By Greg Palast
The “vulture” financier now threatening to devour Argentina can be stopped dead by a simple note to the courts from Barack Obama. But the president, while officially supporting Argentina, has not done this one thing that could save Buenos Aires from default.
Obama could prevent vulture hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer from collecting a single penny from Argentina by invoking the long-established authority granted presidents by the US constitution’s “Separation of Powers” clause. Under the principle known as “comity”, Obama only need inform US federal judge Thomas Griesa that Singer’s suit interferes with the president’s sole authority to conduct foreign policy. Case dismissed.
Indeed, President George W Bush invoked this power against the very same hedge fund now threatening Argentina. Bush blocked Singer’s seizure of Congo-Brazzaville’s US property, despite the fact that the hedge fund chief is one of the largest, and most influential, contributors to Republican candidates.
Notably, an appeals court warned this very judge, 30 years ago, to heed the directive of a president invoking his foreign policy powers. In the Singer case, the US state department did inform Judge Griesa that the Obama administration agreed with Argentina’s legal arguments; but the president never invoked the magical, vulture-stopping clause.
Obama’s devastating hesitation is no surprise. It repeats the president’s capitulation to Singer the last time they went mano a mano. It was 2009. Singer, through a brilliantly complex financial manoeuvre, took control of Delphi Automotive, the sole supplier of most of the auto parts needed by General Motors and Chrysler. Both auto firms were already in bankruptcy.
Singer and co-investors demanded the US Treasury pay them billions, including $350m (£200m) in cash immediately, or – as the Singer consortium threatened – “we’ll shut you down”. They would cut off GM’s parts. Literally.
GM and Chrysler, with no more than a couple of days’ worth of parts to hand, would have shut down, permanently forced into liquidation.
Obama’s negotiator, Treasury deputy Steven Rattner, called the vulture funds’ demand “extortion” – a characterisation of Singer repeated last week by Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.