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The Vulture: Chewing Argentina’s Living Corpse

Vulture investor Paul Singer has forced the nation of Argentina into default. Here’s the real story, from Billionaires & Ballot Bandits by Greg Palast.
A call came in from New York to my bosses at BBC Television Centre, London. It was from one of the knuckle- draggers on the payroll of billionaire Paul Singer, Number One funder for the Republican Party in New York, million-dollar donor to the Mitt Romney super-PAC, and top money-giver to the GOP Senate campaign fund. But better known to us as Singer The Vulture.
“We have a file on Greg Palast.”
Well, of course they do.
And I have a file on them.
I had just returned from traveling up the Congo River for BBC and the Guardian. Singer’s enforcer indicated that Mr. Singer would prefer BBC not run a story about him – especially not with film of his suffering prey: children, cholera victims.
Like any vulture, Singer feasts when victims die. Literally. For example, Singer made a pile buying asbestos company Owens Corning out of bankruptcy. The company had concealed from its workers they would get asbestosis from handling their product.
You don’t want to die of asbestosis. Your lungs turn to mush and you drown inside yourself.
The asbestos company was forced to pay tens of thousands of its workers for their medical care and for their families after their deaths.
But then Singer used his political muscle to screw down the compensation promised to the workers. He offered them peanuts. And, dying, they took it. Like the Ice Man, Singer The Vulture used the cudgel of “tort reform” to beat the weakened workers into submission. With asbestos workers buried or bought-off cheap, Singer’s asbestos death factories were now worth a fortune . . . and Singer made his first “killing.”
Then it was on to Peru, where Singer had, through a brilliant financial-legal maneuver too questionable for others to attempt, grabbed control of the entire financial system of the country. When Peru’s scamp of a president, Alberto Fujimori, decided it was a good idea to flee his country (ahead of his arrest on murder charges), Singer, Peru’s lawyer Mark Cymrot of Baker & Hostetler told me, let Fujimori escape in return for the Murderer-in-Chief ordering Peru’s treasury to pay Singer $58 million. Singer had seized Peru’s “Air Force One” presidential jet; for the payoff, Singer handed him the keys to the getaway plane.
And by the way, I didn’t give Singer the name “Vulture.”
His own banker buddies did – with admiration in their voices.
What provoked the threatening call to BBC from Singer’s tool was my film from the Congos (there are two nations in Africa called “Congo”). There is a cholera epidemic in West Africa due to lack of clean water. Our investigation learned that Singer paid about $10 million for some “debt” supposedly incurred by the Republic of Congo. To collect on his $10 million, Singer had begun seizing about $400 million in the poor nation’s assets.
Clean water for the Congo? Forget it – Singer and his vulture colleagues grabbed it all.
In Africa, I spoke with Winston Tubman, the former deputy secretary-general of the UN. He asked me to ask the Vulture and his cronies, “Do you know you are causing babies to die?”
It’s legal, it’s sick, it’s Singer.
Well, not legal in most of the civilized world. Britain, Germany, Holland, and many others have outlawed Singer’s repo-man seizures. In Europe, Singer is a financial outlaw. But in the USA, he’s a “job creator.”
Singer The Vulture gets loads of positive press, in the New York Times especially, where the corpse-chewer offered an open checkbook to any state Republican who would vote for the right of gays to marry. Don’t think of this as an unselfish act of moral courage: it was more droit du seigneur, the right of the Lords of the Manor to deflower the virgins of choice on their lands. The Vulture’s son wanted to marry another man, and so Vulture would buy the New York State Legislature to approve the nuptials. (That almost all Singer’s money would go to national candidates who would make gay marriage illegal, well, money is thicker than blood.)
But, under press cover of funding the GOP for social rights, Singer’s influence in the state legislature has paid back a hundredfold. He lobbied the legislature to change the law on the calculation of interest charges on his vulture loan-sharking operation, a change that will guarantee him hundreds of millions of dollars more from the Congo.
The Vulture’s latest hit was a pay-off from the bankrupt government of Greece.
On April 4, 2012, seventy-seven-year-old Greek pharmacist Dimitris Christoulas wrote, “I find no other solution for a dignified end before I start sifting through garbage to feed myself.” Christoulas then shot himself in the head. The government had cut his pension as part of an austerity plan to pay foreign creditors. One in four workers also lost their jobs.
Greece’s creditor banks took their pound of flesh, but gave up some of theirs, canceling 80 percent of the loan principal. That is, all but two “bankers”: billionaires Ken Dart and Singer The Vulture told the European Central Bank and Greek government, they wanted it all. Singer and Dart would not cancel 80 percent or even 8 percent of the bonds they held, even though Singer and Dart, apparently, only paid a fraction of the face value for them only a few weeks before. Either the Greek government would pay Singer and Dart several times what the speculators invested, or Singer and Dart would undermine the entire bailout deal, bringing down the remnant of Greece’s economy – and the rest of Europe with it.
Held hostage, the Greek government dipped into its emptying purse and paid Singer and Dart every penny they demanded. Singer’s co-investors in his fund Elliott Management made a killing – including the “blind” trust of one Mittens Romney.
But the Vulture’s gravy train of greed was about to run into an unexpected obstacle on the track. On April 4, just hours after Christoulas took his own life, in a courtroom in Washington, DC, the President of the United States and his Secretary of State hit Singer with a legal brick. Without any public announcement, without the usual press release and in language so abstruse only a lunatic journalist who went to the University of Chicago Law School would notice, Obama’s Justice Department nailed the Vulture to the wall.
It was Ash Wednesday and Obama’s boys drove those nails in: they demanded a US federal court to stop Singer from attacking Argentina.
In this case, Singer had sued to get millions, even billions, from the government of Argentina for old debt that President Ronald Reagan had already settled in a deal involving the biggest US banks. But Reagan’s deal was not good enough for Singer and his hedge fund NML Capital. Singer demanded that a US court order Argentina to pay him ten times the amount he’d get under the Reagan deal. And to get his way, the Vulture also sued to stop the Big Banks from getting their own payments from the Reagan deal.
But then a bolt of legal lightning cooked the Vulture’s goose: Obama’s Justice Department and Hillary Clinton’s State Department together filed an amicus curiae, a “friend of the court” brief in the case of NML Capital et al. v. Republic of Argentina. It wasn’t all that friendly. Obama, a constitutional law professor, suddenly remembered that the president has the power, unique to the Constitution of the USA, to kick the Vulture’s ass up and down the continent, then do it again.
Specifically, Obama and Clinton demanded the court throw out Singer’s attempt to bankrupt Argentina (because that is what Singer’s demand would have done).
This was Singer’s nightmare: that the President of the United States would invoke his extraordinary constitutional authority under the Separation of Powers clause to block the Vulture and his hedge-fund buddies from making superprofits over the dead bodies of desperate nations.
The stakes in the legal-financial-political war are enormous, yet the real battle is hidden from the public view.
A titanic struggle had now been set in motion, a battle over billions, between the Obama administration and the wealthiest men in America, the hedge-fund billionaires, all out of sight of the public and press.
Argentina’s consul called me from DC, stunned by the Clinton move. WTF? Did I have any info?
I said, this action goes way, way beyond Argentina. Obama and Clinton told the court that the Vulture was undermining the safety of the entire world financial system, destabilizing every financial rescue mission from South America to Greece to the Congo. (What would Romney do? His expected replacement for Clinton would be his chief foreign policy advisor Dan Senor – currently on the payroll of . . . Paul Singer.)
Does Obama have the stones to stick with his decision? And do Singer and friends, working with Karl Rove, have the money-knife which could cut them off?
The Rove-bots are already flashing their blade: in June 2012, Republicans on the House Committee on Financial Services held an unprecedented emergency hearing about the president’s stealth move on the Vulture. They sat for testimony by Ted Olsen, George Bush’s former solicitor general, who attacked Obama and Clinton with code words and inscrutable legalismo, not once mentioning Singer or his hedge fund by name.
But in the White House and on the top floors of the Wall Street towers, they knew exactly what this was all about. And in the golf carts on Martha’s Vineyard, they knew the Vulture had to be put in his place. Robert Wolf, golfing with President Obama on the Cape, was furious. The CEO of UBS (a.k.a. United Bank of Switzerland), had put together the Argentina deal. And Swiss bankers don’t allow anyone to move the hole on their green.
Wolf bundled plenty of campaign loot for Obama, who made Wolf his “economic recovery” advisor. UBS has recovered nicely (with a sweet plea-bargain deal on criminal tax-evasion charges).
Now, UBS, JPMorgan, and Citibank chieftains are lined up with Obama and Clinton. The Establishment banks look upon the nouvelle vultures like Singer as economic berserkers, terrorists in a helicopter ready to pull the pin on the grenade. If Singer’s demands aren’t met, he’ll blow up the planet’s finance system. In this war of titans, Obama and Clinton are merely foot soldiers, not the generals. It’s billionaire banking-powers versus billionaire hedge-fund speculators. One is greedy and scary and the other is greedy and plain dangerous. Take your pick.
Here is the real battle – a winner-take-all war over the control of the world financial system.
* * * * * *
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits,The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures’ Picnic.
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Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Armed Madhouse, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman

Palast is currently working on a new documentary Long Knife, exposing the Koch Brothers' theft of Osage oil, to be released in 2024.

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