New York’s Fracking Investments
By Rob Galbraith • Aug 22, 2012 at 11:01 EST
A recent Buffalo News article about New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s shareholder activism through the state’s pension fund mentions his interactions with the natural gas industry. According to the Buffalo News, DiNapoli “has been pressing natural gas companies involved in hydrofracturing to provide him with risks of their drilling practices, the kinds of chemicals used and to take into account community opposition to drilling plans.” DiNapoli told the News he would continue this activism “regardless of what may still come to pass” as Cuomo poises himself to lift the fracking moratorium.
While the State’s considerable investment in fracking companies puts the comptroller in a good position to “pull corporate strings” with these companies, these investments amount to New York State’s use of public pension money to bankroll the risky and unpopular practice. Fracking, which in its high-volume and horizontal form is under a moratorium in New York, presents a significant risk to air and water, and has been questioned as a speculative bubble by insiders and energy analysts. Further, as pointed out in the New York Times, the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C., which guaranteed corporations’ right to make electoral expenditures with campaign treasuries (substantially financed by New York’s and other public pension funds), raises the concern that public employees are being forced to fund pro-fracking lobbying via mandatory contributions to the Common Retirement Fund deducted from their paychecks.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of President Clinton’s signing of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA). At passage, the bill was said to establish “legal certainty” for derivatives. In other words, the bill assured bankers that they wouldn’t face any legal consequences in the United States when they manipulated, defrauded, and colluded their way to billions in profits using financial derivatives that no one understood.
The CFMA led to serious consequences for the rest of us, including the exacerbation of the housing bubble and the subsequent bank bailouts and foreclosure crisis; the California electricity crisis; periodic food and energy price spikes that have hit consumer pocketbooks hard; and, of course, the continued reign of an unaccountable shadow banking sector over the economy.
Tom Carper has proposed an amendment to the financial reform bill that would severely weaken consumer protections to the point where it is understood to be one of the more destructive changes to the bill. Yesterday, Zach Carter wrote an excellent piece analyzing its potential consequences for financial reform:
There are two consumer protection amendments getting serious attention on the Senate floor this week, one of them positive, one of them incredibly destructive. Both revolve around the concept of “preemption”—the ability of federal regulators to block states from enforcing laws aginst banks that operate within their borders. Over the past decade, state regulators tried to crack down on subprime outrages, but federal regulators stepped in to protect the megabanks. If we want to establish a fair financial system, we have to empower states to take action against abusive banks.
That’s what makes a new amendment from Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., so dangerous.
At OpenLeft, Chris Bowers has called the amendment “the most dangerous to Wall Street reform.”
Shining a Light on the Shadow Bank Lobby
By Kevin Connor • May 12, 2010 at 15:34 EST
In 2008, economist Nouriel Roubini popularized the term “shadow banking system” to describe the non-bank financial institutions that eventually helped spur the collapse of the financial system: highly-leveraged hedge funds, investment banks, and the like. This shadow system fueled Wall Street profits for years before eventually necessitating massive bailouts of the financial sector.
These days, a “shadow bank lobby,” has played a prominent role in shaping the financial reform process, pushing amendments that will weaken consumer protections, water down regulation of the Wall Street casino, and increase the likelihood of continuing fraud and future bailouts. I discuss this “shadow bank lobby” in Big Bank Takeover, the report on the big banks’ army of lobbyists released yesterday by the Campaign for America’s Future.
McCaskill’s Donor at the Fed
By Kevin Connor • May 05, 2010 at 12:40 EST
Claire McCaskill has suggested that she will oppose the Fed audit admendment. This represents a flip-flop, as the Senator from Missouri voted for the Fed audit back in April.
One possible explanation for the shift: one of McCaskill’s top donors is Steven H Lipstein, chair of the St Louis Federal Reserve. Lipstein has given McCaskill and her committees $16,000 since she first ran for the Senate in 2006, including $11,200 for that campaign, the sort of outrageous sum that illustrates the complete meaninglessness of campaign finance limits. In February 2010, he gave her $4800, maxing out to both her primary and general accounts. His wife, Susan Lipstein, donated $2100 to McCaskill during her 2006 campaign.
The Goldman fraud suit continues to dominate the media cycle. After the initial shock of the US government actually doing something to hold Wall Street accountable, the business press — led by Goldman Sachs and their lawyers at Sullivan and Cromwell — has turned to questions about the merits of the suit. Today, the New York Times gave A1 real estate to a piece headlined “A Difficult Path In Goldman Case.”
The article opens by saying that the SEC is “pursuing an unusual claim that could be difficult to prove in court” according to legal experts. But the article only quotes one legal expert clearly criticizing the substance of the case: Allen Ferrell, a professor at Harvard Law School. According to his CV, Ferrell has been engaged as an “expert for large financial institution involving subprime-related litigation (details confidential).”
This is clearly a potential conflict, but the entire article appears to be based around Ferrell’s lone, critical quote. This is irresponsible journalism, especially considering the landmark significance of the Goldman suit. So I wrote the following letter to the Times ombudsman to alert him to the conflict and request a proper correction/disclosure:
LittleSis is expanding its investigation into the networks of money and influence behind efforts to gut Social Security. Join the Social Security Looters research group if you want to get involved.
The most generous bank bailout in history has amplified Wall Street’s considerable political influence, and the economic implications of this democratic calamity go well beyond bloated bonuses. Over the past year, the financial propaganda machine has set its sights on Social Security, launching a massive assault on one of the nation’s most important economic programs. But rather than push back against the flawed economic assumptions of the nation’s financial elite, President Barack Obama appears to be advancing their arguments, and is now poised to repeat George W. Bush’s politically perilous efforts to gut Social Security.
A decade of wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, and the fallout from Wall Street’s housing bubble have almost tripled U.S. public debt since 2001, from $5 trillion to $14 trillion. Big, scary numbers like this, along with carefully timed downgrade warnings from Wall Street’s obedient rating agencies and continuing worries about the financial collapse of Greece, Portugal and other nations have changed the political climate in Washington, breathing new life into decades-old schemes to slash Social Security and Medicare entitlements.
September 11, 1989
By Matthew Skomarovsky • Mar 16, 2010 at 19:50 EST
It wasn’t my intention, launching LittleSis with Kevin in January 2009, to be so consistently absent from our blog. Early on we made the decision to divide up our growing organizational responsibilities, with Kevin taking on research, writing, and outreach — the activity that keeps LittleSis fresh — while I focused on adding to our website’s features and fixing bugs. Division of labor is a notoriously double-edged sword, and while it’s arguably helped our productivity it’s made it hard for me to write anything but PHP and SQL. Now that our urgent web development needs have dwindled, I’m feeling ready for a return the mean streets of sentences and paragraphs.
Today politics nerds have been scrambling to outdo each other digging up old archival videos now available on C-SPAN’s new Video Library. Naturally I went fishing for a juicy Larry Summers clip, and quickly found one from September 11, 1989 called The Politics of Message: Economics, part of a conference of Democratic Party leaders. The purpose of this event, as far as I can tell, was to gather key corporate Democrats — including Summers, Robert Rubin, Roger Altman, and Laura Tyson — to present economic talking points for the re-branded business-friendly party that Clinton brought back to power three years later, landing Summers, Rubin, Altman, and Tyson with top-level positions in the administration, where they put their theories to practice. Their collective influence in economic policy remains huge in the Obama administration. (Not that they don’t have some conflicting views or interests.)
When Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) announced last January that he would not seek reelection, some media outlets declared that Dodd’s retirement would actually increase the chances that robust financial regulatory reform would be enacted (for example, see articles by The Washington Post and BusinessWeek). Such analyses demonstrate a near total ignorance of the processes of lobbying and campaign financing that dominate Congress. In reality, Dodd’s announcement likely signaled that the aggressive reform of the finance industry widely called for at the height of the crisis will not become law; at least not while Dodd remains Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
The notion that the decision to retire “freed” Dodd from political pressure, allowing him to concentrate on drafting legislation that would become his legacy, greatly underestimates the strength of the ties between Wall Street and Senators like Dodd. During his many years in the Senate, Dodd cultivated his ties to Wall Street and the industry’s K Street lobbyists to the extent that he essentially has two constituencies: the citizens of Connecticut, and the finance industry. Having freed himself from accountability to the former, he can now focus on serving the latter.
In remarks before a UK parliamentary committee yesterday, Goldman Sachs executive Gerald Corrigan addressed the controversy surrounding the swap deals that his bank arranged on behalf of Greece, saying “standards of transparency could have been and probably should have been higher.”
On the heels of this transparency speech, however, Goldman Sachs has made it quite clear that it will continue to exploit regulatory loopholes to keep the public in the dark about what, exactly, it is doing in the Greek debt markets and elsewhere.