Barack Obama’s biggest second-term challenge isn’t guns or immigration. It’s saving his biggest first-term achievements, like the Dodd-Frank law, from being dismembered by lobbyists and conservative jurists in the shadowy, Byzantine “rule-making” process.
In late 2010, Bart Chilton, one of three Democratic commissioners at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), walked into an upper-floor suite of an executive office building to meet with four top muckety-mucks at one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.
There were a handful of staff members present, but it was a pretty small gathering—one, it turns out, that Chilton would never forget.
The main topic Chilton hoped to discuss that day was the CFTC’s pending rule on what are known as “position limits.” If implemented properly, position limits would put a leash on speculation in the commodities market by making it harder for heavyweight traders at places like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase to corner a market, make a killing for themselves, and screw up prices for the rest of us. Position limits are also one of many ways to tamp down the amount of risk big institutions can take on, which keeps them from going belly up and minimizes the chance taxpayers will have to bail them out.
The financial institution Chilton was meeting with that day was a big commodities exchange, which is like a stock exchange except that instead of trading stocks they trade derivatives based on the value of actual products, like oil and gas. Chilton wouldn’t say which major commodities exchange he was meeting with that day, but suffice it to say two of the biggest—the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Intercontinental Exchange—have a lot to lose from federally administered position limits. To them, the more derivatives traded, the better. They’ve been fighting the CFTC’s attempts to establish position limits for years.
The passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010 seemed to promise meaningful reform on this front. The law includes Section 737, which explicitly directs the CFTC to establish position limits and lays out detailed guidelines on how they should do so. “The Commission shall by rule, regulation or order establish limits on the amount of positions, as appropriate,” it reads.
Still, even with the strength of the law behind him, Chilton waited until the end of the meeting to broach what he knew would be a tense subject. He began diplomatically. Now that the CFTC was required by law to establish position limits, his commission wanted to do so “in a fashion that made sense—one that was sensitive to, but not necessarily reflective of, the views of the exchange,” he told the executives.
Chilton’s gracious overture fell flat. His hosts, who had been openly discussing other topics moments before, were suddenly silent. They deferred instead to their top lawyer, who explained that the exchange’s interpretation of Section 737 was that the CFTC was not required to establish position limits at all.
Chilton was blindsided. While other parts of Dodd-Frank were, admittedly, vague and ambiguous and otherwise frustrating to those, like him, who were tasked with writing the hundreds of rules associated with the act, Section 737 didn’t exactly pull any punches. The Commission shall establish limits on the amount of positions, as appropriate.
“You gotta be kidding,” Chilton told the executives. “The law is very clear here. The congressional intent
But the executives stood their ground. Their lawyer quietly referred Chilton to the end of the sentence in question: as appropriate. Those two little words, the lawyer said, clearly modify the verb “shall.” Therefore, the statute can be interpreted as saying that the commission shall—but only if appropriate—establish position limits, he explained.
Anyone with a passable command of the English language should, faced with that argument, feel both dismay and a grudging sort of admiration. After all, given the context in which that sentence appears, the sheer brazenness of such a linguistic sleight of hand is, in a way, inspired. It’s the kind of thing that would make Dick Cheney and John Yoo proud. Joseph Heller has written books on less.
In a meeting with a group of Arab Americans this week, U.S. President Barack Obama revealed that he will not push the Israelis and Palestinians toward restarting negotiations or outline a new peace initiative during his upcoming visit to the region, but he will take with him a cash infusion of $500 million – which Congress will soon release – of much needed financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Obama met at the White House with members from the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute, the Arab Federation of Ramallah, the American Task Force for Palestine and other individuals and groups.
As noted too many times, we have no money and even if we did Hamas and those who voted for Hamas don’t deserve our taxpayer dollars and furthermore, the more we give them the more they kill.
Marine to Reid: Stop ‘Posturing’ on ‘Backs of Dead Marines’
Marine Corps officials are accusing majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) of “pure political posturing” for implying that the Hawthorne Army Depot explosion that killed seven Marines today in Nevada was a consequence of the sequester.
While offering his condolences on the Senate floor this morning, Reid cited defense cuts caused by sequestration and warned that these types of cuts put members of the military at risk.
NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that Marine Corps officials took serious issue with Reid’s implication that the explosion was a result of sequester cuts, and said that was not the reason for the accident. One official went so far as to say Reid was doing “nothing but pure political posturing on the backs of these dead Marines.” They told Miklaszewski that the live-fire training exercise was planned well in advance and would not have taken place if they felt the Marines were at risk because of the cuts.
Sculptor Releases Mysterious Spirits Already in Trees
Sculptor Keith Jennings carves wise faces into trees, revealing each wooden tower’s inner spirit. Jennings first embarked on his Tree Spirits project back in 1982 when he decided to creatively manipulate a tree in his backyard with a few hand tools. Starting out as a way to kill time on a budget, the artist wound up honing his craft. Jennings was later commissioned to apply his wood sculpting skills on a series of trees throughout St. Simons Island, located right off the coast of the state of Georgia….Jennings took two to four days to sculpt each serene face throughout the forest, allowing them to intriguingly blend into their surroundings. (Of course, once they’re spotted, it’s hard not to notice their faces.) Each sculptural portrait emerges from its wooden post like a haunting sage, ready to impart some knowledge. The artist says that each face he carves into the wood is created entirely according to the tree. He insists, “I don’t have that much to do with it. The wood speaks to you, ya know?”
Jennings’ Tree Spirits project is on display throughout St. Simons Island (along private and public property) and the artist has conveniently tracked each one on Google Maps.