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The 4 Billionaire 'Vultures' Trying to Pick Our Next President

Stealing oil from Indian reservations, cheating dying workers out of compensation for asbestos-exposure claims, voter-roll purging -- just some of the work of these kingmakers.

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Singer then demands aid-giving nations pay monstrous ransoms to let trade resume.  At BBC TV's Newsnight, we learned that Singer demanded $400 million dollars from the Congo for a debt he picked up for less than $10 million. If he doesn't get his 4,000 percent profit, he can effectively starve the nation. I don't mean that figuratively -- I mean starve as in no food. In Congo-Brazzaville last year, one-fourth of all deaths of children under five were caused by malnutrition.

For BBC, I tried to ask Vulture Singer the diplomat's question about the baby-killing, but I couldn't get past George Gershwin.  (In the New York office tower housing the billionaires' roost, a Gershwin lookalike in top hat and tails plays show tunes on a grand piano for Singer's grand entrance.)

And it's not just poor African carcasses that tempt Singer. Indeed, during my investigation for my new book, Vultures' Picnic, I discovered that Singer's first big vulture attack was on American asbestos victims.

Background:  The executives of three companies -- vermiculate mine operator WR Grace, wallboard manufacturer USG and building materials company Owens Corning -- knew that asbestos exposure in their respective operations was killing their workers. When caught and sued, the companies filed for bankruptcy, agreeing to pay almost all of their earnings to the people who were dying and injured by their asbestos.

But Singer had a better idea. These companies, as you can imagine, were worth next to nothing, and Singer bought Owens Corning for a song.

If he could cut the amount paid to the victims, Singer could boost Corning's value big time. So, a public relations campaign began, attacking the dying workers, saying they were all faking it.

One attacker was a guy named George W. Bush.

In January 2005, President Dubya held a televised meeting to promote an "expert" who pronounced that over half a million workers suing Singer's industry were liars. If workers couldn't breathe, he said to the grinning president, it wasn't the fault of asbestos.

The "expert" was not a doctor, but, notably, his "research" was partly funded by ... Paul Singer. And so was Bush. Since the death of Enron's Ken Lay, Singer and his vulture flock at Singer's hedge fund, Elliott International, had become the top contributors to the Republican National Committee. It's hard to measure his largess exactly because some of that help comes in through the side door. For example, Singer put money behind the Swift Boat smear on Bush's opponent, John Kerry.

The legal, political and public relations attacks on the dying workers chiseled away the compensation expected to be paid by the asbestos companies, boosting their net worth. Singer then flipped Corning, selling it for a neat billion-dollar profit.

It's legal. It's brilliant. It's sick. It's Singer.

One of my favorite Singer scores was his successful scheme to legally loot the Treasury of Peru. The nation's US lawyer told me, aghast, how Singer let Peru's rogue President, Alberto Fujimori, flee his nation to avoid murder charges. Singer had seized Fujimori's getaway plane. The Vulture named his price: one of Fujimori's last acts as president before he fled was to order his dirt-poor nation to pay Singer $58 million.

Why the Billionaires Need to Buy the White House

A Koch Industries executive (not knowing he was being taped) said he had asked Charles Koch, who already had a billion from an inheritance, why Koch was pocketing a few bucks a week from poor American Indians.  Koch told him, "I want my fair share, and that's all of it."

 
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