The price of patriotism

❝ Nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers have been ordered to repay huge enlistment bonuses a decade after signing up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan…

The Pentagon demanded the money back after audits revealed overpayments by the California Guard under pressure to fill ranks and hit enlistment goals. If soldiers refuse, they could face interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens…

❝ Faced with a shortage of troops at the height of the two wars, California Guard officials offered bonuses of $15,000 or more for soldiers to reenlist.

A federal investigation in 2010 found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were improperly doled out to California Guard soldiers. About 9,700 current and retired soldiers received notices to repay some or all of their bonuses with more than $22 million recovered so far.

❝ Soldiers said they feel betrayed at having to repay the money.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart. “People like me just got screwed.”

Van Meter said he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the military says was improperly given to him.

❝ The California Guard said it has to follow the law and collect the money.

One of the benefits of serving as mercenary for the last bastion of imperial war.

Uruguay wins case against tobacco giant


An international arbitrator has ordered tobacco company Philip Morris to pay Uruguay $7 million in damages and court costs after losing a lawsuit that challenged government anti-smoking policies…

The International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes, an arm of the World Bank, ruled that the Swiss-based tobacco-manufacturer had failed to prove that Uruguray had violated the terms of its 1998 Bilateral Investment Treaty in approving a ban on smoking in enclosed spaces, higher cigarette taxes and warning labels between 2005 and 2010. This lawsuit represented the first time a tobacco company had sued a sovereign state before an international forum…

In enforcing the laws, government officials ordered a review of each of the 12 brands of cigarettes sold in Uruguay and required the manufacturer to increase the size of the health warnings on cigarette packaging by 80 percent. The resulting costs forced Philip Morris to withdraw seven of the 12 types of cigarettes that it sold on the Uruguayan the market.

But in their defense, lawyers for Uruguay cited scientific studies which showed a correlation between smoking and a 15 percent increase in cancer cases in the country, making it an “addictive chronic disease.

“This position is shared by the World Health Organization and its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as well as the Pan American Health Organization and international scientific and medical institutions,” Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez said.

Bravo, Uruguay. Keep making these greedy bastards pay for their crimes.

Honda’s $25 million settlement illustrates gutless government in action

Someone explain to Honda those aren’t American flags

American Honda Finance Corp. agreed to pay as much as $25 million to settle discriminatory lending allegations as the U.S. has stepped up its scrutiny of car loans, the third-largest source of household debt.

The Honda unit that finances auto loans in the U.S. will offer $24 million in relief to borrowers who were allegedly overcharged by dealers since 2011, according to a settlement Tuesday with the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. An additional $1 million will be spent on consumer education programs.

The federal government in recent years has secured large discriminatory lending payments from mortgage companies, including a $335 million settlement with Countrywide Financial Corp., and has now turned its attention to auto loans. As part of the settlement, Honda said it would limit the amount a dealer could markup the interest rate of the loan.

As our government has demonstrated time and again, you can lie, cheat and steal – and if you’re a big bank, you get a sizable fine. I guess that’s repayment to the state, somehow. No one does any time. None of the creeps who signed-off on screwing American citizens pay any penalty. Shareholders get the fine subtracted from any dividends they may have expected.

Toyota Motor Credit Corp. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have each disclosed government investigations of discriminatory pricing related to loans.

Vanita Gupta said the Justice Department’s investigation of the auto-lending industry is continuing. Auto loans are the third-largest source of household debt after mortgages and student loans…

U.S. authorities allege that Honda violated fair-lending laws by allowing dealers to charge higher interest rates on loans sought by African-American, Hispanic and Asian borrowers.

The average African-American borrower paid about $250 more for the loan than a white borrower, the Justice Department ad the CFPB said in its complaint. Hispanics paid $200 more while Asian and Pacific Islander borrowers paid $150 more during the term of the loan, the U.S. said.

And that’s the flip side of bigoted business practices in 21st Century America. Corporate barons only have to look to the Republican Party and the gerrymandering done since the 2010 census to think to themselves – hey, these creeps are publicly redefining voting districts to discriminate against Black folks, poor white folks, students and seniors – why can’t I do the same thing?

Our creepiest politicians combine the theft of voting rights with lies about non-existent voter fraud to assemble a life’s worth of deceit and discrimination equal to anything since the days of Jim Crow – and our courts will fart around for decades without doing a thing. Plus, they have the example of the Supreme Court before them saying – it’s all right, racism doesn’t exist in our plastic TV-land anymore.

Why shouldn’t Honda try to get away with stealing? Our politicians, our government says it’s OK.

Court rules “gay conversion therapy” nothing more than consumer fraud

A New Jersey group that claimed it could “cure” gay people and make them straight has been ordered to pay $72,400 in damages to its former clients, after being found by a jury to have broken the state’s consumer fraud protection law.

A jury of seven men and women took about three hours to reach what is being hailed as a landmark civil-rights verdict on Thursday against the founders of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (Jonah), a group that said it had provided “gay conversion therapy” to clients largely from the Jewish faith.

The group was sued by three former clients and two mothers of ex-clients, who collectively told the court in Jersey City that they had suffered great psychological damage as well as considerable financial loss as a result of the fraudulent program.

The lawsuit, launched by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is believed to have been the first in the US to use consumer protection laws to challenge the controversial practice. Most of the major professional bodies including the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association have long denounced the treatment, and many states have also moved to restrict its practice. The White House supports a ban…

David Dinielli, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s deputy legal director…said…“Conversion therapy and homophobia are based on the same central lie – that gay people are broken and need to be fixed,” he said. “Conversion therapists, including the defendants in this case, sell fake cures that don’t work and can seriously harm the unsuspecting people who fall into this trap.”

Theocratic mumbo-jumbo has a “cure” rate roughly akin to any other placebo based on superstition. That someone might convince themselves to behave to a societal norm doesn’t have a damned thing to do with altering behavior that’s part of the genetic chemistry set you were handed on birth.

Nice to see a brilliant legal response like this winning the start of what I hope will be a long string of victories.

Tesla pays back $465 million DOE loan 9 years ahead of schedule

We’re willing to bet there are bottles of champagne popping all the way from Washington, DC to Palo Alto, CA…with the announcement that Tesla Motors has, as suspected, paid off the entirety of its $465-million Department of Energy loan.

As far back as July 2012, Tesla began talking about paying the US government back early, but it was apparently the tremendous rise in the company’s stock value recently that prompted CEO Elon Musk to push for the immediate repayment this week. From a price of $33.87 on January 1, TSLA has climbed to $87.24…Last week, Tesla sold enough stock to raise over a billion dollars to repay the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan, with interest. This makes Tesla the first automaker to pay the DOE back, and it did so nine years ahead of schedule…

In a prepared statement, Tesla CEO Elon Musk thanked the DOE and Congress and “particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate. I hope we did you proud.”

The DOE is certainly proud, issuing a release that said the repayment “shows the strength of energy department’s overall loan portfolio.” The DOE has come under fire recently for the loan it gave to Fisker Automotive. Two other ATVM recipients, Nissan and Ford, have not yet paid all theit money back, but there are no apparent worries there, either.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a statement that, “not every investment will succeed” but that the DOE’s overall $34-Billion loan portfolio of more than 30 loans “is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated…”

The reality is that the DOE investment and loan portfolio performs better than most banks making small business loans. Not that it gets through the lead-based scum encasing the brains of Congressional conservatives and the Tea Party economics school dropouts. Only 2% bad loans is the kind of thing that encourages smiles among the regulatory curmudgeons in our banking industry. Still meaningless to horse-and-buggy populists who haven’t made it beyond lead-based gasoline.

Elon Musk deserves credit for all of his endeavors. He’s doing the health of our nation and the world a favor by setting standards high enough to benefit us all with his electric cars.

Phony dying bride ordered to repay those she swindled

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

A New York bride who faked having terminal cancer to swindle well-wishers into funding her dream wedding and honeymoon to the Caribbean on Wednesday was ordered to repay more than $13,000 to her victims…

Jessica Vega, 25, pleaded guilty last month to fraud and forgery charges for deceiving people in the Hudson Valley area of New York into thinking she had only a few months to live, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. Moved by her tale, individuals and businesses donated thousands of dollars to pay for her wedding in May 2010 and her honeymoon in Aruba.

Her scheme unraveled after her husband, Michael O’Connell, contacted the Times Herald-Record in Orange County to say his bride had faked her illness. He was not charged, and the couple have since divorced, although the Times Herald-Record reported he was there to pick her up from jail on Wednesday.

“To prey on people’s emotions by pretending to have a terminal illness is unconscionable,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement. “I am pleased that the community members, who felt so compelled to generously help a neighbor in need, will be given back their hard-earned money.”

Besides repaying $13,368.48 to her victims, Vega was sentenced to time already served in jail, must do 300 hours of community service and serve five years on probation. She spent eight weeks in jail before her release on Wednesday.

I hope her community service is dedicated to those truly stricken with life-threatening illness.

Chrysler repays Uncle Sam $7.5 billion – early

Shhhhh! Do you hear that? Neither do I. I’m talking about reaction from critics of the auto bailout to news that Chrysler will pay back the $7.5 billion that it borrowed from taxpayers of the United States and Canada. Chrysler is raising the cash to pay back its government loans through a combination of bond sales, a commercial loan and a cash infusion from its partner Italian automaker Fiat…

Granted, all this constitutes a refinancing of Chrysler’s debt and the company is far from being out of woods – it still owes the $7.5 billion. But the fact that an automaker that had been given up for dead a few years ago is now healthy enough to convince private investors to pony up billions is a positive sign. And the chief issue among bailout critics wasn’t the long-term survival of Chrysler (they were willing to let the automaker die after all) but whether the company could ever pay back the money it borrowed from the government. Well, it just did.

So Chrysler lives to fight another day, thousands of Americans keep their jobs and the company continues to expand and post profits. Which is good news, unless you are a Toyota state Senator, are paid by a think tank to opine that government can never do anything right, or are an ideologue who’s genetically incapable of uttering the word “government” without immediately blurting out the word “boondoggle.”

Ideologue being the operative word in my humble experience. Usually, the sloganeer is someone who could care less about the lot of someone who spent decades in an auto plant – overpaid for all the fun he had schlepping fenders onto a Chrysler chassis.

Nope. I have a lot more sympathy for the folks who spent a significant portion of their lives in the not-so-healthy atmosphere of an American factory instead of the ivory tower that makes some people “superior” to those getting a paycheck for manual labor.

Citigroup bailout to deliver $12.3bn profit to U.S. taxpayers

The US treasury expects to net $312.2m on Monday when it sells the rest of its stake in Citigroup. The government holds 465.1m warrants in Citi that entitle it to purchase common shares in the banking group. The warrants, which it is auctioning, represent the remaining part of the US government’s $45bn investment in Citi during the financial crisis.

Taxpayers are expected to end up with a $12.3bn profit on the bailout, made under the troubled asset relief programme (TARP). The treasury sold its 34% stake of common shares of Citi last year.

“As we exit our investments in private companies and recover taxpayer dollars, it’s clear that the cost of the Tarp programme will be a fraction of what many had once feared during the depths of the crisis,” said Tim Massad, the treasury’s acting assistant secretary for financial stability.

The Tarp bailout is proving to be less expensive to taxpayers than first feared. The US government made $13.5bn selling its stake in General Motors. Last week the government chose four Wall Street banks to sell its stake in American Insurance Group (AIG), recipient of $180bn in bailout funds. The sale could be the largest in US history. AIG has already paid back significant chunks of the debt…

In his latest quarterly report, Neil Barofsky said “on the financial side, Tarp’s outlook has never been better. Not only did Tarp funds help head off a catastrophic financial collapse, but estimates of Tarp’s ultimate direct financial cost to the taxpayer have fallen substantially,” from $341bn in August 2009 to $25bn in November 2010.

Save a copy of this post for the next time your friendly neighborhood Tea Party nutball starts raving and ranting about how the socialist policies of the bailout were bankrupting the United States.

The U.S. Treasury is walking out of the remnants of Bush’s Great Recession smelling like a rose – the most successful bank in America.

Of course, you’ll have to point out 14 more sources for the information on repayment and the resulting profits. There isn’t anyone in the KoolAid Party who knows what actually is happening in the world of commerce.

Ex-SocGen trader Kerviel sentenced to 3 years in jail

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Former Societe Generale trader Jerome Kerviel was sentenced to three years in jail by a Paris court on Tuesday for his role in a trading scandal and ordered to pay the French bank 4.9 billion euros.

The verdict came as a victory for SocGen, which always maintained Kerviel acted alone and without the sanction of his managers at the bank. It had sought payment of damages for the money it lost unwinding the trader’s risky market bets in 2008.

Kerviel’s lawyer said he would immediately appeal the verdict, which he said was “senseless” and cleared the bank of all blame.

“Jerome is outraged … that the people who created him have been totally exonerated,” Olivier Metzner told journalists outside the courtroom in the Palais de Justice. Kerviel was given a total prison sentence of five years, two years of which were suspended. The public prosecutor had recommended Kerviel serve at least four years behind bars, with a fifth year suspended.

The payment to SocGen equates to 3.2 percent of France’s central government deficit for 2010, the GDP of Monaco or 16 percent of the French bank’s market value. Kerviel is currently paid 2,300 euros a month as a technology consultant.

RTFA for today’s details. I think I should just repeat what I said when Kerviel was arrested:

From the viewpoint of the banking IT geeks I hang out with, ignorance doesn’t beg forgiveness for culpability. If internal reports didn’t reveal the fraud, the responsibility lies with those who contracted for the systems providing the report. If the reports were there – and were ignored – the responsibility tracks deeper into the heart and management principles of the bank.

AIG and government agree TARP exit plan

Daylife/Reuters pictures used by permission

The American International Group has reached an agreement in principle to repay the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for the company’s 2008 rescue, and to gradually return the ownership of its stock to the public markets.

Robert Benmosche, chief executive of A.I.G., said the plan would allow the company to “remain on track to emerge with one of the largest, most diversified property and casualty companies in the world.”

The company and its rescuers in the federal government have been working intently in recent weeks to complete such a plan before the expiration of the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program on Oct. 3, and before the Fed’s bailout loan came due. The original terms called for A.I.G. to pay back the Fed within two years.

Under the plan, the Treasury Department will, for a time, own 92.1 percent of A.I.G. before it begins to sell its shares…

The company said it would use its own resources to pay back the $20 billion in loans, including the proceeds it expects to receive from the sale of a big overseas life insurance unit to MetLife. That sale, announced in March, should yield $6.8 billion in cash and $8.7 billion in MetLife stock, and close by the end of the year.

Still more money to repay the Fed is expected to come from an initial public offering of a second big foreign life insurance business on the Hong Kong exchange. The offering was delayed for several months while A.I.G. tried unsuccessfully to sell the unit to a British company, but A.I.G. now says the Hong Kong offering is back on. It did not provide a time frame.

In addition, the Treasury has agreed to help the Fed sever its ties with A.I.G., by providing the means for the company to redeem most of the Fed’s $26 billion in preferred interests. That money will come from the unused portion of an emergency assistance package that the Treasury made available to A.I.G. as its troubles reached a peak in early 2009…

Taking all of those steps will end the Fed’s role as a lender to A.I.G. and an investor in the company, a role that has never fit in well with the Fed’s duties as a central bank. The Treasury will come out of the transaction with a larger preferred stake in A.I.G., but expects the company to keep taking steps to pay it down, according to the new agreement in principle.

The range of fools, from hypocrites and sophists in the Republican Party to the just-plain-ignorant tea baggers who persist in whining about TARP confound reason. Whether your concern is history or economics, the truth remains self-evident. Not only did the TARP program keep a significant chunk of our economy from collapsing in the wake of the meltdown resulting from a decade or more of Free Market corruption, our Treasury and taxpayers continue to realize a profit from the payback.

It ain’t all over. But, the process is advanced enough that even the political losers and their obedient grunts should consider climbing on board and joining the move towards the future – instead of trying to turn back both time and progress.