Thursday, April 30, 2009

Environmental Class Action to Proceed Against Chrysler, Behr

A class action environmental lawsuit filed by Ohio residents who live near a former Chrysler Motors plant in Dayton should proceed with their suit, despite a pending investigation into the site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a magistrate judge has recommended.

The class action environmental lawsuit claims that Chrysler and the plant’s owner, Behr Dayton Thermal Products, negligently, recklessly and intentionally contaminated groundwater. As a result, a plume of underground poisonous vapors expose nearby residents to volatile organic compounds (also known as VOCs), including trichloroethane (also known as TCE) and vinyl chloride.

TCE can cause headaches, lung irritation, dizziness, incoordination and difficulty concentrating. Long-term exposure to TCE can lead to permanent nerve, kidney and liver damage.

The environmental litigation claims that Chrysler has known of the groundwater and soil contamination since at least 1999 but has not stopped it or warned residents of the danger. In addition to the health hazards associated with VOCs, the suit alleges, the residents’ property values have fallen.

Chrysler reported the contamination to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, and the federal EPA began its own probe into the site contamination in November of that year. Lawyers representing Chrysler and Behr Dayton asked the federal court to dismiss or stay the environmental litigation while the EPA investigates. On April 17, U.S. Magistrate Judge Sharon L. Ovington issued a report to the district court in which she concluded that the environmental lawsuit would not interfere with the EPA’s activities.

Oppenheimer Pennsylvania Municipal Fund OPATX Securities Stock Fraud

Company: Oppenheimer Pennsylvania Municipal Fund
Ticker Symbol: OPATX
Class Period: Nov-28-05 to Nov-28-08
Date Filed: Apr-29-09
Lead Plaintiff Deadline: Jun-28-09
Court: Western District of Pennsylvania
A class action lawsuit has been commenced in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on behalf of persons and entities that purchased shares of the Oppenheimer Pennsylvania Municipal Fund (the "Pennsylvania Fund" or "Fund") between November 28, 2005 and November 28, 2008 ("Class Period").

The complaint alleges that the Pennsylvania Fund, Oppenheimer Funds and certain of its officers and trustees violated the Securities Act of 1933 and the Investment Company Act of 1940 by departing from the stated investment premise and otherwise injured Fund shareholders.

The Pennsylvania Fund is a municipal bond fund yielding interest income exempt from federal and Pennsylvania income taxes. The complaint alleges that during the Class Period, the Registration Statements and Prospectuses misled investors about the Fund's investment objectives, policies and the underlying risk by characterizing its investments as consistent with preservation of capital. In fact, the Fund lost over 33% of its net asset value ("NAV") in 2008 compared with an average peer group loss of approximately 9.5%. The complaint alleges that capital preservation was disregarded as the Fund significantly increased exposure through excessively risky strategies not properly disclosed to investors.

Specifically, the overarching principle of capital preservation was compromised by concentrating large positions in low rated bonds, bonds not reviewed by an independent rating agency and by portfolio concentration in high risk securities including, Tobacco Bonds, Dirt Bonds, and Inverse Floaters.

If you acquired the securities of the defendants during the Class Period you may, no later than the Lead Plaintiff Deadline shown above, request that the Court appoint you as lead plaintiff through counsel of your choice. You may also choose to remain an absent class member. A lead plaintiff must meet certain requirements.

Oppenheimer Pennsylvania Municipal Fund OPATX Securities Fraud Legal Help

Securities Fraud: Reeling in the Small Fries

Thomas Etheredge, Wild West World founder, is arrested

The Wichita Eagle

Wild West World founder Thomas Etheredge was taken into custody at the San Antonio airport late this afternoon on a Kansas warrant for investigation of fraud, according to law enforcement and airport officials.

The arrest culminates a two-year state probe into what Etheredge told private investors in late 2006 and 2007 as he scrambled to raise money to salvage his insolvent theme park, which went bankrupt in July 2007.

State securities officials completed their probe into Etheredge's financial activities earlier this spring and turned the case over to Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston, whose office approved the arrest warrant last week. Charges have not been filed in the case.

A separate FBI investigation of Etheredge related to the park's failure remains under way, according to sources close to the case.

Kansas law requires that investors must receive an accurate picture of a business's financial status before investing. Several investors told the state and The Eagle that Etheredge offered no prospectus or park balance sheets, characterizing the park only as a good investment.

Today's airport arrest came with the assistance of a southern Texas ranching family that invested with Etheredge in an alpaca fiber marketing venture. The family continued to financially support Etheredge up to his arrest this week.

The arrest isn't Etheredge's first bout with securities-related legal problems. He admitted in 2005 that he served 4 ½ years in prison in the 1980s for securities fraud, more than half of that in Kansas.

Wild West World saga

Etheredge, who successfully operated the Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper in Benton, announced plans for Wild West World in December 2004, but ran into financial problems less than two years later.

In November 2006, according to bankruptcy court documents, Etheredge began soliciting private investors for the park, a drive that continued until days before the park closed. Etheredge's Wichita attorney, Steve Joseph, has indicated that the park's insolvency dates back into 2006.

In December 2006, Etheredge began the first of several cash transfers from the park's parent company, Restoration Farms, into the park account. The transfers ultimately totaled a little more than $400,000 and continued into January 2007.

Also in January, Etheredge began efforts to sell the park, according to Park City officials.

The financial problems reached a peak in February 2007 when bankruptcy court records show that Etheredge -- unable to meet the park's payroll -- solicited a $25,000 loan from a New York collector of Hopalong Cassidy memorabilia.

Wild West World opened May 5, 2007, to threats of severe weather, a day after Greensburg was destroyed by a tornado.

It was plagued by one of the area' s wettest summers on record until July 9, when Etheredge closed the park. The park filed for bankruptcy the same day.

Etheredge blamed rainy weather and construction cost overruns for the park's failure.

"The weather has been bad, and I don't mean just a little bad," Etheredge said in July 2007, the week the park closed. "I mean terribly bad. How do you plan that?"

The park's biggest mortgage creditor at $6.2 million was First National Bank of Southern Kansas, the lead lender in a consortium of small Kansas banks that financed the park, according to bankruptcy court records.

The park's rides were sold off to satisfy ride brokers in the winter of 2007, leaving the park with only its infrastructure and a series of metal buildings when it was sold last summer to AHG Group, a Florida investment company specializing in casino development.

Etheredge's personal assets remain under several judgments stemming from the Wild West World bankruptcy, according to his bankruptcy attorney, Ed Nazar, and Wichita attorney Bill Zimmerman, who represents the park's creditors committee.

After Wild West World

Until sometime in March, Etheredge operated an alpaca ranch near Boerne, Texas, where he moved as Wild West World unraveled in the summer of 2007.

Alpacas are a domesticated variety of South American camelid resembling a small llama.

Etheredge gave his investors a New York City address, apparently a mail drop box similar to the one he took in San Antonio when he left Wichita.

In Texas, he and the alpaca ranch owners went into business, which yielded Etheredge and his wife almost $170,000 from August 2007 to this month, said Glynn Phillips, a relative of the ranch owners.

Phillips said Etheredge also spearheaded the formation of the American Alpaca Fiber Federation, located in Boerne. The company was formed to purchase and market alpaca fiber to denim textile mills, according to the company's Web site,

That same Web site features a photo of Etheredge's daughter, Emily, on its home page with her arm around the neck of an alpaca.

The company's signature product, Paca Blues -- trumpeted as the world's first alpaca/cotton denim fashion fabric -- made its debut in Paris last December at the Denim by Premier Vision show, according to an unattributed story on the Web site

Phillips, who contacted The Eagle on April 14, said he became concerned about the amount of money Etheredge was trying to quickly obtain from his relatives. He said Etheredge was using threats that their initial investment in the fiber business was "up against the wall."

Etheredge also sought money from Phillips' family for a fiber marketing trip to Dubai as recently as April 17, Phillips said.

Phillips said his family has a significant financial investment in the Etheredge operation, "at least several hundred thousand dollars."

Phillips said he also was concerned about Etheredge's efforts to broker the sale of the family alpaca ranch near San Antonio to a group in Dubai.

Nonetheless, Phillips said his family has confidence in the alpaca business and was divided about assisting investigators with Etheredge's arrest.

Reach Bill Wilson at 316-268-6290 or

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mercedes-Benz Tele Aid Class Action

A class action lawsuit has been certified against Mercedes-Benz, alleging that the luxury automaker knowingly sold vehicles equipped with a soon-to-be obsolete analog emergency response system. (ERS).

Specifically, the complaint alleges that Mercedes continued to promote vehicles equipped with the Tele Aid ERS system, which was provided by AT&T for a subscription fee. However, Tele Aid was an analog system and was scheduled to be replaced with digital technology in 2008, when a change in Federal Communications Commission regulations would allow AT&T to discontinue its analog cellular service.

Mercedes reportedly knew of this technology change as early as 2002, but continued to promote Tele Aid to consumers right up to 2007. The suit claims that Mercedes Benz knew the technology change would effectively render Tele Aid inoperative. Therefore, the plaintiffs allege that these actions were cause for unjust enrichment.

The class action, certified by a federal judge in New Jersey, consolidates 10 suits filed in 6 states with an estimated 100,000 possible plaintiffs.

Mercedes-Benz Tele Aid Class Action Legal Help
If you or a loved one has suffered damages in this case, please click the link below and your complaint will be sent to a lawyer who may evaluate your claim at no cost or obligation.

Click here for legal help and a free evaluation of your possible case

BOA / Ken Lewis

When Congress authorized billions to help failing banks, the goal was clear – open a stream of lending to aid struggling Americans and repair our economy.

But rather than use that money to help our struggling middle class, it's been business as usual for Bank of America's CEO, Ken Lewis.

Lewis accepted billions in taxpayer dollars while leading his company into a downward spiral, putting thousands out of work and further damaging our economy.

We've got to replace the failed leadership that led our economy down the drain! Sign our "taxpayer proxy card" today – we're delivering it to Bank of America's shareholders this Wednesday.

Ken Lewis is perhaps the worst example of an inept, wasteful CEO. Lewis got nearly $200 billion in taxpayer bailout funds¹, then turned around and paid out $3.6 billion in executive bonuses² while 35,000 employees were laid off.³

And here's the kicker: after accepting taxpayer money, Lewis has been organizing bankers and CEOs in a campaign to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act4, the bill that would restore the middle class by making it easier for workers to form unions (and help clean up the mess made by people like Lewis).

This Wednesday, April 29, Bank of America will have its annual shareholder meeting. Bank of America will be considering proposals that will determine the fate of their CEO, Ken Lewis. Since the U.S. government is the largest stakeholder in Bank of America – having accepted nearly $200 billion in taxpayer funds – taxpayers deserve a say too!

Tell Bank of America's board: we can't trust the same people who got us into this recession to lead us out – it's time to fire Bank of America's CEO, Ken Lewis!

There can't be real reform on Wall Street until the CEOs who brought down the financial system are long gone.


Liz Cattaneo
American Rights at Work

P.S. On Tuesday, April 28 "Bank of America: Enough!" events are happening around the country. You can find an event near you by clicking here.

¹ SEIU Blog, 4/24/09
² CNN Money, 2/20/09
³ SEIU Blog, 2/12/09
4 Huffington Post, 1/27/09

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Goldman Sachs' TARP Went to Buffett

By John Olagues
April 26, 2009

This article will demonstrate that the TARP subsidy given to Goldman Sachs (GS) was in effect given to Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A).

First, we lay out pertinent terms of the Goldman Sachs TARP transaction with the Treasury:

Total TARP Cash outlay to Goldman = $10 billion effective October 28, 2008

Treasury received:

1. Preferred Stock with face value of $10 billion paying currently 5% annual interest, increasing to 9% after five years.

2. Warrants to purchase 12,200,000 shares of common stock at $122.90 per share with 10 years to expiration. The 12,200,000 warrants could be reduced to 6,100,000 under certain conditions,which we consider to have a 69% probability of being achieved. We therefore assume the expected amount of warrants to be 8,000,000. The common stock was trading at $98 on the transaction day (October 28,2008).
Second, we lay out pertinent terms of the Buffett transaction with Goldman Sachs:

Total Buffett Cash outlay to Goldman = $5 billion effective September 23, 2008.

Buffett received :
1. Preferred Stock with the face value of $5 billion paying currently 10% interest

2. Warrants to purchase 43,500,000 shares of common stock at $115 per share with 5 years to expiration. The common stock opened at $128 on the day after the announced deal (September 23, 2008).

Third, we calculate the values of the warrants using a reasonable volatility assumption of .53. If a higher volatility assumption was made, the value of the warrants would be greater and the Buffett deal becomes even more valuable in comparison to the Treasury's deal.

Also for the purpose of evaluating the warrants, we assume an interest rate of 2.5% in the Buffett case with 1800 days to expiration and an interest rate of 3% in the Treasury case with 3000 days to expiration. In each case we assumed a 35 cents quarterly dividend.

With the above assumptions, the 43.5 million warrants that Buffett received were worth $2.6 billion on the day of the transaction, September 23, 2008. With the above assumptions, the warrants that the Treasury received were valued at $405 million on the day of the transaction, October 28, 2008.

Fourth, we subtract the value of Buffett's 4.5 million warrants from the cash out-layed by Buffett as below:

Buffett.......... $5 billion - $2.60 billion = $2.40 billion

If we assume that Buffett paid market value for his package, then the value of Buffett's preferred stock is worth $2.4 billion.

Fifth, we subtract the value of the 8 million warrants from the cash out-layed by the Treasury:

Treasury.......$10 billion - $405 million = $9.595 billion.

Assuming that Buffett's preferred stock has a market value of $2.4 billion, it becomes immediately obvious that the preferred stock the Treasury received has a market value of far less than the $9.595 billion.

Goldman is paying both Buffett and the Treasury $500 million annually at present with the payments to increase to $900 million to the Treasury after 5 years. Since we know the value of Buffett’s warrants and the preferred, we can draw a conclusion as to what the Treasury’s preferred are worth.

The market value of the preferred stock received by the Treasury is less than $4.6 billion making the package that the Treasury received equal to approximately $5 billion and the subsidy to Goldman equal to $5 billion. Let’s assume that Buffett's package had market value of $7.5 billion instead of the $5 billion that Buffett paid to Goldman. This would be true if the preferred shares were valued at closer to $5 billion. Accordingly, the package to the Treasury should be valued at perhaps $7.5 billion, because the preferred that the Treasury received would therefore be worth closer to $5 billion.

Under this scenario, the Treasury subsidy was just $2.5 billion to Goldman. Therefore in effect the Curmudgeon from Omaha got a great deal and the tax payers paid for it. In other words, Buffett underpaid by $2.5 billion for what he received and the Treasury overpaid by $2.5 billion.

Case where both packages were valued at $ 5 billion

Amt of ................................................................Amt of..

Transaction.....Recipient..........Purchaser.....Subsidy to GS

$10 Billion .......Goldman..........Treasury...........$5 Billion

$5 Billion........Goldman.......... Buffett................0

Case where both packages were valued at $7.5 billion

Amt of Amt of
Transaction.......Recipient........Purchaser.....Subsidy to GS......

$10 Billion .....…Goldman..........Treasury.........$2.5 Billion

$5 Billion.......…Goldman......…Buffett...........- $2.5 Billion

FDIC Bullying Community Banks

Star Tribune, Mn.;

Federal regulators cited the Brickwell Community Bank of Woodbury; State Bank of Aurora in Aurora and the Riverbank of Wyoming for lax lending and collection practices.

By CHRIS SERRES, Star Tribune

Last update: April 24, 2009 - 8:57 PM
The financial crisis is far from over for many of Minnesota's smaller community banks.
Three more were ordered by federal regulators to clean up their balance sheets. Each was cited for "hazardous lending and lax collection practices" in cease-and-desist orders issued last month and made public Friday.

Fifteen banks in Minnesota have received cease-and-desist orders from the FDIC or Federal Reserve since early 2008 -- putting the state in the top five for most in the nation.

While most of Minnesota's 322 state-chartered banks are in sound condition, the state Department of Commerce's "watch list" of troubled banks has surged to 57 from just a dozen in 2005. Some people who never thought twice about the safety of their deposits are shifting money to institutions that appear safe.

Though giant banks on Wall Street are getting most of the federal rescue money and much of the scrutiny for their role in creating and investing in mortgaged-backed securities, many smaller banks have gotten into trouble by concentrating on commercial real estate loans -- including loans to developers as well as business loans backed by real estate. Banks are having to write down the value of collateral as property values drop.

All three banks hit with cease-and-desist orders Friday had unusually high concentrations of commercial real estate loans. They include Brickwell Community Bank of Woodbury; State Bank of Aurora in Aurora and the Riverbank of Wyoming. The FDIC ordered all three to increase their capital and develop written plans within 60 days to reduce their concentration of assets. The banks consented to the actions.

A cease-and-desist order usually spells out a series of corrective measures and is a common enforcement action of regulators. It does not mean a bank is in danger or its deposits aren't safe.

"As with most community banks, we did not participate in subprime lending, but that doesn't mean we're not affected by it," said Craig Danielson, chief executive officer of Riverbank, with five branches and $485 million in assets. "When the housing stopped, land development loans were hit hard in that sector of the economy."

The FDIC had the toughest words for tiny Brickwell Community, an $80 million bank that has one of the highest concentrations of commercial real estate loans in the state. Brickwell opened its doors in 2004 when community banks were sprouting all over the state.

The Woodbury bank was cited by the FDIC for operating with a board of directors that "failed to provide adequate supervision," as well as failing to obtain adequate collateral on loans and extending credit with "inadequate diversification of risk."

Brickwell has largely stayed away from construction and development loans, but the bank was affected by the real estate downturn because it specialized in making business loans secured by real estate. As of Dec. 31, the bank's noncurrent loans and foreclosed real estate made up about 13 percent of its total loans -- more than four times that of its peers, according to FDIC data.

Brickwell has never posted a profit. Ivar Peterson, president and CEO of Brickwell, did not return telephone calls Friday.

In a statement, State Bank of Aurora said its "directors and bank management have been proactive in addressing and working towards solutions of the issues we are faced with."

Though Minnesota hasn't had a bank failure since First Integrity of Staples was shut down a year ago, bank closings continue to mount nationally.

Friday, the FDIC closed four more banks, bringing to 29 the number of failures this year. In most cases, the banks are taken over by regulators or larger institutions and depositors are unaffected. Friday, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp assumed $374 million in deposits of an Idaho bank.

Chris Serres • 612-673-4308

New Flu Cultured in a Bilderberg Lab?

Swine Flu Is Deadly Mix Of Never-Before-Seen Viruses

Paul Joseph Watson

By N2H

April 25, 2009

Swine flu panic is spreading in Mexico and soldiers are patrolling the streets
after it was confirmed that human to human transmission is occurring
and that the virus is a brand new strain which is seemingly affecting young,
healthy people the worst, and that the bug is a never-before-seen
intercontinental mixture of human, avian and pig viruses
from America, Europe and Asia.

Clues that the virus may be a synthetic creation are already manifesting.According to reports, the virus is a "never-before-seen form of the flu that combines pig, bird and human viruses" which consists of an
intercontinental mix of viruses from North America, Europe and Asia.

"CDC officials detected a virus with a unique combination of gene segments
that have not been seen in people or pigs before,"
according to an Associated Press report.

"This strain of swine influenza that´s beencultured in a laboratory
is something that´s not been seen anywhere actually in the United States
and the world, so this is actually a new strain of influenza that´s been identified," said Dr. John Carlo, Dallas Co. Medical Director (video clip here).

Alarming reports are now filtering in about people catching the illness
who have had no contact with pigs whatsoever. These include a man
and his daughter in San Diego County, a 41-year-old woman in Imperial County
and two teenagers in San Antonio, Texas. In fact, in all U.S. cases,
the victims had no contact with any pigs.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, San Diego County´s public health officer, told KPBS
"We have had person-to-person spread with the father and the daughter,"
says Wooten, "And also with the two teenagers in Texas, they were
in the same school. So that also indicates person-to-person transfer."

"Dr. Wooten says it´s unclear how people were exposed to swine flu.
She says none of the patients have had any contact with pigs,"
according to the report.

Although the situation in the U.S. looks under control, panic is spreading
in Mexico, where 800 cases of pneumonia in the capital alone
are suspected to be related to the swine flu and the virus has hit
young and healthy people, which is very rare with an flu outbreak.
Despite the danger of a pandemic, the U.S. border with Mexico remains open.
"Mexico has shut schools and museums and canceled hundreds
of public events in its sprawling, overcrowded capital of 20 million people
to try to prevent further infections," reports Reuters.

"My level of concern is significant," said Dr. Martin Fenstersheib,
the health officer for Santa Clara County. "We have a novel virus, a brand-new strain that´s spreading human to human, and we are also seeing
a virulent strain in Mexico that seems to be related.
We certainly have concerns for this escalating."

The WHO insists that the outbreak has "pandemic potential"
and has been stockpiling supplies of Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir, a pill that can both treat flu and prevent infection, according to officials.

As we previously highlighted, those that have a stake in the Tamiflu vaccine
include top globalists and BIlderberg members like George Shultz,
Lodewijk J.R. de Vink and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Indeed, Rumsfeld himself played a key role in hyping an outbreak of swine flu
back in the 1976 when he urged the entire country to get vaccinated.
Many batches of the vaccine were contaminated, resulting in hundreds of sick people and 52 fatalities.

The fact that the properties of the strain are completely new, that the virus
is spreading from people to people, and that the young and healthy are being hit worst, has disturbing parallels to the deadly 1918 pandemic that killed millions.
It is unclear as to why, if the virus is a brand new strain, that public health
officials are so confident programs of mass vaccination, which are already being prepared, would necessarily be effective.

It certainly wouldn´t be the first time that deadly flu viruses have been concocted in labs and then dispatched with the intention of creating a pandemic.
When the story first broke last month, Czech newspapers questioned if the shocking discovery of vaccines contaminated with the deadly avian flu virus which were distributed to 18 countries by the American company Baxter were part of a conspiracy to provoke a pandemic.

Since the probability of mixing a live virus biological weapon with vaccine material by accident is virtually impossible, this leaves no other explanation than that the contamination was a deliberate attempt to weaponize the H5N1 virus to its most potent extreme and distribute it via conventional flu vaccines to the population who would then infect others to a devastating degree as the disease went airborne.
However, this is not the first time that vaccine companies have been caught distributing vaccines contaminated with deadly viruses.

In 2006 it was revealed that Bayer Corporation had discovered that their injection drug, which was used by hemophiliacs, was contaminated with the HIV virus. Internal documents prove that after they positively knew that the drug was contaminated, they took it off the U.S. market only to dump it on the European, Asian and Latin American markets, knowingly exposing thousands, most of them children, to the live HIV virus. Government officials in France went to prison for allowing the drug to be distributed. The documents show that the FDA colluded with Bayer to cover-up the scandal and allowed the deadly drug to be distributed globally. No Bayer executives ever faced arrest or prosecution in the United States.

In the UK, a 2007 outbreak of foot and mouth disease that put Britain on high alert has been originated from a government laboratory which is shared with an American pharmaceutical company, mirroring the deadly outbreak of 2001, which was also deliberately released.

As we reported yesterday, last time there was a significant outbreak of a new form of swine flu in the U.S. it originated at the army base at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Goldman-Sachs Leads the Way in Employee Compensation


"I just haven't seen huge changes in the way people are talking about compensation," said Sandy Gross of Pinetum Partners. "Wall Street is being realistic. You have to retain your human capital."
"We need to be able to pay our people," said Goldman Sacks' Lucas van Praag, adding that the rest of the year might not prove as profitable, and so the first-quarter reserves might simply be "sensible husbandry."

Brad Hintz, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, was more critical. "Like everything on Wall Street, they're starting to sin again," he said. "As you see a recovery, you'll see everybody's compensation beginning to rise."
"The money should go to shareholders," said Frederick E. Rowe Jr. of the pension board in Texas and Investors for Director Accountability. "The fact that the compensation as a percentage of revenue has not gone down is an indication that the root problem has not been addressed."

Wall St pay bouncing back to pre-crisis levels - what are your comments?
Greg Dempsey
Obama - A New Beginning
After an Off Year, Wall Street Pay Is Bouncing Back
New York Times
Published: April 25, 2009
The rest of the nation may be getting back to basics, but on Wall Street, paychecks still come with a golden promise.

A Survivor of the Financial Crisis: Pay Levels at Investment Banks
Even as the industry's compensation has been put in the spotlight for being so high at a time when many banks have received taxpayer help, six of the biggest banks set aside over $36 billion in the first quarter to pay their employees, according to a review of financial statements.

If that pace continues all year, the money set aside for compensation suggests that workers at many banks will see their pay - much of it in bonuses - recover from the lows of last year.

In total, the banks are not necessarily spending more on compensation, because their work forces have shrunk sharply in the last 18 months. Still, the average pay for those who remain - rank-and-file workers whose earnings are not affected by government-imposed limits - appears to be rebounding.

Of the large banks receiving federal help, Goldman Sachs stands out for setting aside the most per person for compensation. The bank, which nearly halved its compensation last year, set aside $4.7 billion for worker pay in the quarter. If that level continues all year, it would add up to average pay of $569,220 per worker - almost as much as the pay in 2007, a record year.

Indeed, last year, when Goldman lost money in the fourth quarter, it did not pay out some of the compensation it had set aside when earnings were stronger.

At other banks, pay scales tilt in favor of particular units. JPMorgan Chase, for example, is setting aside what would total $138,234 on average for workers. But in the bank's trading and investment banking unit, if revenue stays at first-quarter levels, workers are on track to earn an average of $509,524 over the year. That figure was $345,147 in 2006.

To try to blunt criticism of high pay, some banks have introduced reforms to take back bonuses from individual workers whose bets later lose money. Moreover, executives say that for many well-paid bankers, a good portion of their bonus compensation is in stock, whose value can decline if the performance of the bank lags.

Representatives of several of the largest banks said much of their compensation budget covered expenses other than bonuses, like salaries, health care, pension plans and severance.

Still, the compensation expense is the only publicly disclosed figure related to pay at the banks, and it is the best figure for calculating pay per worker.

This expense includes money for year-end bonuses. For high earners, bonuses can account for three-quarters of pay.

Compensation is among the most cited causes of the financial crisis because bonuses were often tied to short-term gains, even if those gains disappeared later on. Still, as profits return, banks do not appear to be changing the absolute level of worker pay - or the share of revenue dedicated to compensation.

Historically, investment banks have paid workers about 50 cents for every dollar of revenue. The average is lower at commercial banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, because they employ more people in retail branches where pay is lower.

But every dollar paid to workers is a dollar that cannot be used to expand the business or increase lending. Some of that revenue, too, could be used by bailed-out banks to pay back taxpayers.

Wall Street, of course, has a long history of high wages. Not all that long ago, most investment banks were private partnerships, and the workers were also typically the owners. Even when those firms began listing their shares on public stock exchanges, a standard was set in which half of their revenue was paid out to workers.

Their argument is that such lofty pay retains the best employees, who help earn more money, ultimately benefiting shareholders. The set-asides in the first quarter for pay can also help raise morale within the banks.

Some shareholders, however, contend that the earnings pie should be reapportioned. They argue that shareholders have lost a lot of wealth as bank stocks spiraled, so as revenue picks up, more money should be returned in the form of dividends.
Some analysts point to Morgan Stanley as an example of the compensation conundrum. The bank had a dismal quarter, losing $578 million, but still put aside $2.08 billion for compensation. That amount, though lower than the compensation at Goldman, was 68 percent of revenue.

Mr. Hintz, the analyst, said the bank could have avoided losing 57 cents a share if it had reserved less revenue for compensation.

In an interview, Colm Kelleher, Morgan Stanley's chief financial officer, said the compensation set-aside was based on the bank's full-year earnings expectations, not just the first quarter. And Morgan could drop its compensation expense only so low, he said, because much of it consists of fixed expenses, like salaries.

"The number of fat cats making loads of money is much less than you think," he said.

If shareholders do not like compensation policies at banks, they can simply sell their shares. Still, several banks cut bonus pools last year, as losses mounted. And the government is restricting certain pay at banks that received bailout money.

The rule, which applies only to the most highly paid workers, has prompted some banks to try to return the government money as fast as possible.

Executive recruiters in the sector say prospective recruits are still being offered pay packages on par with those of earlier recruits. Some banks that received taxpayer help are even offering guarantees to recruit workers.

Part of the way banks are supporting high pay for their workers is by shrinking their work forces. Citigroup, for example, has dismissed 65,000 people since the start of 2007. That has left Citigroup paying the same amount on average to its remaining workers, though the quarterly cost to Citigroup is down by 25 percent, to $6.4 billion
So Wall St is "bouncing back" and all is well in the world of finance?
Dont believe the hype


Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Bilderbergers

Subject: [ACMN] Bilderberger Meetings


Bilderbergers Are Criminals, Traitors According to U.S. Law

ALL AMERICANS WHO PARTICIPATE in secret Bilderberg meetings are criminals and traitors. The Logan Act expressly forbids U.S. citizens to negotiate public policy with representatives of foreign governments. Thus, American officials and private citizens who participate are lawbreaking criminals.

U.S. and foreign government officials who attend are virtually all traitors because they put their world government goal ahead of the interests of their own nations. They scorn “nationalism” and work for “transnationalism.” All Bilderberg “regulars” must support these goals or be ostracized. More than 100 of the 120 or so attendees are “regulars,” invited every year. Typically, five or so participants are first-timers. A potential president is likely to be invited once but tossed aside when his political star dims, as former Vice President Dan Quayle can attest.

But you have to support Bilderberg’s global agenda to survive. Infrequently, one refuses and is drummed out. In 1989, The Spotlight (AFP’s inspiration) reported that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attended for the first time, had little to say but objected to demands that she surrender sovereignty to the European Union.

Bilderberg ordered her ouster and Lady Thatcher was replaced as prime minister by a member of her own Conservative Party, a trapeze artist’s son named John Major.

AFP’s Jim Tucker discussed this with Lady Thatcher in June, 1995. “It is an honor to be denounced by Bilderberg,” Lady Thatcher told Tucker. “Anyone who would surrender the sovereignty of their country . . .” her voice trailed off as she shook her head in disgust.

“They are a stuck-up set,” she added. Lady Thatcher expressed optimism that Bilderberg would fail to meet its goal of a world government by 2002, a deadline that had been set back from the original target year of 2000. Although she is now in the dimness of Alzheimer’s disease, Lady Thatcher’s optimism proved justified.

“They said, ‘nationhood should be suppressed,’ but there will never be a new world order,” she added.

There have probably been a few other lesser-known Bilderbergers ousted for nationalism over the years. But all Bilderberg “regulars” are traitors to their own countries. And American participants are criminals, too.
(Issue # 16 & 17, April 20 & 27, 2009)

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- Mark Twain

Geithner defends bank rescue program amid warnings

By JIM KUHNHENN Associated Press Writer

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is defending the bank rescue program devised by the Obama administration as the International Monetary Fund predicted U.S. financial institutions could lose $2.7 trillion from the global credit crisis.

Geithner testified Tuesday before the rescue plan's Congressional Oversight Panel. He faced a battery of questions over the Treasury's public-private partnership investment plan to rid financial institutions of their troubled assets.

His testimony came in the wake of a watchdog agency report that warned administration initiatives could increasingly expose taxpayers to losses and make the government more vulnerable to fraud.

Geithner, in prepared testimony, said the new plan "strikes the right balance."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faces a slew of questions about his plans to shore up banks while a watchdog agency warns that Obama administration initiatives could increasingly expose taxpayers to losses.

Geithner is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Congressional Oversight Panel for the government's $700 billion financial rescue program.

Meanwhile, the rescue program's special inspector general concluded in a 250-page quarterly report to Congress that a private-public partnership designed to rid financial institutions of their "toxic assets" is tilted in favor of private investors and creates "potential unfairness to the taxpayer."

The government's effort to stabilize the financial sector and unclog the credit markets has come under heavy scrutiny. Treasury officials say the Obama administration has been holding participants more accountable. Geithner sent key members of Congress six-page letters last week spelling out his department's measures.

Still, Inspector General Neil Barofksy, using blunt language, offered a series of recommendations to protect the public and took the Treasury to task for not implementing previous advice.

Overall, the report said the public-private partnership — using Treasury, Federal Reserve and private investor money — could total $2 trillion. "The sheer size of the program ... is so large and the leverage being provided to the private equity participants so beneficial, that the taxpayer risk is many times that of the private parties, thereby potentially skewing the economic incentives," the report stated.

In particular, the report cited funds that would be used to purchase troubled real estate-related securities from financial institutions. Under plans unveiled by Treasury, for every $1 of private investment, Treasury would invest $1 and could provide another dollar in a nonrecourse loan. That money could then leverage a loan from another government fund backed mostly by the Federal Reserve, a step that Barofsky said would dilute the incentive for private fund managers to exercise due diligence.

Barofsky recommended that Treasury not allow the use of Fed loans "unless significant mitigating measures are included to address these dangers."

Treasury officials maintain that the public-private program is the best response to the troubled loans and securities clogging the system. They say that if government did nothing, the financial crisis could linger for years, and that if government intervened alone by closing troubled banks and taking over their bad assets, taxpayers would be at greater risk.

They argue that private investors and taxpayers would share profits equally and that investors would be the first to lose if the asset purchase ends up losing money.

Among Barofsky's recommendations:

_Treasury should set tough conflict of interest rules on public-private fund managers to prevent investment decisions that benefit them at taxpayer expense.

_Treasury should disclose the owners of all private equity stakes in a public-private fund.

_Fund managers should have "investor-screening" procedures to prevent asset purchase transactions from being used for money laundering.

The report lands as the bailout plan comes under new leadership at Treasury. Last week, the White House announced it had nominated Herbert Allison, the president and CEO of mortgage behemoth Fannie Mae, to replace Neel Kashkari, an assistant Treasury secretary and a holdover from the Bush administration.

Moreover, the federal government early next month is expected to complete "stress tests" on big banks, and Wall Street worries they will show some banks in worse shape than expected. These fears drove the stock market down Monday in its worst showing in six weeks.

Barofsky's report also comes as lawmakers demand evidence that the government's role is unclogging credit and banks are being held accountable. Despite the infusion of government money, bank lending has declined and some banks have began to bristle at the oversight and restrictions attached to acceptance of federal assistance.

Barofsky's report noted that the Treasury Department has refused to adopt the inspector general's recommendation that all recipients of TARP money account for the use of their government money.

"In light of the fact that the American taxpayer has been asked to fund this extraordinary effort to stabilize the financial system, it is not unreasonable that the public be told how those funds have been used by TARP recipients," the report stated.

Though the report said Treasury is not demanding such information under a new capital assistance program for banks, Treasury informed lawmakers last week that recipients of that money must provide monthly reports that show the volume of new loans.

"Over the last two months, we've significantly increased the amount of transparency into the programs, including actively measuring lending and requiring banks under the new capital program to report on how every dollar of government resources goes toward increasing lending to consumers and businesses," Treasury spokesman Andrew Williams said.

Madoff Profitiers Made to Give Back, Feds Say

It's clawback time.

Investors who cashed out before Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scam crumbled in December have been told they may have to hand back what they took out.

In recent weeks, the federal Bankruptcy Court trustee hunting down Madoff assets sent 223 letters to investors seeking back as much as $735 million.

The so-called "clawback" could impact investors who cashed out as long as six years before the collapse.

"These amounts were paid to you at the expense of other customers while [Madoff's firm] was insolvent," read a letter to an investor from Trustee Irving Picard.

"The trustee demands that you immediately return such amounts ... for the benefit of all defrauded creditors."

At an investor meeting in February, Picard's lawyer, David Sheehan, caused a furor when he told cashed-out investors "you've got somebody else's money."

"It's devastating for them," said lawyer Howard Kleinhendler, who represents several Madoff investors, including some who lost millions.

"They withdrew the money in good faith. They had no idea what was going on."

Kleinhendler said some have paid taxes on phantom income they thought they'd earned based on account statements Madoff mailed out.

Those who don't hand back the money could be forced to hire an attorney when they're hauled into court.

"People who do not have the wherewithal are going to have to fight it out," Kleinhendler said.

Picard's letter says investors will have the chance to provide an accounting of money they deposited before he decides whether they'll be forced to give everything back.

Picard has been scouring the globe hunting down Madoff assets. He's recovered $1 billion in assets. And he recently sold off Madoff's Mets season ticket package.

On April 9, Picard sued Banque Jacob Safra in the first clawback suit. Picard claimed Madoff wired $150 million to the Gibraltar banker in the months before his Dec. 11 arrest.

Picard claims the bank invested with Madoff on behalf of a British Virgin Isles company.

"The effect of these letters is to scare the living daylights out of people who have already been victimized once by Bernard Madoff," said lawyer Jonathan Landers, who represents several victims.

With News Wire Services

Friday, April 24, 2009

Billionaire accused of 'looting' posh Mont. resort

Billionaire accused of 'looting' posh Mont. resort
By MATTHEW BROWN - Associated Press Writer
Published: 04/22/09

Comments (14) | Recommend (1)
MISSOULA, Mont. — A federal bankruptcy judge on Wednesday delayed a civil trial on creditors' claims that the exclusive Yellowstone Club in Montana was looted by its former owner.

In the years before the mountain resort he founded spiraled into bankruptcy, Tim Blixseth lived a jet-setting life of luxury, bankrolled largely by a $375 million loan made to the club through Credit Suisse.

After transferring the bulk of that 2005 loan to his private accounts, Blixseth and his former wife, Edra, bought plush airplanes, sprawling estates in France, Mexico and Scotland and a private island in the Caribbean.

But with the club now more than $400 million in debt, its creditors say the loan should never have been diverted. The club, which has a private ski hill on 13,600 acres, counts former Vice President Dan Quayle and Microsoft's Bill Gates among its more than 300 members.

The creditors are seeking to have the loan declared illegal and for Blixseth to return the money he received. They also want Credit Suisse to return to the club $146.4 million in principal and interest already paid.

"Enticed by the riches available from Credit Suisse, the Blixseths chose to breach their fiduciary duties (and) abandon the Yellowstone Club," creditors' attorney Thomas Beckett wrote in documents filed with the court.

In another brief, Beckett described Tim Blixseth as "looting" the club prior to transferring control to Edra Blixseth as part of their divorce settlement last August. The pair built the club in the late 1990s on former U.S. Forest Service land near Yellowstone National Park.

As the trial opened Wednesday, Blixseth's attorney asked for his client's case to be heard at a later date and separated from the creditors' claims against Credit Suisse. Attorney Joseph Grant said hundreds of thousands of pages of documents in the case were made available only Tuesday night, hobbling Blixseth's defense.

"We're not talking about hardship. We're talking about a fundamental denial of due process," Grant told the court.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ralph Kirscher said Blixseth would be given another week to prepare, but would not receive a separate trial as his attorneys requested. He said pushing ahead with a trial immediately could have left the case open to appeals.

"It is with great reservation that I do this," the judge said. "I feel I have no choice."

The Yellowstone Club filed for bankruptcy protection in November. Its members and creditors blame Blixseth and Credit Suisse, a Swiss investment bank that received $7.4 million for arranging the loan.

In recent years, the Swiss investment bank packaged more than $2 billion in loans to at least six luxury resorts now in financial trouble. Some of those deals - including the Yellowstone Club's - were marketed as a way for resort owners to extract massive and early "profit dividends" before the developments were completed.

After the real estate market collapse, the resorts were unable to keep selling property to cover the loans.

Tim Blixseth's attorneys contend the money he took from the loans was deserved, and that the bankruptcy filing was spurred by economic forces outside his control.

Credit Suisse contends there was nothing improper about the deal and that it was approved by numerous attorneys. That included Tim Blixseth's attorney Steven Brown, who now sits on the creditors' committee that is suing Credit Suisse.

The club is up for auction next month, with a starting minimum bid of $100 million. Yellowstone Club attorney Andy Patten said Wednesday that the continuance in the civil lawsuit would not delay the auction.

Tim Blixseth intends to participate in the auction, and has prepared a bid to regain control of the club, said Michael Flynn, another of his attorneys.

If the creditors prevail in their lawsuit, any sale proceeds would go to the contractors, utilities, banks, employees and others owed between $25 million and $50 million by the club. Credit Suisse would have to wrangle directly with the Blixseths to reclaim the $307 million it is still owed.

Whether Credit Suisse could get its money back from the Blixseths is uncertain. Edra Blixseth filed for personal bankruptcy last month, while Tim Blixseth has been trying to unload his island in the Turks and Caicos for $75 million.

Greedy Kansas Politicians Cut School Budget by 75M

Now watch the school taxes go up, like everything else.

Kansas House, Senate budget bills cut millions from education
Associated Press

TOPEKA - A Senate committee on Thursday endorsed a bill cutting about $125 million from Kansas' next budget, including $75 million in state aid to public schools.

The reduction in aid for K-12 schools amounts to about 2.5 percent of their state funding. Base aid per pupil would drop about $70, to $4,297.

The Ways and Means Committee's 11-1 vote sent the bill to the Senate for debate, which is expected next week. The measure will be part of a larger plan to balance the budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins July 1.

Under the bill, state universities, community colleges and vocational colleges would lose about $20 million, although they'd have the option of raising tuition in the fall. Other agencies and some social services programs also would lose 2.5 percent of their funding.

"Given the situation we're in, this budget is as good as we're going to get," said Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, the committee's ranking Democrat.

Legislators approved a $13 billion budget in March, but a new revenue forecast this month showed the state facing a $328 million deficit when the next fiscal year ends in June 2010.

Lawmakers must revise the budget once the entire Legislature returns Wednesday from its annual spring break.

The committee's bill also includes some revenue adjustments. It taps gambling funds, diverts money from cities and counties and gathers unused regulatory fees sitting in funds outside the state's main bank account.

The committee also is sponsoring legislation to suspend a planned phaseout of the state's estate and corporate franchise taxes and to "decouple" the state's tax code from the federal code. The latter step would boost state revenue in the short term because the federal government enacted some temporary tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

Together, the cuts, the revenue adjustments and the tax changes would eliminate the deficit in the 2010 budget.

"Nobody really likes it, but the bottom line is that we have to balance the budget," said committee Chairman Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg. "This certainly is a fair approach."

The House Appropriations Committee didn't deal with the revenue proposals and endorsed a bill Wednesday that would cut $215 million in spending, including $100 million from aid to public schools.

The House committee's proposals represents a 3.3 percent cut in aid to public schools and would drop districts' base aid by $117 per pupil, to $4,250.

The final version of the spending cuts will be drafted by negotiators for the House and Senate after their chambers pass rival versions.

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Owner of Dead Polo Ponies a Greedy Bastard & Club Sponsor a Crook

By now you all have probably heard about the terrible tragic deaths of 21 polo ponies in Wellington, FLa, who all died from some toxin in their medications. Who knew then that the horses belonged to a "Banker-King" and were sponsored by a crook? Here is but one of the many articles circulating around on this subject. I have emboldened the impertant (that is a cross between "impertinant" and "important") parts, to better illustrate the King and the Crooks' idenities. Now I aint makin no judj'mnt call on the way they treated the horses (except for the general question as to whether to drug or not and if so what ones should be acceptable and when, etc. etc. etc. And I aint saying wheher or not those horses deaths were accidents (or not) cause we really dont know all the facts and anything is possible these days. Nothing would suprize us. I only say this as I put them here because I feel here in "The Greedy Bastards Hall of Shame" is where they rightfully belong, and I am not basing my opinions only on the fact that they are filty rich. I am weighing in on the factor that these are the type "Industrialists" of the equine industry that I been harping about for so long that use and exploit and make a living or derive great pleasure from their exploitation of horses. These are the type of people and organizations that are perfectly capable and can and should do so much more for the cause of the horses they help bring into this world and then exploit. Instead, they bury their heads in the sand about the crisis horses are facing in the world today. Everywhere they are being slaughtered for human consumption,...except, supposedly, in the United States. Why arent these type of "horseie-loving people" fighting to keep horses out of the slaughter-lines? Think of what they could do with their "financial resources" to further the cause of improving the overall welfare of horses everywhere. Seems to me if they all got together "for the love of the horse" and actually DID something to help,..there would be no "unwanted" horse or horse-slaughter problems in the world! Could it be that they just dont care? Even the poor have a duty of care to their "property." Why should the filthy rich be exempt from the same? These "Big-Monied" "Horsie-Lovers" need to get themselves (and their money) together and make a real showing that they care even in the least little bit about horses,..or the world will keep right on PREsuming that they do not.


21 Polo Ponies Die due to Botched Meds
By Jim Loney

MIAMI, April 23 (Reuters) - A Florida pharmacy said on Thursday it had incorrectly mixed a medication given to 21 polo horses that died this week, as investigators awaited the result of toxicology tests that could reveal what killed them.

The horses, which belonged to the Venezuelan Lechuza Caracas polo team, collapsed with respiratory problems at the U.S. Open Polo Championship in Wellington, Florida, on Sunday. Local police and the state's Department of
Agriculture launched an investigation to determine if a crime had been committed.

Franck's Pharmacy of Ocala, Florida, said it had prepared a medication used to treat the 21 horses on the order of a veterinarian.

After the horses died, an internal investigation found "the strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect," Franck's chief operations officer Jennifer Beckett said in a statement. She did not name the medication or the ingredient.

"We extend our most sincere condolences to the horses' owners, the Lechuza Polo team and the members of the United States Polo Association," the statement said. "We share their grief and sadness."

Lechuza's team captain, Juan Martin Nero, told an Argentine newspaper that a vitamin supplement given to the horses probably caused their deaths.

The supplement, Biodyl, is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.

However, the Lechuza team said in a statement issued on Thursday that Biodyl was not the issue. Rather, the team said, a veterinarian wrote a prescription for a Biodyl substitute containing vitamin B, potassium, magnesium and selenium.

"This compound was prepared in the State of Florida by a compounding pharmacy," the statement said. "Only the horses treated with the compound became sick and died within three hours of treatment. The horses that were
not treated remain healthy and normal."

The results of an initial round of toxicology tests could be known by week's end, but if they do not hold an answer, more tests might have to be done, said Terence McElroy, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.

Necropsies on the dead horses found internal hemorrhaging but that was not considered significant in light of the manner in which the horses died, "gasping for air and thrashing about," McElroy said.

"What was the underlying cause of the respiratory difficulty?" he said. "That's still the 64,000-dollar question."

McElroy said state investigators had seen reports of the pharmacy's statement but could not comment further on an ongoing investigation.

The horses were valued at up to $100,000 each and belonged to Lechuza Caracas owner Victor Vargas, a wealthy Venezuelan businessman and president
of the Venezuelan Banking Association.

The U.S. Open Polo Championship planned a memorial ceremony for the horses on Thursday during a match at the International Polo Club Palm Beach in

One of the host club's sponsors is Allen Stanford, the Texas billionaire whose financial empire collapsed this year when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission accused him of running a Ponzi scheme. (Reporting by Jim
Loney; editing by Todd Eastham)

and an update:

The Dead Polo Ponies and Their Millionaire OwnerBy Tim Padgett / Miami Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Polo fans say few things are as inspiring as watching eight majestic thoroughbred horses maneuver over a 300-yard-long field. But as anyone who was at the U.S. Open polo tournament in Wellington, Fla., last Sunday has attested, few things are as shocking as seeing those same horses stagger and drop dead. Twenty-one polo ponies belonging to the Lechuza Caracas team from Venezuela died either before, during or after Lechuza's Sunday afternoon match.

So far investigators have yet to determine exactly what killed the animals. Lechuza's Argentine captain, Juan Martín Nero, told the Buenos Aires daily La Nación this morning he believed that tainted Biodyl, a vitamin supplement he said the team regularly gives its horses before matches to ward off exhaustion, was the culprit. "There were five [Lechuza] horses who were not given the vitamin," Nero told La Nación, "and they're the only ones that are fine." Nero insisted in the interview that Biodyl is "nothing prohibited." But he's wrong. It turns out, the Food & Drug Administration confirms to TIME, that Biodyl has not been approved for use in the U.S.; and that if the horses were being injected with it, "it was illegal," says an FDA spokesperson.

Still, unless the vitamin was corrupted with something especially toxic, many veterinarians doubt Biodyl alone could have caused the equine die-off. Investigators, including those examining many of the dead horses at the University of Florida's veterinary school, say it could be days before they unravel the toxicological mystery. Florida's state Agriculture Department announced late Wednesday afternoon that almost all the horses suffered from hemorrhaging of the lungs before they collapsed.

Franck's, an Ocala, Fla., pharmacy, admitted in a statement Thursday that it had incorrectly mixed a medication administered to the Lechuza horses before the Sunday match. The pharmacy, citing the ongoing state investigation, would not specify what medication. But a knowledgeable source close to Lechuza tells TIME it was Biodyl, or at least a copy of it made from the same components of the vitamin. One Wellington horse veterinarian also told TIME that Biodyl, or "a compound a little off-label," is widely used in the U.S. "You don't know how many times Franck's has compounded this and never had a problem," says the vet. But he predicted its use would drop off sharply now. State investigators have yet to comment.

But whatever the cause, the tragedy has thrust Lechuza's obscure but powerful owner, multi-millionaire Venezuelan banker and polo fanatic Victor Vargas, into the spotlight he usually avoids.

since the beginning of the week, Vargas has not been seen at the Palm Beach Polo Club in Wellington; newspaper reports in the Palm Beach Post and other South Florida media say he's either holed up in the $70 million Palm Beach mansion he purchased last year — one of six homes he owns in Venezuela, the Caribbean, the U.S. and Europe — or has flown overseas in one of his luxury Gulfstream jets.

Vargas, 57, is a hemispheric jetsetter who has successfully navigated between the often contentious relationship of Venezuela and the United States, though hardly without controversy. As a young lawyer he married into one of Venezuela's cogollo (élite) families and then, as one of the country's smartest bankers, learned to swim in its prodigious and often corrupt oil industry. But while many of Venezuela's business and financial titans have chafed under the left-wing revolution Hugo Chávez began a decade ago, Vargas and his Banco Occidental de Descuento (Venezuela's fifth largest) have thrived. (See a video clip of Barack Obama meeting Hugo Chávez.)

Critics say Vargas made a backroom deal with Chávez's government to handle some of the revolution's murkier financial transactions, such as more than $1 billion in Argentine bond swaps, or the handling of hard currency between Venezuela's official exchange rate of about 2.15 bolivares to the U.S. dollar and the quasi-legal black-market rate of almost six to the dollar. Vargas has long denied the accusation, insisting he's not part of the "boli-bourgeoisie" (named for Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution) that got rich cozying up to Chávez while oil prices skyrocketed in recent years. He and his friends say instead that he's simply a banker Chávez officials have found trustworthy, a man who can deal in capitalist circles but who funds three foundations for the poor and deep down sympathizes with the revolution's social agenda.

Perhaps, but Vargas' lifestyle is hardly the stuff of Chávez's "21st-century socialism." In a rare interview last year, he told the Wall Street Journal, "People write stories about me saying I have a Ferrari, a plane, a yacht. But it's not true. I've got three planes, two yachts, six houses. I've been rich all my life!" In 2004, his daughter Margarita wed Luis Alfonso de Borbón, a cousin of Spain's King Juan Carlos, great-grandson of the late Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and a legitimate heir to the non-existent throne of France. They were married at Vargas' palatial mansion in the Dominican Republic, a wedding that was catered by New York's exclusive Le Cirque restaurant and included 1,000 guests.

But although Vargas enjoys conspicuous wealth in the U.S., his banking career in the country has met obstacles. In 1993 he paid the Federal Reserve Bank of New York $1.5 million in fines after it determined Vargas had lied about his knowledge of fraud that executives had committed at a bank he was in the process of acquiring. (As part of his settlement with the Reserve Bank, he didn't have to admit guilt.) Today, Vargas cannot invest in U.S. banks without government permission. Still, the incident doesn't seem to have put much of a dent in his personal worth (which he declines to divulge).

The high cost of caring for horses has sometimes led some owners to abandon their animals, to sell them to slaughterhouses or to attempts at fraud in order to collect insurance. But polo is a rich man's sport and Vargas certainly does not seem to have been hurting from the care and feeding of his steeds — or skimping on providing for them. His Lechuza Caracas polo team plays around the world, and he transports his stable of 60 ponies — estimated to cost about $100,000 each — on special jets.

So what killed the animals? Nero, in the La Nación interview, insisted that Lechuza would never inject performance-enhancing steroids or other similar substances into the team's horses, not only because those substances are banned in polo-playing countries like Britain, but because "we live with them. If there's anyone who never wants to see their horses killed, it's us." Meanwhile, whether or not the horses died from being injected with anything illicit, polo figures like Neil Hirsch, owner of Black Watch, one of the U.S.'s best teams, are calling now for the U.S to get more serious about anti-doping rules in equestrian sports.

Vargas has yet to weigh in himself. He is said to be devastated by the horses' deaths, and was reportedly holding one in his arms and sobbing when it died on Sunday. But this is hardly the worst loss he's suffered. Some years ago, Vargas' 18-year old son Victor, himself an accomplished polo player, died of a bacterial infection. With reporting by Virginia López/Caracas and Thomas R. Collins/West Palm Beach,8599,1893280,00.html?imw=Y

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Soaring Credit Card Rates: Can Obama Help?

President Obama to Meet With Credit Card Companies Amid Outcry Over Interest Rate Hikes

ABC NEWS Business Unit
April 23, 2009

Credit card customers like Daniel Doucette and Trish McComas, pictured above, have seen their interest rates spike above 20 percent. Will efforts by President Obama and Congress offer them relief?

Both Trish McComas, 69, of Indianapolis and Daniel Doucette, 54, of suburban Cincinnati, have recently seen their credit card interest rates spike above 20 percent -- 29.4 percent for McComas and 23.9 percent for Doucette -- even though both say they're always on time with their payments.

McComas said she was "appalled," while Doucette said he was stunned credit card companies were allowed to do that.

"Your interest rate goes from 7.9 percent to 23.9 percent because they can," he said. "It just amazes me that the government would even allow that process to happen."

Whether the government will, in fact, allow such hikes to keep happening is a popular topic in Washington, D.C., these days.

President Obama, who is said to support efforts by Congress to pass new credit card regulations, is scheduled to meet today with the heads of 14 credit card companies to discuss lending practices. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and National Economic Council director Larry Summers will join the president at the meeting.

"The president believes new rules of the road for the credit card industry are needed and he looks forward to having an open and productive conversation tomorrow with the representatives of the credit card industry," Jarrett said Wednesday in a written statement.

The Federal Reserve and other government agencies have already announced new credit card rules, including limits on when banks are allowed to raise interest rates, but they don't go into effect until next year.

Legislation by Congress -- including measures sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. -- could institute similar rules sooner.

The White House meeting comes amid outcry over rate increases and other fee hikes by banks -- developments that are especially unwelcome given the billions that taxpayers have spent shoring up now-profitable banks through the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, critics say.

But banks contend that they still have recession-related woes: Though several major banks have announced higher-than-expected profits for the first three months of the year, they're also seeing escalating losses in their credit card businesses thanks in part to consumers who default on their credit card .

Banks See Credit Card Losses

Citigroup, which has received $50 billion in TARP funds, saw its credit card business revenue decline more than $800 million for the first three months of the year in comparison to 2008. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion TARP injection, wrote off nearly $3.8 billion in defaulted loans in first three months of 2009, an increase of nearly $1.4 billion over last year.

Increased interest rates for some Bank of America customers "is about properly pricing our portfolio either based on risk or realigning a portion of the portfolio that is priced below what is prudent in the current market," bank spokeswoman Betty Reiss recently told

Scott Talbot, the chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, a lending industry group, said banks need to keep their profits up -- including credit card profits -- to repay the government.

Because the government has invested in the banks, "the taxpayers need the banks to make money from all lines -- that's their job," he said.

While banks may be eager for the White House meeting -- an industry source told ABC News that some banks had been pushing for invitations -- they're objecting to the proposed credit card rules, including one that that will allow credit card companies to raise rates on existing credit card balances only when card holders are more than 30 days late, when they are receiving a promotional interest rate with a defined expiration date, or if the interest rate is tied to a specific market index, such as the London Interbank Offered Rate.

That provision is included in both the Federal Reserve's new rules and legislation sponsored by Maloney that was passed Wednesday by the House Financial Services Committee.

Kenneth J. Clayton, of the bank industry group the American Bankers Association, said in statement Wednesday that the Maloney bill could have "a negative effect on lenders' ability to offer reasonably priced credit to consumers and may make matters worse for the broader economy."

Banks say that if they can't raise rates or take other measures to hedge against risky borrowers, they may end up offering less in the way of credit or instituting higher interest rates on everyone, including low-risk borrowers.

Credit Rate Changes 'When Necessary'

Banks also argue that, notwithstanding the uproar over rising rates, only a small proportion of consumers have actually experienced rate hikes recently -- just 10 percent, according to Talbot.

That statistic would probably come as cold comfort to McComas, a customer with Capital One, and Doucette, who has a JPMorgan Chase credit card.

Both banks told that they would not comment on specific customer cases, but Capital One said the 29.4 percent rate that McComas complained of is only charged to consumers who paid their bills late twice within 12 months. But the bank said that it had announced regular interest rate hikes for some customers in February.

"Because the credit and lending environments continue to be challenging, the account changes are necessary in order for us to appropriately account for the increased risk of lending to consumers in an economic downturn," Capital One spokeswoman Pam Girardo said in an e-mail to

Chase, Doucette's lender, told that it "is a responsible, careful lender, and we constantly evaluate the risks and costs of funding credit card loans."

"When necessary, we make changes to pricing, terms or credit lines based on borrower risk, market conditions and the costs to us of making loans," the bank said in an e-mail. "... We recognize some customers may be affected by these changes for the first time and, as always, we are working hard to provide consumers impacted by these changes with alternatives."

Doucette said he called Chase about his alternatives but got nowhere. So, instead, he's working on paying the card off and then cancelling it.

"The banks," he said, "will just have to suffer without me as a customer."

Big Pharma in bed with the FDA / Putting Profits First

By Dr. William B. Ferril

FDA rewards drug maker's bad behavior

They must be joking.

That’s the only possible explanation for this one, friends. Either that, or maybe the folks in Washington just don’t read the newspapers.

The FDA has just approved the antidepressant Lexapro for use in kids. Just weeks before that, federal prosecutors accused its maker, Forest Laboratories, of illegally marketing that same drug, along with one other antidepressant, to kids.

The manufacturer was also accused of giving pediatricians kickbacks to get kids on these drugs. And now, the FDA essentially rewards this behavior.

If you can see any logic in that, please drop me a line because I just can’t figure it out. To me, it’s like a gang of bank robbers getting caught in the vault. And instead of being locked up, they’re given the keys.

Lexapro already enjoys $2 billion more in annual sales - just how many more times are we going to let that cash register ring before someone notices this company isn’t playing by the rules?

This wasn’t some spontaneous act by the Justice Department in response to a one-time slip-up. Their accusations came after a five-year probe of how Forest marketed Lexapro and another antidepressant, Celexa. Five years!

They found the company was offering pediatricians everything from tickets to sporting events and Broadway shows to fishing trips and spa visits in exchange for giving these drugs to kids. They also found that the company had ordered its sales force to push a positive study on Celexa and ignore one that showed it was ineffective for children.

Let’s keep in mind that antidepressants are potentially dangerous drugs that sometimes cause nasty side effects. Many come with black-box warnings because they’ve been linked to increased suicide and suicidal behavior in youths.

If any drugs should be kept away from kids, it’s these.

Antidepressants exist purely for symptom control. They won’t cure depression or cause the body to create the additional serotonin it needs. They just manipulate the serotonin you already have.

Often times, there are much better ways, not just for kids, but for everyone to treat their depression. Everything from tryptophan to vitamin B to exercise can be just as effective as drugs like Lexapro, if not more so.

To me, the behavior of the company tells you everything you need to know about what they’re selling. When a business has to resort to shady and manipulative behavior to sell its product, then it’s probably not a product you want to use, much less give to your children.

Dr. William B. Ferril
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Bank Profits Appear Out of Thin Air

Andrew Ross Sorkin
Published: April 20, 2009
This is starting to feel like amateur hour for aspiring magicians.

Another day, another attempt by a Wall Street bank to pull a bunny out of the hat, showing off an earnings report that it hopes will elicit oohs and aahs from the market. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and, on Monday, Bank of America all tried to wow their audiences with what appeared to be — presto! — better-than-expected numbers.

But in each case, investors spotted the attempts at sleight of hand, and didn’t buy it for a second.

With Goldman Sachs, the disappearing month of December didn’t quite disappear (it changed its reporting calendar, effectively erasing the impact of a $1.5 billion loss that month); JPMorgan Chase reported a dazzling profit partly because the price of its bonds dropped (theoretically, they could retire them and buy them back at a cheaper price; that’s sort of like saying you’re richer because the value of your home has dropped); Citigroup pulled the same trick.

Bank of America sold its shares in China Construction Bank to book a big one-time profit, but Ken Lewis heralded the results as “a testament to the value and breadth of the franchise.”

Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, also pointed out that Bank of America booked a $2.2 billion gain by increasing the value of Merrill Lynch’s assets it acquired last quarter to prices that were higher than Merrill kept them.

“Although perfectly legal, this move is also perfectly delusional, because some day soon these assets will be written down to their fair value, and it won’t be pretty,” he said.

Investors reacted by throwing tomatoes. Bank of America’s stock plunged 24 percent, as did other bank stocks. They’ve had enough.

Why can’t anybody read the room here? After all the financial wizardry that got the country — actually, the world — into trouble, why don’t these bankers give their audience what it seems to crave? Perhaps a bit of simple math that could fit on the back of an envelope, with no asterisks and no fine print, might win cheers instead of jeers from the market.

What’s particularly puzzling is why the banks don’t just try to make some money the old-fashioned way. After all, earning it, if you could call it that, has never been easier with a business model sponsored by the federal government. That’s the one in which Uncle Sam and we taxpayers are offering the banks dirt-cheap money, which they can turn around and lend at much higher rates.

“If the federal government let me borrow money at zero percent interest, and then lend it out at 4 to 12 percent interest, even I could make a profit,” said Professor Finkelstein of the Tuck School. “And if a college professor can make money in banking in 2009, what should we expect from the highly paid C.E.O.’s that populate corner offices?”

But maybe now the banks are simply following the lead of Washington, which keeps trotting out the latest idea for shoring up the financial system.

The latest big idea is the so-called stress test that is being applied to the banks, with results expected at the end of this month.

This is playing to a tough crowd that long ago decided to stop suspending disbelief. If the stress test is done honestly, it is impossible to believe that some banks won’t fail. If no bank fails, then what’s the value of the stress test? To tell us everything is fine, when people know it’s not?

“I can’t think of a single, positive thing to say about the stress test concept — the process by which it will be carried out, or outcome it will produce, no matter what the outcome is,” Thomas K. Brown, an analyst at, wrote. “Nothing good can come of this and, under certain, non-far-fetched scenarios, it might end up making the banking system’s problems worse.”

The results of the stress test could lead to calls for capital for some of the banks. Citi is mentioned most often as a candidate for more help, but there could be others.

The expectation, before Monday at least, was that the government would pump new money into the banks that needed it most.

But that was before the government reached into its bag of tricks again. Now Treasury, instead of putting up new money, is considering swapping its preferred shares in these banks for common shares.

The benefit to the bank is that it will have more capital to meet its ratio requirements, and therefore won’t have to pay a 5 percent dividend to the government. In the case of Citi, that would save the bank hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

And — ta da! — it will miraculously stretch taxpayer dollars without spending a penny more.

The latest news on mergers and acquisitions can be found at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 22, 2009
The DealBook column on Tuesday, about accounting changes at large banks that had the effect of improving their quarterly earnings reports, misidentified a professor who was critical of the accounting moves. He is Sydney Finkelstein, the Steven Roth professor of management at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth — not Steven Roth.

Goldman Sachs (GS) PriceWatch Alert At $103.61 Break Even

As of Tuesday, April 21, 2009 8:07 AM

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) closed yesterday at $115.01. So far the stock has hit a 52-week low of $47.41 and 52-week high of $203.39. Goldman Sachs stock has been showing support around 112.40 and resistance in the 120.20 range. Technical indicators for the stock are Bullish and S&P gives GS a neutral 3 STAR (out of 5) hold rating. GS appears on the Investors Observer Analysts Favorites list. For a hedged play on this stock, look at a Jun '09 115 covered call (GS FC) for a net debit in the $103.61 area. That is also the break even stock price for this trade. This covered call has a 60 day duration, provides 9.91% downside protection and a 10.99% assigned return rate for a 66.87% annualized return rate (comparison purposes only). A lower cost hedged play for this stock would use a longer term call option in place of the covered call stock purchase. To use this strategy look at going long the GS Jan '10 50 Call (YFT AJ) and selling the Jun '09 115 call (GS FC) for a $56.10 debit. The trade has a 60 day life and would provide 7.75% downside protection and a 15.86% assigned return rate for a 97.00% annualized return rate (for comparison purposes only). Goldman Sachs has a current annual dividend yield of 1.54%. [For more information on these strategies along with more details on possible risks go to]

Mellon "Loss" & the Market (Report)

BNY Mellon 1Q profit falls 57 pct, cuts dividend
By SARA LEPRO – 1 day ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Bank of New York Mellon Corp. said Tuesday that its first-quarter profit dropped an unexpectedly steep 57 percent and that it was slashing its dividend in hopes of repaying a government investment.

Its shares fell more than 5 percent in premarket trading.

The New York-based bank cut its dividend to nine cents a share from 24 cents. BNY Mellon said it hopes to use some of the capital it saves from the dividend cut to pay back a $3 billion investment from the government. It said the dividend cut will save $700 million a year.

BNY Mellon was among an initial group of banks to receive aid from the government late last year as part of a $700 billion financial bailout plan. Several of them, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., have expressed a desire to return the funds as soon as possible.

Banks that have received federal bailout funds have become subject to greater government scrutiny and limits on executive pay.

The report from Bank of New York Mellon also underscored the trouble still pervading the financial sector.

Several big banks, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America Corp., have recently reported profits that have exceeded analysts' expectations. But many have attributed the recent improvement in results to a spike in mortgage banking and trading activity — trends that aren't expected to last. And credit losses keep rising as consumers and businesses struggle to pay off their debt.

BNY Mellon is a commercial bank which largely caters to institutions, corporations and wealthy individuals.

While its business differs from that of its retail bank counterparts, it is not immune to market challenges. Investment losses and goodwill write-downs cut into its earnings by 21 cents per share. And declining interest rates, lower market values and a drop in client volumes hurt revenue.

After paying preferred dividends, BNY Mellon earned $322 million, or 28 cents per share, for the January-March period. That's less than half the $746 million, or 65 cents per share, it earned a year ago.

Income from continuing operations excluding merger and integration costs, restructuring charges, investment write-downs and other nonrecurring items, was $676 million, or 59 cents per share.

Wall Street analysts had been expecting earnings of 63 cents per share. Analysts typically exclude one-time items from their estimates.

Shares dropped $1.43, or 5.1 percent, to $26.60 in premarket trading.

Losses on the bank's securities portfolio totaled $295 million, up from $73 million in the first quarter of last year, but down significantly from a loss of $1.24 billion in the fourth quarter.

Total revenue was $2.93 billion, down from $3.75 billion a year ago. Analysts had forecast revenue of $3.66 billion.

Net interest revenue, or the amount earned on loans and deposits, totaled $792 million, up slightly from $767 million in the first quarter of last year.

Fee and other revenue fell 28 percent to $2.14 billion, reflecting declines in securities servicing and asset and wealth management fees. This was partly offset by a 19 percent increase in foreign exchange and other trading revenue.

Total assets under management were $881 billion at the end of the quarter, down 20 percent from a year ago.

Investors sent financial shares sharply lower on Monday following six weeks of massive gains that have seen some bank stocks double or triple in value.

But after such a huge advance, and with credit problems still lingering, investors are worried that the market may have gotten ahead of itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A.I.G.'s War on America

"A. I. G."S WAR ON AMERICA' is the 1st of two new articles added as a weekly update to the page of the Truth Quest website during the regular weekly update to that page. The 2nd article is closely related: "STIMULUS 'PORK' By STATE (Check Yours)". Also, don't forget to check the '9/12 PROJECT ' page, which is updated regularly. It can be accessed from the HOME, RESEARCH, or FAVORITES Link pages. Best wishes, Bob

Daily Wealth: America Is Still the Best Place to Make Money

Of course, 99% of Americans lack sufficient capitol to invest in anything. They are more concerned with keeping their jobs and saving their homes than they are right now about BIG $$$ Investments. So who can afford to invest? You got it: The Greedy Bastards (1% Club.) The poor and the working poor can "eat cake," while the greedy MFers' bloat themselves with mo' money. What else is new?

By Tom Dyson

There's never been a better time to be seeking fortune in America.

Right now, we're in a period of great turbulence. Everything in America is up for sale at "panic liquidation" prices. Each foreclosed property and bankruptcy headline you hear about represents another opportunity to make money.

One man goes bust and another man makes a fortune. It's the beauty of American capitalism. Assets never die; they just change owners. Take Kirk Kerkorian and Carl Icahn, for example.

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The value of the deposit has also been independently verified at more than $300 BILLION (at today's prices).

Three of the world's top 10 gold producers have signed partnership deals with the small mining firm that made the discovery.

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Kirk Kerkorian is the majority owner of MGM Mirage, a gigantic casino and hotel company. In Las Vegas, it owns half the casinos on the Strip. MGM also owns huge casino resorts in Reno, Atlantic City, Detroit, Biloxi, and Macau.

In the boom times, like in 2005 and 2006, MGM's management borrowed too much money. Now Vegas is in a bust, and the company is having problems paying back what it owes. It has been furiously selling assets to raise cash... but it hasn't been enough.

Carl Icahn holds MGM's accumulating debt. As a debtholder, he'll be in control of MGM's assets if it declares bankruptcy. Once MGM's debt comes due, Icahn will simply foreclose MGM's remaining assets and seize its properties. Unless Kerkorian can borrow more money, Icahn may acquire the hotels, casinos, golf courses, and everything else MGM owns.

Right now, hundreds of companies like MGM are "up for sale." The financial crisis has pushed a big swirling cloud of valuable assets into the air like the dust in front of a leaf blower... and these assets can be grabbed up by anyone who wants them.

Last week, AbitibiBowater, the world's largest producer of newsprint, declared bankruptcy. Abitibi owns millions of acres of timberland, paper mills, and saw mills.

General Growth Properties (GGP) also filed for Chapter 11 last week. GGP owns 158 shopping centers around the country.

Timberland and shopping malls are valuable assets... especially with the authorities blasting cash into the economy like they are.

The Federal Reserve is injecting trillions into the economy. In just the last 25 days, it has added $56 billion from the printing machine. The federal government will inject another trillion dollars or more this year. There's so much cash coming out of the government, I can almost see it accumulating on the sidewalks. All we need to do is stoop down and pick it up.

The Secret to Finding Cheap World-Dominating Stocks
The Madness of Barack Obama: Why Free Money Is Destroying America

The point is, America is the greatest country on Earth for building a fortune... and now it's as easy as ever, thanks to the financial crisis and the government's cash.

In my next column, I'll discuss some of the strategies I'm going to use to make a fortune in the next few years. Until then, start thinking about how you'll take your share of the money that's flying around...

Good investing,


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Thievery Under the TARP

Wed Apr 22, 2009 2:59 am (PDT)

Posted on Apr 22, 2009
By _Robert Scheer_ (

We are being robbed big-time, but you can´t say we haven´t been warned.
Not after the release Tuesday of a scathing report by the Treasury Department
´s special inspector general, who charged that the aptly named Troubled
Asset Relief Fund bailout program is rife with mismanagement and potential
for fraud. The IG´s office already has opened 20 criminal fraud
investigations into the $700 billion program, which is now well on its way to a $3
trillion obligation, and the IG predicts many more are coming.
Special Inspector General Neil M. Barofsky charged that the TARP program
from its inception was designed to trust the Wall Street recipients of the
bailout funds to act responsibly on their own, without accountability to the
government that gave them the money.
He pointed to the example of AIG, which has acted as a conduit of funds to
the banks it had insured without being required to tell the government
what it is doing: "Failure to impose this requirement with respect to the
injection of yet another $30 billion into AIG would not only be a failure of
oversight, but could call into question the credibility of the government´s
AIG is just one example in a bailout that has left the financial
conglomerates unsupervised as they spend taxpayer money in what the report termed a
government program of "unprecedented scope, scale and complexity," putting
the public and the Treasury Department in the dark as to how the money is
being used by the very tycoons who got us into this mess. "The American
people have a right to know how their tax dollars are being used," Barofsky
wrote in the report, which sharply criticized the government for failing to
hold financial institutions accountable.
For all of its criticism of the original program, designed by the Bush
administration, the report was equally severe in denouncing the Obama
administration´s plan to partner with hedge funds and other private capital groups
to buy up the "toxic" holdings of the banks. Charging that the plan
carries "significant fraud risks," the inspector general´s report pointed out
that almost all of the risk in this new trillion-dollar plan is being borne
by the taxpayers. The so-called private investors would be able to put up
money they borrowed from the Fed through "nonrecourse" loans, meaning if the
toxic assets purchased prove too toxic and the scheme failed, the private
investors could just walk away without repaying the Fed for those loans.
The reason those loans may prove even more toxic than expected and the
price paid by this government-underwritten partnership far too high is that
the government is purchasing the most suspect of the banks´ mortgage
packages. In addition, the plan is to accept at face value the evaluation of those
packages by the very same credit-rating firms whose absurdly wrong
estimates of the dollar worth of these securities helped create the problem that
now haunts the world´s economy. "Arguably, the wholesale failure of the
credit rating agencies to rate adequately such securities is at the heart of
the securitization market collapse, if not the primary cause of the current
credit crisis," the report found.
As with the entire banking bailout, the new plan of Obama´s treasury
secretary, Timothy Geithner, is likely to enrich the very folks who impoverished
the rest of us, as the report notes: "The significant government-financed
leverage presents a great incentive for collusion between the buyer and
seller of the asset, or the buyer and other buyers, whereby, once again, the
taxpayer takes a significant loss while others profit."
At the heart of this potentially massive fraud was the original decision
of Henry Paulson, President Bush´s treasury secretary and a former Goldman
Sachs chairman, to not require the recipients of the bailout, such as his
old firm, to account for how the money was spent. Unfortunately, President
Obama´s administration continued that practice.
The only difference is that the amount of public money being put at risk
is now far greater, and the hedge funds, which are totally unregulated, have
been brought in as the central players. One of the largest of those hedge
funds, D.E. Shaw, carried Obama´s top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers,
on its payroll to the tune of $5.2 million last year. He may have reason to
trust these secretive enterprises that operate beyond the law, but the
public does not.