AIG Announces Plan to Repay U.S. Government

Key Components Involve Retiring TARP Support, Shares
   NEW YORK- (BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/30/2010 - American International Group Inc. (AIG) announced today that it has entered into an agreement-in-principle with the U.S. Department of the Treasury (U.S. Treasury), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY), and the AIG Credit Facility Trust (the Trust) designed to repay all its obligations to American taxpayers and position AIG as strong, independent, and worthy of investor confidence.
   “This is a pivotal milestone as we deliver on our long-standing promise to repay taxpayers, and we thank the American people for their support,” AIG President and Chief Executive Officer Robert H. Benmosche said. “We are very pleased that this agreement vastly simplifies current government support of AIG, sets forth a clear path for AIG to repay the FRBNY in full, and sets in motion the steps for the U.S. Treasury to exit its ownership of AIG over time.
   “With this plan, we remain on track to emerge with one of the largest, most diversified property and casualty companies in the world, a leading U.S. life insurance and retirement savings operation, and other businesses that enhance this nucleus. As our results this year underscore, AIG’s core businesses are financially strong, well-managed enterprises that are well-positioned to deliver long-term value to all of our stakeholders. With this plan underway, we can concentrate our full attention on managing our businesses for the benefit of all of our stakeholders,” Mr. Benmosche said.
   The plan involves three key components: 
   1. Repaying and terminating the FRBNY credit facility with AIG: Today, AIG owes the FRBNY approximately $20 billion in senior secured debt under the FRBNY credit facility. Under the plan, AIG expects to repay this entire amount and terminate the FRBNY senior secured credit facility with resources from the parent as well as with proceeds from a variety of asset dispositions underway, including the initial public offering of its Asian life insurance business, American International Assurance Company Ltd. (AIA), and the pending sale of its foreign life insurance company American Life Insurance Company (ALICO) to MetLife, Inc.
   2. Facilitating the orderly exit of the U.S. government’s interests in two special purpose vehicles (SPVs) that hold AIA and ALICO: Today, the FRBNY holds preferred interests in two AIG-related SPVs totaling approximately $26 billion (See “notes to editors” at the end of this press release for additional details). Under the plan, AIG will draw down up to $22 billion of undrawn Series F funds available to the company under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to purchase an equal amount of the FRBNY’s preferred interests in the SPVs. AIG will then immediately transfer these preferred interests to the U.S. Treasury as part of its consideration for the Series F preferred shares. AIG also will apply proceeds from future asset monetizations, including the announced sales of the AIG Star Life Insurance Co. and AIG Edison Life Insurance, to retire the remainder of the FRBNY’s SPV preferred interests. When these transactions are completed, AIG expects that it will have repaid the FRBNY in full. To retire the U.S. Treasury’s preferred interests in the SPVs, AIG will apply the proceeds of future asset monetizations, including its remaining equity stake in AIA and the equity securities of MetLife that AIG will own after the sale of ALICO to MetLife closes.
    3. Retiring AIG’s Remaining TARP Support and Series C Preferred Shares. Today, AIG has approximately $49.1 billion of TARP preferred shares outstanding. Under the plan, the U.S. Treasury is expected to receive approximately 1.655 billion shares of AIG common stock in exchange for the $49.1 billion of TARP Series E and Series F preferred shares and the Series C preferred shares currently held by the AIG Credit Facility Trust. In addition, AIG will issue up to 75 million warrants with a strike price of $45.00 per share to existing common shareholders. Upon the exchange, the U.S. Treasury will own 92.1% of the common stock of AIG. The exchange will not be executed until the FRBNY credit facility is repaid in full. After the exchange is completed, it is expected that over time the U.S. Treasury will sell its stake in AIG on the open market.    AIG expects to repay and terminate the FRBNY credit facility and complete the issuance of common stock to the U.S. Treasury before the end of the first quarter of 2011, subject to regulatory approvals and other closing conditions.
  SPVs: On December 1, 2009, AIG contributed the equity of each of AIA and ALICO to separate special purpose vehicles (SPVs) in exchange for interests in the SPVs. Under the terms of these transactions, the FRBNY received preferred interests with a liquidation preference in the AIA SPV of $16 billion and with a liquidation preference in the ALICO SPV of $9 billion. The liquidation preference of the preferred interests represented a percentage of the estimated fair market value of AIA and ALICO. Until AIG divests a majority of its common interests in AIA and ALICO, those entities will continue to be consolidated in AIG’s financial statements.
    Sale of ALICO to METLIFE: On March 8, 2010, AIG announced a definitive agreement for the sale of ALICO, one of the world’s largest and most diversified international life insurance companies, to MetLife, Inc. for approximately $15.5 billion, including $6.8 billion in cash and the remainder in equity securities of MetLife, subject to closing adjustments. This transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2010.
   Intent to IPO AIA: On August 6, 2010, AIG disclosed that it intends to conduct an initial public offering of AIA, by seeking a listing of AIA on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, subject to regulatory approvals and market conditions.
   Sale of AIG STAR and AIG Edison: On September 30, 2010, AIG announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell its Japan-based life insurance subsidiaries, AIG Star Life Insurance and AIG Edison Life Insurance, to Prudential Financial Inc., for a total purchase price of $4.8 billion, comprising $4.2 billion in cash and $0.6 billion in the assumption of third-party debt. AIG will continue to grow its general insurance business in Japan.

Report: Virtual Power Plant Capacity to Climb

   (BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/27/2010 - Virtual power plants (VPPs) utilize software systems to enable utilities to efficiently manage an increasing diversity of electricity generation, energy storage, and demand reduction assets.
   As the power generation mix becomes more complex over the next several years thanks to adoption of distributed generation, storage technologies, and demand response (DR) programs, VPPs will be a vital real-time management tool to make every megawatt count.
   According to a new report from Pike Research, the global VPP market will more than double in capacity over the next five years, rising from 19.4 gigawatts (GW) in 2009 to 41.1 GW by 2015, under a base case forecast scenario. By that year, the cleantech market intelligence firm forecasts that worldwide VPP revenues will reach $7.4 billion.
   “Virtual power plants enable utilities to stretch supply from power generation and demand response, without requiring any large-scale infrastructure upgrades,” Pike Research Senior Analyst Peter Asmus said. “This approach delivers greater value to the customer while also creating benefits to the host distribution utility as well as the transmission grid operator. When compared to the fossil fuel based centralized power plants that dominate electricity markets worldwide, one of the primary advantages of VPPs is that they can react quickly to changing customer load conditions, all in a dynamic and real-time fashion.”
    Pike Research divides the VPP universe into four distinct segments:
  • Demand Response-based VPPs: This is the largest commercial segment in the United States, which has the most mature DR market in the world.
  • Supply-side VPPs: Europe, particularly Germany, has led the world in this category, though most of the projects have been R and D pilots, with only a handful of VPPs in commercial operation.
  • Mixed asset VPPs: This is the ultimate goal of the VPP. This segment brings distributed generation and DR together to provide a synergistic sharing of grid resources to squeeze out more value, thereby reducing capital costs. Few of these projects are in commercial operation today.
  • Wholesale auction VPPs: Unique to Europe, VPP auctions have been used in the region as a condition of mergers, requiring asset owners to auction off base load and peaking capacity to bidders under short- and long-term contracts. Unlike the category of the supply-side VPP segment, these resources are typically traditional centralized power plants burning fossil fuels.
    Pike Research’s study, “Virtual Power Plantsm,” provides a comprehensive analysis of global market opportunities and growth prospects for virtual power plants including a detailed examination of business models, technology issues, and regulatory and policy factors. Key industry players are profiled, including SWOT analysis for utilities and technology providers active in the VPP sector.
   The report also features global market forecasts, segmented by region, for capacity and revenue in four key VPP segments through 2015. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

Chicago Man Sentenced in 22-Year Ponzi Scheme

Hundreds of Victims, Many Immigrants, Lost More Than $30M
   CHICAGO — 9/23/2010 — A Ponzi scheme that spanned 22 years and resulted in losses totaling more than $30 million to hundreds of individuals had “a horrific impact” on the victims, including many elderly Italian immigrants, a federal judge declared today in imposing the maximum possible prison term on the defendant.
   U.S. District Judge John Darrah nearly doubled advisory federal sentencing guidelines in imposing the maximum 23 year prison term for Frank A. Castaldi, a suburban Chicago accountant and businessman who promised hundreds of investors between 10 and 15 percent annual interest rates on promissory notes he sold them. The fraud scheme caused many of the victims to lose their homes, retirement income, and life savings.
   The sentence marked the second time in less than a week that Darrah nearly doubled sentencing guidelines in imposing sentence against a defendant in a Ponzi scheme case.
   Castaldi, 57, most recently of Prospect Heights, was ordered to begin serving his sentence on Nov. 15, 2010. Darrah imposed the sentence after a three-hour hearing in which he heard directly from more than a dozen victims of the fraud scheme, as well as considering victim impact letters from dozens of others, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI; and Alvin Patton, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.
   Castaldi was charged in January, 2009, after self-reporting his criminal activity to federal law enforcement authorities. He pleaded guilty in August 2009 to one count of mail fraud and one count of impeding the IRS in the collection of taxes. Judge Darrah imposed the maximum terms of 20 years on the mail fraud count and three years on the tax offense and ordered the terms to be served consecutively. Federal sentencing guidelines called for a sentencing range of 151 to 188 months in prison, but Judge Darrah said the guidelines “grossly understated the seriousness” of the crimes.
   Darrah deferred ordering mandatory restitution for 90 days to allow more time to calculate the correct amounts owed to victims. The government contends that individual and group investors are owed approximately $31.6 million, in addition to more than $8.8 million that is owed to the IRS.
   During the early to mid-1980s, Castaldi, his father and a business partner started two businesses – CZ Travel and CZ Realty. They later purchased ownership interests in First State Travel Service, Inc., Parkway Towers Insurance Agency Inc. and Cumberland Realty Inc. which later became known as Remax Cumberland Realty, all of which were located in Norridge, with Castaldi acting as the president of each business.
   Since at least 1986, Castaldi began offering and selling six month promissory notes to investors, the majority of whom were people who were referred to him by other investors, and included friends, family members and customers of his businesses. While the vast majority of notes stated that the annual interest rate was zero percent, Castaldi orally guaranteed that he would pay investors annual returns between 10 and 15 percent.
   Castaldi made false representations to most investors about investing their principal in his various businesses, as well as the source of the funds that he used to make their interest payments. Approximately six years ago, Castaldi began falsely telling investors that he was placing their money with financial institutions with whom he had a special relationship and would guarantee their principal and high returns. Instead, Castaldi obtained loans and used certain investors’ principal payments to make interest payments to other investors, without disclosing the true source of the interest payments.
   In all, Castaldi raised more than $77 million from some 473 individual and group investors, of which he used approximately $59 million to make payments of principal and interest to earlier investors. When the scheme collapsed in December 2008, Castaldi was left owing approximately $31.6 million to more than 300 individuals and investor groups.
   In addition to using new investors’ principal to make interest payments and return principal to earlier investors, Castaldi also lost investors’ money by funding a failed banquet hall and other failing businesses, and to purchase some stocks.
  The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Veatch and Sunil Harjani.
  Souce: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Group Releases Transportation Performance Index

Report Says Underperformance is Drag on Economic Growth
   WASHINGTON -(BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/23/2010 - The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released the first-ever nationwide and state-by-state “Transportation Performance Indexes” which show a significant decline over the last five years in how America’s transportation infrastructure is serving the needs of domestic commerce, international trade and the overall U.S. economy. The annual index is the first of its kind designed to look over time at how U.S. transportation infrastructure is serving the needs of the U.S. economy and business community.
   “The performance of the nation’s transportation system is not keeping pace with the rate of growth of the demands on that system,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 
   “As our economy recovers, the nation’s transportation infrastructure must be prepared to meet the projected growth in freight and population. In fact, a 10-point improvement in the new national transportation index could generate 3 percent more growth in the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Our index however shows that from now through 2015 there will be a rapid decline in the performance of the system if we continue business as usual. Right now we’re on an unsustainable path.”
   The annual Transportation Performance Index combines indicators of supply (availability), quality of service (reliability, predictability, safety) and utilization (potential for future growth) across all modes of passenger and freight transportation – highway, public transportation, freight railroad, aviation, marine and intermodal – to show how well the U.S. transportation system is serving the needs of businesses and the overall U.S. economy.
    The national index is 51.24 in 2008, which is a slight improvement from 50.74 in 2007. However, the moving average, which smoothes the annual variations, reveals a clear downward trend from 2003 to 2008, demonstrating that the performance of the U.S. transportation system is not keeping pace with the demands on that system. Today’s release covers the time period from 1990 to 2008, the last year for which national-level date is available. Over this period the index – or the performance of our transportation system – increased only about 6 percent while U.S. population during that time period grew 22 percent, passenger travel grew 39 percent, and freight traffic grew 27 percent.
    “The bottom line is this: our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure is placing a major drag on our economic growth,” said Donohue. “We must focus on improving the way transportation delivers for business, removing barriers to maintaining, modernizing and expanding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and driving increased public and private investment.”
   The 2007 state results range from 85.12 for North Dakota to 35.08 for the District of Columbia. While the District of Columbia is somewhat of an anomaly, New Jersey has the next lowest index with a value of 46.71.    
   Higher population growth rates and higher population densities are generally associated with lower index value based on an analysis of state results versus population data. While this warrants more rigorous analysis, a closer examination of the states with an index value of less than 60 reveals that these states experience significant pressure in terms of population growth, high levels of development, and limited access to or aging infrastructure.
    A highly ranked state like North Dakota cannot afford to ignore the importance of pressures on the transportation system in states like New Jersey. For example, to double U.S. exports by 2015, the nation’s transportation system as a whole must work efficiently to get U.S. products to the world’s markets.
   “The gap between the national index and the best performing states is twenty points wide,” added Donohue. “We’re leaving $1 trillion on the table in GDP by not getting the most bang for the buck out of our transportation system. If we don’t head off that decline, we’re taking money out of every American’s pocket.”
    In 2011, the Chamber will release indexes for water, energy, broadband, and a composite Infrastructure Performance Index. For additional information on the Transportation Performance Index, including state-by-state results, graphs, the accompanying technical report and the Chamber’s policy recommendations for getting U.S. transportation performance back on track, visit The indexes are available here:

Energy Legislation Stall Could Mean Job Loss

Petroleum Institute: House Measure Will Hurt Economy
               By Kevin Lee
         Illinois Statehouse News
   SPRINGFIELD - 9/16/2010 - With November's midterm elections approaching, the ground swell for new energy and climate control legislation may have taken a backseat to national politics.
   The result could be thousands of lost jobs for Illinois, according to a coalition of pro-renewable energy groups.
   Last year,  the U.S. House of Representatives passed  federal legislation that would impose nationwide renewable energy benchmarks, market-imposed caps on emissions and greater investment into new technologies, such as clean coal.
   But the U.S. Senate has stalled on the legislative package, and a consortium of energy and business groups are claiming that inaction could cost the nation for years to come.
   A report jointly released by the consortium indicated that the nation could lose out on 1.9 million jobs over the next decade.
   Six hundred thousand of those lost jobs could originate in 10 states with unemployment rates exceeding 10 percent, including Illinois, which stands to lose 68,000 jobs over that period.
   Climate change and renewable energy became headline issues in the aftermath of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but progress on sweeping energy federal legislation has been put on hold.
   Tim Greeff, policy director for the national consortium Clean Economy Network, said with November's elections approaching, the energy debate has been hijacked by politics.
   "I certainly don't see this as a Democrat vs. Republican issue. These issues don't become partisan until they get to (Washington,) D.C. And that's why it's really so unfortunate that it has gotten caught up in the partisan bickering," Greeff said.
   Instead, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the Senate will spend its fall session working on a sweeping legislative proposal focused on tax cuts and incentives for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
   Chris Van Atten, a spokesman for American Businesses for Clean Energy, said that development of renewable energy sources and job creation go hand-in-hand.
   "Clean coal technology is one that holds promise for job creation in the Midwest region. It may be renewable energy strategies in different parts of the country. But there are certainly opportunities available," he said.
   The American Petroleum Institute claims that the energy legislation passed by the U.S. House threatens the nation's and Illinois' economies.
   "The climate change bill under consideration by Congress ignores the impacts on everyone who uses or produces petroleum fuels like gasoline, diesel and natural gas. So it will hit both households and businesses hard – everyone who uses cars, trucks, planes, trains, and tractors or the thousands of products produced or transported using these fuels," the API said in a statement.
   The U.S. Department of Energy has already targeted Illinois as a major source of carbon retention and storage, a new method of burning coal that would reduce greenhouse emissions.
   Last month, the DOE pledged to commit $1 billion to retrofit an oil-fired power plant in the western Illinois town of Meredosia in what has become the most recent iteration of the FutureGen project.
   Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., was in the central Illinois town of Taylorville to discuss another proposed clean-coal project, the Taylorville Energy Plant.
   Durbin outlined his support of efforts for domestically produced energy with the Taylorville plant and FutureGen, though efforts to move forward on both projects have frequently stalled.
   "If you look at the potential for job creation, for providing clean domestic energy and for positioning our state as a world leader in clean energy production – these are truly opportunities Illinois cannot afford to miss," he said.
   But Greeff said Congress will likely wait until after November's elections before engaging in groundbreaking energy debates.
   "It has become an issue that the Democrats and Republicans are trying to stake out positions on instead of moving forward and finding the common ground that's actually good for American business," he said.
  Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News

Report: Violent crime down by 5.3 percent in 2009

Arrests Total 13.68M
    By Steve Rensberry
   (RPC) - 9/14/2010 - There were an estimated 1.31 million violent crimes reported in the United States in 2009, according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's annual crime report, released on Sept. 13. The total represents a drop of 5.3 percent over 2008 figures.   Property crimes were down by about 4.6 percent, the report says.
   Crimes considered to be violent include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault and non-negligent manslaughter. Property crimes fall into one of several categories, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson or larceny-theft.
   Data contained in the agency's report, "Crime in the United States," is derived from 17,985 participating law-enforcement agencies and police departments across the country with jurisdiction over about 96 percent of the population.
   The were an estimated 13.68 million total arrests in 2009.
   The breakdown: Murder and non-negligent manslaughter,12,418; forcible rape, 21,407; robbery, 126,725; aggravated assault, 421,215; burglary, 299,351; larceny-theft, 1,334,933; motor vehicle theft, 81,797; arson, 12,204; violent crime, 581,765; Property crime , 1,728,285; other assaults, 1,319,458; forgery and counterfeiting, 85,844; fraud, 210,255; embezzlement, 17,920; stolen property; buying, receiving, possessing, 105,303; vandalism, 270,439; weapons--carrying, possessing, etc., 166,334; prostitution and commercialized vice, 71,355; sex offenses (excluding forcible rape and prostitution), 77,326; drug abuse violations, 1,663,582; gambling, 10,360; offenses against family and children, 114,564; driving under the influence, 1,440,409; liquor laws, 570,333; drunkenness, 594,300; disorderly conduct, 655,322; vagrancy, 33,388; all other offenses, 3,764,672; suspicion, 1,975; curfew and loitering law violations, 112,593; and runaways 93,434.
   According to the report:
  • Each of the four violent crime offenses decreased when compared with the 2008 estimates. Murder and non-negligent manslaughter and robbery had the largest decreases: 7.3 percent and 8.0 percent, respectively. In addition, aggravated assault decreased 4.2 percent, and forcible rape declined 2.6 percent. 
  • Nationwide in 2009, an estimated 9,320,971 property crimes were reported.
  • Each of the property crime offenses also decreased in 2009 when compared with the 2008 estimates. The largest decline was for motor vehicle thefts: a 17.1 percent decrease from the 2008 figure. The estimated number of larceny- thefts declined 4.0 percent, and the estimated number of burglaries decreased 1.3 percent.
  • Collectively, victims of property crimes (excluding arson) lost an estimated $15.2 billion in 2009. The FBI estimated that in 2009, agencies nationwide made about 13.7 million arrests, excluding traffic violations.
  • The 2009 arrest rate for violent crimes was 191.2 per 100,000 inhabitants; for property crime, the rate was 571.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. 
  • By violent crime offense, the arrest rate for murder and non-negligent manslaughter was 4.1; forcible rape, 7.0; robbery, 42.0; and aggravated assault was 138.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. By property crime offense, the arrest rate for burglary was 98.1; larceny-theft, 442.3; and motor vehicle theft, 26.8 per 100,000 inhabitants. 
  • The arrest rate for arson was 4.0 per 100,000 inhabitant.
  • In 2009, there were 14,614 law enforcement agencies that reported their staffing levels to the FBI. These agencies reported that, as of Oct. 31, 2009, they collectively employed 706,886 sworn officers and 314,570 civilians, a rate of 3.5 employees for each 1,000 inhabitants.
   But the agency also warns against an analysis that is oversimplified, particularly when it comes to ranking cites and counties, as is commonplace each year.
   "To assess criminality and law enforcement’s response from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, one must consider many variables, some of which, while having significant impact on crime, are not readily measurable or applicable pervasively among all locales. Geographic and demographic factors specific to each jurisdiction must be considered and applied if one is going to make an accurate and complete assessment of crime in that jurisdiction.," the report says. See: Variables Affecting Crime.

Healthcare Sector Shows Profit in 2nd Quarter

Pending Reforms, Expirations Put Drug Makers on the Defensive
   (BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/11/2010 - According to a recent special report from Fitch Ratings, the U.S. healthcare sector's second quarter 2010 results were affected by a persistently weak economy, looming patent cliffs, and healthcare reform.
  Patient utilization among the for-profit hospitals operators continued to be down, negatively affecting volumes. However, a low cost-inflation environment, cost-cutting and containment efforts, and continued strong commercial insurer reimbursement trends attributed to another quarter of strong profitability. As a result of this trend, six of Fitch's seven rated for-profit hospital operators have been assigned a Positive Outlook or placed on Rating Watch Positive this year.
    Branded pharmaceutical issuers face an unprecedented volume of drug patent expirations over the next few years, as several of the world's best-selling drugs come off patent. Many of these companies have initiated large cost-cutting programs, the affects of which are beginning to be seen more in the financial statements. Issuers with the largest exposure to patent expirations include Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., Eli Lilly and Co., and Pfizer, Inc.
   The pharmaceutical industry faces a tough road ahead given tighter government reimbursement around the world, including U.S. healthcare reform, Japanese biennial price cuts, and expanding European austerity programs. Additionally, in August the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued its final rule for its new bundled end-stage renal disease (ESRD) prospective payment system.
   This new system will decrease Medicare's reimbursement for ESRD services beginning in 2011 and has the potential to pressure margins for ESRD providers, like DaVita Inc., and to affect the profitability of ESRD-related drugs, such as Amgen, Inc.'s Epogen and Johnson and Johnson's Procrit. Details surrounding the further-reaching Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and its execution remain to be established and may be affected by November's elections.
   Fitch's second quarter "Healthcare Stats Quarterly" report provides a summary of the operating performance and credit metrics of the companies in Fitch's rating universe of this sector over the past four years, as well as key credit strengths and concerns and a summary of the companies' liquidity positions, including debt maturities, as of the end of the second quarter of 2010. The report is available on the Fitch website at

Autism Group Reaches Out With Message of Hope

Dear Friend: The following article, Autism at the Crossroads — about the International Coalition for Autism and all Abilities and the work they are doing — was at one time available as a PDF file through the Scribd hosting service. It has since been replaced by a text version. My apologies for any confusion. As the article's author, I would like to extend my personal thanks to Emily and Matt Malabey, and the other ICAA board members, for their due diligence, kindness and willingness to share with me their vision of making the world a better place for people with ASD. The time is ripe. — Steve Rensberry (9/8/2010)

By Steve Rensberry

Imagine a world in which people are transparent, not physically but in terms of their purest emotions and needs, and in a way that lays bare the phenomenal array of cognitive complexities that make each individual human being so remarkably distinct and unique.

Assuming that privacy was somehow still respected, ask yourself, would it make the world a better place? Would it lessen or increase the societal barriers preventing those with challenges from realizing their full potential? Would it raise the level of empathy and understanding in our society toward those who are different or have special needs, or would it—as befits the less redeeming side of human nature—lead to even more discrimination and abuse than already exists?

You make the call, but the uncertainty of how people would react in such a scenario points to the ongoing challenge society faces in relating to those perceived to be outside the ordinary, and to the subject of this story—which is about the estimated 1 percent of Americans referred to in clinical terms as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and about one non-profit group's determination and vision to change things for the better. That group is the International Coalition for Autism and all Abilities (ICAA).

No, people along the spectrum are not transparent. But they are, advocates say, stereotyped, gravely misunderstood and frequently discriminated against.
For the ICAA, based in Arnold, Missouri, it's a situation that sorely needs to be addressed.

The autism spectrum itself takes in a wide swath of non-orthodox behaviors and characteristics and is divided into three main forms: Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).(1)

Estimates put the number of people in the United States living with some type of ASD at between 1 and 1.5 million, for which neither a cause nor a cure is known. It is no respecter of race, age, culture or creed and is manifested in varying degrees in limitations in speech, social development and in some motor skills and sensory processing.

Launched this year, the ICAA maintains a website at where it offers practical assistance, posts action alerts and conducts weekly blog talk radio broadcasts. Its founders—Emily Malabey and her husband, Matthew—were active as was the group in rallying for the Missouri Autism Insurance Bill, have dared to carve a different path than the more established and heavily-funded research-focused groups, and have received encouragement and support from a growing number of advocates and supporters. Among them are:

  • Estee Klar — Founder and executive director of "The Autism Acceptance Project" (TAAP). Klar is a writer, freelance curator of art, and graduate student of Critical Disability Studies at York University. (2)
  • Melissa Barton — A Florida mother who made national headlines in 2008 after a discrimination case at her son's school. Barton was one of the first guests on the BTR ICAA Radio program.
  • Senator Eric Schmitt — A Missouri legislator who fought along with other lawmakers and the ICAA for passage of the Missouri Autism Insurance Bill, which requires insurers in the state to cover treatments and related therapies for persons with autism.(3)
  • Massachusetts Senator Brian Joyce — An ICAA blog talk radio guest who spoke about controversial treatments for autism at the Judge Rotenberg Center.
  • Erik Estabrook — An advocate and author with Asperger's syndrome who has collaborated with the ICAA in a number of areas.
  • Kimberly Salls, BCBA, MA — Founder of Behavior Intervention Services in St. Louis, Mo., which provides help to persons with autism and their family members, along with other forms of behavior intervention.(4)
  • Tonya and Rickie Lee Tanner — Rickie Lee Tanner is a popular country music artist and songwriter with a growing list of fans. The couple has an autistic child and have been very supportive of the ICAA. (5)
  • Areva Martin — An award-winning author, attorney, speaker and TV personality. Martin has been a guest on the ICAA Radio program and is well known for her advocacy on autism. (6)
  • Carol Warner — A sociology professor and city councilwoman in Fairview Heights, Illinois, and the mother of an adult son with Asperger's syndrome. She serves on the ICAA's Advisory Board.
  • Chief Gene Sanders — Founder of Project Lifesaver International and a presidential award nominee. PLI is a volunteer, non-profit program whose primary mission is to aid in the rescue of persons who wander due to Alzheimer's, autism and similar disorders.(7)
Guests of the ICAA's radio program, which airs every Tuesday at 10 a.m., have included many of the above individuals along with: Alex Cheezem, a lecturer, advocate and student Massachusetts House Rep. John Scibak; Carrie Wells, who discussed a special school for children with needs called Abi's Place; Virginia mother Lisa Alexander; Dr. Marty Rukeyser and Dr. Lisa Rankin; St. Louis radio DJ and online personality Gerard Elliott; and Hypa Corporation President Nathan Moore, who is on the ICAA's Executive Board. (8)

"Discrimination based on race. Discrimination based on disability. Loved ones being locked up and locked away. This is reality for many people, even in America—in the year 2010. In the autism community in particular, our loved ones and friends are particularly vulnerable to these abuses, " says an episode note about the radio show with Alexander.

"Lisa's son Neli has faced serious brutality, abuse and discrimination based on his disability and race," Malabey says in reference to the show.

Meeting recently at a Bread Co. restaurant with the Malabey's children—Matthew, 8, who has autism, and Erica, 6—along with Advisory Board Member Rev. Ann Bukalski and ICAA Vice President Julian Bukalski, Emily and Matt look the perfect couple and their kids as beautiful, loveable and happy as can be.

Matthew, though he did not speak, radiated charm and gave the impression that he is smart and "in the know."

To this observer, Matthew’s autism was neither obvious nor inhibiting. Both children were excited and energetic—and surprisingly well behaved and patient for being in a public place among a group of serious-talking adults. Emily's auburn hair is long and striking. Matt is tall and fit. Both are articulate, engaging and passionate about what they do.

Emily is studying law at Webster University, in addition to her work as a professional lay advocate and mediation specialist. Matt is a consultant for a specialties apparel company and an independent consultant at MM(2).

"My husband and I knew from very early on, as many parents do, that our child was different, and that he was not reaching various developmental milestones," Emily Malabey said. "The Denver Screening, First Steps program, Parents as Teachers program, and perusing several libraries worth of reading material on child development and the Autism spectrum, we were pretty much expecting the diagnosis from the neurologist."

But with the diagnosis came the eventual realization of just how far behind the curve American culture is in reaching out with understanding and with immediate and practical assistance to this particular segment of society.

"As time went on, I realized that step by step the various community, educational, social and medical systems in place were so very bureaucratic, confusing and just overwhelming. I knew that if this was overwhelming for me, a pretty resourceful person who does not mind research, and loves keeping myself busy all the time, most other parents without those traits must be going insane," Malabey said.

What separates the ICAA from other autism groups is primarily a matter of the here and now, of practicalities and immediate realities.

There are existing organizations spending millions trying to remove, prevent or find the cause of autism spectrum disorders. But the fruit of their labors could be years down the road. Some of that time and money is, unfortunately, even spent fighting among themselves.

How much focus is put on their physical welfare, on the human and civil rights of persons with autism and other such disabilities? Very little to none, according to the ICAA.

Its two-pronged mission:

1. Ensuring that people with disabilities get the help and support they need to access therapy, therapeutic equipment, products, services and other necessities so that they can live as independently as possible and reach their fullest potential.
2. Ensuring that modern society progresses enough to meet these people a little more than half way.

"ICAA believes ignorance, lack of supports and services are the true tragedy in society," Malabey said.

According to the group, about 1 in 91 children in Missouri alone are diagnosed with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorders also are widely considered to be the fastest-growing developmental disability in the country. The estimated $60-90 billion that is spent each year in care and treatment is projected to reach $200 to $400 billion in another decade.(9)

But despite its prevalence, fundraising by major awareness groups for autism amounts (on the high end), to less than $45 million a year, compared to more than $300 million for Leukemia, $175,000 for Muscular Dystrophy, $130 million for Juvenile Diabetes and about $400 million for AIDS. Published estimates of the amount of money directed toward autism in the National Institute of Health's annual budget were about 0.3 percent in 2005, or about $100 million of the agency's total $29 billion budget for that year.(10)

The agency's FY2010 budget report estimates expenditures of $136.77 million on what it terms "Developmental Transitional Research," aimed at preventing and curing any number of disorders that begin in childhood and adolescence.(11)

"High priority will be given to studies that identify early signs of risk and develop novel and targeted preventive and treatment interventions, such as projects involving innovative approaches for treating children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In FY 2010, NIMH will also support studies on psychosocial and behavioral treatments for autism spectrum disorders, as well as innovative services research, including the development of instruments to evaluate the impact of interventions on core features of autism spectrum disorders and co-occurring symptoms," the report says.

It estimates spending another $10.36 million on a program called Autistic Centers for Excellence, begun in 2007, to "maximize coordination and cohesion of NIH-sponsored autism research efforts."

But as promising and helpful to researchers as the ACE program may, its focus appears to be clearly on research rather than the immediate help that advocates arguefamilies and those with ASD need.

Thus, the concerns about care—and the accompanying controversies—continue to be a source of debate.

In the case of Barton and her son, who has Asperger's, the highly-publicized incident involved a teacher who had instructed Alex’s classmates to vote on whether Alex should stay or leave the classroom—which they proceeded to do on a vote of 14-2. The case provoked outrage around the country.

In correspondence by e-mail, Barton was upbeat and full of praise for what the ICAA is doing.
"I have learned tha there are some truly wonderful people out there like Emily, president of ICAA willing to step in and get their hands dirty," she said.

While Barton's son is able to utilize the McKay Scholarship to attend school, litigation remains pending followed a suit filed by Barton in the fall of 2009.(12)

"My son has Asperger's Syndrome. He is not a 'brat' and children with Autism/Asperger's need to be disciplined differently than other children," Barton said. "If we cure this ignorance, we win a battle of epic proportions and everlasting change."

ICAA Advisory Board member Carol Warner, whose son Michael, now 40, also has Asperger's, said he was in his early 20s at a time when Asperger's was far less known and was therefore beyond any treatment-related avenues.

"I agreed to serve on the ICAA board because general public awareness is crucial to acceptance of those individuals who suffer from this social disorder," Warner said. "Additionally, it is my private hope that through activities publicized by ICAA, social outlets for my son will be discovered."

As for the challenges of being a parent with a child who has Asperger's, they were precisely what anyone would image, she said.

"I want a worthwhile, happy life for my son, and his chances for that have been compromised throughout his life—first in school, later in social interaction/making
friends/dating, and today in the work environment, where promotions are elusive despite being a good, punctual, sometimes innovative and always dependable employee," Warner said.

Erik Estabrook, who joins the list of those with Asperger's Syndrome, is a regional committee member of the ICAA and an example of the importance of self-determination and establishing a network of support.

"I share a bond with the autistic community, because I've worked with so many people like me. I was a very late diagnosis at 21 years old, and didn't know what autism was at all at that age, Estabrook said." I began to find a support group around me, and learned more about autism by research. I set out to help autistic people like me when I was 24 years old, and still enjoy doing that now."

Growing up in a military family, Estabrook has worked as a volunteer with Army Community Service (ACS) for six years and for the past two years with an adaptive aquatics program. Nature, the parks, wildlife—all bring him a great deal of satisfaction. "Writing is great therapy for me," he said.

"ICCA is one of the more active groups that are about ending abuse of the disabled, and providing comfort and support to the abused," Estabrook said. "There still needs to be a lotmore faculties for treatment, therapy, and just places for autistics to go. I think the need in the autistic community is with the children. They have and always will be in need of behavioral support, treatments, therapies, and places where they can learn to get their words out and not feel alone."

For Emily Malabey, the battle Barton was drawn to engage in over her son's treatment at school was a pivotal moment in her decision to launch the ICAA. Malabey's son is the same age as Barton's.

Another pivotal moment came during a rally over the Missouri Autism Insurance Bill when someone called out her name at a booth staffed by the group Autism Speaks. When she
approached the booth, Malabey was handed a donor card asking if she would like to donate her son's brain matter at the time of death, to be used, Malabey recalls, "in the prevention and research for a cause and a cure and for preventative prenatal tests in the future."

"Regardless of where one stands on abortion, this handout at a rally for autism insurance legislation really bothered me," she said, one reason being that they (the ICAA) are not opposed to research but are simply trying to respond to the tremendous need for practical help and for "boots on the ground."

It’s apparent that no one, Malabey included, believes that changing public attitudes and policies will be easy, but neither are they about to give up—especially in light of the cases of abuse and discrimination which regularly surface. Some of these:

* On April 5, 2010, an 28-year-old autistic man by the name of Stephen Puckett was refused treatment at Oklahoma University Medical Center after an outburst in the hospital’s emergency room. Subsequently, the police were called and Puckett was arrested. He was kept on suicide watch and forced to wear a straight jacket for the three days that he was in jail. He was finally released without charges after it became obvious that it was medical treatment he needed rather than jail time.(13)

* In Tybee Island, Georgia, an 18-year-old autistic man, Clifford Grevemberg, was charged with disorderly conduct on May 21, 2010, after sitting down on the curb and placing his head in his arms. Police officers, thinking that Grevemberg was drunk, allegedly Tasered him twice and threw him to the ground before his brother intervened, explaining that Grevemberg was a special needs child and had never had a drink of alcohol in his life, in addition to having a heart condition that required regular monitoring. (14)

* Reginald Latson, 18, who has Asperger's Syndrome, was arrested on May 24, 2010, in Virginia and held for 11 days. Latson had been sitting by a tree waiting for a local library to open near a school when a call was placed about a "suspicious black male" who possibly had a gun. After getting into a scuffle with a school resource officer who was also a Sheriff's deputy, Latson arrested without bail and placed in isolation. A trial is pending. (15)

* On March, 20, 2010, 27-year-old Steven Eugene Washington, who has autism, was shot in the head and killed by police officers who said they thought that he was reaching for a gun. Washington turned out to be unarmed and was not committing any crime. (16)

* The use of restraints and exclusion rooms to control autistic children has been a major concern of parents and autism advocates around the country. Most recently these concerns lead to the creation of the “Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act” (H.R. 4247, S. 2860). A bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March. It has not progressed in the Senate past a referral to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions in December of 2009. (17)

* The institutionalization of autistic children has and continues to be a major concern, advocates say. The practice has met with an increasing level of criticism from parents and organizations concerned about abuses and the potential long-term harm of forcefully isolating and separating an autistic individual from their loved ones. (18)

* Aversion therapy is one of the more controversial practices used in the treatment of autism and consists of pairing any number of discomforts simultaneously with the subject's unwanted behavior. One of the foremost practitioners has been the Judge Rotenberg Education Center in Canton, Massachusetts, which has received intense criticism over its use of electric skin shocks. The center and the controversial techniques that it employs were the subject of a special ICAA radio broadcast on July 28. The group also released an extensive public statement about the center's practices. The United Nations, as well, added fuel to the fire this year by declaring the use of shock therapy on autistic children "torture." (19)

* The neglect and isolation experienced by many adults with ASD, due to the pervasive lack of understanding, is another long-standing problem and challenge that has yet to see any significant progress. (20)

The ICAA's Executive Board consists of Founder/President Emily Malabey, Vice President Julian Bukalski, Secretary Jacqueline Ward, Vice President/Treasurer Matthew Malabey, and Director of Public Relations Nathan Moore. Its Advisory Board consists of Noelle Collins, Carol Warner, Rev. Anne Bukalski and honorary Board Member Rep. John Scibak of Massachusetts.

What lies ahead? For the Malabeys and those on the ICAA Board, it's simply a matter of continued organization, hard work and hope. Right now they are engaged in a number of projects: Mind the Gap, focusing on educational advocacy services; Project Hope, focusing on donations, support, access to services, therapies and free to low-cost advocacy, and future monthly support groups; Project Safety, focusing on community accessibility changes, safety and risk management, property assessments and the work of groups such as Project Lifesaver International; ICAA Radio, focusing on outreach and public service information; and spreading the word through social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn.

In Malabey’s words:
"All of us have gifts within us. Autistic people are no different. Some will excel and some will not. However, if we as a society wish to see more productivity, creativity, health, safety, wellness, happiness and peace, we should all be doing something to ensure the abuse ends. Let's ensure people who need extra help and support have access to those things. Let's ensure things like wheelchair ramps, fences around public playgrounds and parks, and project lifesaver programs are in place so all people can participate in our communities. Society will have to grow and learn how to communicate with people with differences.

"For people who look at this as a fiscal issue, look at the cost it will be to society if we have millions of dependents and possible homeless citizens, as compared to what it will be if we take actual measures right now to include, accommodate and support all of our citizens. Even if this is a vaccine induced pandemic, what are we doing to ensure the people who are here, who are on the autism spectrum, are helped, included and supported in this world when all us parents are gone?"

The fact that people on the spectrum can be successful—phenomenally so in some cases—is apparent in the acknowledgment by a number of famous people that they have, throughout their lives, lived with some type of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Among these are Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg, actress Daryl Hannah, and comedian/actor Dan Aykroyd. (21)
Regardless of the amount of government funds going toward research, people along the spectrum need advocacy, services for education, accommodations, and therapies that are available at all stages, Malabey explained.

The bottom line: "Help people now."


(3) The bill was signed on May 10, 2010 and goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2011
(13) complaints-wont-be-charged/article/3453296
(17) “Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act” (H.R. 4247, S. 2860) (sorry: link is broken)
See: ICAA Public Statement on the JRC at

Man Pleads Guilty in $485 Million Fraud Scheme

SHERMAN, Texas – 9/5/2010 - A 35-year-old Dallas man has pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Texas for his role in a multi-million dollar oil and gas scheme, U.S. Attorney John M. Bales has announced.
   Joseph Blimline pleaded guilty to an information charging him with conspiring to defraud investors in an oil and gas scheme that involved more than $485 million and 7,700 investors throughout the United States. Blimline also pleaded guilty to defrauding investors in a second oil and gas scheme based in the state of Michigan that involved more than $50 million obtained from investors. He entered his pleas on Aug. 31 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Amos Mazzant.
   “Victims from across the country relied upon the representations made in the scheme before investing their hard-earned money into what they believed to be a vibrant opportunity,” Bales said. “Investment fraud is, at its core, a betrayal of trust by one person to another. We will be relentless in our pursuit of those individuals responsible for abusing the trust of others in order to obtain criminal profits.”
   According to information presented in court, beginning in September 2006, Blimline and other individuals, operating as representatives of Provident Royalties, made materially false representations and failed to disclose material facts to their investors in order to induce the investors into providing payments to Provident.
   Among these false representations were statements that funds invested would be used only for the oil and gas project for which those funds were raised. Among the omissions of material fact were the facts that Blimline was a control person over Provident, Blimline received millions of dollars of unsecured loans, Blimline had been previously charged with securities fraud violations by the state of Michigan and that funds from investors in one oil and gas project were being used to pay individuals who invested in previous oil and projects.
   In the second scheme, according to information presented in court, between November, 2003 and December, 2005, Blimline and other individuals falsely promised inflated rates of return in order to obtain payments from investors, which they then used to make payments to previous investors.
   Blimline faces up to 20 years in federal prison on each of the two conspiracy charges. A sentencing date has not been set. The case is being investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shamoil Shipchandler.
  Source: Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

Auto Report: Sales Not As Bad As Portrayed

Report: Clean Coal Proposal Costly, Incomplete

By Bill McMorris      
Illinois Statehouse News

    SPRINGFIELD – 9/2/2010 - The push for clean coal technology in Illinois has hit another snag.
    A much anticipated report on a clean coal proposal in central Illinois questions both the costs and benefits of the $3.5 billion project.
   The report, released Wednesday by the Illinois Commerce Commission says Nebraska-based Tenaska Energy's proposed plant is costly, incomplete and potentially harmful to competition in the marketplace.
   "The General Assembly should consider whether the current plant configuration best balances the interests of rate payers and the goals of the Clean Coal Act," it read. "The cost associated with electricity generated by (the plant) is substantially higher than…other types of generation."
   And that may be an understatement, according to commission member John Colgan.
The plant would use technology to convert coal into natural gas with near-zero emissions. Project developers are hoping to funnel carbon through a pipeline to the Gulf states, where it can be used to extract oil from wells.
   While the grand idea may work on paper, it still produces an incomplete picture of the project. Developers came to the $3.5 billion price tag without assessing the costs or carbon sequestration and the potential pipeline–significant gaps, according to Colgan.
    "Their initial report did not have a final decision of how to sequester the carbon," he said. "It is difficult to make a decision without knowing what those costs are going to be."
    The high construction costs and costly nature of producing electricity–about 40 to 50 percent higher than traditional coal production–will have to be pushed on to commercial customers. Residential consumers will not see their rates increased by more than 2 percent over the next 30 years, according to a law passed in 2009.
    That leaves businesses and industries vulnerable to bearing the cost. Colgan says Illinois' competitive markets could dry up as large electricity distribution sources like Exelon force out smaller start-ups.
   "If these alternate sources are forced to buy from Taylorville and this 2 percent cap is reached, they'll have to buy the overflow at a much higher rate," he said.
    Colgan said the federal government has taken a keen interest in clean coal technology, especially in Illinois where carbon sequestration is thought to be ideal. The government is directly financing a $1 billion retrofitting in the FutureGen project and has offered to guarantee $2.7 billion in loans for the Taylorville project.
But private investors are not biting at the prospect of projects like the Taylorville plant–a warning sign about the financial risks associated with clean coal technology, according to Colgan.
    "It's a whole new approach to energy that the federal government threw a lot of stimulus money into, but there's probably not a lot of venture capital out there to support this kind of project," he said.
If the state does not approve the Tenaska plan, it will fall apart, along with federal backing.
    While the ICC did not discuss whether the plant should be built, its message clearly hurts the project's chances of passing the General Assembly.
    "We understand what the General Assembly is trying to do–moving to cleaner technology in a carbon based economy–but there is going to be a rate impact," Colgan said.
    Backers of the project are optimistic lawmakers will look beyond costs and approve the project based on the environmental and technological impacts of clean coal.
    "I am fairly confident we can convince the legislature that the project makes sense on all levels," Taylorville Mayor Greg Brotherton said. "It will stimulate the economy, it is environmentally safe and it uses resources we have widely available to us."
    Opponents like Kevin Wright, president of the Illinois Competitive Energy Association, hope lawmakers will take the report seriously.
    "It should be persuasive with legislators, given the high cost and the rate impact on consumers and the engine of the Illinois economy," he said.
    But Teneska representatives countered that the ICC report seemed to misunderstand the purpose of the project, though their figures were similar.
"The premise under the Clean Coal Law of providing for an initial clean coal facility is that it is important to develop the State's coal resources in an environmentally friendly manner," said the company in a statement.
   "No one has ever tried to tell the General Assembly that the initial clean coal facility is going to be the cheapest option."
    The report was given to lawmakers on Wednesday. They are expected to reach their final decision on the matter later this fall.
   (Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News)