Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Germany Could End The Eurozone Crisis

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How Germany Could End the Eurozone's Crisis

September 28, 2011 | 1202 GMT
How Germany Could End the Eurozone's Crisis
A protester sets fire to euro banknote copies in Athens on Sept. 17
The eurozone’s financial crisis has entered its 19th month. Germany, the most powerful country in Europe currently, faces constraints in its choices for changing the European system. STRATFOR sees only one option for Berlin to rescue the eurozone: Eject Greece from the economic bloc and manage the fallout with a bailout fund.
The  eurozone’s financial crisis has entered its 19th month. There are more plans to modify the European system than there are eurozone members, but most of these plans ignore constraints faced by Germany, the one country in the eurozone in a position to resolve the crisis. STRATFOR sees only one way forward that would allow the eurozone to survive.

Germany’s Constraints

While Germany is by far the most powerful country in Europe, the European Union is not a German creation. It is a portion of a 1950s French vision to enhance French power on both a European and a global scale. However, since the end of the Cold War, France has lost control of Europe to a reunited and reinvigorated Germany. Berlin is now working to rewire European structures piece by piece to its liking. Germany primarily uses its financial acumen and strength to assert control. In exchange for access to its wealth, Berlin requires other European states to reform their economies along German lines — reforms which if fully implemented would transform most of these countries into de facto German economic colonies.
This brings us to the eurozone crisis and the various plans to modify the bloc. Most of these plans ignore that Germany’s reasons for participating in the eurozone are not purely economic, and those non-economic motivations greatly limit Berlin’s options for changing the eurozone.
Germany in any age is best described as vulnerable. Its coastline is split by Denmark, its three navigable rivers are not naturally connected and the mouths of two of those rivers are not under German control. Germany’s people cling to regional rather than national identities. Most importantly, the country faces sharp competition from both east and west. Germany has never been left alone: When it is weak its neighbors shatter Germany into dozens of pieces, often ruling some of those pieces directly. When it is strong, its neighbors form a coalition to break Germany’s power.
The post-Cold War era is a golden age in German history. The country was allowed to reunify after the Cold War, and its neighbors have not yet felt threatened enough to attempt to break Berlin’s power. In any other era, a coalition to contain Germany would already be forming. However, the European Union’s institutions — particularly the euro — have allowed Germany to participate in Continental affairs in an arena in which they are eminently competitive. Germany wants to limit European competition to the field of economics, since on the field of battle it could not prevail against a coalition of its neighbors.
This fact eliminates most of the eurozone crisis solutions under discussion. Ejecting from the eurozone states that are traditional competitors with Germany could transform them into rivals. Thus, any reform option that could end with Germany in a different currency zone than Austria, the Netherlands, France, Spain or Italy is not viable if Berlin wants to prevent a core of competition from arising.
Germany also faces mathematical constraints. The creation of a transfer union, which has been roundly debated, would regularly shift economic resources from Germany to Greece, the eurozone’s weakest member. The means of such allocations — direct transfers, rolling debt restructurings, managed defaults — are irrelevant. What matters is that such a plan would establish a precedent that could be repeated for Ireland and Portugal — and eventually Italy, Belgium, Spain and France. This puts anything resembling a transfer union out of the question. Covering all the states that would benefit from the transfers would likely cost around 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) annually. Even if this were a political possibility in Germany (and it is not), it is well beyond Germany’s economic capacity.
These limitations leave a narrow window of possibilities for Berlin. What follows is the approximate path STRATFOR sees Germany being forced to follow if the euro is to survive. This is not necessarily Berlin’s explicit plan, but if the eurozone is to avoid mass defaults and dissolution, it appears to be the sole option.

Cutting Greece Loose

Greece’s domestic capacity to generate capital is highly limited, and its rugged topography comes with extremely high capital costs. Even in the best of times Greece cannot function as a developed, modern economy without hefty and regular injections of subsidized capital from abroad. (This is primarily why Greece did not exist between the 4th century B.C. and the 19th century and helps explain why the European Commission recommended against starting accession talks with Greece in the 1970s.)
After modern Greece was established in the early 1800s, those injections came from the United Kingdom, which used the newly independent Greek state as a foil against faltering Ottoman Turkey. During the Cold War the United States was Greece’s external sponsor, as Washington wanted to keep the Soviets out of the Mediterranean. More recently, Greece has used its EU membership to absorb development funds, and in the 2000s its eurozone membership allowed it to borrow huge volumes of capital at far less than market rates. Unsurprisingly, during most of this period Greece boasted the highest gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates in the eurozone.
Those days have ended. No one has a geopolitical need for alliance with Greece at present, and evolutions in the eurozone have put an end to cheap euro-denominated credit. Greece is therefore left with few capital-generation possibilities and a debt approaching 150 percent of GDP. When bank debt is factored in, that number climbs higher. This debt is well beyond the ability of the Greek state and its society to pay.
Luckily for the Germans, Greece is not one of the states that traditionally has threatened Germany, so it is not a state that Germany needs to keep close. It seems that if the eurozone is to be saved, Greece needs to be disposed of.
This cannot, however, be done cleanly. Greece has more than 350 billion euros in outstanding government debt, of which roughly 75 percent is held outside of Greece. It must be assumed that if Greece were cut off financially and ejected from the eurozone, Athens would quickly default on its debts, particularly the foreign-held portions. Because of the nature of the European banking system, this would cripple Europe.
European banks are not like U.S. banks. Whereas the United States’ financial system is a single unified network, the  European banking system is sequestered by nationality. And whereas the general dearth of direct, constant threats to the United States has resulted in a fairly hands-off approach to the banking sector, the crowded competition in Europe has often led states to use their banks as tools of policy. Each model has benefits and drawbacks, but in the current eurozone financial crisis the structure of the European system has three critical implications.
First, because banks are regularly used to achieve national and public — as opposed to economic and private — goals, banks are often encouraged or forced to invest in ways that they otherwise would not. For example, during the early months of the eurozone crisis, eurozone governments pressured their banks to purchase prodigious volumes of Greek government debt, thinking that such demand would be sufficient to stave off a crisis. In another example, in order to further unify Spanish society, Madrid forced Spanish banks to treat some 1 million recently naturalized citizens as having prime credit despite their utter lack of credit history. This directly contributed to Spain’s current real estate and constriction crisis. European banks have suffered more from credit binges, carry trading and toxic assets (emanating from home or the United States) than their counterparts in the United States.
Second, banks are far more important to growth and stability in Europe than they are in the United States. Banks — as opposed to stock markets in which foreigners participate — are seen as the trusted supporters of national systems. They are the lifeblood of the European economies, on average supplying more than 70 percent of funding needs for consumers and corporations (for the United States the figure is less than 40 percent).
Third and most importantly, the banks’ crucial role and their politicization mean that in Europe a sovereign debt crisis immediately becomes a banking crisis and a banking crisis immediately becomes a sovereign debt crisis. Ireland is a case in point. Irish state debt was actually extremely low going into the 2008 financial crisis, but the banks’ overindulgence left the Irish government with little choice but to launch a bank bailout — the cost of which in turn required Dublin to seek a eurozone rescue package.
And since European banks are linked by a web of cross-border stock and bond holdings and the interbank market, trouble in one country’s banking sector quickly spreads across borders, in both banks and sovereigns.
The 280 billion euros in Greek sovereign debt held outside the country is mostly held within the banking sectors of Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy — all of whose state and private banking sectors already face considerable strain. A Greek default would quickly cascade into uncontainable bank failures across these states. (German and particularly French banks are heavily exposed to Spain and Italy.) Even this scenario is somewhat optimistic, since it assumes a Greek eurozone ejection would not damage the 500 billion euros in assets held by the Greek banking sector (which is the single largest holder of Greek government debt).

Making Europe Work Without Greece

Greece needs to be cordoned off so that its failure would not collapse the European financial and monetary structure. Sequestering all foreign-held Greek sovereign debt would cost about 280 billion euros, but there is more exposure than simply that to government bonds. Greece has been in the European Union since 1981. Its companies and banks are integrated into the European whole, and since joining the eurozone in 2001 that integration has been denominated wholly in euros. If Greece is ejected that will all unwind. Add to the sovereign debt stack the cost of protecting against that process and — conservatively — the cost of a Greek firebreak rises to 400 billion euros.
That number, however, only addresses the immediate crisis of Greek default and ejection. The long-term unwinding of Europe’s economic and financial integration with Greece (there will be few Greek banks willing to lend to European entities, and fewer European entities willing to lend to Greece) would trigger a series of financial mini-crises. Additionally, the ejection of a eurozone member state — even one such as Greece, which lied about its statistics in order to qualify for eurozone membership — is sure to rattle European markets to the core. Technically, Greece cannot be ejected against its will. However, since the only thing keeping the Greek economy going right now and the only thing preventing an immediate government default is the ongoing supply of bailout money, this is merely a technical rather than absolute obstacle. If Greece’s credit line is cut off and it does not willingly leave the eurozone, it will become both destitute and without control over its monetary system. If it does leave, at least it will still have monetary control.
In August, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde recommended immediately injecting 200 billion euros into European banks so that they could better deal with the next phase of the European crisis. While officials across the EU immediately decried her advice, Lagarde is in a position to know; until July 5, her job was to oversee the French banking sector as France’s finance minister. Lagarde’s 200 billion euro figure assumes that the recapitalization occurs before any defaults and before any market panic. Under such circumstances prices tend to balloon; using the 2008 American financial crisis as a guide, the cost of recapitalization during an actual panic would probably be in the range of 800 billion euros.
It must also be assumed that the markets would not only be evaluating the banks. Governments would come under harsher scrutiny as well. Numerous eurozone states look less than healthy, but Italy rises to the top because of its high debt and the lack of political will to tackle it. Italy’s outstanding government debt is approximately 1.9 trillion euros. The formula the Europeans have used until now to determine bailout volumes has assumed that it would be necessary to cover all expected bond issuances for three years. For Italy, that comes out to about 700 billion euros using official Italian government statistics (and closer to 900 billion using third-party estimates).
All told, STRATFOR estimates that a bailout fund that can manage the fallout from a Greek ejection would need to manage roughly 2 trillion euros.

Raising 2 Trillion Euros

The European Union already has a bailout mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), so the Europeans are not starting from scratch. Additionally, the Europeans would not need 2 trillion euros on hand the day a Greece ejection occurred; even in the worst-case scenario, Italy would not crash within 24 hours (and even if it did, it would need 900 billion euros over three years, not all in one day). On the day Greece were theoretically ejected from the eurozone, Europe would probably need about 700 billion euros (400 billion to combat Greek contagion and another 300 billion for the banks). The IMF could provide at least some of that, though probably no more than 150 billion euros.
The rest would come from the private bond market. The EFSF is not a traditional bailout fund that holds masses of cash and actively restructures entities it assists. Instead it is a transfer facility: eurozone member states guarantee they will back a certain volume of debt issuance. The EFSF then uses those guarantees to raise money on the bond market, subsequently passing those funds along to bailout targets. To prepare for Greece’s ejection, two changes must be made to the EFSF.
First, there are some legal issues to resolve. In its original 2010 incarnation, the EFSF could only carry out state bailouts and only after European institutions approved them. This resulted in lengthy debates about the merits of bailout candidates, public airings of disagreements among eurozone states and more market angst than was necessary. A July eurozone summit strengthened the EFSF, streamlining the approval process, lowering the interest rates of the bailout loans and, most importantly, allowing the EFSF to engage in bank bailouts. These improvements have all been agreed to, but they must be ratified to take effect, and ratification faces two obstacles.
Germany’s governing coalition is not united on whether German resources — even if limited to state guarantees — should be made available to  bail out other EU states. The final vote in the Bundestag is supposed to occur Sept. 29. While STRATFOR finds it highly unlikely that this vote will fail, the fact that a debate is even occurring is far more than a worrying footnote. After all, the German government wrote both the original EFSF agreement and its July addendum.
The other obstacle regards smaller, solvent, eurozone states that are concerned about states’ ability to repay any bailout funds. Led by Finland and supported by the Netherlands, these states are demanding collateral for any guarantees.
STRATFOR believes both of these issues are solvable. Should the Free Democrats — the junior coalition partner in the German government — vote down the EFSF changes, they will do so at a prohibitive cost to themselves. At present the Free Democrats are so unpopular that they might not even make it into parliament in new elections. And while Germany would prefer that Finland prove more pliable, the collateral issue will at most require a slightly larger German financial commitment to the bailout program.
The second EFSF problem is its size. The current facility has only 440 billion euros at its disposal — a far cry from the 2 trillion euros required to handle a Greek ejection. This means that once everyone ratifies the July 22 agreement, the 17 eurozone states have to get together again and once more modify the EFSF to quintuple the size of its fundraising capacity. Anything less would end with — at a minimum — the largest banking crisis in European history and most likely the euro’s dissolution. But even this is far from certain, as numerous events could go wrong before a Greek ejection:
  • Enough states — including even Germany — could balk at the potential cost of the EFSF’s expansion. It is easy to see why. Increasing the EFSF’s capacity to 2 trillion euros represents a potential 25 percent increase by GDP of each contributing state’s total debt load, a number that will rise to 30 percent of GDP should Italy need a rescue (states receiving bailouts are removed from the funding list for the EFSF). That would push the national debts of Germany and France — the eurozone heavyweights — to nearly 110 percent of GDP, in relative size more than even the United States’ current bloated volume. The complications of agreeing to this at the intra-governmental level, much less selling it to skeptical and bailout-weary parliaments and publics, cannot be overstated.
  • If Greek authorities realize that Greece will be ejected from the eurozone anyway, they could preemptively leave the eurozone, default, or both. That would trigger an immediate sovereign and banking meltdown, before a remediation system could be established.
  • An unexpected government failure could prematurely trigger a general European debt meltdown. There are two leading candidates. Italy, with a national debt of 120 percent of GDP, has the highest per capita national debt in the eurozone outside Greece, and since Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has consistently gutted his own ruling coalition of potential successors, his political legacy appears to be coming to an end. Prosecutors have become so emboldened that Berlusconi is now scheduling meetings with top EU officials to dodge them. Belgium is also high on the danger list.Belgium has lacked a government for 17 months, and its caretaker prime minister announced his intention to quit the post Sept. 13. It is hard to implement austerity measures — much less negotiate a bailout package — without a government.
  • The European banking system — already the most damaged in the developed world — could prove to be in far worse shape than is already believed. A careless word from a government official, a misplaced austerity cut or an investor scare could trigger a cascade of bank collapses.
Even if Europe is able to avoid these pitfalls, the eurozone’s structural, financial and organizational problems remain. This plan merely patches up the current crisis for a couple of years.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jack's Pearl Of Wisdom For Tuesday 27 September


Paul Alexander Escapes From Prison!

One of the biggest drug dealers in Brazil's history is again on the loose. The Santa Catarina Paul Lir Alexander, 54, was Justice of Minas Gerais the right to get out of jail to work and disappeared. Spy trained by Mossad - the Israeli Secret Service, he was researcher at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA, Drug Enforcement Administration in English) before entering the world of crime. Outlaw, becomes one of the most wanted outlaws in the continent.Paul found freedom after a team of six lawyers managed to change the system closed for its semi-open prison. In addition to the progression that gives the condemned the right to spend the day out of jail and back to sleep only at night, he also received the benefit of the temporary withdrawal: five "escapes" of seven consecutive days per year. The departure of Paul was determined on July 6, 2010, by Judge Wagner de Oliveira Cavalieri, of the Criminal Court for the District of Contagem, Minas Gerais. On August 11, the dealer has crossed the gate of Penitentiary Jose Maria Alkimin in Ribeirão das Neves, the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte. Should return in a week, but escaped.- The prisoner met the requirements such as good behavior and completion of a sixth of their sentence, the period necessary to receive the benefit. Faced with the assent of the prosecutor, my decision was in accordance with the law - the judge said.On Brazilian soil, Lir was a little over four years in prison, but to get the half open, his lawyers used the 12 years met - the same crimes in the U.S.. Known as Superman and the Po Baron, Alexander came to have a net worth of $ 170 million, in mansions, luxury business rooms, airplanes, farms, residential buildings, tractors, agricultural machinery and a fleet of trucks. Part of this universe of dreams, like the house in Palace Park condominium in Barra da Tijuca, a horse farm and race horses with large manga-walker in Paraiba do Sul, was seized by federal police after his arrest.The business fell into the hands of the police in 1993, the United States, when the DEA discovered that he used his electrical transformer industry in Contagem, in Greater Belo Horizonte, base paste to send cocaine to North America and Europe After serving 12 years in the U.S. for international drug trafficking, were deported to their country of origin. Back in Brazil, was sentenced on April 19, 2006, to 42 years in prison by Judge Joseph Henry Guaracy Rebelo, the 9th Circuit Federal de Minas Gerais. It was in the Nelson Hungria prison in New Count, but as there was compliance with the conditions of this semi-open site, was transferred, as well as its process for Ribeirão das Neves, which he left, never to return.

20,000 SurfaceTo Air Missiles Missing In Libya

My dear readers I want to share with you a story that I just picked up on the Huffington Post. Some 20,000 shoulder-fired surface to air missile from the Libyan arsenals are missing. One of these missiles could be used to shoot down an airliner full of people. US officials said in the past that it was highly unlikely that these missiles could fall into the hands of terrorists. They have now said that it is highly-likely that such missiles could fall into the hands of terrorists. All of us who fly should be aware of this. Senator Barbara Boxer is fighting to get legislation passed that would require military-type missile counter measures to be installed on each civilian airlines at a cost of $1 million US per airlines. The total cost of the program would be $6 billion US dollars.
Colonel Gadhafi also has a supply of mustard gas. This same gas was used in World War I and when Iraq and Iran went to war.
I also wonder if the mad colonel has some enriched uranium left.

Jack's Beautiful Woman For Tuesday 27 September

Geopolitical Journey: Iran at a Crossroads | STRATFOR

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A Slick Colombian Drug Informant Gets Arrested For A $16 Million Mortgage Fraud In Miami

A Slick Colombian Drug Informant Gets Arrested For A $16 Million Mortgage Fraud In Miami


Mortgage fraud case may end drug snitch’s wild career


Carlos Ramón Zapata was doing nicely as a worldly, daring drug snitch — until he was ratted out by pals involved in a plan to scam lenders.


Ramon Zapata
Ramon Zapata
Miami-Dade Corrections


Carlos Ramón Zapata spent the last two decades tangling with some of the world’s most dangerous and nefarious characters.
Ramón took up arms against Pablo Escobar’s bloody cartel — and survived. He helped facilitate a cross-oceanic cocaine deal with a Saudi prince that brought international shame to the Royal Family.
When “El Médico” — the nickname given to Ramón, a trained plastic surgeon in his native Colombia — wasn’t charming South Florida beauties from his posh South Beach bachelor pad, he acted as a high-value drug informant for the feds.
But for all his street smarts, charisma and good fortune, Ramón’s wild run could be nearing an inglorious end.
Arrested earlier this month, Ramón, 45, stands accused of running an extensive South Florida mortgage fraud racket, an enterprise whose total take exceeded $16 million. The state’s attorney general alleges that Ramón’s paper-pushing crew bilked lenders, using fraudulent documents.
In a cruel case of karma, the snitch was ratted out by his confederates.
“The arrest of Mr. Zapata and his colleagues shows that we are serious about targeting criminals committing mortgage fraud in our state,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Police records depict Ramón, through his I&L Investment Group, Inc., and longtime friend Ayadie Carmen Londono as the rip-off’s ringleaders, claiming they set up “straw buyers” and provided funding for the intricate operation. In all, 12 have been charged, with the accused hailing either from South Florida or Latin America.
Ramón’s criminal defense attorney, Carol Breece, declined to comment for this story, and instructed her client to do likewise.
After Ramón’s arrest on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, organized fraud and money laundering, the Department of Homeland Security wanted to deport him immediately, but prosecutors successfully petitioned the court to intercede to protect the state’s interests in the case, court records show.
That could be a blessing. Ramón is probably safer in federal custody than back home, where his life would be in danger because word has spread of his cozy relationship with the U.S. government, sources say.
But Ramón has wriggled out of trouble before. In 2000, he pleaded guilty to cocaine conspiracy charges, only to receive a 72-month sentence, of which he served four years. To win early release, he agreed to be an informant for Justice Department and DEA officials, setting up undercover drug stings that resulted in multiple arrests.
Then, he allegedly began to freelance. Ramón’s involvement in mortgage fraud started a scant two years after his release from federal custody, according to the arrest report.
“I think it’s fair to say that Carlos Ramón is a very smart, sophisticated guy, who as far as I know, had resolved his differences with law enforcement authorities a long time ago, and as far as I know, was living a productive life in Miami,” said Daniel Forman, Ramón’s former attorney. “I was truly shocked that he was arrested in this case, or any case.”
Few attorneys, investigators or prosecutors involved either with Ramón’s prior criminal case or his current one would speak on the record.
But others with insight into his past privately describe an appealing, fun-loving con artist.
Born in Colombia on April 26, 1966, Ramón studied medicine at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, and seemed poised to carve out a legitimate living. But that all changed when Escobar’s Medellín Cartel murdered his father when he refused to give up the family’s ranch, located just outside the capital city.
Hungry for revenge, he turned to drug trafficking, although details of his rise are fuzzy. Some say he joined forces with Los Pepes, the vigilante group of outlaws made up of Escobar’s rivals. Others say he helped form the North Valley Cartel, which grew into one of the nation’s most powerful enterprises after Escobar’s death.
Either way, he didn’t hesitate to think big. In 1999, he helped negotiate a two-ton coke deal with Saudi Prince Nayef bin Sultan bin Fawwaz al-Shaalan. The prince smuggled the drugs from Colombia through Venezuela to France in his 727 jet, which was shielded from searches by diplomatic protocol. The deal came to light only after part of the haul was discovered by French authorities, who ultimately pieced together the puzzle, with the assistance of Ramón and his cohorts.
The prince got a 10-year prison sentence and $100 million fine, but it didn’t matter. He had already fled.
Among those also charged by the French: Ramón; his brother-in-law, Juan Gabriel Usuga Norena, aka “El Flaco”; and Ramón’s cousin, Oscar Campuzano.
Ramón and Usuga briefed the feds on the prince’s deal and countless other criminal matters after turning themselves in to the U.S. government in early 2000. The in-laws, who coincidentally both lost an eye in separate accidents, were scared into surrendering by a new policy of permitting the extradition of Colombian nationals.
Ramón was in federal custody by February 2000, and pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge three months later, court records show. One of his co-conspirators: Londono, who along with Ramón ran the mortgage fraud scheme, authorities say. She ultimately pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge, and got 42 months in federal prison.
However, the Justice Department held off on Ramón’s sentencing until 2001. The reason: He was far more valuable on the streets as an informant.
Court records indicate Ramón bonded out while awaiting sentencing and was granted permission to travel. Over the next year, he visited Las Vegas, New York and Orlando, all the while keeping a three-bedroom apartment in the Portofino Tower at the southern tip of Miami Beach, and living like a playboy.
He eventually returned to prison to serve out his sentence, and was granted permission to marry fiancée Maria Taberas while incarcerated in August 2003.
Two years later, he was out. U.S. District Judge Shelby Highsmith agreed to release Ramón 24 months early, with the promise he would cooperate with the DEA in narcotics and money laundering investigations during his probation, court documents show.
There was a caveat: “His relationship with the DEA will not protect him from arrest or prosecution for any unauthorized violations of federal, state or local laws,” a motion filed by federal prosecutors in late 2005 stated.
It is alleged that he didn’t take that stipulation to heart. By early 2007, he had teamed up with Londono in her scheme to defraud mortgage companies, prosecutors say.
In one transaction, he is alleged to have convinced brother-in-law Juan David Jaramillo to act as a “straw buyer” — someone induced to purchase a property solely for the purpose of perpetrating a scam — on a single-family home in northern Miami Beach. As is typical in mortgage fraud schemes, properties were allegedly bought by a middleman conspirator at market price then resold to the straw buyer for a vastly inflated price. The straw buyer then defaulted on the home, sticking the lender with a huge loss, the charges state. The middleman, who received far more than the property was worth, split the profits with the straw buyers, with Ramón and with the person who provided the inflated appraisal.
Had the lender looked carefully at Jaramillo’s application, it might have seen some red flags. For one thing, there was the buyer’s supposed monthly income: $50,000. And unsubstantiated claims of a bank account balance greater than $630,000
Finally there was Jaramillo’s stated home town: Medellín, Fla. There is no such place.
Ultimately, authorities caught on, and in August 2008, Ramón associates Monica Fergusson and Diana Diaz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. They then began cooperating with state investigators, helping to build case that resulted in Ramón’s latest arrest.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

The Series Pan Am

The new television series Pan Am premiered last night. The series Mad Men started a big 1960's nostalgia thing and this show cashes in on it. It takes us back to an age when flying was basically for the people with money as tickets were expensive and their price strictly regulated by the US government. To those of us lucky enough to be able to fly in that golden age, here is what you got as follows:
1) Large and comfortable seats in coach and luxury seats in first class.
2) Free alcohol and almost as much as you wanted.
3) Gourmet meals each cooked individually. It was not unusual to see filet mignon served in coach and champaign served with breakfast if you had been flying all night.
4) A plane that was often half full so that you could stretch out and even go to sleep.
5) When the cabin lights went out it was always possible for a passionate couple to "join the 7 mile high club" and make beautiful love 7 miles above planet earth.
6) If you had to change a flight or reschedule a reservation, it was no problem and no fees.
7) Airport security was minimal.
If you flew first class it was almost like being a member of royalty. Please allow me to share my experiences flying the Brasilian airline Varig during the 1970's as follows:
1) The minute one sat down in the first class cabin, a glass of Moet Brut expensive champaign was placed in your hands. Generous refills were allowed.
2) Once your aircraft was airborne, the stewardesses came around with an extensive menu of various drinks like you would find in the bar of a luxury hotel.
3) As it came time for the main meal to be served, each first-class passenger was given a menu with several courses and meal options. A chef was on board to cook the meal to your specifications.
4) After eating your gourmet meal, a dessert tray was brought around with all sorts of tempting desserts,
5) Once this was finished another tray came around with a choice of very expensive after dinner drinks. It was like the life of a rich man of woman living in a 5-star hotel.
All business travelers making international trips flew first class and it was paid by their company or employing organization.
Regardless of whether you flew coach of first class. All of the stewardesses were beautiful and glamorous young women. Every male passenger had fantasies about "dating a stew."
Sadly that golden age is gone and will never return again. To those of you who are too young to have experienced such luxury and glamour in flying, I assure you that I'm not hallucinating or dreaming. I really experienced this glamorous life in the air. The series Pan Am is very special to me.
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U.S. To Hand Over Iraq Bases, Equipment Worth Billions

U.S. To Hand Over Iraq Bases, Equipment Worth Billions

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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On a Mission to Help Chile Until the Very End

Desafío Levantemos Chile
“There is a lot of time still to think about challenges. I am just beginning.” -Felipe Cubillos
THREE days after an earthquake and tsunami rattled Chile last year, Felipe Cubillos borrowed a friend’s helicopter and flew over the devastated coast.
“I saw everything destroyed, the chaos, the absence of the state, the desolation, the sadness, tremendous confusion,” he said.
Mr. Cubillos said he also saw his calling. Tapping his contacts around the world from years in business, he formed an organization and immediately began aiding the reconstruction. The first project, completed 20 days after the tsunami, was to build a school for 150 children in Iloca. Over the next 40 days, the organization built 17 more schools. Preschools and low-income houses followed, as did assistance to fishermen to repair their boats. By March of this year, it was helping small businesses start over.
“The poor in Chile need three things: capital, training and contacts,” Mr. Cubillos said. “We try to serve as a bridge between the people who need help and the people who can provide it.”
As tragic as it was, the quake “opened a window of opportunity” to help less fortunate Chileans. He saw it as the beginning of a special phase of his life.
On Sept. 2, he and 20 others boarded a Chilean air force plane bound for Robinson Crusoe Island, 420 miles from the coast, where his organization was helping to rebuild one of the areas most affected by the wave. He was traveling with other volunteers and a television crew, on the way to inaugurate a new home for tsunami survivors and businesses on the island.
Amid fierce winds, the plane failed twice to land and crashed. The authorities said there were no survivors.
Mr. Cubillos was a rare species in Chile, said officials and people who worked with him: a highly successful businessman with a social conscience.
“He is an extraordinary person, the private citizen who has done the most for reconstruction,” Rodrigo Pérez, Chile’s Housing Minister, said after the plane went down.
Born in the capital, Santiago, Mr. Cubillos, 49, was one of four children of Hernán Cubillos, who served as foreign minister to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The elder Mr. Cubillos actively conspired with Navy officers to oust former President Salvador Allende in 1973.
HE was Pinochet’s first civilian foreign minister, serving from 1978 to 1980. He oversaw negotiations over the Beagle Channel, talks that eventually avoided a military confrontation with Argentina at the last minute. But in 1980, Pinochet and his delegation were forced to return to Chile while in mid-flight to the Philippines when that country’s leader, Ferdinand Marcos, suddenly canceled the visit for unexplained reasons. Pinochet blamed the elder Mr. Cubillos for the humiliating retreat and ousted him from his cabinet.
The former minister returned to the business world, working for major beer and tobacco companies, investment firms and banks. He died in 2001.
His son, Felipe, studied law at the University of Chile and followed his father into the business world at a young age, joining the salmon industry just as it was taking off in Chile. At 25, he was a manager at Eicomar, a company that was one of the first to experiment in salmon cultivation.
He started a handful of businesses, including an Internet company, as well as boat repair and sea transport companies. He started a family, fathering a son and three daughters. But he still was not satisfied.
“I am drawn to the unknown, to uncertainty,” he said in an interview this year. “It’s tough for me to live with routine.”
Sailing was always a passion, and in 2008 he pursued a dream to sail around the world. To complete the Portimão Global Ocean Race, he got sponsors, sold one of his companies and went to France to build a sailboat.
He named the 40-foot boat the Cape Horn Challenge. After departing for his voyage from Portugal, he and a friend, José Muñoz, “lived in permanent crisis,” especially during the 30 days sailing from South Africa to New Zealand, 27 of which were under storm, he said. After passing Cape Horn, at the southernmost point of Chile, there were times when the boat’s electronics did not work.
The worst moment came near Puerto Rico, when one of the boat’s two rudders broke. “We were at risk of having to abandon the regatta,” he said. But they fixed the rudder two months later, in May 2009, and sailed on.
“ ‘Dad, how beautiful that you never give up,’ ” wrote his two daughters in an e-mail, he said. “That’s when I realized that the regatta around the world made sense for me,” Mr. Cubillos said. “I was setting an example for my children, so that they never give up.”
In the summer of 2009, after 142 days at sea, the two men sailed into Portugal, finishing second in the regatta. He called the journey “a life-changing” experience, “a trip towards the soul, in which you discover your essence, your limits, your own capabilities.”
THOSE lessons aided Mr. Cubillos in February 2010, when Chile suffered the quake. Before his death, the organization he started, Let’s Lift Up Chile Challenge, had about 60 people participating, with more young people joining every day.
“There is a lot of time still to think about challenges,” he said he told a young girl a motivational speech after the earthquake. “I am just beginning. There is a lot more to do.”
On Sept. 14, Mr. Cubillos’s family held a memorial ceremony in Algarrobo, a bay about 70 miles east of Santiago. It was there, at a nearby yacht club, where Mr. Cubillos had learned how to sail with his father — the same club where Mr. Cubillos’s father had conspired with Navy officers against Mr. Allende.
About 40 sailboats went out to sea and formed in a circle. His family members released Mr. Cubillos’s ashes from the remains recovered to the Pacific Ocean, as friends threw flowers into the sea from the sailboats.
That same day, President Sebastián Piñera introduced a bill in Congress. The “Cubillos law,” if passed, would speed up the awarding of tax benefits for corporate donations for reconstruction efforts.
Pascale Bonnefoy contributed reporting from Santiago, Chile.