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Banks take GM pension plan--Palast


Grand Theft Auto: How Stevie the Rat bankrupted GM

by Greg Palast
Monday, June 1, 2009

Screw the autoworkers.

They may be crying about General Motors' bankruptcy today. But dumping 40,000 of the last 60,000 union jobs into a mass grave won't spoil Jamie Dimon's day.

Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank. While GM workers are losing their retirement health benefits, their jobs, their life savings; while shareholders are getting zilch and many creditors getting hosed, a few privileged GM lenders - led by Morgan and Citibank - expect to get back 100% of their loans to GM, a stunning $6 billion.

The way these banks are getting their $6 billion bonanza is stone cold illegal.

I smell a rat.

Stevie the Rat, to be precise. Steven Rattner, Barack Obama's 'Car Czar' - the man who essentially ordered GM into bankruptcy this morning.

When a company goes bankrupt, everyone takes a hit: fair or not, workers lose some contract wages, stockholders get wiped out and creditors get fragments of what's left. That's the law. What workers don't lose are their pensions (including old-age health funds) already taken from their wages and held in their name.

But not this time. Stevie the Rat has a different plan for GM: grab the pension funds to pay off Morgan and Citi.

Here's the scheme: Rattner is demanding the bankruptcy court simply wipe away the money GM owes workers for their retirement health insurance. Cash in the insurance fund would be replace by GM stock. The percentage may be 17% of GM's stock - or 25%. Whatever, 17% or 25% is worth, well ... just try paying for your dialysis with 50 shares of bankrupt auto stock.

Yet Citibank and Morgan, says Rattner, should get their whole enchilada - $6 billion right now and in cash - from a company that can't pay for auto parts or worker eye exams.

Preventive Detention for Pensions

So what's wrong with seizing workers' pension fund money in a bankruptcy? The answer, Mr. Obama, Mr. Law Professor, is that it's illegal.

In 1974, after a series of scandalous take-downs of pension and retirement funds during the Nixon era, Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA says you can't seize workers' pension funds (whether monthly payments or health insurance) any more than you can seize their private bank accounts. And that's because they are the same thing: workers give up wages in return for retirement benefits.

The law is darn explicit that grabbing pension money is a no-no. Company executives must hold these retirement funds as "fiduciaries." Here's the law, Professor Obama, as described on the government's own web site under the heading, "Health Plans and Benefits."

"The primary responsibility of fiduciaries is to run the plan solely in the interest of participants and beneficiaries and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits."

Every business in America that runs short of cash would love to dip into retirement kitties, but it's not their money any more than a banker can seize your account when the bank's a little short. A plan's assets are for the plan's members only, not for Mr. Dimon nor Mr. Rubin.

Yet, in effect, the Obama Administration is demanding that money for an elderly auto worker's spleen should be siphoned off to feed the TARP babies. Workers go without lung transplants so Dimon and Rubin can pimp out their ride. This is another "Guantanamo" moment for the Obama Administration - channeling Nixon to endorse the preventive detention of retiree health insurance.

Filching GM's pension assets doesn't become legal because the cash due the fund is replaced with GM stock. Congress saw through that switch-a-roo by requiring that companies, as fiduciaries, must

"...act prudently and must diversify the plan's investments in order to minimize the risk of large losses."

By "diversify" for safety, the law does not mean put 100% of worker funds into a single busted company's stock.

This is dangerous business: The Rattner plan opens the floodgate to every politically-connected or down-on-their-luck company seeking to drain health care retirement funds.

House of Rubin

Pensions are wiped away and two connected banks don't even get a haircut? How come Citi and Morgan aren't asked, like workers and other creditors, to take stock in GM?

As Butch said to Sundance, who ARE these guys? You remember Morgan and Citi. These are the corporate Welfare Queens who've already sucked up over a third of a trillion dollars in aid from the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. Not coincidentally, Citi, the big winner, has paid over $100 million to Robert Rubin, the former US Treasury Secretary. Rubin was Obama's point-man in winning banks' endorsement and campaign donations (by far, his largest source of his corporate funding).

With GM's last dying dimes about to fall into one pocket, and the Obama Treasury in his other pocket, Morgan's Jamie Dimon is correct in saying that the last twelve months will prove to be the bank's "finest year ever."

Which leaves us to ask the question: is the forced bankruptcy of GM, the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs, just a collection action for favored financiers?

And it's been a good year for Seņor Rattner. While the Obama Administration made a big deal out of Rattner's youth spent working for the Steelworkers Union, they tried to sweep under the chassis that Rattner was one of the privileged, select group of investors in Cerberus Capital, the owners of Chrysler. "Owning" is a loose term. Cerberus "owned" Chrysler the way a cannibal "hosts" you for dinner. Cerberus paid nothing for Chrysler - indeed, they were paid billions by Germany's Daimler Corporation to haul it away. Cerberus kept the cash, then dumped Chrysler's bankrupt corpse on the US taxpayer.

("Cerberus," by the way, named itself after the Roman's mythical three-headed dog guarding the gates Hell. Subtle these guys are not.)

While Stevie the Rat sold his interest in the Dog from Hell when he became Car Czar, he never relinquished his post at the shop of vultures called Quadrangle Hedge Fund. Rattner's personal net worth stands at roughly half a billion dollars. This is Obama's working class hero.

If you ran a business and played fast and loose with your workers' funds, you could land in prison. Stevie the Rat's plan is nothing less than Grand Theft Auto Pension.

It doesn't make it any less of a crime if the President drives the getaway car.


Economist and journalist Greg Palast, a former trade union contract negotiator, is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse. He is a GM bondholder and card-carrying member of United Automobile Workers Local 1981.

Palast's latest reports for BBC Television and Democracy Now! are collected on the newly released DVD, "Palast Investigates: from 8-Mile to the Amazon - on the trail of the financial marauders." Watch the trailer here.


What we have is unfettered capitalism, the results of which will be to have U.S. workers compete pay-wise with those of our neighbors to the south.
Below is part of an article on McCain, the part about unfettered capitalism.  What the article misses is that the Democrats are also neoliberals.   

Why the Financial Meltdown Reflects the Fundamental Failure of the Bush-McCain Economic Philosophy

Huffington Post, Robert Creamer, 9/16/08


The financial meltdown on Wall Street is more than a cyclic correction brought on by a mismanaged business cycle. It is emblematic of a problem at the very foundation of the right wing economic philosophy that became conventional wisdom during the Bush years -- and would be continued in a McCain presidency.

The zealots of unfettered "free markets" cast aside the critical lesson that the world learned during the Great Depression: left to their own devices, unregulated financial markets do not necessarily function to benefit the society as a whole -- or, in the end, even many individual market participants.  The fundamental premise of right-wing economics is the incorrect view that if every market actor pursues his own economic interest, the "invisible hand" of the market place will assure that the "common good" results. But of course, common sense tells us that is not always true. Two quick examples:

The first is referred to as the "tragedy of the commons." Suppose an island nation depends on the fishing harvests from the surrounding sea for its livelihood. It would obviously be in the interest of the community never to take more fish from the sea than can be replenished through the reproduction of fish. That way, everyone on the island will continue to have fish for the long haul.  But it is in the interest of each individual fisherman to catch as many fish as he can. This is especially true if the fish stocks grow scarcer. To continue to have enough fish for himself and his family, each fisherman competes more and more vigorously for the remaining fish. In the end, this behavior will assure that the fish supply is depleted, and that no one has any fish.  In this situation, if everyone pursues his own individual interest, the common good is not served. But if everyone looks out for each other, and recognizes that all have a common group interest, they will manage the fish resource to assure a self-sustaining fish supply that can feed everyone for years to come.

The other example is the classic case of economic recession. In a recession, it is in each economic actor's self-interest to increase his savings and cut spending, since the recession threatens his income. But by each pursuing his own individual interest, all of the actors together reduce the economy's overall spending. And that deepens the recession. If, on the other hand, the entire group of economic actors works through its government to increase national spending and reduce overall savings, it will stimulate the economy and the recession will end -- benefiting everyone.