[Plura-list] A New York law to end to Wall Street's pension ripoff

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Thu May 5 10:39:13 EDT 2022

Read today's issue online at: https://pluralistic.net/2022/05/05/mego/


CORRECTION: Yesterday's edition erroneously claimed Simon Lovell had passed away; I misremembered my contribution to a 2015 medical fundraiser for Mr Lovell as a contribution to a funeral expenses fundraiser. My sincere apologies to Mr Lovell (and I'm delighted to learn I was wrong!).


This weekend (May 6-8), I'm Guest of Honor at the Demicon 33 science fiction convention in Des Moines:



Today's links

* A New York law to end to Wall Street's pension ripoff: The ex-suckers flip the card table.

* Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.

* This day in history: 2002, 2012, 2017, 2021

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading


🤽🏿‍♂️ A New York law to end to Wall Street's pension ripoff

The "Shield of Boringness" - c.f. Dana Claire - is a scammer's weapon. Layering scams in complexity lets villains get away with  all kinds of nastiness. Some things are hard to understand because they're complex, but some things are complex so they'll be hard to understand.

In finance, this is sometimes called MEGO: "my eyes glaze over" - complex scams designed to bore their victims into submission. All of us are vulnerable to MEGO, because there's only so many hours in a day and at a certain point, your eyes just start to slide over the legal mumbo-jumbo without any of it registering.

For me, the most powerful MEGO is the bottomless scamming of public pensions by private equity firms. In some distant way, I knew that there was something really terrible going on there, and that pension managers and PE looters were colluding to rip off billions, maybe trillions, from workers' pensions. But despite how awful that is, every time I encountered an article about this scam, I just bounced off it. Just the word CALPERS was enough to send me into a coma.

But finally a piece of reporting has penetrated the Shield of Boringness, perhaps because it's a rare (unprecedented?) piece of good news about this whole awful mess. Writing for *The Lever*, Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports on New York A09948, "to amend the retirement and social security law, in relation to disclosing certain investment managers and investments."


The things this law would require are a kind of inverse-mold of the scam itself, like flipping a doctored photo to negative to spot the tampering. If this law passes, then, for the first time, the Wall Street firms that handle New York's $269B public pension would have to disclose the cozy - and nakedly corrupt - contracting terms they arrive at with the funds' overseers. For example, it would require disclosure of when fund managers charge private jets to the pension fund:


But gold-plated expenses are just the obvious part of the corruption. The good stuff is pure MEGO: for example, the Carlyle Group's contracts reserve the right to invest pensions' money in ways that lose money for the pension, but make money for Carlyle Group execs and their pals:


Leaked contracts reveal that public pensions have to promise not to demand a jury trial if they get ripped off by private equity firms, and to indemnify fund managers for all misconduct unless it rises to the (very high bar of) "fraud, gross negligence or willful misconduct."

Some of these contracts explicitly waive the "fiduciary duty" - the obligation on fund managers to put the pensioners' interests ahead of their own.

If passed, the New York bill will expose standard contracting terms that stretch out nationwide, thanks to all of the cities, towns and states that enter into comparable high-risk/high-fee arrangements with the same Wall Street firms.

It will force private equity firms to disclose what they're buying with pensioners' money - for example, if they're buying group homes, laying off staff, and killing and maiming the residents, as KKR did with public pension money:


These disclosures will bring more scrutiny to the public officials who want to hand even more pension money to PE firms, like NYC comptroller Brad Lander, who received giant campaign contributions from the finance industry and abandoned his campaign promise to halt public pension investments in planet-killing industries:


Wall Street looters will fight this tooth-and-nail. They call these contracts "trade secrets" and compare forcing disclosure of their deals to forcing Coke to reveal its secret recipe:


It's their position that terms governing the the public billions they're entrusted with are immune to transparency laws, and they advise officials to resist public records requests regarding their deals:


These firms killed similar legislation in Kentucky:


They buried a class-action suit to force the State of Kentucky to disclose the terms of its deal with the Wall Street firms that lost billions in pension money:


In Colorado, an effort to force disclosure died when public pension officials killed it:


The Center for Economic and Policy Research's co-director Eileen Appelbaum succinctly described the disclosure demand to Cunningham-Cook: "How good are the contracts? What are the fees, expectations in terms of returns?" These are modest demands, and the outright refusal to meet them should raise alarm bells.

This is especially true in light of the corrupt arrangements that have been revealed, like former NYC Comptroller Alan Hevesi's conviction of taking bribes from Carlyle Group in exchange for access to the city's pension money. DiNapoli, the new comptroller, promised an ethics overhaul - and then spectacularly failed to deliver. How bad is it? Navnoor Kang, the former NYC head of fixed incomes, went to prison in 2018 for taking bribes from brokers:


And now, DiNapoli's Chief Investment Officer Vicki Fuller has jumped ship for PE giant Blackstone after doing business with the company on the city's watch. No word on whether she'll be representing Blackstone in its negotiations with her former colleagues.


This transparency bill cuts through MEGO. Simply enumerating the things it will force disclosure of is a powerful reminder of how bad business-as-usual is today.



🤽🏿‍♂️ Hey look at this

* How to Get an Abortion in the Age of Surveillance https://gizmodo.com/how-to-get-an-abortion-keep-personal-information-safe-1848874362

* Hot Banana https://what-if.xkcd.com/158/ (just look at it)

*  Digital Security and Privacy Tips for Those Involved in Abortion Access https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2022/05/digital-security-and-privacy-tips-those-involved-abortion-access


🤽🏿‍♂️ This day in history

#20yrsago Shopsin's Restaurant finally allows a review https://web.archive.org/web/20020426044055/http://www.newyorker.com/printable/?fact/020415fa_FACT

#10yrsago Lost trove of D&D co-creator unearthed, up for auction https://www.wired.com/2012/05/geekdad-exclusive-auction-preview-of-dd-co-creators-personal-collection-and-archives-games-secrets-to-be-revealed/

#10yrsago Jonathan Lethem discusses his tribute to Talking Heads’ Fear of Music https://www.wired.com/2012/05/jonathan-lethem-fear-of-music/

#10yrsago Aerial view of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion facade and ride-building https://longforgottenhauntedmansion.blogspot.com/2012/05/ghostland-around-us-beneath-us.html

#10yrsago UK nightclub bouncers demanding access to your Facebook profile as a condition of entry https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-17930370

#10yrsago Tribute to Disneyland’s “secret restroom” http://www.secretrestroom.com/

#5yrsago Teacher: Jostens Yearbook is a giant scam that stole from our school for years https://np.reddit.com/r/Teachers/comments/694yxi/jostens_yearbooks_scammed_our_high_school_for/

#5yrsago Flint threatens to take away 8,000 families’ homes for failure to pay bills for poisoned water https://nbc25news.com/news/local/flint-puts-8000-people-on-notice-for-tax-liens-for-unpaid-water-bills

#5yrsago Michigan students stage sit-in in solidarity with laid-off teachers https://www.wxyz.com/news/students-reportedly-protesting-budget-cuts-at-metro-detroit-high-school

#5yrsago My column about Snowden, surveillance and WALKAWAY in the International Business Times https://www.ibtimes.com/unchecked-surveillance-technology-leading-us-towards-totalitarianism-opinion-2535230

#1yrago Stimmies killed the McJob: Job creators hate him https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/05/clarkes-third-law/#precariat-nostalgia


🤽🏿‍♂️ Colophon

Currently writing:

* Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. Yesterday's progress: 508 words (91325 words total).

* A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

* Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, WAITING FOR EXPERT REVIEW

* Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

* Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FINAL DRAFT COMPLETE

* A post-GND utopian novel, "The Lost Cause."  FINISHED

* A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues."  FINISHED

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Revenge Of The Chickenized Reverse Centaurs

Upcoming appearances:

* Demicon 33 (Des Moines), May 6-8

* The Sci-Fi Feedback Loop: Mapping Fiction’s Influence on Real-World Tech (Arizona State University Center for Science and the Imagination), May 12

* OpenJSWorld Keynote (Austin), Jun 8

* UK Competition and Markets Authority Data Technology and Analytics conference (London), Jun 15-16

* A New HOPE (NYC), Jul 22-24

Recent appearances:

* Revolutionizing Activism — The Power of Utopia (Center for Artistic Activism)

* A Little Patience and a Lot of Tape (This Week in Tech)

* Blockchain, Crypto & Web3 (Life Itself podcast)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1562/_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer.html.

Upcoming books:

* Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin, nonfiction/business/politics, Beacon Press, September 2022

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