It's got all the ingredients of a high-stakes courtroom thriller: billions of dollars on the line, intense Wall Street deal-making, and highly profitable oil speculation. But the big banks aren't taking any chances in this drama. They've hired the son of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia to help them fight regulations which might crimp their profits.
In one of the highest-profile challenges to the sweeping Dodd-Frank financial industry overhaul, two financial industry groups sued the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in federal court to toss a rule that limits speculation by banks.
On Monday, a federal judge turned down Eugene Scalia's request to immediately stop the CFTC's enforcement of the rule, which would scale back excessive speculation in the trading of oil contracts. But U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins seemed inclined to side with Wall Street and Scalia, going so far as to express his doubts about the CFTC's need for such a rule. "I'm kind of skeptical about their position of Congress mandating position limits," Wilkins said.
Scalia argued that the agency never determined whether the rule was "necessary and appropriate," claiming that it would end up costing big Wall Street firms, such as Barclays and JPMorgan. CFTC deputy general counsel Jonathan Marcus countered by stating that the banks' costs will be "miniscule."
The debate took place against a backdrop of rapidly climbing gas prices, which is partly due to the role of oil speculators, according to industry analysts. Those speculators outnumber by more than 2-to-1 the "traders who actually produce or consume oil," according to McClatchy.
The CFTC was ordered by Congress in 2010 to apply the rule to oil trading before expanding its application to speculation in other commodities. Last year, the financial industry barraged the regulator with thousands of comment letters that complained about this one rule's "immediate, irreversible costs," but it was eventually finalized in October.
"This is one of the most important rules: to limit wild speculation in the commodity markets, which hurts every American family," says Dennis Kelleher, the president and CEO of Better Markets, an advocacy group. "It doesn't only run up a family's bill but also every town struggling under shrinking budgets. Their gas bills for the cops and firefighters are going through the roof."
Kelleher said he expects a decision later this week on whether or not Wilkins will hear the case.
Eugene Scalia has proven himself as an effective warrior against Dodd-Frank. One aspect of the law aimed to give shareholders more power in choosing candidates for corporate boards but Scalia convinced a court to trash that idea last year, reports McClatchy.
Parks Charity Spends More On Itself Than Parks: Report
The foundation established to accept and administer gifts for the National Park Service spends more on fundraising, overhead and feeding corporate donors than on grants to parks, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The National Park Foundation's fundraising is meant "to further the conservation or natural, scenic, historic, scientific, educational, inspirational, or recreational resources for future generations of Americans," but less than one-third of its expenditures went to parks ($4.5 million) with over $5 million going to fundraising, administrative expenses and promotional materials.
"Giving to the National Park Foundation is like trying to support a university by endowing its fraternity," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that charity watchdog groups recommend that 75 percent of dollars raised should go to the program. "People who want to support national parks should look first to local park-specific 'friends' groups."
On a related front, the National Park Service's strategic plan for its 2016 centennial calls for a billion-dollar corporate-financed endowment through the foundation, with no provision to limit the ability of contributors to "leverage access or influence" over park policy, notes PEER. Recently, major contributor Coca Cola caught flack for attempting to block a ban on the sales of plastic water bottles in national parks.
A spokesperson for the foundation did not return emails for comment.
Walmart Exec Warns About Food Safety Outbreaks
A top Walmart executive recently warned his colleagues around the world that "food safety is at a crossroads," highlighting last year's deadly outbreaks of E. coli related to sprouts in Germany and listeria tied to cantelopes in the U.S. Ralph Yiannas, the giant retailer's vice president of food safety recently told 900 of his colleagues at a food safety conference that "outbreaks are getting larger and the world is getting smaller," and recommended a collaborative approach to the problem, reminding his audience that "consumer trust is at its worst," reports Food Business News.
* The remains of some 9/11 victims ended up in a landfill, according to a investigative report by a Pentagon panel, which blamed contractor malfeasance and improper oversight at Delaware's Dover Air Force base.
* A Dallas doctor bilked the government out of more than $375 million in billings for nonexistent home healthcare services, the largest Medicaid fraud case in history, according to the Justice Department.
* Energy Secretary Ken Salazar says he's "confident" that the federal ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon will withstand legal challenges.
* Never underestimate the power of the American public to hold two contradictory ideas at once: While 70 percent to 89 percent of respondents in a recent Pew poll support five specific types of current regulation, 52 percent of them say that regulation of business "usually does more harm than good," reports Center for Progressive Reform member scholar Sidney Shapiro.