Occupy The SEC
by Alexander Eichler:
"A handful of protesters at Occupy Wall Street are doing what the authors of a complex piece of financial legislation may have hoped no one would do. They are reading it.
The legislation is a draft of the so-called Volcker rule, a 298-page regulatory document that came out of last year's Dodd-Frank financial reform act. As originally proposed by Paul Volcker, then chairman of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, the rule was aimed in part at preventing federally backed banks from making risky trades that could ultimately cost taxpayers. But in its current form, the Volcker rule is long, dense and -- critics fear -- full of language that affords banks a lot of wiggle room.
"It's a daunting document to look at," said Alexis Goldstein, a former financial sector employee who joined the Occupy protests a few weeks ago.
Yet Goldstein, 30, and a small party of fellow Occupiers are doing just that. The group, known as Occupy the SEC, has been reading through the Volcker rule line by line, flagging passages that seem to enable banks to skirt around regulatory intentions.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, now in its third month, has drawn fire from people who say its members are too vague in their criticism of the financial system. Occupy the SEC, which consists of between four and eight New York protesters, would seem immune to such charges. Its members are compiling a list of highly specific points, and their ultimate goal is to submit a letter to regulators detailing their concerns before the Jan. 13 deadline.
Anyone can send in comments on the draft of the Volcker rule -- and regulators will review those submissions before producing a final version of the measure -- but, as in most cases where draft rules are made available for public scrutiny, not everyone has the time or inclination to parse hundreds of pages of regulatory jargon. Goldstein noted that most of the comments on financial rules end up coming from the banks themselves, arguing for greater leniency.
Yet regulators "have to read and acknowledge" every letter that comes in, Goldstein said, and she hopes that Occupy the SEC can offer a bit of pushback.
"We just want to be a voice that's saying something different from what the banks are saying," Goldstein told HuffPost.
Occupy the SEC is just one of several dozen task forces within New York's greater Occupy movement, and Goldstein emphasized that she and the others going over the Volcker rule do not speak for or represent the wishes of Occupy Wall Street as a whole. But Occupy the SEC is in good company when it comes to casting a skeptical eye on the Volcker draft.
Paul Volcker himself has expressed displeasure with the current proposal, which is 30 times as long as the version originally included in Dodd-Frank. And this past Wednesday, a group of 17 House Democrats issued a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke asking that the latest incarnation of the Volcker rule be thrown out and replaced with something more streamlined, calling the current version "unnecessarily complex."
Other critics have charged that the Volcker rule gives banks too much responsibility for self-regulation and that its rules come bundled with exemptions in language so vague they undermine the whole effort.
"There are exceptions in there you could drive buses through," said Lawrence Baxter, a professor at Duke University School of Law.
That's what Occupy the SEC is on the lookout for." (http://www.economics.arawakcity.org/node/968)