Links roundup: Corporate hijinks to ecocide

BP hires a mouthpiece with a spooky past

Stephen Lendman asks all the right questions about Stanley Sporkin, the lawyer hired by BP as its corporate ombudsman. Sporkin’s role at BP only recapitulates his previous involvement in some of the darker corners of recent U.S. history, as Lendman makes clear:

Why did BP hire him as ombudsman, a man with a history of CIA involvement, signing off on a falsified federal court affidavit, and targeting legitimate businesses to facilitate massive government fraud and market manipulation?

Was he asked to work for or against BP worker interests? Is his role to whitewash company safety violations, 760 of them called “egregious and willful,” according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis? Did he ignore, downplay, or suppress years of shoddy maintenance and environmental destruction? Is he involved in punishing employees who express concerns? What does he know about harmful company practices and top officials involved? Why is he handsomely compensated? Is it for complicity in a cover-up.

Why aren’t the media asking tough questions and demanding answers? What could he have done to prevent perhaps the greatest ever ecological disaster?

When will we get straight answers from him, his boss, other BP officials, top administration ones, and the president, a man who talks plenty and says nothing? When will accountability replace government and corporate crime? The public has a right to know.

So Petraeus’ll fix Kabul the way he did Baghdad?

Juan Cole at Informed Comment offers some perspective to help those like esnl who are still dizzy from the media spinning on the McChrystal meltdown:

It is frequently asserted that Gen. Petraeus “succeeded” in Iraq via a troop escalation or “surge” of 30,000 extra US troops that he dedicated to counter-insurgency purposes in al-Anbar and Baghdad Provinces.

But it would be a huge mistake to see Iraq either as a success story or as stable. It is the scene of an ongoing civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that is killing roughly 300 civilians a month. It can’t form a government months after the March 7 elections, even though the outcomes are known, having a permanently hung parliament, wherein the four major parties find it difficult to agree on a prime minister. The political vacuum has proved an opening for Sunni Arab insurgents, who have mounted effective bombing campaigns and more recently are targeting the banks. And now the caretaker government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is being shaken by a wave of violent mass protests even in Shiite cities that voted for him, against his government’s failure to provide key services, especially electricity in the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave. On Saturday, a big protest rally denouncing the lack of electricity turned violent, and police shot dead two protesters. In some parts of Iraq temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and few places have electricity more than 6 or 7 hours a day. The minister of electricity has been forced to resign. On Thursday, the headline in al-Zaman, the Times of Baghdad, read “Electricity Uprisings Break out in Hilla and Diyala under the Banner of Ousting al-Maliki.” If the caretaker government falls in the face of this popular pressure before parliament can agree on a new prime minister, there would be a dreadful security vacuum and a constitutional crisis.

California casino’s prey on welfare recipients

Nobody’s more susceptible to the promise of getting rich quick that the very poor, who have always patronized games of chance, starting in this country in the days when the mob ran the numbers racket on the street of New York and Chicago.

So esnl’s not surprised to learn that The L.A. Times Blogs are reporting that California’s casino’s are rolling in welfare cash.

California welfare recipients withdrew more than $1.8 million in taxpayer cash on casino floors between October 2009 and May 2010, state officials said Thursday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also issued an executive order Thursday requiring welfare recipients to sign a pledge that they will use their cash benefits only to “meet the basic subsistence needs” of their families. It gave the state Department of Social Services seven days to produce a plan to reduce other types of “waste, fraud and abuse” in the welfare program.

The moves come in response to a Los Angeles Times story describing how Department of Social Services officials failed to notice that the debit cards they issue to welfare recipients could be used at more than half of the tribal casinos and state-licensed poker rooms in California.

Ocean pollution: Already greatest threat to humanity

Arthur Max of the Associated Press brings today’s most ominous story, word

that we’ve already contaminated so extensively our lives are in danger.

Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth’s oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood.

A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

“These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean,” said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.

The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish — the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid — typically have levels of about 1 part per million.

The whales studied averaged 2.4 parts of mercury per million, but the report’s authors said their internal organs probably had much higher levels than the skin samples contained.

“The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings,” Payne said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting.

Payne said sperm whales, which occupy the top of the food chain, absorb the contaminants and pass them on to the next generation when a female nurses her calf. “What she’s actually doing is dumping her lifetime accumulation of that fat-soluble stuff into her baby,” he said, and each generation passes on more to the next.

Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.

“You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what’s going on,” he said.

Meanwhile, back at the Gulf: BP cremates turtles

BP, already notorious for keeping the media away from the stunning visual images of the damage inflicted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, has been perpetrating another act of villainy, critics say: Burning endangered sea turtles alive.

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent of The Guardian, reports:

Endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures are being corralled into 500 square-mile “burn fields” and burnt alive in operations intended to contain oil from BP’s ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration confirmed today.

The killing of the turtles – which once teetered on the brink of extinction – has outraged environmentalists and could put BP into even deeper legal jeopardy.

Environmental organisations are demanding that the oil company stop blocking rescue of the turtles, and are pressing the US administration to halt the burning and look at prosecuting BP and its contractors for killing endangered species during the cleanup operation. Harming or killing a sea turtle carries fines of up to $50,000 (£33,000).

“It is criminal and cruel and they need to be held accountable,” said Carole Allen, Gulf office director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “There should not be another lighting of a fire of any kind till people have gone in there and looked for turtles.”

The Obama administration, confirming the kills, said BP was under orders to avoid the turtles. “My understanding is that protocols include looking for wildlife prior to igniting of oil,” a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said. “We take these things very seriously.”

The agency this week posted a single turtle spotter on the burn vessels, but government scientists are pressing for more wildlife experts to try to rescue the animals before the oil is lit – or at the very least to give them access to the burn fields.

Piling disaster on top of disaster

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf’s last major disaster, Habitat for Humanity came to the rescue of 200 families who’d lost their homes, being replacements.

There’s just one problem. The hurricane survivors are discovering that at least some of their homes have been fitted out with that noxious Chinese drywall, write Joaquin Sapien of ProPublica and Aaron Kessler of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

For more than a year, the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity has insisted there were no defects in the Chinese drywall it used to build nearly 200 houses for victims of Hurricane Katrina, including many in its heavily publicized “Musicians’ Village’’ development in the Upper Ninth Ward.

But a house-by-house canvas of Musicians’ Village by reporters from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and ProPublica found several homeowners who reported serious problems and one who said she had complained to Habitat for more than a year about corrosion and electronics failures believed to be related to her drywall.

The reporters’ interviews with dozens of residents also turned up a second potentially significant problem: Some of the homes that Habitat officials believed had been built with American-made drywall actually contain a Chinese product instead.


A Habitat spokeswoman said the investigation has already confirmed that five houses have Chinese drywall and are exhibiting problems associated with the product, such as corroded electrical wiring.

Preaching the corporate responsibility gospel

With so many corporations doing so much to make a world less inhabitable, it’s nice to see a call for reform — one with the promise of some teeth behind it.

But calls and promises have been heard before, so esnl won’t be holding his breath, despite this story from Thalif Deen of the Inter Press Service News Agency:

The United Nations is sending a strong message to the world’s corporate sector: abide by the rules of social and ethical conduct or risk being politically ostracised.

Speaking at a two-day summit meeting of over 1,200 business executives, which concluded Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that businesses must move away from their devotion to short-term profits and adhere to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Over the past two years, he said, the United Nations has “de-listed” over 1,300 companies for failing to communicate progress in implementing 10 ethical principles that corporations are expected to honour when they join the U.N’s Global Compact.

“The compact may be a voluntary initiative, but that doesn’t mean we lack teeth in policing it,” he told the summit meeting, described as one of the world’s biggest gatherings of business executives under one roof.

The 10 U.N. values and principles cover issues relating to human rights, labour regulations, environmental standards and anti-corruption measures.

French youth stage massive protest — for their pensions

Nobody can accuse the young of France of short-term thinking. Nearly a million young French folk took to the streets last week to protest government calls to tack two years onto the current retirement age of 60, the Associated Press reported.

The front lines of the latest French protest against raising the retirement age revealed a remarkable sight: Not the slightest wrinkle, not a single gray hair.

Brandishing ‘’Save our Pensions!’‘ banners, students who haven’t even entered the job market yet are already worried about what happens when they leave it.

Welcome to France, where workers’ rights are so deeply entwined into the culture that even teenagers are unsettled about plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, which is still among the lowest in Europe. The reform protest brought nearly a million people out into the streets across the country Thursday.

Young people fear they will lose the most from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reforms, which aim to cut France’s ballooning deficit and make the money-losing pension system break even starting in 2018.

Let’s see if we can bring some of them over here, now that Social Security seems to be on the GOP chopping block.

Finally, if there’s not enough to worry about

Zoologists have raised alarm calls over massive worldwide die-offs of amphibians, honeybees, and snakes. And now there’s another species under threat, according to the a Miami Herald story out of Leesburg, Florida.

A large commercial insect farm that provided millions of crickets to Florida theme parks, zoos and reptile owners has been silenced by a quick-spreading virus.

The Lucky Lure Cricket Farm in central Florida has been forced to file for bankruptcy after a virus contaminated the facility and wiped out the cricket colonies earlier this year.

The densovirus is also believed to have destroyed similar farms in Europe, and has caused a nationwide shortage of crickets, a staple food for pet lizards and other reptiles.


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