s a more aggressive tax treatment than Wall Street enjoys for either derivatives or for trading in more traditional securities. […]

   The bill would significantly strengthen the Volcker Rule, which bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer money. The Volcker Rule’s implementation has been delayed as bank lobbyists have flooded regulatory agencies in Washington, pillorying the ban with loopholes. Hefty tax burdens for proprietary trading would reduce bank incentives to engage in the risky activity.

How serious is Camp about this? It’s hard to say at this point, though I suspect it’s mostly about posturing and political chest-thumping. Camp wants to send a message that he’s displeased and see this as a vehicle. Even if the committee chair got serious about this, I imagine other Republicans would intervene to stop its progress.

Benen thinks that in the aftermath of Pres. Obama’s reelection the business community see him as “a leader who is going nowhere” but “is reaching out to them.” At the same time they view the Republicans as untrustworthy and increasingly reckless.

But seriously, folks, the Republicans are threatening to tax the banks and help stressed homeowners as a “payback” for supporting Pres. Obama. Oh, please, let them.

ROTFLMAO

Nov 01 2012

Peter Coyote’s Failed Status Quo Exercise in Condescension

Cross posted at Voices on the Square

To start things off, I recommend first reading Cassiodorus's piece The case against the case for Obama even though I started mine about the same time he did. It's definitely quite worthy of checking out before mine because it has many apt points to it. My views are slightly in a different vein as I’m more of a mix of Jim Hightower and L. Randall Wray as one of my friends used to say so read his piece before reading my take.

Well I guess we knew it was coming. Matt Stoller's superb piece The progressive case against Obama was bound to exercise a reaction from the veal pen or hacktivist pen appealing to their own authority first hand to make sure you all know how serious their decisions to sell out are. The end justifies the means and in Peter Coyote’s case it is a failed exercise in condescension right off the bat. He claims he is making…

"The Progressive case for Obama"

So right off the bat we get an exercise in condescension—Peter Coyote is older than Matt Stoller so therefore his time working for CA Governor Jerry Brown must be more relevant than Matt Stoller’s past work including his tenure working for Congressman Alan Grayson. Psychologically one might think, as I do reading this piece, that Peter Coyote's arguments do not come from a position of strength behind them. Whether he realizes it or not, it lets you know how unserious Peter Coyote perhaps thinks of his own arguments right off the bat. After all, he must provide authority for them but not from historical facts of course, from his own resume.

Aug 23 2012

When the Next Crash Comes Remember Which Side You Were On and Learn

Cross posted at our new beta site Voices on the Square and The Stars Hollow Gazette

Yes, another crash is coming. I can’t predict precisely when as that would be a fool’s errand, but much closer than you think. It will probably be after our President is reelected and will care very little what you or I think once he and his treasury push for criminal TBTF banks to bailed out once again. Doctor Doom: the nickname for economist Nouriel Roubini: one of the relatively few outside the mainstream(part of the Got It Right (pdf) project) who predicted the last crash thinks 2013 is a perfect storm for another one which will be even worse and it makes sense.

Despite on theoretical fiscal policy limits with regard to the US, Roubini is absolutely right on the political deadlock with the coming crisis. We wasted our last crisis and that’s something Conservatives have not done whether we’re talking about the stagflation crisis of the 70s or 9/11. There won’t be as many political options this time to prop up the underlying economy in 2013 because Democrats have failed to change the Senate rules because most of them secretly like the way things work or don’t work in Washington. Sadly, if Republicans take over both houses again, they will change the Senate rules as they threatening to do in 2005 and 2006.

Anyway some might still want to scoff at Roubini’s prediction, but that will come back to bite them in the ass. Not even Roubini can predict the exact moment it will happen, but if one knows anything about the history of financial crashes, since the 80s when the 1933 banking reforms passed by FDR started slowly being dismantled, they started happening once again in a 5-7 year time-frame(and even closer than that if you count global stock crashes which count now more than ever since our markets turned dark with OTC derivatives and Information Asymmetry all around); some worse than others as the 2008 bust was on par with 1929 but you get the idea.

Jun 02 2011

Goldman Sachs Gets Subpoenas From NYC DA

Leave it to the District Attorney of Manhattan to do what the Obama DOJ failed to do, investigate properly the fraud that led to the economic crisis.

Goldman Receives Subpoena Over Financial Crisis

By Andrew Ross Sorkin and Susanne Craig

Goldman Sachs has received a subpoena from the office of the Manhattan district attorney, which is investigating the investment bank’s role in the financial crisis, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The inquiry stems from a 650-page Senate report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that indicated Goldman had misled clients and Congress about its practices related to mortgage-linked securities.

Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, who headed up the Congressional inquiry, had sent his findings to the Justice Department to figure out whether executives broke the law. The agency said it was reviewing the report.

The subpoena come two weeks after lawyers for Goldman Sachs met with the attorney general of New York’s office for an “exploratory” meeting about the Senate report, the people said.

From Talking Points Memo:

Manhattan DA Subpoenas Goldman Sachs Over Financial Crisis

The subpoena is apparently based on information contained in a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report on Wall Street’s role in the housing market collapse. The report was critical of Goldman Sachs, and accused the bank of misleading buyers of mortgage-linked investments.