Among the 15 top donors to outside political groups this election cycle, only two happen to work for the same company: James Simons, the billionaire founder and chairman of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies is a prominent Democrat. RenTech's co-chief executive, Robert Mercer, is a Republican backer of right-wing tea party candidates. In all, they've given $3 million to political groups and candidates that often seem to be diametrically opposed.
In an election year in which the Democratic Party's Wall Street donors have threatened to jump ship, RenTech's approach may provide a roadmap for the financial sector's evolving political strategy. By all appearances, the notoriously secretive hedge fund approaches politics as it approaches investing: by hedging its bets.
Bank of America, which last fall announced plans to lay off 30,000 workers, is about to go on a hiring spree—overseas.
America's second-largest bank is relocating its business-support operations to the Philippines, according to a high-ranking Filipino government official recently quoted in the Filipino press. The move, which includes a portion of the bank's customer service unit, comes less than three years after Bank of America received a $45 billion federal bailout.
Roman Romulo, deputy majority leader of the Philippine House of Representatives, bragged to the Manila Standard Today earlier this month that the Philippines "has secured its place as the world's fastest-growing outsourcing hub." Romulo pointed out that BofA is the last of the "big four" US banks to move their business-support network to his island nation, where the average family makes $4,700 a year.
A spokesman for Bank of America, Mark Pipitone, was unable to provide additional information about the bank's offshoring plans on Friday. "We have employees and operations where we can ensure that we best serve our customers and clients," he told me in an email.
A Working Families Party table at the Winston Melon Festival in southern Oregon
In recent years, Oregon state Rep. Mike Schaufler spent some $6,000 from his campaign coffers on more than 90 separate visits to Magoo's Sports Bar in Salem. A five-term Democrat known around the capitol as "Bud Man," Schaufler was tight with Republicans and corporate donors, who helped him raise 60 percent more money than progressive challenger Jeff Reardon in the lead-up to last Tuesday's Democratic primary. So Schaufler must have awoken with an epic hangover on the morning after the election, because he somehow managed to lose his seat.
Reardon, a high school teacher with limited resources and minimal political juice, says he never could have dispatched such a powerful incumbent were it not for the help of a relatively new political force in Oregon: the Working Families Party. Since its founding in New York 14 years ago, the WFP has expanded into four other states and logged a string of high-profile political victories—from reforming New York's drug laws to providing the extra votes needed to clinch the election of Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a liberal leader in a fairly moderate state. Many progressives believe the WFP could eventually become the left's answer to the tea party.
Back before the housing bubble burst, sending America's economy into a tailspin, hedge fund manager and former CitiGroup banker Bruce Rose was marketing himself as the guy who single-handedly invented subprime mortgage-backed securities. Indeed, Carrington Investment Partners, part of a cluster of related companies founded by Rose, competed with the big investment banks to package and sell mortgage debt to investors. Now Rose and his companies are positioning themselves to feed off the tail end of the meltdown their business practices helped create, joining a foreclosure-to-rental trend that some experts say could hurt homeowners even more.
Earlier this year, Carrington announced a partnership with another hedge fund to buy nearly half a billion dollars worth of foreclosed single-family homes and convert them into rental properties. Carrington is by no means the only one doing this. Silicon Valley-based private equity firm GI Partners is investing more than $1 billion in similar ventures. Other foreclosure-to-rental players, according to Bloomberg, include the $19-billion investment fund Starwood Capital Group,* the billionaire media magnate Sam Zell, and Apollo Investment Management—the New York buyout firm led by the billionaire Leon Black.
Various Artists Occupy This Album
Music for Occupy
Like the '60s-era social movements that inspired the performers at Woodstock, the Occupy movement has proved an irresistible draw to musicians. Dropping in on Zuccotti Park last fall was a who's who of socially conscious music luminaries from Russell Simmons and Kanye West to Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon. They came out to inspire the protesters with their music or celebrity, but the inspiration apparently works both ways—judging, at least, from this new box set featuring 99 songs by A-list performers from Willie Nelson to Ladytron to Thievery Corporation.
Though many of the songs were recorded before last fall, others dwell directly on Occupy Wall Street. They don't always succeed, but an Occupy-themed track by Third Eye Blind, "If There Ever Was A Time," is a gem. (Listen below.) Over a typically catchy hook, front man Stephan Jenkins proclaims:
If there ever way a time, it would be now, that's all I'm sayin'
If there ever was a time to get on your feet and take it to the street
Because you're the one that's getting played right now by the game they're playin'
So come on, meet me down at Zuccotti Park
Like Zuccotti Park last fall, with its mashup of sometimes discordant messages, the wide mix of sounds on Occupy This Album can sometimes make your head spin. On Disc 2, for instance you'll hear a punk-rock song by Anti-Flag followed by a reggae jam followed by a ditty by Jill Sobule that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?