Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oil Companies, the Supreme Court, and the Price of Terrorists in Pakistan

by Norman Markowitz

Another quick summary of the not so pleasant news of the day. McCain is trying to jump on the environmental bandwagon by promising to buy fuel efficient cars for the federal government in his administration (setting a good example that the auto companies and advertisers will of course follow). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court voted 5-3 to knock down the punitive damages previously awarded to plaintiffs against Exxon by by a federal district court in California from $2.5 billion to $500 million for the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the worst of its kind in U.S. history. A federal district court decision earlier cut in half the original jury verdict, which awarded plaintiffs $5 billion in punitive damages.

In his angry dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "in light of Exxon's decision to permit a lapsed alcoholic to command a supertanker carrying tens of millions of gallons of crude oil through the treacherous waters of Prince William Sound, thereby endangering all the individuals who depend on the sound for their livelihood, the jury could have easily given expression to its moral condemnation of the decision by its award." McCain of course won't criticize the decision but Obama, who has a much better environmental record, should. Obama can say that he will appoint judges to the federal judiciary who will support the people and juries who stand up to corporate arrogance in defending the environment and the people. Since Exxon is raking in super profits, neither the federal district court reduction or today's Supreme Court reduction is based on any ability to pay.

And the scandals from the Bush "war against terrorism" mount. Officials of the U.S.-NAT0 supported government of Afghanistan claim that groups within Pakistani military and intelligence were involved in a plot to assassinate the Afghan president. The Taliban forces who came to power as a result of the war the U.S. and Pakistan and rightwing Muslim guerrilla detachments, most famously the Saudi detachment led by Osama bin Laden, continue to launch attacks against the present government in Afghanistan from sanctuaries in Pakistan carrying out terror and murder as the Bush administration pursues its Iraq war.

While this is going on, two reports highlight the incompetence and corruption of the Bush administration, even perhaps for those who support its wars. The General Accounting Office has issued a report of far-reaching misuse of the $5.6 billion in "anti-terrorism" funding that the Pentagon has supplied Pakistan with since 9/11, including $200 million for air defense systems even though the Al Qaeda-Taliban forces have no airplanes, $45 million for roads that were never built, and other charges and over charges that would be considered criminal fraud.

Speaking of the fraud, the report suggested that the Pakistani government and military was "exaggerating" if not fabricating specific terrorist threats to get the the money. Besides being longtime allies, both the Pakistani military and the present day terrorists need each
other,the former to get funds from the U.S., the latter to get protection for its attacks, just as Osama bin Laden and the Bush administration need and re-enforce each other and, regardless of the nonsense that the right will be peddling in this election, bin Laden can be expected to issue statements that will benefit John McCain against Barack Obama, just as he issued statements in 2004 that clearly aided Bush against John Kerry, because the present policy in Iraq and the general policies of the administration enrich his friends at home in Saudi Arabia and provide fertile ground for his clerical fascist machinations in Muslim countries.

Speaking of fraud, an investigation shows that a scandal straight out of the U.S. Indian Reservation policy in the 19th century, but with very contemporary cold war implications is afflicting the Pentagon. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Pentagon has been buying large quantities of military supplies from former Warsaw Treaty countries, with all kinds of corrupt arms dealers and firms here and abroad engaged in subcontracting and profiteering.

The age and quality of these supplies supplies and their origin is often fudged. In this case, the Pentagon contracted with a Miami based firm to provide ammunition allegedly produced in Hungary for the Afghan Security forces. But, as if the Afghanis don't have enough trouble, the ammo was really Chinese and over forty years old (the Miami Company, which is under investigation for other frauds, removed the Chinese packaging). Pentagon officials noted that the contract for the ammo was "valid since there was no age provisions it it for the supplies. The head of this firm, now under suspension and facing prosecution, was 21 years old when he "won" a two year contract worth 292 million from the Pentagon to supply ammo to the Afghanis last year

Adding a little comedy to the injury, an American businessman who acts as a purchaser for the U.S. military from former Soviet Republics and Warsaw Treaty states blamed the Pentagon for incompetence, noting that given the vast amount of intelligence gathered in the cold war period all all aspects of this weaponry, they should have done a much better job.

But with an administration that treats foreign countries the way U.S. governments in the 19th century treated Indian Reservations, that is, as places to set up trading posts and make quick profits, what can be expected. I would assume that there was probably inside bribery in these deals (there usually is) but it isn't being discussed.

In any case, the Afghans soldier on, the Pakistanis, continue their manipulations, the Saudis and Exxon continue to rake in super profits from oil, and, oh yes, three U.S. military personnel were also killed today in Northern Iraq while the rightwing media machine portrays John McCain, like George W. Bush as the man who will stand tough against terrorism. It will take a major effort by an Obama administration to begin to root out these thieves and their lobbyists in Washington, to reform the corrupt and wildly parasitic funding practices of the military industrial complex while working for a foreign policy directed toward peace.

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