NEWS ROUNDUP: October 19, 2014

NewsHeadlineBy Elaine Magliaro

 

BUSINESS/FINANCIAL

Janet Yellen: Rising Income Inequality Could Seriously Harm The U.S. Economy (Huffington Post)

Excerpt:
The Federal Reserve is sounding increasingly alarmed about income inequality. “The extent of and continuing increase in inequality in the United States greatly concern me,” Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a speech at an inequality conference in Boston on Friday. Her comments come just days after Swiss bank Credit Suisse warned that inequality in the U.S. is at levels that have been associated with recessions in the past, with one key measure at its highest level since the Great Depression.

Though Yellen didn’t go so far as to echo Credit Suisse’s recession alarm, she did warn that rising inequality risked doing serious harm to the overall strength of the U.S. economy. Yellen, too, noted that “income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then.”

Yellen suggested such inequality is downright un-American:

“I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity,” she said.

Amazon’s Wal-Mart problem: Why low wages, working conditions and disdain for culture will hurt us all–Amazon drives down wages, avoids taxes and destroys intellectual life, while profiting from government subsidies (Salon)

This is your brain on money: Why America’s rich think differently than the rest of us Nobody’s perfect. But only the rich get away with thinking that their luck and their flaws are actually strengths (Salon)

“We hope they were duped”: How prosecutors gave banks the best “penalty” ever–Wells Fargo engaged in awful, deceptive practices. For its sins, it engaged in a settlement that brought… profits (Salon)

Under Gov. Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Wall Street Investments Trailed S&P 500 (International Business Times)
Excerpt:
New Jersey investment officials have directed increasingly large slices of state pension money into riskier investments, such as hedge funds, touting their strategy as a means of limiting exposure to a volatile stock market. They’ve argued that their approach would maximize overall returns and justify the higher fees paid to Wall Street money managers.

But in seven of the eight years since the state began shifting pension funds into so-called alternative investments, returns have fallen well short of the broader stock market, an analysis of state financial records shows. In those seven years, New Jersey’s alternative investment portfolio has produced gains of just more than half of the S&P 500, the widely watched index seen as a proxy for shares of large corporations.

Since Gov. Chris Christie took office, he has nearly tripled the amount of retiree cash invested in alternative investment firms — many of whose employees have made financial contributions to political groups backing Christie’s election campaigns. In that time, the gap between New Jersey’s alternative portfolio and the broader market has rapidly expanded, costing taxpayers billions in unrealized returns and threatening the financial stability of the $78 billion pension system. The state’s pension funding shortfalls — which have been exacerbated by Christie’s market-trailing investment strategy — were one of the factors cited by Fitch Ratings in its decision last week to downgrade the state’s bond rating for the second time.

Interview: David Sirota on New Jersey’s Risky Pension Investments (Philadelphia)

Moody’s Accused of ‘Manipulating’ Pension Data (International Business Times)
Excerpt:
Public officials say that one of the nation’s most influential credit rating agencies is to blame for creating the perception that there are widespread public pension shortfalls. In a letter late last week, the National Association of State Retirement Administrators accused Moody’s of “mischaracterization and misuse” of “manipulated pension numbers” when the agency declared that public pension shortfalls tripled to roughly $2 trillion between 2004 and 2012.

Moody’s data is particularly influential — it can potentially affect state and local governments’ credit ratings, which in turn can move the interest rate at which those governments can borrow money. The credit rating agency’s declarations can shape budget decisions in states that are debating the long-term affordability of their public pension systems.

The firm’s recent projection about pension shortfalls came a little more than a year after the agency changed the way it calculates pension assets and liabilities. That change, which has been criticized by some economists, involved using a lower projected interest rate to evaluate liabilities, and reducing the projected long-term growth of current assets in pension portfolios.

In the announcement of its methodology change in 2013, Moody’s declared “that for the majority of U.S. governments, their pension obligations remain manageable in the context of their revenues and resources.” Yet the new projections generated a spate of recent headlines suggesting the pension shortfalls were an emergency.

Male Microsoft CEO To Women: Don’t Ask — Have ‘Faith’ You’ll Get A Raise (TPM)

Walton family’s American rip-off: How a tycoon turned human equality on its head–Expert economist tells Salon why the gap between the stewards of Walmart and the rest of us is worse than ever (Salon)

Bill Gates takes on Thomas Piketty: Here’s what’s wrong with the billionaire’s critique–The world’s richest man weighs in on the French economist’s seminal treatise on economic inequality (Salon)

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SCHOOLS/EDUCATION

Conservative think tank is behind paid protesters at Philly teachers’ union event (The Notebook)

“Poster child for tenure”: Why teacher Agustin Morales really lost his job–A teacher in Massachusetts spoke up when his students’ rights were being violated. Here’s how he paid the price (Salon)

New charter rules benefit owner of 4 schools in Wilmington area (News Observer)
Excerpt:                                                                                                                       WILMINGTON — At first blush, Baker Mitchell’s chain of North Carolina charter schools look like a portrait of free-market success.

He boasts that students schooled at his sprawling, rural campuses produce better test scores at a lower cost than those in traditional public schools.

The schools, however, do more than just teach children. They are also at the center of Mitchell’s business interests. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through his chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.

Unlike with traditional school districts, at Mitchell’s charter schools there’s no competitive bidding. No evidence of haggling over rent or contracts. The schools buy or lease nearly everything from companies owned by Mitchell. Their desks. Their computers. The training they provide to teachers. Most of the land and buildings.

The schools have all hired the same for-profit management company to run their day-to-day operations. The company, Roger Bacon Academy, is owned by Mitchell, 74.

Charter School Power Broker Turns Public Education Into Private Profits
Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls. (ProPublica)

Ninety percent of private schools receiving taxpayer-funded vouchers are religious institutions (NC Policy Watch)

Higher Rent for Success Charters: Mayor’s Administration Is Paying Higher-Than-Market Rent for Success Academy Charter Schools (Wall Street Journal)

Philadelphia’s school reform debacle: Despised governor crosses the line–Gov. Tom Corbett has slashed funds and closed schools. But his latest move is the unpopular governor’s most brazen (Salon)

High School Football Players Secretly Record Girls In Locker Room: Cops (Huffington Post/AP)

How a national moratorium on standardized testing could work (Washington Post)
Excerpt:
Resistance to the overuse and misuse of standardized tests is expanding rapidly across the nation. The movement’s goals are to roll back testing overkill, eliminate damaging high stakes, and create an assessment system that supports teaching and learning while providing useful information to parents, communities and states. Some states have responded to the uprising by temporarily pausing some sanctions for teachers and schools.

What the nation really needs, however, is an indefinite moratorium, not only on sanctions but also on Common Core tests, other statewide accountability exams, and requirements to use student scores to judge teachers.

Such a moratorium will allow districts to cut back their own test mandates. It will also provide time and incentives for states and districts to revise their assessment and accountability programs. This cannot happen when punitive sanctions force educators and students to focus on boosting test scores to avoid damaging consequences. Nor can schools do it when they are required to test multiple times per year in every subject in order to provide “data” about teachers.

Why Won’t The Criminals At Families For Excellent Schools Reveal Their Donor List? (Perdido Street School)
Excerpt:                                                                                                                                         When the state Legislature revamped New York’s lobbying laws in 2011, the reforms were meant to shine a brighter light on mega-donors seeking to influence the government. Yet this year’s biggest lobbying spender—a pro-charter-school group that reported almost $6 million in New York state lobbying expenditures through August—hasn’t had to reveal a single benefactor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, the leading adversary of Manhattan-based nonprofit Families for Excellent Schools, recently called for the group to release its donor list so “the public can judge what interests are at play.” The group’s spending this spring helped foil the mayor’s plans in a high-profile fight over charter schools’ funding and sharing space with traditional public schools.

Lobbying records, however, show how Families for Excellent Schools was able to shield its donors’ names. Even its critics acknowledge the group has found a way around the 2011 law.

“These guys have invented the ‘hedge-fund loophole’ in the dark-money world of [Gov.] Andrew Cuomo’s Albany,” charged Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a nonprofit backed by the statewide teachers’ union, which has been warring with charter-school proponents and the governor.

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POLITICS

The Daily Show destroys Sam Brownback’s failed conservative experiment: Boring white guy dream! (Salon)

GOP’s Georgia mess worsens: David Perdue “proud” of career spent outsourcing–Gather round, as Georgia Senate candidate David Perdue explains why outsourcing is actually great (Salon)

EXCLUSIVE: Iowa Senate shocker — contracts awarded to Joni Ernst’s father raise conflict of interest questions–Father of GOP nominee won $200,000 in contracts when Joni Ernst was in office, despite conflict of interest rules (Salon)

Illinois plutocrat’s campaign cratering: How Bruce Rauner went from frontrunner to underdog–Once tipped to win Illinois’ governorship, the billionaire is faltering — and the news just keeps getting worse (Salon)

Voter Fraud Vigilantes (SFGate)
Excerpt:                                                                                                                                         What better way to eliminate the infinitesimal amount of voter fraud in the United States than by disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of people?  That is basically what the Republican craze of “voter ID” laws will do.  These laws will overwhelmingly impact students, minorities and the poor— interestingly-enough, all reliable Democratic voters.
Funny how the statehouses and governors who back voter ID laws are all Republican.  Go figure.  They just want to save our Democracy and increase turnout, right?  Never mind that a Reagan-appointed judge slammed voter ID laws and made Swiss cheese of the whole charade.

NOTE: You can view Mark Fiore’s video on Voter Fraud Vigilantes by clicking on the link to the article.

Warren in Minnesota: ‘The game is rigged’ (Washington Post)

Scott Brown: If Romney Was Prez ‘We Would Not Be Worrying About Ebola’ (TPM Livewire)
Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) speculated during an interview Friday that America would be unconcerned about the Ebola outbreak if Mitt Romney had been elected President.

“Gosh can you imagine if Mitt was the president right now?” Brown said during a Fox News Radio interview with host Brian Kilmeade. “He was right on Russia, he was right on Obamacare, he was right on the economy. And I guarantee you we would not be worrying about Ebola right now and, you know, worrying about our foreign policy screw ups.”

Iowa’s Tea Party disaster: Joni Ernst’s shocking ideas about the welfare state
How the wingnut potentially on the verge of joining the Senate uses shoddy history to justify her radical beliefs (Salon)

Andrew Cuomo Is A Very Flawed Concept, Cont’d (Esquire)
Excerpt:
There is no more horrible Democratic politician than Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York. I can almost abide people like Mary Landrieu or Joe Manchin, because I know they’re (slightly) better than any alternative that might be presented by the other side and, what the hell, it’s Louisiana and West Virginia. But there is no excuse for Cuomo, who has as close to a sinecure as does any other Democratic politician in the country, and the cynical, nasty, and high-handed way he conducts himself in office. I am not saying this just because the N.Y. state ethics people got on his ass last summer. This managerial style got another workout when it was revealed that Cuomo, a big fan of fracking for natural gas, and his people connived to barber and to bury a report on the impact fracking would have on the state’s drinking water, and on the impact the technology would have in general.

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LAW ENFORCEMENT/COURTS

South Carolina Says “Stand Your Ground” Law Doesn’t Apply to Abused Women (Slate)
Excerpt:
South Carolina has an expansive “stand your ground” law that paves the way for someone to get immunity from prosecution by declaring that they killed another person in self-defense. Liberals have been critical of these laws, arguing that they make it far too easy for violent people to deliberately provoke or escalate confrontations and then avoid prosecution when things get out of hand. (There is some proof that such laws correlate with a rise in the murder rate.) There are also concerns that the laws are unfairly applied, due to massive racial disparities in who successfully invokes “stand your ground” to avoid punishment. Now comes a reason for women to be especially worried.

In South Carolina, prosecutors are trying to argue that a woman’s right to stand her ground in a domestic dispute is less than a man’s right to stand his ground with some stranger he’s gotten into a fight with. Andrew Knapp at the Charleston Post and Courierwhich has been aggressively covering the issue of domestic violence in recent months—reports that three North Charleston women have been “charged with murder during the past two years after stabbing a boyfriend or a roommate she said attacked her,” despite the existence of the state’s strong “stand your ground” law.

Stand whose ground? How a criminal loophole gives domestic abusers all the rights: South Carolina prosecutors say self-defense laws don’t apply to abuse victims — because they’re the real threats (Salon)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Pens Scathing Dissent On Texas Voter ID Law (Huffington Post)
Excerpt:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent early Saturday morning, blasting the court’s decision to allow Texas to use its new voter ID law in the November elections. She was joined in the dissent by Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters,” Ginsburg wrote.

Ginsburg disputed the Fifth Circuit court of appeals’ argument that is was too close to the November election to stop the law. Early voting begins on Monday in Texas.

“In any event, there is little risk that the District Court’s injunction will in fact disrupt Texas’ electoral process,” she wrote. “Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.”

SWAT Team Shot David Hooks At Home After Tip From Meth Addict (Huffington Post)

Sheriff’s Office Cuts Off Jailhouse Interview After Deadly Raid On David Hooks’ Georgia Home (EXCLUSIVE) (Huffington Post)

How To Fix The Supreme Court: Lessons From A Disenchanted Legal Scholar (TPM DC)

The Brief Life And Baffling Death Of John Crawford III: “How does somebody go into a Walmart and not come out alive?” (BuzzFeed)

Police Violated Constitutional Rights Of Ferguson Protesters, Federal Judge Rules (Huffington Post)

Lawsuit: Indiana State Trooper Pitched Christianity At Traffic Stop (Talking Points Memo)

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RELIGION

Mars Hill Church reeling as Pastor Mark Driscoll quits: Now that Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll has resigned — amid allegations of bullying and domineering behavior — the church is in disarray and selling some of its properties. (The Seattle Times)
Excerpt:
After a meteoric rise and a drawn-out fall, embattled Mars Hill Church Pastor Mark Driscoll resigned Wednesday, leaving unanswered questions and an uncertain future for the megachurch he co-founded.

The church has been facing an avalanche of allegations against Driscoll in recent months, ranging from charges of bullying and abusive behavior to plagiarism and overseeing mismanagement of church funds.

So loud were the clamor and questions around Driscoll — who gained national prominence by combining a dynamic preaching style with controversial views about women, homosexuality and other issues — that church attendance and giving plummeted, and several branches of the megachurch closed.

Why right-wing Christians are actively promoting genocide: A leading Evangelical magazine is calling for the destruction of Islam. It’s not the outlier we might like to think (Salon)

Catholic bishops reject welcome to gays in sign of split (USA Today)
Excerpt:
VATICAN CITY — Catholic bishops rejected a landmark change Saturday in the rigid stance on gays and divorcees, revealing enormous gaps within the church at the end of a two-week meeting.

The synod’s final statement failed to include remarkably conciliatory language revealed a week ago that would have welcomed the “gifts and qualities” of gay Catholics and called on pastors to “avoid any language or behavior” that could discriminate against divorced Catholics.

While the language on gays had been softened during discussion in the meeting’s last days, the final document failed to receive the two-thirds majority vote it needed. The bishops did, however, praise conjugal love — love within the bounds of traditional marriage — calling it “one of the most beautiful of all miracles and the most common.”

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EBOLA NEWS

6 real problems with America’s Ebola response: A leading infectious disease specialist explains why we’re not as prepared for an outbreak as we’d like to think (Salon/AlterNet)
Exclusive: Ebola didn’t have to kill Thomas Eric Duncan, nephew says (The Dallas Morning News)
Excerpt:                                                                                                                                          On Friday, Sept. 25, 2014, my uncle Thomas Eric Duncan went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. He had a high fever and stomach pains. He told the nurse he had recently been in Liberia. But he was a man of color with no health insurance and no means to pay for treatment, so within hours he was released with some antibiotics and Tylenol.

Two days later, he returned to the hospital in an ambulance. Two days after that, he was finally diagnosed with Ebola. Eight days later, he died alone in a hospital room.

Now, Dallas suffers. Our country is concerned. Greatly. About the lack of answers and transparency coming from a hospital whose ignorance, incompetence and indecency has yet to be explained. I write this on behalf of my family because we want to set the record straight about what happened and ensure that Thomas Eric did not die in vain. So, here’s the truth about my uncle and his battle with Ebola.

Dallas Nurses Accuse Hospital of Sloppy Ebola Protocols (ABC News)

Exclusive: Ebola didn’t have to kill Thomas Eric Duncan, nephew says (The Dallas Morning News)
Excerpt:
On Friday, Sept. 25, 2014, my uncle Thomas Eric Duncan went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. He had a high fever and stomach pains. He told the nurse he had recently been in Liberia. But he was a man of color with no health insurance and no means to pay for treatment, so within hours he was released with some antibiotics and Tylenol.

Two days later, he returned to the hospital in an ambulance. Two days after that, he was finally diagnosed with Ebola. Eight days later, he died alone in a hospital room.

Now, Dallas suffers. Our country is concerned. Greatly. About the lack of answers and transparency coming from a hospital whose ignorance, incompetence and indecency has yet to be explained. I write this on behalf of my family because we want to set the record straight about what happened and ensure that Thomas Eric did not die in vain. So, here’s the truth about my uncle and his battle with Ebola.

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MEDIA NEWS

“I’m not going away”: James Risen unloads to Salon about his government foes
In historic legal fight to protect sources, embattled reporter James Risen tells Salon how he plans to fight back (Salon)

New York Times Reporter James Risen Shares The Terrorism Statistic You Won’t Hear On Network News (HuffPost Live)
Excerpt:
The fear of terrorism has hung over the United States like a dark cloud in the 13 years since 9/11, but New York Times reporter James Risen says the tone of panic that often pervades the news media and the speeches of politicians is not in line with reality.

New York Times Reporter James Risen Finds ‘Crazy Is The New Normal’ In War On Terror (Huffington Post)
Excerpt:
NEW YORK –New York Times reporter James Risen was surprised Sunday when former National Security Agency chief Michael Hayden said he doesn’t see a need for the government to prosecute Risen for refusing to reveal a source.

“I’m glad to see he feels that way these days,” Risen said in an interview Monday with The Huffington Post. “I’m not sure how long he’s felt that way.”

Hayden’s comment on CBS’s “60 Minutes” suggested a grudging respect for the work of Risen, an investigative reporter who has challenged Bush and Obama administration rationales and strategies for an “endless war” in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Risen was one of a the few reporters to seriously scrutinize the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq, even as his own paper downplayed that skeptical coverage. The next year, Hayden and the Bush White House successfully pressured the Times not to publish Risen and colleague Eric Lichtblau’s blockbuster report on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Pulitzer Prize-winning story finally appeared on the front page in late 2005, just weeks before Risen planned to reveal it in a chapter of his book, State of War.

But it was another chapter in Risen’s January 2006 book, on a bungled CIA operation in Iran, that sparked the leak investigation that’s dogged Risen for seven years, with the reporter saying he’d go to jail before revealing a source.

How To Report On Ebola: Journalists Find Hazmat Suits A Hindrance In Hot Zone (International Business Times)

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HERE & THERE

Groups Giving Second Thoughts To Those Little Black Crumbs On Playing Fields (Huffington Post)

Fracking Chemicals, Brought to You by Susan G. Komen (Mother Jones)
Excerpt:
Here’s some news that frankly, I initially thought was a spoof: for the second year in a row, breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure—which caused massive outrage when it defunded Planned Parenthood in 2012—has partnered with Baker Hughes, a leader in the fracking industry. The Houston-based oilfield services company will donate $100,000 to Komen over the year and sell 1,000 pink-painted drill bits used for fracking.

According to Baker Hughes’ “Doing Our Bit for the Cure” campaign website, “The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening, and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds.”

The irony here is that one of the primary criticisms of fracking is that the fracking process injects possible and known carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, and sulfuric acid, into the ground and surrounding environment. A 2011 senate investigation of 14 leading fracking companies found that, between 2005 and 2009—far from the height of the fracking era—the companies had “injected 10.2 million gallons of fracturing products containing at least one carcinogen.”

Boy, 8, Crashed SUV After Drunk Dad Let Him Drive: Man said he “did not see a problem” with child driving (The Smoking Gun)
Excerpt:
OCTOBER 17–An intoxicated Pennsylvania father told police that he “did not see a problem” with allowing his eight-year-old son to drive his SUV, which the boy crashed into a tree late one night, according to court records.

Frank Gordon Conway, 46, was allegedly plastered when he let the child take over the driving duties around 9 PM on August 4. The boy, police noted, was seated between his father’s legs in the driver’s seat of a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The child, who was steering the vehicle and controlling its pedals, told police that he “drove in the yard, on the street and in the parking lot of the V.F.W. before re-entering the yard and hitting the wrong pedal which caused him to strike a tree,” according to an October 14 probable cause affidavit.

Colbert: I Lack Sean Hannity’s ‘Ability To Get His Head Up His Own Ass’ (VIDEO) (TPM Livewire)
Excerpt:
Stephen Colbert declared his love for Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night’s “The Colbert Report” and said the conservative anchor had recently inspired him.

“I’m a huge fan of Fox News anchor Sean Hannity,” Colbert said. “Sean is such a good journalist he can break down the news into simple terms that even he can understand. And recently, my main mannity Hannity introduced a new segment on his show called ‘Question of the Day’ where he answers the most pressing questions of our time.”

Colbert then played a clip from Hannity’s show on Tuesday night.

“Tonight’s question is something I’m really excited about,” Hannity said. “‘What is your favorite way to work out?’ Now President Obama, he delicately jogs on his elliptical and struggles to lift a couple of 2-pound weights. Well, I’ve been engaging in a real exercise.”

Colbert couldn’t contain his amusement.

“Yeah, President Obama delicately jogs while Hannity forcefully rams President Obama into this segment for no reason,” Colbert said.

Alien looking strange creature caught – this sea monster is basket star caught off Singapore coast

 

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2 Responses to NEWS ROUNDUP: October 19, 2014

  1. buckaroo says:

    “Income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years, much higher than the average during that time span and probably higher than for much of American history before then.”
    — Fed Chair Janet Yellen

    Once again – all one hears is talk, talk, talk …. well, get busy with the tax code to provide equity for the working man. All the talk is about corporations, Wall Street, etc. When in fact it is the Tax Code which is at the heart of the problem – You who are concerned have to know that – it is so rudimentary. This administration is involved & complicit & it dates back to the 40 year Congress

  2. bigfatmike says:

    Here for your reading pleasure while you consider your pension and the possibility of ever retiring is Gretchen Morgenson reporting on pension fund management and transparency:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/business/retirement/behind-private-equitys-curtain.html?ref=business&_r=0

    Apparently, innovation for some free market types means signing sweet heart deals, making it difficult or impossible for those most affected to know the terms of the deal, charging unconscionable fees, and making others liable to pay for their mistakes. In addition, their expensive advice achieved lackluster, below market average results. Apparently pension funds would have made better returns if they just invested in a portfolio that achieved the average of the market – essentially choosing stocks by throwing darts at a list of names.

    Could their business model be refined. Well… it might be more efficient if they just shoveled up pension funds in a wheel barrow and trucked it off to their bank.

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