Goldman to Pay Up to $5 Billion to Settle Claims of Faulty Mortgages

Compliments of Times New Roman 

More than seven years after the worst of the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs is again paying a price for the role it played.

The Wall Street firm said on Thursday it had agreed to a civil settlement of up to $5 billion with federal prosecutors and regulators to resolve claims stemming from the marketing and selling of faulty mortgage securities to investors.

Goldman announced the settlement — the final terms of which are still being negotiated — after the markets closed.

Goldman, which is scheduled to report fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday, said the settlement would reduce earnings in that period by approximately $1.5 billion on an after-tax basis.

In the early days of the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs received an outsize share of criticism from politicians and the media as its trading desk made money by betting against the housing market in the run-up to the crisis.

But in the end, Goldman’s role in churning out faulty mortgages and securities backed by home loans to borrowers who could not afford them was smaller than that of many other Wall Street firms like Bank of America or JPMorgan Chase.

As a result, Goldman’s settlement is far smaller than the sums paid by other firms for selling flawed mortgage securities. Goldman is among the last firms to reach a civil settlement with a task force of federal prosecutors, state attorneys general and regulators empowered to investigate Wall Street’s role in cobbling together securities from all the mortgages that borrowers found themselves unable to afford.

The agreement in principle requires Goldman to pay $2.385 billion in civil penalties and $875 million in cash and provide up to $1.8 billion in relief to consumers.

Bank of America in 2014 paid about $16.6 billion in a similar settlement with federal and state agencies, and JPMorgan Chase paid about $13 billion in 2013. In all, the banks have paid more than $40 billion in settlements to resolve claims investigated by the task force.

All the mortgage settlements have included a certain amount of so-called soft money that is intended for loan modifications or foreclosure relief for consumers harmed by the bad mortgages. Some consumer advocates have raised concerns about how that money is allocated and how much comes directly from each bank’s bottom line. In the case of Goldman, the soft money is the $1.8 billion.

In the case of Bank of America, the soft dollar portion of its settlement totaled about $7 billion. But Bank of America was involved in writing far more mortgages to consumers than Goldman Sachs, and it is unclear exactly how Goldman’s consumer relief will be doled out and to whom.

The settlement is on top of the approximately $3 billion Goldman paid to the Federal Housing Finance Agency in 2014 to settle claims with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac over the sale of flawed mortgage securities. In that deal, Goldman settled the matter by buying back bonds from the mortgage finance firms.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Planned Parenthood Sues Anti-Abortion Group Behind Secret Videos

Compliments of NBC 

Exactly six months after the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress released its first secretly recorded video accusing Planned Parenthood of trafficking in fetal tissue, the women’s health provider has filed suit in a San Francisco federal district court.

The suit alleges that the Center for Medical Progress and its contributors and advisers, who are individually named, broke federal and state laws, including the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO, as well as invasion of privacy and recording laws. It asks for extensive monetary damages, saying Planned Parenthood providers have faced death threats, been forced to move or go into hiding and been picketed at their homes.

“We are filing this lawsuit to hold accountable the people behind this reckless smear campaign,” said Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, on a call with reporters.

For three years, anti-abortion activists led by David Daleiden posed as agents of a tissue procurement agency, allegedly using fake drivers’ licenses to attend closed conferences of abortion providers and try to catch them on video breaking the law. The videos, released in a series beginning in July, show Planned Parenthood staff, including doctors, casually discussing the mechanisms of donating fetal tissue after abortion for medical research purposes. The Center for Medical Progress claims the videos show Planned Parenthood is “selling baby parts” because they feature discussion of nominal fees, which Planned Parenthood maintains are legal reimbursements for costs and which it has since ceased charging. Planned Parenthood has also pointed out that none of its staffers signed the fake contracts offered by Daleiden and his associates.

No criminal charges have been brought against any party. At least eight state investigations have turned up no impropriety from Planned Parenthood, and though California state Attorney General Kamala Harris said she would look at whether the Center for Medical Progress has broken state law, no charges have been announced. But under law, Planned Parenthood has the right to bring its own case.

“The content of these videos was wrongfully and illegally obtained,” the complaint says. “Moreover, according to expert forensic analysis, Defendants’ heavily edited short videos and transcripts do not present a complete or accurate record of the events they purport to depict. Rather, the heavily edited short videos “significantly distort and misrepresent the conversations depicted.”

The lawsuit also says that in the months of July and August alone, there were 849 reported incidents of vandalism at Planed Parenthood centers, a nine-fold increase compared to the month before. It points to attempted arsons at Planned Parenthood centers in Illinois and New Orleans, as well as the November 27, 2015, shooting at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs that killed three people and injured nine. Robert Lewis Dear, who took credit for the killings, told a Denver TV station this week,  “I picked Planned Parenthood because it’s murdering little babies.”

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Chipotle to Close aAll Restaurants for Company-Wide Meeting in February

Compliments of Fox 

Chipotle plans to close all of its stores for a few hours next month to host a company-wide meeting discussing food safety after the chain was tasked with dealing with food poisoning outbreaks last year.

Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, told the Oregonian the meeting is expected to take place on Feb. 8 and will involve all staff members. A wide-range of topics are going to be covered in the meeting.

“We want to thank our teams for all their hard work, to discuss some of the changes we are making to enhance food safety, to talk about the restaurants role in all of that and to answer some questions from employees,” Arnold said in an email to the paper.

The company announced Wednesday it will launch a marketing campaign in February to kick off its road to recovery after the food scares. Sales plunged 30 percent in December from the food poisoning outbreaks.

First, an E. coli outbreak came to light at the end of October, with additional cases being reported over the next several weeks. Then, in what Chipotle says was an unrelated case, a norovirus sickened dozens at a Chipotle in Boston.

Last week, the company said it was subpoenaed by federal authorities as part of a criminal investigation tied to a different norovirus outbreak in California over the summer. Lawsuits have also been filed on behalf of customers sickened after eating at the chain.

Bill Marler, a food safety lawyer in Seattle, told the Oregonian that more lawsuits are coming.

“I represent a total of 75 people, but I haven’t filed all their lawsuits yet,” Marler added.

At an investment conference in Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, Chipotle executives said the company is taking measures to reduce the risk of another food scare to “near zero.” They said they would start “inviting customers back” to restaurants in February with stepped-up marketing and direct mail offers. They said food safety will not be explicitly referenced in the marketing, but that there might be a “clever headline.”

Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung noted the company’s recovery would be “messy,” with investments in food safety and marketing eating into profit margins.

During the half-hour presentation at the ICR conference, Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells noted customers will still see food preparation in restaurants, including the grilling of steaks and steaming of rice. That sense of freshly prepared ingredients has been one of Chipotle’s attractions as it has sought to distinguish itself from traditional fast-food chains.

Ells noted the company’s dedication to food quality in the past, and added that he was confident the company would win back customers and emerge as a stronger company.

Executives said they expect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare the E. coli outbreak to be over at some point. The agency has not identified an ingredient that was responsible for the E. coli outbreak, and Chipotle has said it may never know what was to blame.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Netflix Cracks Down on Proxy Streaming

Compliments of BBC

Video-streaming giant Netflix has said it is going to stop subscribers from using internet proxies to view content not available in their home countries.

Due to licensing agreements, Netflix content varies between countries – many users have a virtual private network (VPN) or other proxy to get round this.

The firm said it would increase efforts in the next few weeks to block the use of such proxies.

Netflix expanded streaming services to more than 130 countries last week.

But some countries have more content than others – for example, the Australian Netflix catalogue has only about 10% of the content available to its US subscribers.

David Fullagar, vice president of content delivery architecture, said in a blog poston Thursday that the US firm was in the process of licensing content around the world.

But he said it had a long way to go before it could offer viewers the same films and shows everywhere.

“If all of our content were globally available, there wouldn’t be a reason for members to use proxies or ‘unblockers’ to fool our systems into thinking they’re in a different country than they’re actually in,” he said.

“In the meantime, we will continue to respect and enforce content licensing by geographic location.”

Subscribers that currently use proxies to view content outside their countries will only be able to access the service in their own countries in the coming week, the company said.

Those members that do not use VPNs will not be impacted by the crackdown, it added.

The move is a reversal of Netflix’s denial last week after reports had surfaced that they would be restricting VPN access to their content.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

U.S. Bombs ‘Millions’ in ISIS Currency Holdings

Compliments of CNN 

In an extremely unusual airstrike, the U.S. dropped bombs Sunday in central Mosul, Iraq, destroying a building containing huge amounts of cash ISIS was using to pay its troops and for ongoing operations, two U.S. defense officials told CNN.

The officials could not say exactly how much money was there or in what currency, but one described it as “millions.”

Two 2,000-pound bombs destroyed the site quickly. But the longstanding impact may be even more significant. The officials said the U.S. plans to strike more financial targets like this one to take away ISIS’s ability to function as a state-like entity.

This is a similar expansion to the target list as happened several weeks ago, when U.S. warplanes began hitting ISIS oil trucks.

The U.S. considers the Mosul strike extremely sensitive, as the building is in an area where civilians are also located, and there was a significant risk of civilian casualties.

Officials would not say how the U.S. learned of the location. But after getting intelligence about the so-called “cash collection and distribution point,” U.S. aircraft and drones watched the site for days trying to determine when the fewest number of civilians would be in the area.

Because civilians were nearby during the daylight hours, and ISIS personnel were working there at night, the decision was made to strike at dawn on Sunday.

U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target. But the initial post-attack assessment indicated that perhaps five to seven people were killed.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has said it will assess all targets on a case-by-case basis and may be more willing to tolerate civilians casualties for more significant targets.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Putin Stakes No Claim to Superpower Status

Compliments of UPI 

As the national economy declines under pressure from sanctions and low oil prices, Russia’s president said there are no claims to a role as a superpower for Russia.

Lower crude oil prices are hurting the economies of nations like Russia that depend on energy for revenue. The situation for Russia is compounded by economic sanctions imposed in response to the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine, sanctions that limit access to Western markets.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with German newspaper Bild that Russia’s economy is, at best, fifth in the world in terms of volume.

“We do not claim the role of a superpower,” he said. “This role is very costly and it is meaningless.”

In the first phase of his interview, Putin said the economy was weakened to the point that revenue outside the energy sector was now feeling pressured. The worst threat, however, was the harm caused by falling oil prices.

In November, the International Monetary Fund said there were “tentative” signs of recovery in Russia. The economy for 2016 is expected to contract by 0.6 percent, compared with a 3.8 percent decline in 2015.

The Kremlin expects GDP growth of around 0.7 percent for 2016. From September to October, GDP grew by about 0.3 percent, compared with about 0.1 percent from the previous one-month period.

“[The economy] may have moved down to a lower place at present taking into account the economic difficulties,” Putin said. “But we are confident that we have very good development prospects and potential.”

Inflation is running in the double digits, but the IMF said that, absent a dramatic decline in crude oil prices, the pressure from rising costs should decline during 2016.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

US Thanks Iran For Swift Release of 10 Navy Sailors

Compliments of BBC 

The US has thanked Iran for the swift release of 10 US sailors held for entering its territorial waters.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the resolution of the matter was “testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe”.

Republican presidential hopefuls had criticised the administration over its handling of the incident.

A deal on Iran’s nuclear activities – which they also disparage – is said to be days away from implementation.

The sailors were detained on Tuesday when one of their two vessels broke down while training in the Gulf.

The incursion was “unintentional”, a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards quoted by state media said.

Iranian state media said the sailors were released into international waters after they apologised. But Vice-President Joe Biden denied this, saying the boat had had simply a problem and there was “nothing to apologise for”.

The US is investigating how the sailors entered Iranian waters.

Thanking Iranian authorities for their “co-operation and quick response”, Mr Kerry said: “These are always situations which have an ability if not properly guided to get out of control…

“This kind of issue was able to be peacefully resolved and officially resolved, and that is testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” he added.

Iranian state broadcaster Irib News has published pictures of the sailorsapparently being detained.

Iran-US relations pass a test: Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

The tentative and still largely potential softening of relations between Washington and Tehran in the wake of the nuclear deal seems to have passed a delicate initial test.

The Tehran authorities have quickly accepted that the US patrol boats strayed into their waters by accident.

The process to begin lifting the sanctions imposed on Iran due to its nuclear activities is expected to get under way at the end of this week.

There are many conservatives and hardliners in both countries who would dearly love to sabotage the deal. Consequently both governments may well have been eager to get this episode resolved as quickly as possible.

Clearly the economic benefits of lifting the sanctions may have been too great an inducement for the agreement to be derailed now.


Mr Kerry called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shortly after the incident. The pair developed a personal rapport during the nuclear talks.

Those detained – nine men and one woman – were taken to Farsi Island, in the middle of the Gulf, where Iran has a naval base.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

French Jews Asked to Hide Their Identity ‘Until Better Days’

Compliments of Digital Journal 

The head of Marseille’s Israelite Consistory is urging Jewish men to forego wearing skullcaps (kippot) after a particularly vicious anti-Semitic attack on a school teacher, saying the measure was needed to protect Jewish lives.

Zvi Ammar, the head of Marseille’s Israelite Consistory, told the AFP, “Life is more sacred than anything else. We are now forced to hide a little bit.”Ammar added that even contemplating the move made him “sick to his stomach.” The request to refrain from wearing skullcaps comes one day aftera 15-year-old Kurdish teen wielding a machete attacked a 35-year-old Marseille teacher,Benjamin Amsellem luckily ended up with only an injured shoulder and hand. Amsellem was wearing a skullcap. The would-be assassin claimed he was acting in the name of ISIS.”Unfortunately for us, we are targeted. As soon as we are identified as Jewish we can be assaulted and even risk death,” Ammar told the AFP. He said he felt sad that in 2016, Jews were finding themselves in such a horrible position in such a great democracy such as France.”But faced with an exceptional situation, we have to take exceptional measures. It causes me such pain to come to this conclusion but I do not want anyone to die in Marseille because they had a kippah on their head.”The attack was the third on Jews in Marseille in recent months. The French city has the second largest Jewish population in France, behind Paris. In October, three Jewish people were assaulted, one with a knife by an apparently drunken assailant, reports Arutz Sheva.Then in November, another school teacher was assaulted and stabbed by a group of terrorist youths who were shouting anti-Semitic obscenities, and expressing their allegiance to ISIS.It may seem like such a small request; asking Jewish men to not wear their skullcaps when outdoors, but to some people, that request could be likened to asking Muslim women to not cover their faces when in public. What’s the difference?Mr. Ammar said he knew his comments would not sit well with many in the Jewish community and would anger many, telling the media he was asking Jews to go without the skullcaps “until better days.” One man who was not pleased with Ammar’s comments was France’s chief rabbi.Chief Rabbi, Haim Korsia, rejected the idea, telling the AFP, “We should not give an inch. We should continue wearing the kippa.” He pointed out that Jews and the skullcap were not responsible for the violence.
What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Berkeley Files Suit Over PCB Contamination

Compliments of San Jose Mercury 

Cleaning up long-term PCB contamination to San Francisco Bay is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the city against manufacturer Monsanto Co.

The City Council voted 6-0 in closed session Jan. 5, with members Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson, and Linda Maio absent, to file the complaint in San Jose’s Northern District Court alleging the company and its descendant firms are responsible for the contamination.

PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “probable human carcinogens,” are man-made chemical compounds produced in the United States uniquely by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977. Congress outlawed PCBs in 1979.

They were used in the manufacture of paint, caulking, transformers, hydraulic fluids, inks, lubricants, lighting ballasts and other products.

PCBs get into the Bay via water entering storm-drain systems and degrade very slowly. “All segments of the Bay have been identified as impaired due to elevated levels of PCBs in sport fish,” the lawsuit states.

The complaint condemns the company’s behavior, arguing that “Monsanto’s conduct was malicious, oppressive, wanton, willful, intentional, and shocks the conscience, warranting punitive and exemplary damages, because Monsanto callously decided to increase sales and develop new ways to promote PCBs, knowing PCBs are toxic, cannot be contained, and last for centuries.”

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who was among those bringing the issue to the City Council, called Monsanto’s behavior “a classic example of a corporation externalizing costs and the public getting stuck with paying the bill.”

Oakland, San Jose, San Diego and Spokane, Washington have filed similar lawsuits. Berkeley’s complaint was filed by City Attorney Zach Cowan and lawyers involved in the other four lawsuits from Gomez Trial Attorneys, San Diego and Baron & Budd, P.C., Dallas, Texas.

The cities suing Monsanto want reimbursement for funds spent cleaning up the toxins in accordance with increasingly stringent government mandates.

Neither city spokesman Matthai Chakko nor Public Works Director Phil Harrington were able to comment on Berkeley’s efforts to reduce the levels of PCBs entering the Bay.

According to the lawsuit, the original Monsanto Company was spun off into three separate corporations in 1997 — Monsanto, Solutia and Pharmacia. Solutia and Pharmacia LLC are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Monsanto spokeswoman Charla Lord explained the company’s position in a Jan. 11 email to this newspaper. “The former Monsanto was involved in a wide variety of businesses including the manufacture of PCBs,” Lord wrote. “PCBs were industrial chemicals, which were sold to sophisticated companies who incorporated them as safety fluids into … thousands of useful construction and building material products.”

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Pfizer Hikes U.S. Prices For Over 100 Drugs On January 1

Compliments of Reuters 

Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), which plans a $160-billion merger with Ireland-based Allergan Plc (AGN.N) to slash its U.S. tax bill, on Jan. 1 raised U.S. prices for more than 100 of its drugs, some by as much as 20 percent, according to statistics compiled by global information services company Wolters Kluwer.

Pfizer confirmed a 9.4 percent increase for heavily advertised pain drug Lyrica, which generated $2.3 billion in 2014 U.S. sales; a 12.9 percent increase for erectile dysfunction drug Viagra, which had 2014 U.S. sales of $1.1 billion; and a 5 percent increase for Ibrance, a novel breast cancer drug launched last year at a list price of $9,850 per month, or $118,200 per year.

Company spokesman Steven Danehy could not immediately confirm the remaining price increases, which were compiled by a unit of Wolters Kluwer Health and published in a research note by UBS Securities.

U.S. lawmakers, and presidential candidates, have in recent months stepped up criticism of U.S. drug prices trends, driven in part by eye-popping price hikes from companies with recently acquired generic drugs.

“Medicines are among the most effective and efficient use of private and public health care dollars,” Pfizer said in an emailed statement.

“It is important to note that the list price does not reflect the considerable discounts offered to the government, managed care organizations, and commercial health plans and certain programs that restrict any increases above the inflation rate.”

UBS said Pfizer increased prices by 20 percent for anticonvulsant Dilantin, hormone therapy Menest, angina drug Nitrostat, Tykosyn for irregular heartbeat, and antibiotic Tygacil.

The analyst report said U.S. prices were raised on a total of 105 Pfizer drugs. No price reductions were reported.

Pfizer is by no means the only drugmaker to raise prices. Research firm Truveris found that U.S. prescription drug prices rose 10.9 percent in 2014, including a 15 percent increase for brand-name products.

The planned Pfizer/Allergan deal, which would create the world’s largest drugmaker and shift Pfizer’s headquarters to Ireland, would also be the biggest-ever instance of a U.S. company re-incorporating overseas to lower its taxes. U.S. President Barack Obama has called such inversion deals unpatriotic and has tried to crack down on the practice.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton pledged to propose measures to prevent such deals. The merger was also slammed by her rival Senator Bernie Sanders as well as by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Pfizer, which will report its 2015 earnings February 2, posted biopharmaceutical revenue of $45.7 billion in 2014, including U.S. sales of $17.2 billion.

Also in 2014 the company, currently headquartered in New York, spent $8.4 billion on research and development, $14.1 billion on sales, informational and administrative costs, including advertising, and nearly $12 billion to buy back its shares and pay dividends to shareholders.

Read More 

What do you think of this post?
  • Boring 
  • Useful 
  • Interesting 
  • Awesome 

Ascending Consciousness

Advertisment ad adsense adlogger