Friday, November 4, 2011

Blame Games: Which 1 Percent?

Evidence of impending social breakdown or paradigm shift to the contrary, the old order has not yet capitulated. But we are living in fluid times, at a moment when it’s sometimes possible to get a better look at the big picture.

Right now everybody’s talking about the one percent, the very few with most of the wealth -- bankers, oil tycoons, hedge fund managers. You know, Them. But as Robert Greenwald points out, there's an even smaller elite -- the top 0.01 percent of wealthy Americans, military contractor CEOs.

One %ers, or just rich and crazy? 
These are bad bosses, he says, who don’t create nearly as many jobs as they claim and waste huge amounts of taxpayer money doing it. “What you may not know,” Greenwald adds, “is that the huge amount of money these companies’ CEOs make off of war and your tax dollars places them squarely at the top of the gang of corrupt superrich choking our democracy.”

In many areas, including CEO salaries and dollars spent corrupting Congress, he points out that war profiteers are far greater offenders than even big banks like JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America.  For instance, the top brass of military companies outpace the big banks in the knack for enriching themselves at the expense of everyone else. In 2010 Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush received $22.84 million, Lockheed Martin honcho Robert Stevens got $21.89, and Boeing chief James McNerney got $19.4 million. The amounts are equal to the takes of JP Morgan Chase and other bank CEOs.

“The war industry gets away with blowing our money on job-killing spending because it can bend Congress to its whim,” Greenwald explains. "In the process, the industry is like a vacuum sucking up brain power and engineering resources that could and would establish and grow entirely new wholesome industries.”

This is precisely what has made the embrace of Sandia Labs and Lockheed Martin by Vermont’s congressional delegation, including Bernie Sanders, so perplexing. On this and other military projects, these otherwise vocal critics of the 1% have consistently made the same pork barrel arguments as almost every other member of Congress. In some cases – as with the invitations to Lockheed, its F-35s, and Sandia – it goes as far as pushing “public-private” partnerships, positive PR, selling out a neighborhood, and marginalizing critics.

Recently, the war contractors’ grip on the country has caught the attention of Occupy Wall Street, who are targeting war profiteers in a draft list of demands  with a call to bring home “all military personnel at all non-essential bases” and end the “Military Industrial Complex’s goal of perpetual war for profit.” 

Encouraging. But what about connecting the outrage and those strong sentiments with the elephant in Vermont's room -- the seduction of UVM, Burlington and the state by military contracts that mainly enrich the 1%?

The 1% in Honduras -- A US-Backed Cocaine Baron

Speaking of wasteful spending and wrongheaded policy, fresh Wikileaks cables reveal that the US embassy in Honduras – which means also the State Department – has known since 2004 that the richest man in that country, one Miguel Facussé, is a cocaine importer – and also allegedly responsible for the deaths of campesino activists. In short, US “drug war” funds and training are being used to back a known drug trafficker in his war against peasant farmers.

According to a new article by Dana Frank in The Nation, “The US is funding and training Honduran military and police that are conducting joint operations with the security guards of a known drug trafficker to violently repress a campesino movement on behalf of Miguel Facussé’s dubious claims to vast swathes of the Aguán Valley, in order to support his African palm biofuels empire.

"Despite strong anti-drug rhetoric from US officials, State Department cables recently made available by Wikileaks show that the US has been aware of the drug ties of one of Honduras’ most powerful and wealthy individuals since 2004, yet has continued to support him. US military and police assistance is also aiding the businessman, landowner and coup-backer Miguel Facussé, in a campaign of repression targeted at the campesinos whose land Facussé wants for production of palm oil.

“Despite the objections of 87 members of Congress, US funding for the Honduran military and police continues, even though reports continue to emerge of police involvement in killings, such as in the recent case of the son of a university rector, and journalists and human rights activists continue to be targeted, with impunity."

Dana Frank is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz  and author of books, including Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America. Here is her complete article: WikiLeaks Honduras:US Linked to Brutal Businessman.  

As the Regime Changes: A New Soap Opera Begins

For the past two weeks I’ve been looking at the Democratic race for mayor, a hot topic in Burlington.  Specifically, I've studied and talked to the four candidates competing in the Nov. 13 caucus. The result is a series of profiles. 

Pitching visons: from left, candidate Miro Weinbberger standing,
with Tim Ashe, Jason Lorber, and Bram Kranichfeld seated.
The Caucus is expected to draw a huge crowd to the classic Memorial Auditorium downtown on a Sunday afternoon. The winner will face a Republican who almost won three years ago, and possibly other candidates, in early March voting. I hope to talk with the GOP's Kurt Wright, whom I've known for decades, sometime later this month.

Meanwhile, here are early installments in what promises to be a series revisiting the Queen City in transition: Will it be peaceful, or a radical realignment?

Chapter One:  Tim Ashe Steps Up

Chapter Two: Miro Weinberger’s Big Plans

Chapter Three: Bram Kranichfeld’s Community Connection

Chapter Four: Jason Lorber Wants to be CMO

And for those who haven't followed the story so far, here’s a recap that appeared just before Ashe – since christened “a young Bernie Sanders” by the head of a local union – jumped in the race: Mayor’s Race Heats Up

Until next time…Remain Occupied. It’s better than the alternative.
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