Tag Archives: Wall Street

When Republicans Attack!

Hey, how’s everybody doin’? Been out in California for the last several days, which explains the relative lack of blogging.

Thanks to the Internet, however, I was able to enjoy the sad spectacle of our two Republican candidates for governor tossing insults back and forth.

Starting with Bruce Lisman’s latest missive that, once again, ties Phil Scott to the Shumlin administration. Quite accurately, it must be said. After all, Phil did spend roughly four years as a member of the Shumlin cabinet — a gesture of cross-partisan generosity on Shumlin’s part that cost him a fair amount of criticism. From me, among others; I thought it was a bad idea to help burnish Scott’s moderate, unpartisan credentials.

Guess I was wrong, not only is Our Lite Gov not using his credential, he’d prefer we all forgot about it. In fact, he’d slip it into a Vermont Yankee storage cask if he could.

Lisman did stretch the truth in depicting Scott as “support[ing] Governor Shumlin’s failed health care exchange.” As far as I can recall, Scott never actually supported Vermont Health Connect; leader that he is, he didn’t actually take a stand on the idea. That is, until he started thinking seriously about running for governor himself.

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Bruce Lisman doesn’t know the meaning of “irony”

Bottom-dwelling gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman is launching another TV ad. This time, he positions himself as “not the usual guy… and I won’t do the usual thing.” He’s dressed casually, and at the end he’s pictured chatting with “real Vermonters” or perhaps actors made up to look authentic.

And in the middle of the ad, there’s a brief animated passage that shows Governor Shumlin as a marionette saying “BLAH BLAH BLAH” while three fat-cat types flaunt their wealth. Like so:

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 7.05.15 PM

Well, there’s a few problems here, aside from the fact that this depiction is blatantly offensive in a very non-Vermont style. And then, as VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld points out, there’s the fact that Lisman “isn’t running against Shumlin.”

Finally, and crucially, there’s the disconnect between image and reality. Because it’s Bruce Lisman who comes from the world of fat cats who could use $100 bills to light cigars if they wanted to. Lisman, obviously, wants us to forget that he spent virtually his entire adult life in the canyons (moral and topographical) of Wall Street, hobnobbing with the rich and powerful.

Well, not just “hobnobbing.” Hell, he WAS one of the rich and powerful. Still is. Talk about the pot running attack ads against the kettle.

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A small fortune, on a relative scale

Retired Wall Street kingpin Bruce Lisman, the Millionaire Who Would Be Governor, released his financials on Monday. Interesting, because (a) candidates usually release financials after Tax Day, so their most recent tax returns are included, and (b) it’s Christmas Week, when relatively few are paying attention. Kind of a newsdump, in other words.

The topline? Lisman’s net worth is $50.9 million.

Sounds like a lot. But my first thought was: I expected more.

After all, this is a guy who was in the top ranks of Bear Stearns, a very lucrative Wall Street firm. Well, it was “very lucrative” until it melted down into a small puddle of goo in the 2008 financial crisis.

And after all, this is a guy who in 2009 sold his Manhattan residence — a four-bedroom pad overlooking Central Park, not far from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — for almost $13 million. And his current manse in Shelburne is worth just under $6 million. With real estate exposure like that, I’d have expected a higher net worth.

There are possible explanations.

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Bruce Lisman has some stuff to sort out

Well, our very own Wall Street panjandrum has formally launched his gubernatorial bid with a bold, perhaps unprecedented, first move:

He okayed a campaign logo without a speck of green in it.

Instead, he bravely opted for a sky-blue field, backing what appears to be the label from a long-lost brewery: Lisman Lager, the beer that claims to be different from all the others but tastes oddly familiar.

That’s the bold move. The rest of his launch was a pastiche of mixed messages and same-old same-old.

Let’s start with his Jeb! problem. As a presidential candidate, Jeb Bush had to decide how to address the legacy of George W. Bush. And he hasn’t. He’s tried to present himself as his own man, but that effort is undercut every time he rushes to W’s defense. He winds up talking much more than he should about 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lisman’s “George W. Bush” is his Wall Street career.

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The Sergeant Schultz of Wall Street

“Waiter, waiter! My table is on fire! Can we have some water?”

“Sorry, sir, that’s not my station.”

I ended my last post about Bruce Lisman with a reminder of his 2010 comments to the effect that the 2008 financial collapse was some sort of unforeseeable natural event, a “Darwinian asteroid,” “this thing that happened.”

Well, he did offer some further comments on his Wall Street tenure during his interview with Mark Johnson, but they didn’t do anything to soften my criticism. He expressed pride in his own record as a Bear Stearns executive, and professed ignorance of the gross malfeasance that was going on at the doomed company.

In a sense, he had a point. He was busy running his own division, and it wasn’t his responsibility to make himself aware of what other executives were doing. Although, it must be said, the misdeeds of his fellow Bear Stearns execs turned out to be a disaster for his division’s clients as well as everyone else in the goddamn world.

And what does it say about his insight, his judgment, that he could be stationed on the deck of the Titanic and not see the iceberg coming? Or not raise serious questions about the decision to steer the ship through the North Atlantic ice fields? Especially when he’s so sharply critical of the Shumlin administration’s failure to plan ahead, take the long view, make government predictable and accountable, and gather the data necessary to make intelligent long-range decisions?

He is expecting far more of state government than he expected of himself and his fellow executives. And he is demanding a level of accountability for state officials that he is still not willing to assume for the catastrophic dealings of Bear Stearns, the firm where he spent his entire career.

Think I’m being harsh? Let’s look at the transcript.

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A strange little bubble: the proto-candidacy of Bruce Lisman

Former Wall Street panjandrum turned bland public policy crusader Bruce Lisman showed up on The Mark Johnson Show Friday morning, and came about as close to declaring his candidacy for Governor as he could without actually making a declaration.

“I’m leaning strongly toward running,” he said, and indicated he was embarking on a weeklong family vacation that would probably produce a final decision. But while he’s pretty sure he’s running, he’s a lot less sure how he will do it: as a Democrat, as a Republican or as an independent. “If I choose to run, I’m running for the people. I’ll figure out how best to do that.”

Aww. For the people, eh? Well, the people appreciate the kind gesture.

He spent the rest of the hour basically proving my contention that he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance of ever being Governor.

His answers were awfully rambly and not terribly engaging. He frequently changed subjects in mid-answer — sometimes in mid-sentence. He rarely ended up anywhere close to where he began.
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But that’s not the worst problem.

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Bernie bullies the tycoons

Oh noes, the tender hearts of Wall Street have been bruised beyond healing. And the man responsible for this crime against humanity?

Bernie Sanders, of course.

Oil trading data that exposed the extensive positions speculators held in the run-up to record high prices in 2008 were intentionally leaked by a U.S. senator, sparking broader concern about industry confidentiality as Congress moves on Wall Street reform.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a staunch critic of oil speculators, leaked the information to a major newspaper in a move that has unsettled both regulators and Wall Street alike.

For those with short memories, the 2008 oil price spike immediately preceded the mortgage meltdown and near-implosion of the economy. In retrospect, the oil business may have gotten lost in the shuffle. But it was huge at the time; there were predictions that oil prices would shoot through the roof, sending many Vermonters scurrying to pre-buy their heating oil. At what turned out to be the very peak of the market.

The primary cause of that spike was not demand or global instability or exploration failures; it was the severe warping of the market at the hands of speculators. The notable non-Socialist Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association put it this way in 2008:

The problem is that the trading of oil has been deregulated. And large financial players are dominating the market. A recent Washington Post article showed that 81 percent of future oil contracts are controlled by non-physical players — people who don’t own trucks, people who just trade paper.

…It’s provided volatility to a market that, frankly, is so vulnerable to volatility. We’re talking about a product that people need to get to work and to heat their homes. And for this to be used as a financial tool, so Wall Street traders can make billions, is shameful.

Shameful indeed. And now comes Bernie Sanders, revealing the extent of speculative perfidy:

“The [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] has kept this information hidden from the American public for nearly three years,” he said. “This is an outrage. The American people have a right to know exactly who caused gas prices to skyrocket in 2008.”

… The leaked data contains long and short positions held by oil traders in 2008, the same year that oil prices spiked to $147 a barrel. Critics at the time accused oil speculators of driving up prices, leading lawmakers to later insert a provision into the Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul law compelling the CFTC to place stricter limits on how many commodity contracts any one trader can control.

Sanders was perfectly within his rights to release the data. According to Reuters, the CFTC is legally barred from such releases, but it is bound to give information to members of Congress upon request. They are not constrained from releasing the information.

But regulators and Wall Street sharpies are worried that making the data public makes them look really bad might have “a chilling effect on derivatives trading,” according to John Damgard, the head of the Futures Industry Association.

Heavens to Betsy, I certainly hope so. Our economy would be a lot healthier and more stable if there was a lot less dicking around with futures and derivatives, and more focus on productive activity that makes stuff, creates jobs, and generates honest profits.

(Great line from Lewis Black: There should be a law that says if you have a company, and you can’t describe what it does in one simple sentence, it’s illegal.)

Sorry, Mr. Damgard. I ran a thorough self-diagnostic, and I found no trace of sympathy. Take your hurt fee-fees and go swim with the other sharks.