Category Archives: Governance

Chevron’s malignant legacies in Ecuador, Bay Area


In the second of three programs on the brutal policies of a global oil giant [first part here], Abby Martin looks at the lethal pollution of Ecuador’s land and water by an American oil giant, a bizarre U.S. court ruling made by a judge who owns stock in the company, the the firm’s heavy-handed politics in Richmond, California.

During our six years at the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered environmental politics in nearby Richmond, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s poorest communities, and watched as Chevron Texaco fought to control city council elections to ensure that operations at the company’s massive refinery were unhindered by council members’ concerns about dangers to the health and safety of their constituents.

Martin lived nearby and saw firsthand how the company spared no expense in courts and in political and public relations campaigns, and we’re glad that the issue will gain wider exposure through her efforts.

And now, one with the shot.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – The Environmental Trial of the Century

Program files:

In Part II of this three-part series, The Empire Files continues the investigation into the battle between Chevron Texaco and Ecuador.

In this installment, Abby Martin uncovers what really happened throughout the 22-year legal battle between the oil corporation and indigenous Amazonians, interviewing lead attorney for the case, Pablo Fajardo.

This episode also chronicles the shameful, scandalous history of Chevron Texaco—from the support of Hitler’s Nazi movement, to backing war crimes in Myanmar—and its retaliatory attacks against its victims.

Philippine legalized lynching slammed by U.N.


The victims, slaughtered by the hundreds, are suspected drug dealers, and journalists have also been warned they may become the next targets of President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office 30 June.

And no one should’ve been surprised.

As Time reported Tuesday:

In a span of six weeks, the Philippines’ new President, Rodrigo Duterte, has made international headlines for the hundreds of suspects killed in his war on crime. Since he took office on June 30, an average of 13 people a day have been either assassinated in public by masked assailants, killed by police without further investigation, or found as unidentified bodies on the streets, often balled up in packing tape with signs saying variations of: “Don’t follow me, I’m a criminal.” Duterte’s supporters celebrate these killings as necessary comeuppance, while his critics condemn the violence as precarious violations of due process and human rights. Yet the President’s seemingly outrageous actions are merely part of the Philippines’ deeply entrenched culture of impunity. What is frightening is that so few people realize that yet.

President Duterte’s approval rating was recently a historic 91%, and he is seen by fans and foes alike as decisive and effective, promising sweeping reforms and bringing about the surrender of tens of thousands of drug users and self-confessed dealers before they can be killed. Yet Duterte has also vowed to pardon any police and military involved in the extrajudicial killings, while also pledging to pardon himself. He has ensconced his daughter and son as mayor and vice mayor of the city that he ruled for two decades, while also refusing to fully answer allegations about hidden wealth.

More alarmingly, in what seems an effort to systematically undermine the traditional democratic checks and balances to his authority, Duterte has threatened to shut down the legislature if it hinders his plans, invoked the specter of martial law when criticized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and insulted concerned foreign ambassadors. He has chipped at the influence of the Catholic Church by emphasizing its corruption. And he has warned that members of the media are not protected from assassination: “The Constitution can no longer help you,” Duterte told reporters, “if you disrespect a person.”

And earlier this month, the New York Times reported, Duterte:

publicly accused scores of judges, mayors, lawmakers, military personnel and police officers of involvement with the illegal drug trade, giving them 24 hours to surrender for investigation or, he said, be “hunted” down.

Mr. Duterte rejected calls last week from international human rights groups to observe due process in the war he has declared on both sellers and users of illicit drugs, after a photograph of a drug user shot and killed by vigilantes made it to the front pages and became a symbol for the bloody antidrug campaign.

“I ordered the listing. I ordered the validation,” he said Sunday in a nationally televised speech at a naval base, referring to the roughly 150 people he mentioned by name. “I’m the one reading it, and I am the sole person responsible for these all.”

Al Jazeera reported remarks Duterte made shortly before his announcement:

Earlier on Saturday, Duterte had vowed to keep his “shoot-to-kill” order “until the last day of my term, if I’m still alive by then”.

“I don’t care about human rights, believe me,” he said, according to official transcripts released by the presidential palace.

About 800 people have been killed since Duterte won a landslide election in May, according to reports by the local press, which has been tracking reports of extra-judicial killings.

Before his assumption of the presidency, Duterte had been mayor Davao City, where under his watch he had encouraged vigilante groups, known as the Davao Death Squads, believed responsible for more than a 1,000 murders.

Duterte made no bones [or, rather he did, in Mafia parlance, declaring in 2009, “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”

Duterte, who some have called the Philippine Donald Trump, has brought his ruthless policies onto the national stage with his assumption of presidential powers.

And now he’s giving the finger to the United Nations

The latest development, reported by United Press International:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threatened Sunday to leave the United Nations over criticism of his pursuit of drug dealers.

In his hometown of Davao City, where he spent two decades as mayor before becoming president in a landslide election in May, Duterte suggested the Philippines could align itself with China and African countries to form a more useful international body.

“Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you are that insulting, we should just leave. Take us out of your organization. You have done nothing anyway. When were you here last time? Nothing. Never. Except to criticize,” he told the Davao City audience.

Two U.N. human rights specialists last week called Duterte’s orders an “incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law.” U.N. Secretary General; Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime were critical of Duterte’s “apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Agence France Presse has more on the U.N.’s rebuke

The UN’s special rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, last week said Duterte’s promise of immunity and bounties to security forces who killed drug suspects violated international law.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June also strongly criticised Duterte, who during the election campaign promised to kill 100,000 people and dump so many bodies in Manila Bay that the fish would grow fat from feeding on them.

“I unequivocally condemn his apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killings, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental rights and freedoms,” Ban said.

Duterte frequently peppers his public comments with swear words — he has also called Pope Francis and the US ambassador to Manila sons of whores — and days after his election win used typical language to criticise the UN.

“F**k you, UN, you can’t even solve the Middle East carnage… couldn’t even lift a finger in Africa,” he said then.

Duterte flips the rhetorical bird at Uncle Sam

The controversial president also made clear how he feels about human rights advice from the U.S.

From RT:

The Philippine leader also attacked the US for more members of the public dying as a result of police violence.

“What do you think the Americans did to the black people there? Is that not rubbing off also? And (critics) say what?”

>snip<

He also wondered whether UN officials were indeed threatening to jail him and repeated that he was ready to sacrifice his life and presidency for his country.

Duterte has developed a reputation for being very outspoken and even rude at times. Earlier in August, he called the US ambassador in the country “gay” and a “son of a bitch.”

Nobody should’ve been surprised

Duterte made his post-election plans clear in a remarkable speech to some of the nation’s leading capitalists back in April while still on campaign.

From Politiko, a Philippine political website — and note that final paragraph:

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has a simple plan in carrying out extra-judicial plan to kill criminals and drugs lords if he takes over as president: sign 1,000 pardons a day.

In a profanity-laced speech before the Makati Business Club on 27 April 2016, Duterte said he would exploit to the hilt a Constitutional provision which allowed the President to grant absolute or conditional pardon or amnesty with the concurrence of Congress.

“I will tell (those who carry out his orders to kill without hesitation) to get a paper, it will be pre-signed and just put your name and you’re pardoned. I don’t mind giving 1,000 pardons a day. The Constitution did not say anything about limiting it to 5 or 10,” said Duterte whose simplistic proposal drew a loud applause and laughter from the audience.

He said he would ask all police and military who carried out his orders to kill any criminal or drug lord without any hesitation to just point to him as the one who gave the order.

“I will tell every military and police to go out, hunt them, arrest them, and if they offer violent resistance, do not hesitate to kill them. If you have a gun, use it and that will solve every crime,” said Duterte.

Duterte planned to absolve of all these crimes by granting himself an absolute pardon before he would step down from power in 2022.

To sum up his approach to office, we turn to that venerable political sage Alfred E. Newman: “What, me worry?” Or maybe it’s found in the words of the high school bully we remember all too well, who would purposely bump into folks, then declare arrogantly, “Well, pardon me all to hell.”

Steve Benson: It makes political scents


Some bad news for a garrulous Arizona lawman, via the editorial cartoonist of the Arizona Republic:

BLOG Benson

Joe Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who wants to bring justice back to the 18th Century, may be headed for the slammer, thanks to the ruling of a federal judge who finally had enough of the 84-year-old bigoted blowhard.

Just who is Arpaio?

From a 2009 New Yorker profile by William Finnegan:

The biggest part of the sheriff’s job is running the jails, and Arpaio saw that there was political gold to be spun there. The voters had declined to finance new jail construction, and so, in 1993, Arpaio, vowing that no troublemakers would be released on his watch because of overcrowding, procured a consignment of Army-surplus tents and had them set up, surrounded by barbed wire, in an industrial area in southwest Phoenix. “I put them up next to the dump, the dog pound, the waste-disposal plant,” he told me. Phoenix is an open-air blast furnace for much of the year. Temperatures inside the tents hit a hundred and thirty-five degrees. Still, the tents were a hit with the public, or at least with the conservative majority that voted. Arpaio put up more tents, until Tent City jail held twenty-five hundred inmates, and he stuck a neon “VACANCY” sign on a tall guard tower. It was visible for miles.

His popularity grew. What could he do next? Arpaio ordered small, heavily publicized deprivations. He banned cigarettes from his jails. Skin magazines. Movies. Coffee. Hot lunches. Salt and pepper—Arpaio estimated that he saved taxpayers thirty thousand dollars a year by removing salt and pepper. Meals were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal. “It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates,” he told me. Jail, Arpaio likes to say, is not a spa—it’s punishment. He wants inmates whose keenest wish is never to get locked up again. He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network. For a while, he showed them Newt Gingrich speeches. “They hated him,” he said cheerfully. Why the Weather Channel, a British reporter once asked. “So these morons will know how hot it’s going to be while they are working on my chain gangs.”

Arpaio wasn’t kidding about chain gangs. Foreign television reporters couldn’t get enough footage of his inmates shuffling through the desert. New ideas for the humiliation of people in custody—whom the Sheriff calls, with persuasive disgust, “criminals,” although most are actually awaiting trial, not convicted of any crime—kept occurring to him. He put his inmates in black-and-white striped uniforms. The shock value of these retro prisoner outfits was powerful and complex. There was comedy, nostalgia, dehumanization, even a whiff of something annihilationist. He created female chain gangs, “the first in the history of the world,” and, eventually, juvenile chain gangs. The chain gangs’ tasks include burying the indigent at the county cemetery, but mainly they serve as spectacles in Arpaio’s theatre of cruelty. “I put them out there on the main streets,” he told me. “So everybody sees them out there cleaning up trash, and parents say to their kids, ‘Look, that’s where you’re going if you’re not good.’ “ The law-and-order public loved it, and the Sheriff’s fame spread. Rush Limbaugh praised him, and blurbed his book. Phil Donahue berated him.

Racial profiling for immigrant leads to citation

What landed Arpaio is legal hot water was his decision to turn his local local enforcement agent into a ruthless machine for tracking down immigrants.

Which is odd, because immigration violations are federal, not state, crimes.

But hunting down brown people played big with his political base, exploiting the same fears and sensation a certain presidential candidate would later pursue — a candidate Arpaio has endorsed, telling Fox News “He’s our only savior right now.”

The latest from the New York Times:

A federal judge on Friday referred Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his second-in-command for criminal prosecution, finding that they ignored and misrepresented to subordinates court orders designed to keep the sheriff’s office from racially profiling Latinos.

In making the referral to the United States attorney’s office for criminal contempt charges, Judge G. Murray Snow of Federal District Court in Phoenix delivered the sharpest rebuke against Mr. Arpaio, who as the long-serving sheriff in Maricopa County made a name for himself as an unrelenting pursuer of undocumented immigrants.

Sheriff Arpaio and Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan “have a history of obfuscation and subversion of this court’s orders that is as old as this case,” Judge Snow wrote in his order.

Sheriff Arpaio and Mr. Sheridan had also made numerous false statements under oath, Judge Snow wrote, and “there is also probable cause to believe that many if not all of the statements were made in an attempt to obstruct any inquiry into their further wrongdoing or negligence.”

More from the Arizona Republic:

Snow’s decision, announced in a federal court filing, answers the key question that loomed over more than a year of contempt proceedings: Was the sheriff’s disregard of orders a criminal or civil contempt-of-court violation?

But it creates a whole new set of legal questions for the embattled lawman.

  • Will the U.S. Attorney’s Office accept the recommendation?
  • What will the charge be?
  • If Arpaio is found guilty, will a conviction legally force him to resign?
  • Could Arpaio end up behind bars?
  • Will Snow’s decision affect Arpaio’s odds for a seventh term?

Reached for comment Friday evening, Arpaio said he hadn’t yet read the order but that it was being reviewed by his attorneys.

UPDATE: We found the perfect song for Sheriff Joe, sung in California’s Folsom Prison by the one and only Johnny Cash:

Johnny Cash — I Got Stripes

Mexican police implicated in a mass murder


One of the victims of the police massacre, his body burned. From the report.

One of the victims of the police massacre, his body burned. From the report.

Mexican police, notorious for their willingness to commit mass murder and incinerate their victims, have been implicated in another massacre.

And this time the accuser is an official government agency.

From teleSUR English:

Mexico’s human rights body said on Thursday that the country’s police force carried out 22 extrajudicial executions on a ranch in Tanhuato in the western state of Michoacan in May 2015.

The Mexican Government’s National Human Rights Commission, CNDH, said that the 22 executions took place during a raid on the ranch by federal police who ambushed and killed 42 suspected members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, JNG.

“The investigation confirmed facts that show grave human rights violations attributable to public servants of the federal police,” commission President Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez said.

The human rights body says that the police moved seven dead bodies, planted guns and lied about their actions in the raid. Police are also alleged to have burned two bodies and tortured two people once they were arrested. One policeman was killed in the battle.

More from BBC News:

Police used a Black Hawk helicopter during the operation, reportedly firing some 4,000 rounds into the ranch, known as the Rancho del Sol, during the initial assault.

The helicopter itself was hit by gunfire, investigators found.

In its report (in Spanish; warning: contains graphic images), the CNDH asserts that:

  • 5 suspects were killed in the helicopter attack; 22 were arbitrarily executed; 15 died in unclear circumstances
  • 2 bodies were burnt by police
  • 2 suspects were tortured in custody
  • police moved bodies and weapons to cover up arbitrary killings

“The investigation confirmed facts that show grave human rights violations attributable to public servants of the federal police,” commission President Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez said.

IMF sounds the alarm for the U.S. economy


It’s bad, and getting worse.

From Xinhua:

The U.S. economy risks getting stuck in a prolonged period of low-growth amid slowing productivity and a shrinking middle class, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 1.2 percent in the second quarter this year, following a downwardly revised 0.8 percent gain in the first quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That marked the third straight quarter in which the U.S. economy grew at lower than 2 percent, the weakest period in four years.

The weaker-than-expected economic data underscores the continuing frustration about the current U.S. recovery, which has repeatedly failed to shift to higher gear in the past seven years.

The U.S. economy has grown at an average pace of 2.1 percent since the recession ended in the mid-2009, registering the weakest U.S. economic expansion since World War II. During the postwar period up to the current recession (1947-2007), the average annual growth rate for the United States was 3.4 percent.

The IMF warned in June that the United States faces “potentially significant longer-term challenges” to strong and sustained growth, including a shrinking labor force and middle class.

Recoveries grow increasingly feeble

A report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that recoveries are slower with each succeeding recession:

BLOG Econ 2More from the EPI:

One key gauge of the severity of recessions is the output gap, which measures the difference between the economy’s actual output and its potential output if all resources (including workers) were fully employed. At the trough of the Great Recession in June 2009, the output gap was 7.1 percent, equivalent to over a trillion dollars. The only larger output gap in the postwar period was the 7.6 percent gap recorded at the trough of the early 1980s recession in the last quarter of 1982. Cumulatively, the losses over the Great Recession and the sluggish recovery dwarf even those from the early 1980s recession. The output gaps at the trough of the early 1990s recession (the first quarter of 1991) and that of the early 2000s (the final quarter of 2001) were 2.6 and 1.8 percent, respectively.

And the gold goes to. . .

From the World Socialist Web Site:

Hundreds of retail stores have been shut over the past two years as the impact of relentless cuts in wages and pensions and the permanent destruction of decent-paying jobs, combined with sweeping cuts in social programs, have thrown tens of millions of working class families into poverty or near-poverty. The bankers and speculators have placed relentless pressure on the chains to cut costs and increase profit margins at the expense of their employees and the general public.

The surge in stock and bond prices both in the US and internationally, which has further enriched the capitalist elite, has come amid mounting indications of stagnation and slump in the real economy and a worsening social crisis. Economic growth in the US, Europe, Japan and China has slowed to a crawl. New figures released Friday pointed to a slowdown across the entire Chinese economy, with factory output, business investment and retail sales all failing to meet economists’ projections.

The euro zone economy grew by a paltry 0.3 percent in the second quarter, with Italy failing to register any growth and the German economy expanding at a reduced rate.

Gross domestic product in the US is barely increasing, rising only 0.8 percent in the first quarter and 1.2 percent in the second. Both labor productivity and business investment are falling sharply, reflecting the systematic diversion of resources from productive investment to financial speculation and parasitic activities such as stock buybacks, dividend increases and mergers and acquisitions.

US corporations, flush with cash extorted through the slashing of wages and benefits and the imposition of speedup, are hoarding $1.9 trillion. They refuse to invest in new plants and equipment that could provide decent jobs and address the decay of the country’s bridges, roads, schools and housing because the profit margins are too low, preferring instead to speculate on the market and buy back their own stock to increase the take of big investors and inflate the bonuses of top executives.

More from the Associated Press:

Income inequality has surged near levels last seen before the Great Depression. The average income for the top 1 per cent of households climbed 7.7 per cent last year to $1.36 million, according to tax data tracked by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That privileged sliver of the population saw pay climb at almost twice the rate of income growth for the other 99 per cent, whose pay averaged a humble $48,768.

But why care how much the wealthy are making? What counts the most to any family is how much that family is bringing in. And that goes to the heart of the income-inequality debate: Most Americans still have yet to recover from the Great Recession, even though that downturn ended seven years ago. The average income for the 99 per cent is still lower than it was back in 1998 after adjusting for inflation.

Meanwhile, incomes for the executives, bankers, hedge fund managers, entertainers and doctors who make up the top 1 per cent have steadily improved. These one-percenters account for roughly 22 per cent of all personal income, more than double the post-World War II era level of roughly 10 per cent. One reason the income disparity is troubling for the nation is that it’s thinning out the ranks of the middle class.

Incomes in California follow the pattern

The Golden State is, increasing, golden for those at the top, lead for those below.

Consider this graphic from the Public Policy Institute of California:

BLOG Econ

More from the Institute:

Over the past three decades, the distribution of pre-tax cash income in California has been driven by broad, long-term economic forces—although economic booms and busts also figure in. We can track changes in the spread of incomes since 1980 by measuring family incomes at the top, middle, and bottom of the ladder.

Top income levels (at the 90th percentile) were 39.7 percent higher in 2014 than they were in 1980, while low incomes (at the 10th percentile) were 18.6 percent lower. The middle-income level (at the 50th percentile) in California is a mere 5 percent higher than it was in 1980.

California’s economy has experienced a number of boom-and-bust cycles in the past three decades, and incomes across the spectrum have clearly been affected by the gains and losses of these cycles. However, their effects have been uneven. Top incomes have contracted in bust periods, but they have typically rebounded fairly quickly and have gained additional ground. Over the long term, top incomes have increased well beyond 1980 levels. Middle incomes gained some ground in the late 1990s and early 2000s, rising roughly 10 percent above 1980 levels, but these gains disappeared during the last recession. Low incomes declined the most during each of he major recessions since 1980 (early 1980s, early 1990s, and late 2000s) and did not rise above 1980 levels during recovery periods. In 2006, after the growth period of the late 1990s and early 2000s, the 10th and 20th percentiles of income had rebounded to 1980 levels, but the Great Recession took hold soon after. These trends at the bottom, middle, and top of the income ladder add up to a long-term divergence of family incomes in California.

According to the most recent data (from 2014), the median family income before taxes and adjusted to represent a family of four in California is about $69,000. Incomes at the bottom are $15,000 or less, while the top incomes are $198,000 or more.

Obama adminstration calls a halt to private prisons


Following up on Monday’s post about violence in Uncle Sam’s privatized prisons, today comes work that the federal government is ending its privatized incarceration experiment, allowing all existing contracts to expire.

The reaction on Wall Street was immediate, with the stock of the most infamous contractor collapsing:

BLOG CCA

The story from BBC News:

The US Justice Department will phase out use of privately owned prisons, citing safety concerns. Contracts with 13 private prisons will be reviewed and allowed to expire over the next five years.

“They do not save substantially on costs and … they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said explaining the decision.

The majority of US prisoners are held in state-run prisons.

On Wall Street, the stocks of private prison companies declined sharply after the news was announced. By Thursday afternoon, Corrections Corporation of America stock had plunged by nearly 50%.

Morales unveils the anti-School of the Americas


The School of the Americas [previously], rebranded as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is where the U.S. Army schools Latin American soldiers and police [more than 60,000 to date] on the fine art of suppressing dissidents and rebels.

Needless to say, most of those soldiers came from countries that allowed American corporations to exploit their resources, something those dissidents and rebels didn’t take kindly to.

Many of those soldiers participated in massacres, and some used their training to reach high ranks and even the presides of their countries. Two graduates founded Mexico’s notorious Los Zetas cartel.

And now Bolivia’s president has launched a new academy designed precisely to counter Washington’s agenda.

From teleSUR English:

Bolivian President Evo Morales opened Wednesday a new regional military defense school—a kind of anti-School of the Americas—which will offer courses on a wide range of subjects meant to counter the U.S. imperialist presence in the developing world, including the Theory of Imperialism, Geopolitics of Natural Resources and Bolivian Social Structures.

The new school, which will be based in the city of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia, and named after former President Juan Jose Torres. will have an initial enrollment of 100 students. Morales, a socialist and Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, has been a strong critic of US imperialism in Latin America, and throughout the world.

“Empires,” he said at Wednesday’s ceremony, “exhibit cultural racism because they do not believe in the popular sovereignty of the people.”

The Bolivian military academy is intended as a direct rebuttal to the infamous U.S. School of the Americas in Georgia , which provides military training to U.S. allies in Latin America, and whose graduates include a “Who’s Who” of Cold War era military figures who carried out some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.