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Gender: Male
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Member since: Fri Oct 29, 2004, 12:18 AM
Number of posts: 74,639

Journal Archives

Toronto: TTC Leslie Barns: Home of your new streetcar! (neat vid for transit geeks)

'Yes' Vote on Seattle's $930M Transportation Levy Emboldens Boosters in Portland

McClatchy, via MassTransitMag:

Nov. 25--Earlier this month, Seattle residents approved a record $930 million property tax levy to pay for a laundry list of transportation projects.

Portland has its own list -- including a backlog of paving work, two proposed high-capacity transit lines, a bottleneck through the Rose Quarter -- and transportation leaders think the ballot-box victory in Seattle might be a model that could be replicated here.

Already, Portlanders are expected to weigh a gas-tax hike to pay for paving projects in Portland in May.

And Rep. Earl Blumenauer earlier this month told the TriMet board they might have a fleeting window for a big funding ask, given a compelling enough package of projects.

"I will admit that I am shamelessly lobbying for people to look at 2016," the Oregon Democrat told the board. "There will never be, I think, a better time in our lifetime to be able to make the case to the public and secure support." ...............(more)


As Puerto Rico Crisis Worsens, Congress In No Rush to Help

(Bloomberg) Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt crisis has already led to four hearings this year in the U.S. Congress, hours of testimony and no consensus over how to help the Caribbean commonwealth. Another hearing Tuesday is unlikely to change that.

As Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s administration decides whether to default on $354 million of bond payments coming due, he will appear before a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has power over a bill that would allow some Puerto Rico agencies to file for bankruptcy. That measure has stalled for lack of a single Republican sponsor.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s chairman, and fellow Republicans are expected to echo criticism of Puerto Rico expressed at the previous meetings, when lawmakers reprimanded the island’s accounting practices and said any aid would be wasted if it doesn’t contend with its chronic budget shortfalls. Republicans control both houses of Congress.

“Grassley is likely to criticize the current Puerto Rico government for not doing enough in terms of austerity and not producing the audited financial statements,” said Brandon Barford, a partner at Beacon Policy Advisors in Washington and a former Senate aide. “And Grassley is crucial to passing any legislation that would help Puerto Rico.” ................(more)


Scandal at CalPERS

CalPERS Board, Scandal-Ridden Fiduciary Counsel, Plan to Break California Law in Effort to Silence Board Member for Asking Too Many Questions, Seeking Records
Posted on December 1, 2015 by Yves Smith

The starkest proof of how CalPERS’ board is willing go to extreme, and in this case, illegal steps to defend staff rather than oversee it came in its Governance Committee meeting last month. We’ve chronicled how the board fell in line with recommendation by staff and its new, tainted fiduciary counsel, Robert Klausner, for fewer board meetings, even though CEO Anne Stausboll offered no factual support for of her assertion that her subordinates are overworked or that she has considered, much less exhausted, alternatives for streamlining the process or increasing staffing. Moreover, to the extent that board meeting take a lot of employee time, Stausboll’s stage management of the monthly board meetings via illegal private briefings is a major contributor.

In the next section of this board meeting, Klausner and most of the board participated in what one observer called a “hating on JJ Jelincic” session. Board member JJ Jelincic has engaged in what is an unpardonable sin: he asks too many questions at board meeting and occasionally requests documents from staff. If you’ve looked at board videos (as we have) the alleged “too many questions” are few in number save when staff obfuscates and Jelincic tries to get to the bottom of things.

This section of the Governance Committee meeting clearly shows that the board, aided and abetted by Klausner, is in the process of establishing a procedure for implementing trumped-up sanctions against Jelincic, presumably so as to facilitate an opponent unseating him in his next election. But Jelincic’s term isn’t up until 2018, so from their perspective they are stuck with an apostate in their ranks for an uncomfortably long amount of time. Part of their strategy appears to harass him into compliance with the posture the rest of the board, that of ceding authority to staff and conducting board meetings that are largely ceremonial. We strongly urge you to watch the pertinent portion in full, and have provide a link and annotations at the end of this post.*

And what are Jelincic’s supposed cardinal sins, aside from being too inquisitive? That of using the California Public Records Act (California’s version of FOIA) to request documents that staff refused to produce. Mind you, Jelincic has used the PRA all of three times, in #2029 on June 8, 2015, #2077 on July 14, 2015 and #2084 (a duplicate of #2077, so it is not really a separate request, as far as staff effort is concerned) on July 16, 2015. And these requests were for a small number of recent, readily accessible records. By contrast, virtually all of our Public Records Act requests have been far more difficult to fulfill, so it is hard to depict Jelincic’s modest submissions as burdensome. ...................(more)



CalPERS Used Sleight of Hand, Accounting Tricks, to Make False “There is No Alternative” Claim for Private Equity
Posted on December 1, 2015 by Yves Smith

One of the striking elements of the November CalPERS private equity workshop for the ostensible benefit of its board was the length to which the giant pension fund was willing to go to distort data and abuse analytical methods to make the case that only private equity could offer the returns needed to meet CalPERS’ performance targets. These tricks were obvious to finance experts, which means that it is almost certain that CalPERS’ staff and the experts on its panel understood full well that they were pulling the wool over the board’s and public’s eyes.

The fact that CalPERS could not make an honest case for private equity suggests that there was no honest case to be made.

Here is a short form dissection of the CalPERS trickery from our illegally-curtalied public comments (more on the violations of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act in a future post):


The overarching message of this workshop has been that private equity delivers returns that are superior and are necessary for CalPERS’ program. In other words, There Is No Alternative. As a result, CalPERS must submit to various indignities, such as lack of transparency, extremely high fees, and one-sided agreements, and outright corruption.

This message is false. There was considerable amount of slight of hand is at work in these slides, most important in the analysis of returns. Professor Batt touched on that a bit. Due to time limits I can give only a few examples.

First, in the opening section, you implicitly had a new benchmark introduced. The returns were compared against that of other asset classes in CalPERS’ portfolio. That’s not how private equity has been presented to the board in the past, nor is it what you will see in the next section when Réal Desrochers presents the annual program review.

If you look in the next section on pages 20 and 21 of his slides, you see that private equity has not met it benchmarks over the last ten years or in any sub-period. Worse, PE not only failed to meet its risk premium, it’s often failed to beat similar stocks. In other words, CalPERS is not being paid enough for the risks it is taking in private equity, and by a lot.

Let’s unpack this a bit. ..................(more)


There Better Be a Miracle for Retailers

There Better Be a Miracle for Retailers
by Wolf Richter • November 30, 2015

They tried to spin it in the most favorable light, and even then it was ugly.

It’s early in the shopping season, and Americans might still come out and head to the mall in massive numbers and do their patriotic duty and buy things that ideally no one needs made in countries they don’t know with money they don’t have to prop up manufactures, middlemen, transportation companies, oil companies, the entire supply chain, and finally US retailers that have hired hundreds of thousands of part-timers just for this sacred period of the year.

The hope is that these consumers will get their act together to relieve the enormous pressures that have built up behind the scenes: ballooning inventories. But it doesn’t look like it.

After months of crummy retail sales across the nation, followed up by earnings warnings and lousy results from big retailers, the first numbers are in for the Thanksgiving Weekend. And they support ugly anecdotal evidence of less crowded malls and parking lots: Brick-and-mortar retailers are having a hard time.

The results of the National Retail Federation’s Thanksgiving Weekend Survey were painfully – some might say willfully – murky: It said nearly 102 million people shopped in stores over the Thanksgiving weekend, while over 103 million shopped online, including via mobile devices. Given the overlap, over 151 million people did at least some shopping over the weekend. That’s 47% of the entire US population of 319 million. This would be a good sign, at least the surge in online shopping would be. But average spending over the weekend was a measly $299.60 per person.


But Bloomberg compared the numbers that were “not comparable” and found that the average spent per person over the weekend had been $380.95 in 2014 and $407.02 in 2013. So this year’s sales would represent a 26% and 27% plunge! .............(more)


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