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Yesterday, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee grilled James E. Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., for more than two hours about Toyota's decision-making. During his testimony, Lentz admitted that fixing the floor mats and sticking acceleration pedals may not fix all the problems with the cars, and acknowledged that the issues may have to do with electronics. From WaPo:
"Do you believe that the recall on the carpet changes and the recalls on the sticky pedals will solve the problem of sudden, unintended acceleration?" Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) asked James E. Lentz III, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.
"Not totally," Lentz replied.
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This op-ed was written by GAP Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack, and has also appeared in the Moultrie Observer (GA) and on CommonDreams.org.
The government’s treatment of UBS banking whistleblower Brad Birkenfeld, who is credited with shattering Swiss bank secrecy and revealing massive tax evasion by Americans, has alarmed government accountability advocates nationwide.
Birkenfeld is the only person in the scandal (which resulted in the Treasury’s recouping $780 million) to be sentenced to prison. Not a single one of the 52,000 American tax cheats who had UBS accounts faces jail time. Other countries, meanwhile, are taking the opposite view with financial whistleblowers — European nations realize that the information is so valuable that they are willing to pay for it.
An IRS whistleblower award law went into effect in 2006. It theoretically provides monetary awards to financial whistleblowers. Although an award has never been given, the IRS Whistleblower Office is supposed to pay people who expose tax cheats — possibly awarding whistleblowers up to 30 percent of collected amounts. Whistleblowers are eligible even if they participated in the wrongdoing, as long as they weren’t involved in planning or initiating the scheme.
Some people disagree with this approach, feeling that informants shouldn’t “profit” from their own wrongdoing. Birkenfeld, after all, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and is currently serving a 40-month sentence at a federal prison in Pennsylvania.
But deals with these types of financial workers — who have inside knowledge and dirty hands — are exactly what’s needed when governments strive to reform murky industries. And guess what? Other countries realize this. Germany has signaled that it will purchase such information from Swiss bank whistleblowers.
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Over the weekend, more information emerged over safety issues involving Toyota vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently opened an investigation into braking issues with the popular Prius hybrid, after Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to problems with sudden unintended acceleration, then 4.2 million additional vehicles for possible issues with pedals becoming entrapped by floor mats.
In the past three weeks, the NHTSA has received reports from consumers of an additional 13 deaths over the last five years from sticking accelerator problems with Toyota vehicles. This brings the total alleged death count to 34 since 2000, along with nearly 1,120 complaints about the Prius braking system, including 34 crashes.
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Anyone Can Whistle: The Essential Role of the Whistleblower in American Society
Presented by GAP, Participant Media, and The Paley Center for Media
7 p.m. EST
25 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019
Dear GAP Supporters:
GAP is proud to announce a major event honoring and showcasing whistleblowers this coming Wednesday, February 17, in New York City. This entertaining evening will feature celebrities and legendary whistleblowers whose heroism has put criminals behind bars and saved countless lives. It will provide an uplifting message of what is needed for whistleblowers to continue safeguarding the public, and what actions you can take to support pending corporate whistleblower legislation.
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In news from Capitol Hill today:
Despite a promise from President Obama that his administration would be the most open in history, more than 300 individuals and groups have filed lawsuits in order to get public records in the past year. Many of the plaintiffs argue that the lack of transparency remains the same since the Bush administration, as 298 public-records lawsuits were filed in 2008, the last year of Bush’s tenure.
Embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will face many tough questions today during his testimony in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The specific issue at hand is Geithner's role in the bailout of AIG as president of the New York Federal Reserve, and his possible role in its decision not to disclose information about AIG's "back-door" bailout of other firms. Geither has faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans.
A coalition of nonprofit groups, including GAP, sent a letter to President Obama asking for a revision in the year-old executive order than restricts lobbyists from jobs in the administration. The order does not cover many special interest insiders, while still restricting non-profit or charity lobbyists, who do not have a particular financial interest in policy.
In public safety news:
New technology for radiation, and the nature of overworked hospital workers, has created new avenues for human error in the therapies. And because of the nature of the therapies, mistakes can be repeated multiple times, causing serious damage to patients.
And finally in climate science news:
Following the Massachusetts special election win by Republican Scott Brown, advocates of a climate policy are creating a more modest proposal, believing their more comprehensive cap-and-trade based plan would not pass the Senate. Instead, they are turning to a plan involving more "job-creating energy projects and energy efficiency measures."
In recent months, two cases against big producers of heat-trapping gases, including ExxonMobil and Shell Oil, have gone ahead in federal court after previous decisions to dismiss them were reversed. The cases, and others, are part of a climate change litigation movement that could eventually bring large industries to the negotiating table.
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In response to documents obtained because of a House Oversight and Government Reform committee investigation into the New York Federal Reserve’s handling of bailout money for AIG, Neil Barofsky, special investigator general overseeing the Troubled Assets Relief Program, has opened two new investigations into the shady deals, and will likely discuss their nature during his testimony in front of the committee tomorrow.
First, Barofsky will be investigating whether the New York Federal Reserve illicitly withheld information about the AIG bailout. Emails recently showed AIG trying to hush up details of the $27.1 billion in payments to their counterparties, a move known as the "backdoor bailout."
Secondly, Barofsky will also be investigating the "extent of the Federal Reserve's cooperation" during an audit of the bailout system.
The House investigation was sparked by documents that showed that AIG fully paid for credit default swap contracts to banks after their $150 billion bailout, instead of attempting to negotiate a lower rate, and attempted to keep the full payment of the contracts off SEC filings.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who was president of the New York Federal Reserve during the bailout of AIG, has been caught up in the investigation. Spokespeople for the Treasury and the New York Fed both claim Geithner was not involved, but he will be required to testify before the committee tomorrow.
"If anyone at the Fed thought that this investigation will stop after Wednesday's hearing - they are completely mistaken," Ranking Republican Darrell Issa (R-CA) said to Politico. "There has been a widespread effort by officials at the NY Fed to thwart transparency and we will continue to pursue this investigation for as long as it takes to get the truth."
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Two Senate Republicans sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asking for an explanation as to why the Treasury removed a $400 billion cap on how much money it would give Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to prevent them from failing. The Treasury's decision to act on Christmas Eve effectively avoided the need to seek approval from Congress. This move follows last week's scandal in which newly released emails have shown that under Geithner's leadership, Federal Reserve Bank of New York lawyers told AIG to withhold details from the public about its payments to banks during the financial crisis.
“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Representative Darrell Issa, California Republican and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who obtained the emails. Citizens “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”
The emails include a draft filing in which it is apparent that AIG was ordered by the New York Fed to pay banks, which included Goldman Sachs, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. AIG removed the language when the filing was publicized. "The decision to pay the banks in full may have cost AIG, and thus taxpayers, at least $13 billion, based on the discount the insurer was seeking," according to Bloomberg News.
A Treasury spokesperson claimed that Geithner himself had no role in the decisions, saying “he was recused from working on issues involving specific companies, including AIG,” after being nominated for Secretary of the Treasury on November 24, 2008.