Friday, September 11, 2009
The legal battle between indigenous communities in Ecuador and oil giant Chevron is a fight sixteen years in the making. This unprecedented lawsuit holds Chevron accountable for the clean-up of the damages it has done to the once pristine Amazonian rainforest and the people who call it home. Dubbed the 'Amazon Chernobyl', the land inhabited by indigenous communities for generations has been left contaminated beyond imagination.
With all the evidence pointing to Chevron's guilt, a judgment of potentially $27 billion was expected to be handed down against the company as early as next month in Ecuador.
Chevron - one of the wealthiest corporations in world history - has already said that it will refuse to pay, requiring U.S. courts to enforce any potential fine. Chevron's legal strategy before a U.S. court would almost certainly be centered on convincing the court that the company did not receive a fair trial in Ecuador; thus, Chevron has a strong incentive to build a case now against the Ecuadorian court.
This "evidence" magically emerged last week when the oil giant took dirty measures to avoid cleaning up its mess. Chevron appears to have resorted to its own Nixon-style sting operation in an attempt to delay and corrupt trial proceedings by releasing grainy online videos trying to implicate the judge presiding over the trial in a $3 billion bribery scheme.
Chevron's attempt at smoke and mirrors would be laughable if the results were not so serious. While asserting that no impropriety occurred, hoping to avert any further effort by Chevron to delay or de-legitimize a ruling, the judge recused himself from the case last week.
This "bribery plot" is just the latest in a string of underhanded - and potentially illegal - attempts by Chevron to derail the case and distract from the fact of Chevron's obvious guilt. The timing is also suspicious given this week's release of the groundbreaking and critically-acclaimed documentary film about the case, CRUDE: the real price of oil.
* See "CRUDE: The Real Price of Oil" at a movie theater near you!
* Visit the ChevronToxico website for action steps to take right now!
* Join Global Exchange on a Reality Tour to Ecuador in November!
* Attend the West Coast Convergence for Climate Justice & Action to learn more!
Thank you, as always, for your work on behalf of peace & justice,
Antonia Juhasz, Director, The Chevron Program, Global Exchange
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Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Ben Bernanke's Bad Memory
By Dean Baker
To combat the financial crisis set off by the collapse of the housing bubble, the Federal Reserve Board has lent out more than $2 trillion through various special lending facilities. While the Fed discloses aggregate information on the loans made through each of the facilities, it will not disclose how much money it lent to specific banks or under what terms. By contrast, the Treasury puts this information about its $700 billion TARP bailout up on its website.
Partly in response to this huge increase in the Fed's power (its secret lending is equal to two-thirds of the federal budget), more than 270 representatives in Congress have co-sponsored a bill that would have the Government Accountability Office audit the Fed. In principle, this audit would examine the Fed's loans and report back to the relevant congressional committees, which could decide to make this information public.
Most people might consider it perfectly reasonable to have Congress's auditing arm review what the Fed has done with $2 trillion of the taxpayer's money to ensure that everything is proper. After all, we wouldn't let other government agencies spend one millionth of this amount ($2 million) without some sort of record that could be verified.
However, the Fed and its chairman Ben Bernanke do not see it this way. Mr. Bernanke warned Congress last month that such an audit could jeopardize the Fed's independence, which in turn: "could raise fears about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates and reduced economic and financial stability."
Okay, Ben Bernanke warned Congress that if the Fed had less independence, it could lead to "reduced economic and financial stability." We have just been through a year in which the "Great Depression" was a more frequent topic of conversations that the Superbowl, World Series, and Oscars combined. In fact, Mr. Bernanke is given credit for preventing another Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office is now projecting that unemployment will average in the double digits through 2010 and it will not be until 2014 that the unemployment rate falls back to its normal level.
Did Mr. Bernanke forget about the current state of the economy and the financial collapse that he was frantically trying to head off when he warned Congress that if the Fed were less independent, it could lead to "reduced economic and financial stability"? After all, how do you get less economic and financial stability than the Great Depression?
This is not the first time when Ben Bernanke's memory appears to have failed him when we was addressing Congress about an important policy issue. Last September, when he was telling Congress that the economy would collapse if it did not approve the $700 billion TARP bailout, he warned that the commercial paper market was shutting down.
This was hugely important because most major companies rely on selling commercial paper to meet their payrolls and pay other routine bills. If they could not sell commercial paper, then millions of people would soon be laid off and the economy would literally collapse.
What Mr. Bernanke apparently forgot to tell Congress back then is that the Fed has the authority to directly buy commercial paper from financial and non-financial companies. In other words, the Fed has the power to prevent the sort of economic collapse that Bernanke warned would happen if Congress did not quickly approve the TARP. In fact, Bernanke announced that the Fed would create a special lending facility to buy commercial paper the weekend after Congress voted to approve the TARP.
Mr. Bernanke has taken extraordinary measures in the last year that have been successful in preventing a much worse downturn. Nonetheless, Congress should not forget that it was incredible mismanagement by Bernanke and his predecessor Alan Greenspan that brought about this disaster in the first place. If Mr. Bernanke is approved for another term, as seems likely, Congress should not be hesitant to use more oversight than it did in past years. And it certainly should not let the Fed send $2 trillion out the door without a verifiable paper trail.
Given the track record for Mr. Bernanke's version of bank independence, it is hard to imagine that greater congressional oversight would lead to worse outcomes.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Rally Against Wall Street's Health Care Takeover
by Wendell Potter
Saturday, August 29 I had the good fortune to speak at a community rally for health care reform in a city park in downtown Portland, Oregon. It was a broad-based and diverse group with many signs and placards supporting the 'public option' being debated by Congress, and others calling for 'single payer' reform like that working effectively in other countries such as Canada. Here is what I said:
I would like to begin by apologizing to all of you for the role I played 15 years ago in cheating you out of a reformed health care system. Had it not been for greedy insurance companies and other special interests, and their army of lobbyists and spin-doctors like I used to be, we wouldn't be here today.
I'm ashamed that I let myself get caught up in deceitful and dishonest PR campaigns that worked so well, hundreds of thousands of our citizens have died, and millions of others have lost their homes and been forced into bankruptcy, so that a very few corporate executives and their Wall Street masters could become obscenely rich.
Read the rest of Wendell Potter's speech here
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through it. With the Democrats in control of Congress but Bush still in the Oval Office, the media would certainly be talking endlessly about a mandate for bipartisanship and the importance of taking into account the concerns of Republicans. Can't you just picture it?
I picture this demonic president still swearing he doesn't torture, still insisting that he wants to close Guantánamo, but assuring his subordinates that the commander-in-chief has the power to torture "if needed," and maintaining a prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that makes Guantánamo look like summer camp. I can imagine him continuing to keep secret his warrantless spying programs while protecting the corporations and government officials involved.
If Bush were in his third term, we would already have seen him propose, yet again, the largest military budget in the history of the world. We might well have seen him pretend he was including war funding in the standard budget, and then claim that one final supplemental war budget was still needed, immediately after which he would surely announce that yet another war supplemental bill would be needed down the road. And of course, he would have held onto his secretary of defense from his second term, Robert Gates, to run the Pentagon, keep our ongoing wars rolling along, and oversee the better part of our public budget.
Bush would undoubtedly be following through on the agreement he signed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for all US troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 (except where he chose not to follow through). His generals would, in the meantime, be leaking word that the United States never intended to actually leave. He'd surely be maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq, while sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and talking about a new "surge" there. He'd probably also be escalating the campaign he launched late in his second term to use drone aircraft to illegally and repeatedly strike into Pakistan's tribal borderlands with Afghanistan.
If Bush were still "the decider" he'd be employing mercenaries like Blackwater and propagandists like the Rendon Group and he might even be expanding the number of private security contractors in Afghanistan. In fact, the whole executive branch would be packed with disreputable corporate executive types. You'd have somebody like John ("May I torture this one some more, please?") Rizzo still serving , at least for a while, as general counsel at the CIA. The White House and Justice Department would be crawling with corporate cronies, people like John Brennan, Greg Craig, James Jones, and Eric Holder. Most of the top prosecutors hired at the Department of Justice for political purposes would still be on the job. And political prisoners, like former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and former top Democratic donor Paul Minor would still be abandoned to their fate.
In addition, the bank bailouts Bush and his economic team initiated in his second term would still be rolling along--with a similar crowd of people running the show. Ben Bernanke, for instance, would certainly have been reappointed to run the Fed. And Bush's third term would have guaranteed that there would be none of the monkeying around with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Democrats proposed or promised in their losing presidential campaign. At this point in Bush's third term, no significant new effort would have begun to restore Katrina-decimated New Orleans either.
If the Democrats in Congress attempted to pass any set of needed reforms like, to take an example, new healthcare legislation, Bush, the third-termer, would have held secret meetings in the White House with insurance and drug company executives to devise a means to turn such proposals to their advantage. And he would have refused to release the visitor logs so that the American public would have no way of knowing just whom he'd been talking to.
During Bush's second term, some of the lowest-ranking torturers from Abu Ghraib were prosecuted as bad apples, while those officials responsible for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib remained untouched. If the public continued to push for justice for torturers during the early months of Bush's third term, he would certainly have gone with another "bad apple" approach, perhaps targeting only low-ranking CIA interrogators and CIA contractors for prosecution. Bush would undoubtedly have decreed that any higher-ups would not be touched, that we should now be looking forward, not backward. And he would thereby have cemented in place the power of presidents to grant immunity for crimes they themselves authorized.
If Bush were in his third term, some of his first and second term secrets might, by now, have been forced out into the open by lawsuits, but what Americans actually read wouldn't be significantly worse than what we'd already known. What documents saw the light of day would surely have had large portions of their pages redacted, and the vast bulk of documentation that might prove threatening would remain hidden from the public eye. Bush's lawyers would be fighting in court, with ever grander claims of executive power, to keep his wrongdoing out of sight.
Now, here's the funny part. This dark fantasy of a third Bush term is also an accurate portrait of Obama's first term to date. In following Bush, Obama was given the opportunity either to restore the rule of law and the balance of powers or to firmly establish in place what were otherwise aberrant abuses of power. Thus far, President Obama has, in all the areas mentioned above, chosen the latter course. Everything described, from the continuation of crimes to the efforts to hide them away, from the corruption of corporate power to the assertion of the executive power to legislate, is Obama's presidency in its first seven months.
Which doesn't mean there aren't differences in the two moments. For one thing, Democrats have now joined Republicans in approving expanded presidential powers and even--in the case of wars, military strikes, lawless detention and rendition, warrantless spying, and the obstruction of justice--presidential crimes. In addition, in the new Democratic era of goodwill, peace and justice movements have been strikingly defunded and, in some cases, even shut down. Many progressive groups now, in fact, take their signals from the president and his team, rather than bringing the public's demands to his doorstep.
If we really were in Bush's third term, people would be far more active and outraged. There would already be a major push to really end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan. Undoubtedly, the Democrats still wouldn't impeach Bush, especially since they'd be able to vote him out before his fourth term, and surely four more years of him wouldn't make all that much difference.
About David SwansonDavid Swanson is the author of the new book Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (Seven Stories Press, 2009). He holds a master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia and served as press secretary for Kucinich for President in 2004. more...
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