« March 17, 2013 - March 23, 2013 | Main | March 31, 2013 - April 6, 2013 »

March 30, 2013

goldman sachs, running for president

God, I thought this was an Onion article when I saw it linked up, but no, unless Bloomberg grew a sense of humor, it is not.  Here, have a paragraph:
Goldman Sachs said in a letter to the SEC that it "currently has no involvement, never has had any involvement, and has no plans to become involved in the business of running for political office."

Wait, what?  They must mean something other than, you know, Goldman Sachs itself running for political office?

"It would be less damaging to the integrity of our political system and our company, for our corporation to directly run for office as a person under federal or state law, than to continue in the current form of political participation," [shareholder Richard] Harrington wrote in the proposal.

Harrington was thinking that since Goldman pays so much in lobbying, it would be more effective just to run for office, since the Supreme Court decided that corporations were people and all.

The punchline: he's really not kidding.

"You begin to see a pattern of how much influence corporations have on our political balance, and now it's so skewed that you figure, 'Why don't we have Goldman run for president and JPMorgan Chase run for vice president.' And that way, they can run the system for real."

That is obviously some scary scary shit.  But maybe it's good that this vileness is creeping out into the open, where we may combat it openly.  Such as, let Goldman deny that they're actually trying to influence policy to enrich themselves now.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:01 PM

March 29, 2013

baseball players for the awl

Over at The Awl there is a new thing that I wrote for them, another installment of the Adjusted For Inflation series — it's called How Much More Do Baseball Players Make Today? but it's about so much more than that!

Well, not so much more than that, if you're a person like me, who has a hard time thinking about baseball without also thinking about antitrust history, and historical labor relations.  For example, didja know that Major League Baseball's "antitrust exemption" isn't really that explicit at all?  In fact, in a number of decisions, the courts have suggested that Baseball might want to convince Congress to make it explicit as an act of law, but Baseball was never able to convince Congress to do so.

But if you're not like me, and you think of baseball as a John Fogerty song, then that's the kind of information you'll find in there.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 AM

March 28, 2013

michigan gop devoted to tricking the gays into thinking the gop is swell

Urm, so a Michigan Republican posted a link to an anti-gay article on his Facebook page, filled with your standard-issue repugnant "gays are filthy and disease-ridden" nonsense.  (It's why we have Facebook!)  Someone notices, a stink is raised, and now a group of Republicans are calling for his resignation from the RNC.

Aw, cute, right?  Not so much.  Here's a portion of the statement of those that are calling for resignation:

"This isn't about what we believe either politically or as women and men of faith. This is about common decency and realizing that you cannot win an election by insulting a wide swath of the electorate, whose votes our Republican Party needs to once again form a national majority."

So, that first sentence there, that would be the one in which they explicitly state that they may well agree with the bit of repugnance the transgressor had posts.

And the second, well, it cites two reasons that the GOP should not be posting repugnance.  "Common decency," that's one that we can all agree on, maybe even laud.  And the second, the realization "that you cannot win an election by insulting a wide swath of the electorate," that one's honest, at least, but also repugnance in the same way.

What the group of Republicans is saying is that no one should share the repugnant thoughts that they rightly have and are moral truth because of the expedience of swindling voters.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:50 PM

pension funds get tired of being dumb money

This is perhaps a little bit dull but very very important.  Kevin Roose of the Daily Intelligencer reports:
Pensions & Investments ran a story yesterday about how the California Public Employees' Retirement System is considering moving to an all-passive portfolio. You probably didn't read it, because stories about pensions are boring.

But this story only looked boring. In fact, it was probably the most important Wall Street development you'll read this week. It's an undeniably good sign for people who care about the retirement funds of teachers, firefighters, and other public-sector employees. And it should strike terror into the heart of every hedge-fund manager and private-equity executive in midtown.

All of the financial services sectors — the above-mentioned hedges and PE funds, plus banking, investment, insurance, VC, etc — they all need money, like a poker game needs players, and they need a lot of it.  Retirement funds, especially municipal employee retirement/pension funds, the beneficiaries of strong contracts over the years, have lots of money.  And for the last generation or so, their portfolios have been "active," which means that they are aggressively managed by investment advisers (who are paid lots of money) to try and beat the return that a passive portfolio, one invested in an index fund, say, would bring.

The lots of money that the managers are paid is something like two percent of the entire portfolio plus twenty percent of the profits, which is actually a lot of money.  But the active portfolio managers have not been outperforming the Dow Industrial, so the pension funds are getting leery.

This means less money for the active managers to play with (which is I guess bad for them, but who cares about them anyway), but it also means more stability for the pension funds.  Remember back in 2007, when all these obscure financial instruments blew up and investors, usually in over their heads, lost their shirts?  That would be pension funds back then.

Basically, one of the more aggressive sectors of the financial industries is losing their day-long sucker.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:13 AM

March 27, 2013

nypd and investigatorial misconduct

This did not get nearly enough digital ink yesterday.

Backstory: last week the NYT ran an incredible and moving feature on David Ranta, a man who was in his twenty-third year behind bars, for the alleged killing of a rabbi in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during a botched jewel heist.  Guess what?  Lanta didn't do it.  He walked out of prison last Thursday a free man.

Yesterday, the columnist Michael Powell noted that one of the primary reasons Lanta was wrongly convicted was because of the conduct of Det. Louis Scarcella, and also dug up a case of Det. Scarcella, acting as an independent investigator in a school test score-fixing case, coming to a scathing conclusion that ruined the career of an assistant principal (and was later overturned, much like the Ranta verdict.

In Ranta's case, Scarcella is alleged to have generally acted like the cowboy investigator of a television show — acting on gut instinct, not taking notes, coaching witnesses — and in the school case, much the same behavior, but also with the harassment and intimidation of witnesses.

Powell asks why there is not a mechanism in the structure of the NYC legal system to oversee investigators like Scarcella.  I'll go one further: why is Scarcella (who may have had every good intention in the world) not facing closer scrutiny?

By the way, Friday night, the day after Lanta was released, he suffered a massive heart attack.  He's recovering.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:34 AM

March 24, 2013

floyd norris on gibberish

You can do no worse to start your week off by going back to read Floyd Norris' NYT column from Friday concerning the report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concerning JPMorgan Chase's so-called "London Whale," language, and how it is wielded:
[Bruno Iksil, the trader responsible] proposed to "sell the forward spread and buy protection on the tightening move," "use indices and add to existing position," "go long risk on some belly tranches especially where defaults may realize" and "buy protection on HY and Xover in rallies and turn the position over to monetize volatility."

That presentation was made to a JPMorgan group called the International Senior Management Group of the Chief Investment Office, which seems to have approved it.

If the proposal does not make sense to you, don't despair. It is largely gibberish.

Norris is quite dismissive of the players involved, including Jamie Dimon and Ina Drew, for abdicating their fiduciary responsibility and then claiming diligent oversight.

Me, I'm fascinated how jargon can be so deftly manipulated by those at the bottom of the org chart to intimidate those at the top

Posted by mrbrent at 12:00 PM