Monthly Archives: May 2014

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Bloomberg’s Graphic of Companies Storing Profits Offshores to Avoid Taxes

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Jim Hightower on Passing the Cost on to You

Corporations shift their tax burdens to you

Wednesday, May 28, 2014   |   Posted by Jim Hightower
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Did you scramble to get your taxes done this year, dashing to the mailbox at the last minute? Yeah, me too.

I really didn’t mind paying what I owe – but I hate having to pay the taxes owed by the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Mitt Romney, Exxon, and Amazon. They’re just a few of the astonishingly profitable corporations and superrich financial hucksters who walk their tax tabs each year, thus putting the cost of everything from the military to our national parks onto our shoulders.

We constantly hear CEOs and their congressional hirelings wail about the “punishing” tax rate of 35 percent assessed on corporate profits. But they’re grinning as they’re crying, for they know they actually pay nowhere near that. In fact, the latest assessment by the Government Accountability Office found that U.S. corporations pay an average tax rate of only 12.6 percent, forcing workaday taxpayers to cover the multiple billions of dollars that these privileged elites dodge.

How do they do that? Simple. They duck through ridiculous loopholes in our tax laws. How ridiculous? Try the subsidy for corporate criminals. If you get a speeding ticket, do you get to deduct the fine from the income tax you owe? Ha – just try it! But JPMorgan Chase was fined more than $20 billion last year for major frauds and consumer rip offs, and its honchos have now deducted that “punishment” from the corporate tax bill, claiming it as a cost of doing business. Oh, they also get to deduct the many millions of dollars they paid lawyers to defend their blatant wrongdoing.

This is Jim Hightower saying… Well, sniff the elites, we’re merely making rightful use of the deductions allowed by tax laws. But it’s their lawyers who wrote those laws to legalize their thievery! And need I mention that they also get a deduction for the mega-salaries and expenses of those lawyers? So, we pay for their wrongdoings, their fines, and their lawyers.

“Corporate Loopholes To Covet,” The New York Times, April 15, 2014.

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Bernanke’s cut of bankers bailout lootBookmark and Share

Perhaps you’ve been wondering: How’s Ben doing?

Extremely well – thank you, now that he has stepped down as head of the Fed. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Benanke presided over most of the 2008 financial crash, the Wall Street bailout, the Great Recession, and today’s so-called “recovery-that-isn’t,” since 90 percent of Americans still have not recovered.

So what’s Ben been doing now that he’s no longer saving banksters with US taxpayers’ dollars? Going to bankster gatherings to bask in their glowing gratitude – and collecting his cut of the bailout loot.

In one week in May, Bernanke was in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Johannesburg on Wednesday, and Houston on Friday, speechifying to global bankers and hobnobbing with hedge fund billionaires and economic titans. Each of these private chats put $200,000 or more into Ben’s pockets. He’s doing beaucoup of these cash-on-the-barrelhead BenFests for the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Blackstone Group, and Morgan Stanley. In conferences and in small dinners at four-star restaurants, Bernanke is offering “words of wisdom” to barons of high finance he bailed out, in exchange for a ridiculous fee that most could not have paid without those rescue funds that the Fed chief extracted from you and me.

But here’s an irony that’s gotta be chapping Ben’s butt – some of the banksters he saved are refusing to play the payback game. Not because they’re bothered by the totally corrupt ethics involved, but because they’re balking at his high fees. Goldman Sachs, for example, which got a $10 billion bailout and whose CEO took $23 million in personal pay last year, says Bernanke’s $200,000 tab is too steep.

This is Jim Hightower saying… Is there no honor among thieves? What’s this world coming to when the robber barons won’t toss a couple of hundred thousand bailout crumbs to Ben, their loyal servant?

“Goldman CEO Blankfein To Earn $23 Million in 2013,” http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303973704579353170299234620, January 30, 2013.

“Springtime for Bankers,” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/opinion/krugman-springtime-for-bankers.html, May 19, 2014.

“Crisis Management, Rethought,” The New York Times, May 18, 2014.

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Wall Street rewards Ben and Tim for stiffing youBookmark and Share

Not only has the Wall Street bailout restored the banksters who wrecked our economy to full prosperity, it’s also paying off very handsomely for the bank overseers who orchestrated the bailout.

For example, as chairman of the Federal Reserve for six years, Ben Bernanke led the bucket brigade that poured trillions of public dollars into Wall Street’s vaults. So, he’s now on a global “Show Me Some Love” tour, pocketing up to $400,000 for each speech he delivers to the financial giants he rescued with our money.

Then there’s Timmy Geithner, whose chief responsibility as head of the New York Fed had been to regulate Wall Street’s reckless banks so their greed wouldn’t cause a nationwide financial crisis. But – oops! – they did exactly that on Timmy’s see-no-evil watch. Still, having proven himself a banker’s man, Geithner was promoted to be President Obama’s Treasury Secretary. There, he insisted that the government’s priority must be rescuing greedy bankers with taxpayer dollars, rather than saving the millions of American homeowners stuck with bloated mortgages, facing wage cuts and joblessness, and who were sinking into deep debt and poverty.

But, being a banker’s man, Geithner was not punished for his inept and morally-deplorable policies. Rather, he was richly rewarded with a top executive position as – what else? – a Wall Street banker. Now, he has published a book about his years of public screw-ups. Oh… sorry, I meant “public service.” Concluding that he was correct and courageous, Geithner’s book should’ve been titled: Heckuva Job, Timmy!

This is Jim Hightower saying… So Wall Street prospers, Ben and Tim wallow in wealth – and the real economy remains mired in the ditch of joblessness, low wages, household debt… and rising anger at the Wall Street/Washington cabal of self-serving elites who shoved them into that ditch.

“Springtime for Bankers,” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/opinion/krugman-springtime-for-bankers.html, May 19, 2014.

“Crisis Management, Rethought,” The New York Times, May 18, 2014.

Counterpunch on Banker Money in Colombia

Extinction Forecast for Indigenous Colombians

Plan Colombia’s Genocidal Legacy

by NICK ALEXANDROV

Extinction may well be the shared fate awaiting some 40 Colombian indigenous groups, UN official Todd Howland announced last month.  Howland’s assessment underlined the risks mining operations pose to these communities, and echoes the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia’s finding, presented last year, that 66 of the country’s 102 indigenous communities could soon vanish—“victims of a genocide that is forcing cultural and physical extermination.”  The government, for its part, considers mining “one of five ‘engines’ of the Colombian economy,” the U.S. Office on Colombia notes, adding that, in “the last twelve years, over 1.5 million hectares of Colombian land have been sold off to large-scale mining corporations for exploration and exploitation of Colombia’s extensive mineral deposits [.]”

These land sales mark one success of former President Álvaro Uribe’s (2002-2010) “Democratic Security and Defense Policy,” rolled out in 2003, and geared towards “defending Colombia’s sovereignty, the integrity of the territory and the constitutional order,” the government claimed.  The state’s expanded presence, consolidation of territorial control, and subsequent auctioning of acquired regions seem to be the real legacies of the Plan Colombia era, too often discussed in “counterdrug” terms, and thus dismissed as a failure.  A 2008 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) document, for example, pointed out that “coca cultivation and cocaine production levels [had] increased by about 15 and 4 percent, respectively” since the Plan’s 1999 launch, while Amnesty International mentions that “US policy has failed to reduce availability or use of cocaine in the US,” one indication that “Plan Colombia is a failure in every respect [.]”

Perhaps, but does Washington even want to roll back drug smuggling?  “The vast profits made from drug production and trafficking are overwhelmingly reaped in rich ‘consuming’ countries,” Ed Vulliamy wrote in the Guardian two years ago, summarizing two Colombian academics’ conclusions.  Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía’s research determined that “a staggering 97.4% of profits are reaped by criminal syndicates, and laundered by banks,” in Europe and the U.S.  How many bankers has the “drug war” put in jail?  Or would Washington undercut an ally’s source of funds?  The Colombian paramilitaries, for example, function as the army’s unofficial “Sixth Division,” according to Human Rights Watch.  And Carlos Castaño, the paramilitaries’ former leader, admitted in March 2000 that some 70% of their funding came from drug trafficking, an assessment in line with U.S. intelligence estimates, which “have consistently reported over a number of years that the paramilitaries are far more heavily involved than the FARC [guerrillas] in drug cultivation, refinement and transshipment to the US,” International Security expert Doug Stokes writes.

But while “counterdrug” efforts have been predictable failures, U.S.-supported Colombia policy has succeeded on other fronts.  The Colombian Ministry of National Defense, for instance, repeatedly stressed in its progress reports a decade ago that the state was aiming to increase its territorial control, and it appears to have achieved this goal.  In 1998, “the FARC controlled or operated freely in 40-60 percent of Colombian territory,” María Clemencia Ramírez Lemus, Kimberly Stanton and John Walsh write in their chapter in Drugs and Democracy in Latin America.  The GAO later found that, by 2003, the Colombian government had gained control of 70 percent of the nation’s territory, and “was in full or partial control of about 90 percent of the country in 2007,” its extended reach coinciding with the killing of tens of thousands, the displacement of millions—and heightened investor confidence.  “Capital is flowing back into Colombia,” a 2012 International Business Publications book on Colombia’s mining sector noted, “compared to a high rate of capital flight at the start of Plan Colombia.”

The government enhanced its territorial control as President Uribe reoriented Colombia’s economy, prioritizing “austerity, privatization, deregulation and export-led growth through trade liberalization,” York University Lecturer Jasmin Hristov wrote in a 2005 Journal of Peasant Studies article.  The Colombian state’s targets ranged far beyond the FARC, in other words, as it aimed to convert acquired land from a means of subsistence serving, say, indigenous communities into a profit source for foreign companies.  The U.S. Office on Colombia observes that “the government attacks indigenous lands under the guise of persecuting insurgent groups,” and that “statistics reveal a concerted effort to depopulate areas of mineral wealth”—particularly indigenous areas.  “Half of the land of each of 27 indigenous reservations has been titled for mining while 14 reservations have been completely granted for mineral exploration.”

The immediate consequences for indigenous Colombians are what one would expect, given how the policies just reviewed reflect an unmitigated contempt for their way of life.  For example, “the Cerrejón mine owned by Exxon-Mobil destroyed the entire village of Tabaco in 2001, and displaced all of its residents with the help of armed security forces,” Victoria McKenzie wrote for Colombia Reports.  In 2009, mining company AngloGold Ashanti arrived in the Cauca department, where “the government tried to evict the Afro-Colombian community in La Toma, in the Suárez municipality by declaring them ‘squatters in bad faith’ and giving them a date for eviction despite the fact that the inhabitant’s ancestors had lived on and mined the land since 1636,” the U.S. Office on Colombia explains.  Paramilitaries then “threatened the Afro-Colombians for their opposition to AngloGold Ashanti’s operations and declared these individuals ‘military objectives’ for ‘opposing national development.’”  Eight people were subsequently killed in La Toma in a 2010 massacre—and again, this is merely one example of some of the immediate consequences of Colombian state policy.  The longer-term predictions, as described at the start of this piece, foresee indigenous extermination.

The U.S. government, itself a specialist in cultural annihilation, has aided its Colombian ally with extreme generosity.  Plan Colombia “has been the biggest US military aid program outside the Middle East,” Al Jazeera’s Chris Arsenault writes, noting its $9.3 billion price tag and the fact that Colombia remains “the largest recipient of US military aid in Latin America.”  This funding’s beneficiaries commit sickening crimes.  Amnesty International reviewed them in its 2013 Colombia report: women and girls raped; tens of thousands of people forced from their homes; tens of thousands more disappeared; scores of human rights defenders and trade union members slaughtered.  These are the victims of U.S. foreign policy under both Bush and Obama—and regarding the latter, it seems the ruin of Colombian indigenous culture is one kind of change we can believe in.

Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, D.C.

 

Naked Capitalism on Selling the Lie

Michael Klare: Energy Companies Persuade Emerging Economies To Embrace Environmental Destruction, Erm, Growth

Posted: 28 May 2014 01:25 AM PDT

Yves here. One observation that is often made in advanced economies is that having their citizens reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is futile because emerging economies are not willing to adopt the same standards. For instance, China was particularly up in arms about the 2007 IPCC reports, and has taken the position in climate change confabs that since the West emitted lots of carbon in its course of development, younger economies have that right too.

What is not as well known, and what this post focuses on, is how major energy companies are stoking and reinforcing these attitudes, using the same playbook that the tobacco industry deployed so successfully. The article mentions coal exports in particular, and it’s worth noting that coal-burning electrical plants are particularly destructive from a climate change and health perspective (both mercury and particulate emissions).

By Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left.  A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Originally published at TomDispatch

In the 1980s, encountering regulatory restrictions and public resistance to smoking in the United States, the giant tobacco companies came up with a particularly effective strategy for sustaining their profit levels: sell more cigarettes in the developing world, where demand was strong and anti-tobacco regulation weak or nonexistent.  Now, the giant energy companies are taking a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook.  As concern over climate change begins to lower the demand for fossil fuels in the United States and Europe, they are accelerating their sales to developing nations, where demand is strong and climate-control measures weak or nonexistent.  That this will produce a colossal increase in climate-altering carbon emissions troubles them no more than the global spurt in smoking-related illnesses troubled the tobacco companies.

The tobacco industry’s shift from rich, developed nations to low- and middle-income countries has been well documented.  “With tobacco use declining in wealthier countries, tobacco companies are spending tens of billions of dollars a year on advertising, marketing, and sponsorship, much of it to increase sales in… developing countries,” the New York Times noted in a 2008 editorial.  To boost their sales, outfits like Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco also brought their legal and financial clout to bear to block the implementation of anti-smoking regulations in such places.  “They’re using litigation to threaten low- and middle-income countries,” Dr. Douglas Bettcher, head of the Tobacco Free Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the Times.

The fossil fuel companies — producers of oil, coal, and natural gas — are similarly expanding their operations in low- and middle-income countries where ensuring the growth of energy supplies is considered more critical than preventing climate catastrophe.  “There is a clear long-run shift in energy growth from the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the club of rich nations] to the non-OECD,” oil giant BP noted in its Energy Outlook report for 2014.  “Virtually all (95%) of the projected growth [in energy consumption] is in the non-OECD,” it added, using the polite new term for what used to be called the Third World.

As in the case of cigarette sales, the stepped-up delivery of fossil fuels to developing countries is doubly harmful.  Their targeting by Big Tobacco has produced a sharp rise in smoking-related illnesses among the poor in places where health systems are particularly ill equipped for those in need.  “If current trends continue,” the WHO reported in 2011, “by 2030 tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide each year, with 80% of these premature deaths among people living in low- and middle-income countries.”  In a similar fashion, an increase in carbon sales to such nations will help produce more intense storms and longer, more devastating droughts in places that are least prepared to withstand or cope with climate change’s perils.

The energy industry’s growing emphasis on sales to these particularly vulnerable lands is evident in the strategic planning of ExxonMobil, the largest privately owned oil company.  “By 2040, the world’s population is projected to grow to approximately 8.8 billion people,” Exxon notedin its 2013 financial report to stockholders.  “As economies and populations grow, and living standards improve for billions of people, the need for energy will continue to rise… This demand increase is expected to be concentrated in developing countries.”

This assessment, explained Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, will govern the company’s marketing plans in the years ahead.  “The global business environment continues to provide a mix of challenges and opportunities,” he told financial analysts at the New York Stock Exchange in March 2013.  While the demand for energy in the developed economies “remains relatively flat,” he noted, “energy demand for the economies of the non-OECD countries is expected to grow about 65% to support anticipated growth.”

In recognition of this trend, Exxon has undertaken a wide variety of initiatives intended to boost its sales capacity in China, Southeast Asia, and other rapidly developing areas.  In Singapore, for example, the company is expanding a refinery and petrochemical facility that make up its “largest integrated manufacturing site in the world.”  The refinery is being modified to produce more diesel, so as to better service the growing fleets of trucks, buses, and other heavy vehicles in the region.  Meanwhile, the hydrocarbon processing facility at the chemical plant is being doubled to meet the rising demand for petrochemicals used in making plastics and other consumer goods, especially in China.  (“China alone is expected to represent over half of global demand growth” for these products, Tillerson observed last year.)

To promote its products in China, Exxon has established a “strategic alliance” with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec), one of China’s state-owned energy giants.  A key goal of the alliance is the establishment of an “integrated world-scale refinery and petrochemical complex” in eastern China which, Exxon officials noted, is to “become a major marketer of petrochemicals throughout China and petroleum products throughout Fujian Province.”  A major component of this joint effort, the Fujian Refining and Ethylene Integrated Project, came on line in September 2009.

Exxon is also expanding its capacity to supply liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Asia.  In partnership with Qatar Petroleum, it has built the world’s largest LNG export facility at Ras Laffan in Qatar and is building a mammoth LNG operation in Papua New Guinea.  This $19 billion project, which began operation in April, includes a 430-mile pipeline to deliver gas from the island’s interior highlands to an export terminal near Port Moresby, the capital.  “The project is optimally located to serve growing Asia markets where LNG demand is expected to rise by approximately 165% between 2010 and 2025,” said Neil W. Duffin, president of ExxonMobil Development Company.

Next on the company’s agenda is a plan to draw on the natural gas being extracted in ever greater quantities from domestic shale formations in the United States via hydro-fracking and convert it into LNG for export to Asia.  Although various American politicians have been pushing the strategic export of such supplies to Europe to “rescue” that continent from its reliance on Russian gas, Exxon has other ideas.  It sees Asia, where gas prices are higher, as the natural market for its LNG — and U.S. foreign policy be damned.  “By exporting natural gas,” Tillerson told the Asia Society in June 2013, “the United States could shore up the energy security of Asian allies and trading partners and stimulate investment in American domestic production.”

Big Energy’s “Humanitarian” Mission

In promoting such policies, Exxon’s executives are careful to acknowledge that growing concerns over climate change are generating increased resistance to fossil fuel consumption in Europe and other First World areas.  When it comes to the rest of the planet, however, such concerns, they claim, should be outweighed by a “humanitarian” impulse to provide cheap fossil energy to poor people.  Drawing on the arguments of Danish environmental renegade Bjørn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, they argue that tending to the needs of the poor constitutes a greater priority than curbing global warming.  “We must also recognize that there is a humanitarian imperative to meeting these growing global energy needs,” Tillerson typically asserted in 2013.

Asked why global warming shouldn’t be of greater concern, the Exxon CEO parroted Lomberg’s anti-environmental perspective.  “I think there are much more pressing priorities that we… need to deal with,” Tillerson told the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2012.  “There are still hundreds of millions, billions of people living in abject poverty around the world.  They need electricity…  They need fuel to cook their food on that’s not animal dung…  They’d love to burn fossil fuels because their quality of life would rise immeasurably, and their quality of health and the health of their children and their future would rise immeasurably.  You’d save millions upon millions of lives by making fossil fuels more available to a lot of the part of the world that doesn’t have it.”

Although the leaders of the other giant energy firms, including BP, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell, are less outspoken than Tillerson, they are pursuing a similar marketing strategy.  “Demand growth [for petroleum products] comes exclusively from rapidly growing non-OECD economies,” BP noted in its recent report on the global energy outlook.  “China, India, and the Middle East account for nearly all of the net global increase.”  Like ExxonMobil, BP and the others are hard at work expanding their capacity to sell fossil fuels in these growing markets.

Nor are only the oil and gas companies pursuing this strategy.  So is Big Coal.  With coal demand declining in the U.S., thanks to the growing availability of low-cost natural gas generated by fracking, the coal firms are shipping ever more of their American output to Asia, which will contribute significantly to increasingly the carbon emissions there.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the Department of Energy, U.S. coal exports to China rose from essentially zero in 2007 to 10 million tons in 2012.  Exports to India increased from 1.5 million to seven million tons and to South Korea from virtually nothing to nine million.  Exports to just these three countries jumped by more than 1,000% during these years.

The EIA summarized the situation this way: “Companies in key parts of the U.S. coal supply chain — both producers and railways — have increased sales to Asia because of rising Asian coal demand, overall strong export prices, and lower U.S. consumption of coal to produce electric power.”  Looked at from another perspective, diminished carbon emissions from coal in the United States — much touted by President Obama in his embrace of natural gas — has no significance when it comes to climate change, because of the greeenhouse gases being produced when all that coal is consumed in Asia.

To increase sales yet more, the giant coal companies are promoting the construction of new shipping terminals on the West Coast, including two each in Oregon and Washington State.  The largest of these, the Gateway Pacific Terminal near Bellingham, Washington, will handle up to 48 million metric tons of coal a year, most of it destined for China and other Asian countries.

Although the terminals are often promoted by local officials as sources of new jobs, they are sparking fierce opposition from community activists and Native Americans who view them as posing a severe threat to the environment.  Claiming that coal dust and spills from trains and loading facilities will harm fishing sites they deem vital, members of the Lumni tribe are citing longstanding treaty rights in their efforts to block the Cherry Point Terminal, one of the planned Washington State facilities.

In the Pacific Northwest, opposition to the coal terminals and the rail lines that will be so crucial to their operation — some of which will traverse Indian reservations and pass through green-minded cities like Seattle — is gaining strength.  The process has been similar to the way climate activists mobilized against the Keystone XL pipeline that, if built, is slated to bring carbon-dense tar sands from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast.  But the coal companies and their allies are pushing back, insisting that their exports are essential to the country’s economic vitality.  “Unless the ports are built on the West Coast,” said Jason Hayes, a spokesman for the American Coal Council, U.S. suppliers won’t be viewed as “reliable business partners” in Asia.

Although community and tribal opposition may succeed in blocking or delaying a terminal or two, most analysts believe that, in the end, several will be built.  “There are two billion people in Asia who need more power, so eventually more U.S. coal will get onto global markets,”says Matt Preston, an analyst for the energy consultancy firm of Wood Mackenzie.

Perpetuating the Fossil Fuel Era

In the end, all these efforts to boost fossil fuel sales in Asia and other developing areas will have one unmistakable result: a sharp rise in global carbon emissions, with most of the growth in non-OECD countries.  According to the EIA, between 2010 and 2040 world carbon dioxide emissions from energy use — the main source of greenhouse gases — will rise by 46%, from 31.2 billion metric tons to 45.5 billion.  Little of this increase will officially be generated by the planet’s wealthiest countries, where energy demand is stagnant and tougher rules on carbon emissions are being put in place.  Instead, almost all of the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere — 94% of it — will be sloughed off on the developing world, even if a significant part of those emissions will come from the combustion of U.S. fossil fuel exports.

In the view of most scientists, an increase of carbon emissions on this scale will almost certainly lead to a global temperature rise of at least four degrees centigrade and possibly more by the end of this century.  That’s enough to ensure that the changes we are already seeing, including severe droughts, stronger storms, raging wildfires, and rising sea levels, will be eclipsed by exponentially greater perils in the future.

Everyone will share in the pain from such warming-induced catastrophes.  But people in developing lands — especially the poorest among them — will suffer more, because the societies they live in are least prepared to cope with severe catastrophes.  “Climate-related hazards exacerbate other [socioeconomic] stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty,” the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change observed in its most recent assessment of what global warming will mean for planet Earth.  “Climate-related hazards affect poor people’s lives directly, through impacts on livelihoods, reduction in crop yields, or destruction of homes, and indirectly through, for example, increased food prices and food insecurity.”

Certainly, the giant fossil fuel companies bear a moral, if not as yet in our society a legal, responsibility for the intensification of climate change and the lack of serious response to it.  Beyond this, their carefully planned strategy of selling carbon products to those most at risk can only be viewed as outright immorality.  Just as health officials now condemn Big Tobacco’s emphasis on cigarette sales to poor people in countries with inadequate health systems, so someday Big Energy’s new “smoking” habit will be deemed a massive threat to human survival.

Above all, Big Energy is insuring that one small ray of good news when it comes to climate change — the contracting use of coal, oil, and gas across the developed world — will prove meaningless.  The economic incentive to sell fossil fuels to developing countries is undeniably powerful.  The need for increased energy in developing countries is no less indisputable.  In the long run, the only way to meet these needs without endangering our global future would be through a mammoth drive to expand renewable energy options there, not by shoving carbon products down their throats.  Rex Tillerson and his cohorts will continue to claim that they are performing a “humanitarian” service with their new “tobacco” strategy.  Instead, they are actually perpetuating the fossil fuel era and helping to create a future humanitarian catastrophe of apocalyptic dimensions.

 

Robert Kennedy: Benghazi vs. Beirut

Benghazi vs Beirut

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

05/19/14

My uncle, President John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning best-seller Profiles in Courage recounted the stories of courageous U.S. Senators—Republicans and Democrats—who chose patriotism over partisanship and sacrificed personal ambition to national welfare. The GOP’s recent efforts to gin up presidential scandals in punitive hearings, media lynchings, and weekly calls for impeachment, evince a party-wide pathology that puts partisanship over patriotism. For Republicans who believe that patriotism ends with lapel pins and cowboy costumes, it might be useful to consider some historical examples of true patriotism by a political party.

At 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove a six-ton truckload of high explosives through a lightly fortified plywood fence, past two marine guards with no bullets in their rifles, and detonated his payload at the Beirut airport. The largest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded toppled the four story U.S. marine barracks from its foundation and killed 241 sleeping soldiers. It was the deadliest day for the Marine Corps since Iwo Jima.

Ignoring protests by Congressional Democrats and his own Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, President Reagan had sent the marines to protect Beirut’s airport during the bloody civil war that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon to expel the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Citing the April 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut, where 63 people died including 17 Americans, Weinberger and Congressional Democrats had argued that Reagan’s plans for deploying additional marines to Beirut would make the American soldiers “sitting ducks.” Worse yet, because Reagan had labeled the marines “peacekeepers,” he ordered them not to appear “warlike.” Their orders forbade them from erecting fortifications or perimeter fences or loading their weapons. Weinberger had entreated Reagan to station the soldiers in a less vulnerable redoubt, instead of the highly exposed and indefensible airport barracks building. Weinberger later lamented.

I was not persuasive enough to persuade the president that the marines were there on an impossible mission. They had no mission but to sit at the airport which is just like sitting in a bull’s-eye. I begged the President to put them back on their transports as a more defensible position.

The American press pilloried President Reagan for putting the marines and servicemen in harm’s way without ammunition or any clear mission during a violent civil war in a country rife with sophisticated suicide bombers and a history of successful attacks against Americans. CBS Evening News reported,

the marines rely on the inexperienced Lebanese army to check vehicles. Today, all kinds of vehicles were being waved right through without the slightest verification… the question remains what are the marines doing in Beirut? They are here to prop up a government that still controls only a part of Beirut and none of the rest of the country, and are being told to sit at the Beirut airport where they became prime targets.

Richard Threlkead of ABC’s World News Tonight invoked the bitter refrain from Alfred Lloyd Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade, the poet’s rant against idiotic commanders and chicken-hawk politicians; “Tennyson would have understood it,” he said angrily. “‘Theirs is not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.'”

Reagan’s response to press badgering about the absence of ammunition and protective barriers only stirred public anger about the president’s lack of concern for troop safety. Reagan’s explanation for the blunder seemed flippant, “Anyone who ever had a kitchen done over knows that it never gets done as soon as you wish it would be.”

Late on the evening of the deadly attack, top Congressional leaders including House Speaker, Tip O’Neill became even more unsettled while attending a secret meeting with the president, his cabinet and Joint Chiefs of Staff in the White House residence where they had been spirited in separated cars and through secret corridors from the Old Executive Building.

Reagan began with a story of the Filipino people who supposedly greeted American marines with flowers and flags as they landed on Philippine beaches during World War II. A flummoxed Tip O’Neill considered that story to be apocryphal — perhaps, a scene from an old movie. Reagan next pledged to the stunned Congressional leaders that he would never allow the terrorists to drive the marines from Beirut and promised that the U.S. would only abandon its watch when peace was assured. He predicted, “I can see the day, not too many weeks from now when the Lebanese people will be standing at the shore, waving and cheering our marines when they depart.”

Impatient, O’Neill pounded the table, interrupting Reagan’s sentimental flight of fancy. O’Neill demanded loudly, “Mr. President, you are going to have to tell Americans why Americans are in Lebanon?” O’Neill’s forceful response shocked Reagan speechless. Majority Senate Leader Howard Baker, soothed Reagan gently, “Mr. President, he’s not being critical. He’s one of your strongest supporters… he’s trying to give you the facts of life.” As the meeting ended, O’Neill in a gesture of warmth and support, reached out and touched Reagan’s sleeve, “Good luck.” O’Neill had considered Reagan’s Lebanon enterprise a fool’s errand from the outset, and had predicted it would end tragically. But the following day, he made what Congressional Democrats called the most passionate appeal of his tenure as speaker. He told the closed Democratic caucus that “it was their duty, now, not to criticize but to support their President and to do nothing to undermine him no matter what the political advantage.” O’Neill told them that it was time for “patriotism over partisanship.”

The subsequent Defense Department investigation placed blame directly on the White House for the tragedy. Following the bombing, a bitter Weinberger refused a direct presidential order to launch retaliatory strikes against Shiite encampments in Beirut and summarily withdrew the remaining 1,600 marines from Lebanon.

Four years later, Reagan was caught illegally selling 2,000 missiles to the Iranian terror state in violation of American law and a U.S.-led international arms embargo. Reagan had used the proceeds of that criminal enterprise to illegally fund Nicaraguan terrorists in violation of American laws forbidding the president from financially supporting the Contras. Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger had opposed the Iran/Contra deal from the outset. Shultz warned the president during its planning stages that funding the Contras was “an impeachable offense.” The fact that the White House traded some missiles for hostages, set off a brisk bout of new hostage taking across the Mid-East. Looking directly into the television camera Reagan publicly told the American people that he had known nothing about the caper. A week later, the press uncovered documents authorizing the arms for hostages deal — signed and approved by Reagan in his own handwriting. Reagan was forced to publicly acknowledge his deceit. Instead of politically exploiting this impeccably documented spree of high crimes and felonies by the president and his henchmen, the Democratically controlled Congress instead pursued a deliberate path to avoid impeachment proceedings that might distract the country from urgent economic and foreign policy concerns. Tip O’Neill working side by side with Senate Republicans took impeachment off the table and then hammered out a quiet deal under which Reagan fired his high level staff and brought Senator Howard Baker in to supervise a house cleaning and allow Reagan to serve out his term in dignity.

That was an era when patriotic politicians put their country’s interest above their narrow political agendas, a time when politics was an honorable profession and the men who wielded gavels loved their country more than they loved power.

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5353757

Jim Hightower on Wall Street Untouchables

Sniffing the ethical rot in Wall Street’s culture

Thursday, May 22, 2014   |   Posted by Jim Hightower

Let’s review the rap sheet of Wall Street banks: Defrauding investors, cheating homeowners, money laundering, rigging markets, tax evasion, credit card ripoffs… and so sickeningly much more.

At last, though, some of the cops on the bank beat seem to be having regulatory epiphanies. The New York Times reports that some financial overseers are questioning “whether such misdeeds are not the work of a few bad actors, but rather a flaw that runs through the fabric of the banking industry… Regulators are starting to ask: Is there something rotten in bank culture?

Really. Where’ve they been?

Millions of everyday Americans sniffed out that rot back in 2007 at the start of the Wall Street collapse and nauseating bailout. Imagine how pleased they are that it took only seven years for the stench of bank rot to reach the tender nostrils of authorities. Still, even sloooww progress is progress.

Both the head of the New York Fed and the Comptroller of the Currency are at least grasping one basic reality, namely that the tightened regulations enacted to deal with the “too big to fail” issue do nothing about the fundamental ethical collapse among America’s big bankers. The problem is that, again and again, Wall Street’s culture of greed is rewarded – bank bosses preside over gross illegalities, are not punished, pocket multimillion-dollar bonuses despite their shoddy ethics, and blithely proceed to the next scandal.

More restraint on bank processes miss a core fact: Banks don’t engage in wrongdoing, bankers do. As Comptroller Tom Curry says, the approach to this problem is not to call in more lawyers, “It is more like a priest-penitent relationship.”

Public shaming can be useful, but it should include actual punishment of the top bosses – take away their bonuses, fire them, and prosecute them!

“Questions Are Asked of Rot in Banking Culture,” The New York Times, March 13, 2014.