Explaining Southern California's economy

Why Oakland vs. Goldman Sachs is an interest-rate mess

Earns Goldman Sachs

Richard Drew/AP

The price of Goldman Sachs stock is shown at a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Wall Street bank is fighting with Oakland about a deal that goes back to the late 1990s.

If you want to engage in a nice, deep dive into the murky depths of municipal finance, investment banking, and the post-financial crisis world of rock-bottom interest rates, then you're going to want to spend some time getting to know a dispute that's been brewing between Oakland and the Wall Street investment bank that everyone loves to hate, Goldman Sachs. 

The Financial Times has been covering the fracas. But I'll break it down to a few bullet points:

•15 years ago, Oakland did a deal with Goldman to buy interest rate swaps, a type of financial derivative, as insurance against interest-rate volatility on bonds Oakland had issued.

•The bonds in question were commonly used before the Great Recession, but since then cities have gotten rid of them, refinancing the variable-rate debt into fixed-rate debt. But Oakland's swap deal with Goldman runs through 2021.

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Why is Occupy LA so much more calm — and successful — than other Occupy movements?

Corey Moore/KPCC

Hundreds of Occupy protesters gathered downtown LA for a march through the financial district

The news broke earlier today that Occupy LA has been offered a pretty sweet deal by the city to clear its tents from the lawn around City Hall. In return, the two-month-old protest movement — which has been for the most part a model of peaceful agitation — will get 10,000 feet of nearby office space.

For $1!

Oh, and the city is evidently throwing in some farmland.

Yes, farmland.

For Occupy LA protesters who might, you know, want to work the land.

This is a remarkable development, for three reasons:

  • Occupy LA, unlike its far more belligerent cousins in the Bay Area, is beginning to shift into something of an entrepreneurial mode. It trades tents, dead grass, and cold nights for...office space! Occupy LA, in short, is starting to organize itself like a business, or at least a more conventional political movement, with the eminently practical goal of moving its operations indoors.
  • Occupy is also proving that the ostensibly leaderless movement can throw up some quasi-leaders. Members of Occupy LA have clearly been negotiating with the city, and while this is ticking off the movement's hardcore elements, it's a welcome evolution.
  • The farming thing is strange, but also consistent with the ethos of earlier protest movements — such as those that emerged in the 1960s — which often had a communal, agrarian component. 

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Occupy LA gets more aggressive

Occupy Protesters March In Downtown L.A.

David McNew/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 5: Police officers stand guard as Occupy LA protesters stop to demonstrate at a Bank of America during the Move Your Money March on what is being called Bank Transfer Day on November 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. Occupy movement members are calling for people to move their money from banks to credit unions today in support of the 99% movement. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

When compared with Occupy protest movements in New York, Oakland, and now Berkeley, Occupy LA has seemed like a blissed-out band of peaceniks. No police confrontations. No tear gas. No rubber bullets. No truncheons. 

Until now. Well, OK, there's been no real violence. But elements of Occupy LA did...actually occupy something other than the lawn of City Hall last night. They moved into a Bank of American branch lobby. KPCC's Corey Moore got the story:

About 50 protesters holding signs and chanting "Make banks pay" briefly took over the lobby of a Bank of America branch in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday night, calling for greater accountability. They were part of a march of about a thousand people demanding that financial corporations help resolve the state’s budget problems.

It's not clear yet whether the Occupy Movement is ramping up its provocations because it wants to...or needs to, given that the public and the media may be losing interest in the protests.

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Occupy Wall Street: Out of gas?

The Occupy Oakland protesters set a fire

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Occupy Oakland protesters set a fire on trash to make a barricade as the police officers form a line to disperse the protesters on November 3, 2011 in Oakland, California. AFP Photo/ Kimihiro Hoshino (Photo credit should read KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images)

At MarketWatch, Jon Friedman thinks so — and looks no farther than his ink-stained brethren for blame:

The media, serving as a proxy for the general population, are impatient and bored by what outwardly seems like a marked lack of progress.

No less an authority on American social movements than folk singer Joan Baez, a notable dissident during the eras of the Vietnam and nuclear protests, said: “I’ll be convinced when it develops a real direction. ... So far it’s hard to tell.”

The only time someone gets excited about the protests these days is when some external force intervenes, such as when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted (unsuccessfully) to clear the park, purportedly to clean it.

Bummer. Althought those involved with the Occupy Oakland wing of the movement might disagree, as protestors there clashed with police over an effort to shut down the city's port. 

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