October 2013 archive

The Looting of American Workers’ Pensions

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

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.”

2013 Senior League Wild Card Sudden Death: Reds @ Pirates

Argh Mateys.  This be Cap’n Hank Bloodbeard and for the first time in a long, long time the Pirates be ready to pillage and plunder the Senior Circuit.  If’n it helps ye hate on the scurvy Reds remember they be the team o’ Pete Rose, a cut throat player who turned out to be so corrupt a Cap’n he’d bet agin’ his own side.

No Hall for you.  Ever.

The Reds be takin’ the field first behind Johnny Cueto (5 – 2, 2.82 ERA R).  He be better than he look, 8 – 2 at PNC Park, 7 – 2 with a 1.43 ERA in his last 12 starts agin’ the Pirates.

They be puttin’ up Francisco Liriano (16 – 8, 3.02 ERA L) who be vulnerable.  Liriano went 0-3 in four starts against the Reds this season though lack of run support be a significant factor.  But this be his home field, 8 – 1 with a 1.47 ERA in 11 starts at PNC Park. And the Pirates keelhauled Cincinnati on the final weekend of the season.

The Pirates be in the playoffs for the first time in 21 years.  They have 20 straight losing seasons, longest among the four major professional sports.  The Pirates went 50-31 at PNC Park this season 5 – 4 against the Reds.

The Reds be in the playoffs it for the third time in four years and are 13 – 7 against the Pirates in the postseason.  They also took two of three at PNC Park in their last series there Sept. 20 – 22.

And ye think this not be a grudge match between ’em they plunked 28 batsmen this season.

The format o’ the game be rightly called… Sudden Death.

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On This Day In History October 1

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 1 is the 274th day of the year(275th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 91 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1946, 12 high-ranking Nazis are sentenced to death by the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg. Among those condemned to death by hanging were Joachim von Ribbentrop, Nazi minister of foreign affairs; Hermann Goering, founder of the Gestapo and chief of the German air force; and Wilhelm Frick, minister of the interior. Seven others, including Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s former deputy, were given prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life. Three others were acquitted.

The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military, held by the main victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg, Bavaria, Germany, in 1945-46, at the Palace of Justice. The first and best known of these trials was the Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which tried 22 of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany. It was held from November 20, 1945 to October 1, 1946. The second set of trials of lesser war criminals was conducted under Control Council Law No. 10 at the US Nuremberg Military Tribunals (NMT); among them included the Doctors’ Trial and the Judges’ Trial.

The Main Trial

The International Military Tribunal was opened on October 18, 1945, in the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. The first session was presided over by the Soviet judge, Nikitchenko. The prosecution entered indictments against 24 major war criminals and six criminal organizations – the leadership of the Nazi party, the Schutzstaffel (SS) and Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Gestapo, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the “General Staff and High Command,” comprising several categories of senior military officers.

The indictments were for:

  1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace

  2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace

  3. War crimes

  4. Crimes against humanity

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Late Night Karaoke

Shutdown 2013

The Office of Management and Budget has released a memo telling agencies to “now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations”

   This memorandum follows the September 17, 2013, Memorandum M-13-22, and provides an update on the potential lapse of appropriations.

   Appropriations provided under the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013 (P.L. 113-6) expire at 11:59 pm tonight. Unfortunately, we do not have a clear indication that Congress will act in time for the President to sign a Continuing Resolution before the end of the day tomorrow, October 1, 2013. Therefore, agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations. We urge Congress to act quickly to pass a Continuing Resolution to provide a short-term bridge that ensures sufficient time to pass a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year, and to restore the operation of critical public services and programs that will be impacted by a lapse in appropriations.

   Agencies should continue to closely monitor developments, and OMB will provide further guidance as appropriate. We greatly appreciate your cooperation and the work you and your agencies do on behalf of the American people.

The Panda Cam is off:

The Cali-phate of California

Adapted from Rant of the Week at The Stars Hollow Gazette

California is leading by example

New Rule: Conservatives Who Love to Brag About American Exceptionalism Must Come Here to California

Bill Maher, Huffington Post

New Rule: Conservatives who love to brag about American exceptionalism must come here to California, and see it in person. And then they should be afraid — very afraid. Because while the rest of the country is beset by stories of right-wing takeovers in places like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, California is going in the opposite direction and creating the kind of modern, liberal nation the country as a whole can only dream about. And not only can’t the rest of the country stop us — we’re going to drag you along with us.

It wasn’t that long ago that pundits were calling California a failed state and saying it was ungovernable. But in 2010, when other states were busy electing whatever Tea Partier claimed to hate government the most, we elected a guy who actually liked it, Jerry Brown.[..]

Since then, everything Republicans say can’t or won’t work — gun control, immigration reform, high-speed rail — California is making work. And everything conservatives claim will unravel the fabric of our society — universal healthcare, higher taxes on the rich, gay marriage, medical marijuana — has only made California stronger. And all we had to do to accomplish that was vote out every single Republican. Without a Republican governor and without a legislature being cock-blocked by Republicans, a $27 billion deficit was turned into a surplus, continuing the proud American tradition of Republicans blowing a huge hole in the budget and then Democrats coming in and cleaning it up.

2013 Junior League Play-In Game: Rays @ Rangers

The year is spinning out of control.  It’s not even the end of September yet and we have playoff Baseball.

Or play-in, but who’s counting?

Tonight’s matchup is the Tampa Bay Rays at the Texas Rangers who finished with identical 91 – 71 records.  The Rays closed the season with 7 wins including 7 – 6 over the Jays Sunday.  They’ll be starting David Price (9 – 8, 3.39 ERA L) who is 1 – 2 with a 10.26 ERA at Arlington.

Team W (for steroids) will start rookie Martin Perez (10 – 5, 3.55 ERA L) who has been doing better than average down the stretch.  The question for them is whether their big bat, Nelson Cruz who is finishing up a 50 game steroid suspension.  He hasn’t played since August 4th at which time he had 27 HR and 76 RBI.  Cruz is .429 v. Price, 9 for 12 with 3 HR.

As I’ve said many times, unless you’re extremely lucky, playoff Baseball is not about who you like.  No, it’s about who you hate and in most cases who you hate less.  Perhaps it will help you decide if I tell you the inoffensive Rays are an expansion team from 1999 and have hardly had any time to develop serious rivalries.  They have 3 post season appearances, losing twice to Team W (for steroids).

Team W (for steroids) on the other hand, in addition to rampant drug abuse (Clemens, Pettite), have the misfortune of scorching your eyes with picures of W himself throwing out ceremonial first pitches and him and killer Laura sitting in the stands.

Not that magical thinking works, but I think you know what to do now.

The winner advances to face the hapless Cleveland Indians at Jacobs Field in your “normal” one game Sudden Death Wild Card on Wednestday.  Game time is 8:05 pm ET.

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