Injury & Insult

Why do we put up with these corporate criminals?  Aghgh, not a good night for me.

From Richard Paddock at the LA Times:

Chevron Corp., which prevailed in a human-rights lawsuit seeking to hold it responsible for the shooting of Nigerian protesters at an oil platform, is seeking nearly $500,000 in legal costs from the villagers who brought the suit.

Chevron‘s claim for reimbursement, filed in federal court, includes $190,000 in copying charges. The San Ramon-based company, which posted a record $23.8-billion profit for 2008, says it is entitled to the money because a nine-member jury decided in the company’s favor in December. [emphasis mine]

Lawyers for the villagers had sought to hold the oil giant responsible for the 1998 shooting and mistreatment of protesters by Nigerian soldiers at the Parabe oil rig off the coast of Nigeria. They have filed an appeal in the case, which is scheduled to be heard next month.

Advocates and lawyers for the Nigerians said they were outraged by Chevron’s attempt to seek money from the plaintiffs, including one who was shot and wounded, another who was arrested and tortured and others whose husbands or fathers were killed.

Laura Livoti, founder of Bay Area-based Justice in Nigeria Now, said the $485,000 sought by Chevron, California’s largest company, would constitute a fortune for the Nigerians. That sum would be enough to sustain at least four villages in the Niger Delta for a year, she said.

“Chevron’s attempt to squeeze nearly half a million dollars out of poor villagers who don’t even have access to clean drinking water and who had wanted jobs with the company is a dramatic illustration of Chevron’s heartlessness,” she said.

In its claim, Chevron is seeking reimbursement from 19 plaintiffs and 30 former plaintiffs who dropped out of the case before it went to trial. At least a dozen of those named are children, Livoti said. [emphasis mine]

Morgan Crinklaw, a spokesman for Chevron, said the company had spent a significant amount of money on the lawsuit and was entitled to reimbursement. “Chevron is exercising its legal right to recover a portion of the costs we were forced to incur from responding to 10 years of litigation, and to comment any further, before the judge has ruled on this motion, would be inappropriate,” he said.

Bert Voorhees, who represented the Nigerians at trial, said Chevron’s goal was not necessarily to collect money from the plaintiffs but to deter others from pursuing similar suits.

“They are trying to bring this cost bill as a warning to any other folks who might seek justice,” the L.A. lawyer said. “My assumption is that it’s punitive and it’s designed as a shot across the bow of any would-be plaintiffs in the future.” [emphasis mine]

The lawsuit was brought under the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, which was signed by President Washington. Rarely used, the law increasingly has become a vehicle for activists attempting to hold U.S. corporations accountable for their actions overseas.

Survivors of the 1998 incident at the Parabe rig argued that Chevron was responsible because it paid the police and soldiers and flew them by helicopter to the platform, where they shot and killed two unarmed protesters and wounded two others.

Chevron countered during the trial that the villagers were holding its workers hostage and that the company acted responsibly by calling in the authorities.

The Nigerians and their lawyers say that Chevron’s oil operations caused extensive environmental harm in much of the delta, ruining farmland and the fishery. They argued in court that the villagers who went to the oil platform staged a peaceful protest in an attempt to win jobs and compensation for the damage.

“Chevron has already impoverished these people due to its lousy environmental practices in the area,” Voorhees said. “Stealing their livelihood wasn’t enough, stealing their lives wasn’t enough. Now they are seeking half a million too.”

That half a mill is peanuts, peanuts and a few more peanuts to Chevron.  The villagers have no peanuts.  These fellas are trying to make a point.  Point taken I’d say.

We Are In Our Hands

We are in a state of global emergency that not enough people recognize:

Few would doubt that we are living at a time of emergency. The world’s population presently stands at 6.7 billion, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. That figure is projected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030. It is understood now just how quickly the earth is warming, because of the increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases arising from human activity. If the earth continues to warm at its present rate, we know what our fate will be, and yet we seem set on destroying ourselves. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a fundamental shift in power away from the West; the emergence of China, India and Brazil, with their new wealth and aspirational middle classes, is putting an intolerable strain on the world’s finite resources. As I write the price of oil has reached $128 a barrel. It has never been higher. One need not be a pessimist to predict some kind of Malthusian denouement to the human story if we are unable or unwilling to alter our ways of being: scarcity wars, famine, large-scale environmental degradation.

Likely not a day goes by that I don’t ask myself why there does not yet exist a critical mass of people who are demanding that our governments, local, national and international respond to our state of global emergency.  I believe the answer is complex and thus multi-faceted as well as perhaps still partly hidden.  Perhaps some of us are too comfortable, yet that explains neither the inability of the comfortable to perceive adequately the threat to their comfort and the comfort of their children and grandchildren; nor what is sometimes understood to be the quiescence of those who are far from comfortable yet not powerless.

Just to get started on an answer to that question, for myself, I think that the interests of the very comfortable are fatally aligned with the source of that comfort: global capitalism.  Joel Bakan has written convincingly about the psychopathy of the large scale, usually multi-national and interrelated corporations that advance mercilessly toward the goal of maximum profit with little to no ability to respond to long-term degradation of both the labour force and the environment.  [See The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power and The Corporation Film]

Those who are identified with global capitalism by virtue of their own ability to maximize personal profits may well be engaged in folly or their own psychopathy, having convinced themselves that unregulated capitalism will inevitably prove capable of handling any difficulty thrown in its path, despite the facts; or simply because they’ve lost their ability to care about anything but enriching themselves.

What of those who are merely comfortable and increasingly  less so?  And those who are assumed, by many, to be simply too ignorant to know better, or powerless to do anything about it, though their “comfort” has been seriously compromised?

 From that psychological viewpoint used by Bakaan, I wonder if we aren’t all either suffering from some horrible combination of mass post and ongoing trauma, accompanied by combinations of dissociation, numbness, and learned helplessness; if many of us aren’t simply overwhelmed by the fuel crisis, food crisis, global warming crisis and other forms of environmental threat, unwinnable wars all over the world, various forms of oppression caused by totalitarianism or legitimated coercion and resulting inroads into the power of democracy and the rule of law as well as failing economies in the West and just general malaise.  To what should we pay attention?  Whom should we believe about both the proper identification of the sources of our problems and adequate resolutions?  What avenues of power can we access to force our leaders into addressing our problems?  What forms of organization will draw us into effective alliances across lines of gender, race, “class”, ability, ethnicity and nationality?  Can we address all of the emergencies at once or do we need to prioritize them?  If the latter, how do we prioritize such an impressive and pressing batch of emerging issues?

Just asking the questions can be overwhelming and depressing in itself.  It can lead to outright despair when we realize that our means of collective thinking, decision making and action have been seriously eroded by the advances of “post modern” capitalism.  We are more and more forced back upon ourselves.  We no longer live or meet together as communities of people living or working together in the same numbers that we did when we actually had cohesive neighbourhoods and communities; fewer and fewer of us are organized into unions of working people who can identify interests and act together to force the changes we need.  The complexity and amount of information  we need to gather and synthesize in order to craft realistic solutions is unheard of in history.  Post modern life keeps us busier and more distracted than we’ve ever been.

At the same time, we are discovering new ways of organizing and connecting with each other through advancing technologies.  I do believe that we will, inevitably, act on behalf of humanity and the planet and all it holds.  My question is, will we do it in time?  And when I ask that question, yet another question surfaces:  in time for what?  At this point in the questioning, I come to rest on hope and the small contributions each of us makes to the greater good.  And at this point, I wish I believed in a beneficent creator who has the best in mind for each of us and for all.  But I believe that “we” are in our own hands.  And I believe that is the most difficult thing to accept of all the things we face.

The Nuances of Food Production

My friend Rhona McAdam unwinds the complexities of decreased food production for us at iambic café and notes, in part:

The technology that we depend on now to boost agricultural yields is artificial nitrogen, created through heavy use of oil; an estimated 50% of agricultural costs now are tied to producing fertiliser. The commentator drew one scary comment from an interview subject: since its introduction after WW2 artificial nitrogen has allowed the world’s population to increase unchecked, by boosting yields (with less and less nutritious crops). The global population is such that now we have outstripped the yield that could be generated by natural nitrogen cycles, so we are facing the real possibility of not being able to feed the world even now. Which I guess is why the recent Unesco report on world farming was so firm on the use of organic farming practices, which include natural means of soil enrichment.

Rhona is able to explain much that is complex in a way that I can understand it.  This post is highly recommended – short but not very sweet.

Go Naomi

Naomi Klein rips “the extortionist in chief” on FOX Business News re: energy crisis, offshore drilling and all that.  I love how the interviewer acknowledges he hasn’t read the book.

Canada’s Kuwait

Will our greed-driven race to extract oil from Alberta’s tar sands destroy northern Alberta?  You tell me:

[…] the future of northern Alberta’s aspen and pine woods, its rivers and animals are in doubt as the world’s greatest modern oil rush accelerates. Shell, Chevron, Exxon, Total, Occidental, Imperial and most other oil majors have so far invested nearly $100bn Canadian dollars (£50bn) in the 1,160 square mile (3,000 square kilometre) “bitumen belt”, which is being called the “new Kuwait”.

A decade ago, the vast landscape of forests and lakes around Fort McMurray and the Athabasca river provided a fairly minor and barely profitable sand oil industry. But it is now pitted with hundreds of square kilometres of toxic waste ponds, mines that are 300ft deep, hundreds of miles of pipes and burgeoning petrochemical works. Every day brings a bumper to bumper stream of lorries carrying the world’s largest plant, pipes and machinery to the area, as well as young men seeking fortunes, and, say critics, the devastation of a pristine land.   [more]

But hey, it’s not in my backyard so as long as I can drive my car where I want whenever I want, who cares what kind of planet I leave to my grandchildren?

McCain’s Oil Money

From Think Progress:

[McCain] has received over $2 million from oil, coal, utility, auto, chemical and nuclear companies from the 1990 cycle to the first quarter of 2008. In fact, of this total, McCain received nearly two-thirds of it – $1.2 million – since he began his presidential quest 18 months ago. And like Senator McCain, these interests and the trade associations they fund oppose the Climate Security Act.

Since McCain began running for president in 2007, he missed all the important clean energy votes. He did make sure to wink at big oil by announcing he would have supported its existing unjustified tax breaks had he been around. The bipartisan effort to close these loopholes failed by one vote. And after he missed the opportunity to become the deciding vote to extend tax incentives for efficiency and wind and solar power by adding it to the stimulus package, he gave a nod to big coal and huge utility conglomerates by announcing he would have opposed this measure too.

And at WaPo, there’s news of McCain’s latest plank on energy policy.  Must make the oil and energy companies happy:

Sen. John McCain called yesterday for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, offering an aggressive response to high gasoline prices and immediately drawing the ire of environmental groups that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has courted for months.

Liars in the US

From Jim Kunstler at Clusterfuck Nation:

… all the backward-looking crybaby complaints that “we were lied to” still doesn’t answer the basic question: what should have been the appropriate response to the extreme injury of 9/11? A diplomatic protest? Another investigation by the UN? The surreptitious assassination of Arab troublemakers all around the world? I don’t think the “we were lied to” contingent has a credible answer to this question.
     There’s another hugely important realm of inquiry that the “we were lied to” folks have never addressed: who lied to us about the way we live in this country? About the amount of oil we consume in the service of all our comforts and conveniences? About our extreme car dependence and what is required in our relations with the rest of the world to sustain it. All these years, Frank Rich and all his whining colleagues at the New York Times barely acknowledged the domestic fiasco of the suburban sprawl economy that placed us in such jeopardy to begin with. Even now, with the airlines disintegrating and gasoline over $4 (diesel over $5) I haven’t heard any of these crybabies even raise the issue of restoring the US railroad system. How many of these crybabies live suburban lives themselves, in places like Louden County, Virginia, or Westchester, or Long Island, or the San Fernando Valley? Who lied to us about that?
     For my money, the “we were lied to” chorus only represents the obdurately self-righteous cluelessness in every band of the American political spectrum. We lied to ourselves. We continue to lie to ourselves every day. The US public barely understands the first thing about the energy predicament we’re in, and what it means for how we live in this country — or how we get along with the rest of the world — and the news media tragically reflects that ignorance. We fantasize about being “energy independent” and still being able to drive to the mall three times a day to eat caesar salads grown on the other side of North America. Get this: we deserve exactly what is happening to us. We might as well keep on lying to ourselves to pretend that we are not descending into a dark phase of our own history. After all, the true basis of American life these days is to feel good about yourself no matter what you do.

With thanks to wood s lot

Tiger Woods Sells Out

From Dave Zirin at Alternet:

The Tiger Woods Foundation has entered into an extensive five-year partnership with Chevron Corporation, with the oil and energy giant becoming the title sponsor of the Tiger Woods Foundation World Challenge Golf Tournament. 

“Chevron has a track record and a commitment to bettering the communities where they operate,” Woods said in a press release on April 3. And Chevron’s executive vice president chimed in, “Chevron, Tiger and the Tiger Woods Foundation share similar values…as well as a deep commitment to make a difference in local communities.” 

They have certainly “made a difference in local communities,” but it’s nothing they should be bragging about, and certainly nothing with which Woods should want his name attached. Chevron is in full partnership with the Burmese military regime on the Yadana gas pipeline project, the single greatest source of revenue for the military, estimated at nearly $1 billion in 2007, nearly half of all the country’s revenue. These are the same people who are blocking international aid workers from assisting the victims of Cyclone Nargis. The death toll has been estimated at 78,000, but this number can explode as disease spreads and help isn’t allowed through the military lines. Even the US State Department has called the actions of the government “appalling.”    more here

Chevron gives with one hand, kills people with the other.

Anyone remember when Kathy Lee Gifford got caught using child labour to produce her clothing line?  Have a look here if you were born too late.  Anyone remember the, er, outcry to put it mildly?  Anyone think Tiger could get away with this if he was a Tigress?

See this post at Takizen’s Burma World