Reuters reports on the rewards Kirill Shamalov gained after marrying Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina, in February, 2013: Within 18 months, Kirill acquired a large chunk of shares in a major Russian oil and petrochemical processor called Sibur – a stake now worth an estimated $2.85 billion, based on the value of recent share deals. He also quit his job as a business manager and set up a company to run his personal investments.
How did such a young businessman go so far, so fast? A Reuters examination of Shamalov’s career shows that in the summer of 2013, months after he married Putin’s daughter, Kirill opened discussions about buying shares in Sibur from one of the president’s wealthiest friends.
A year later, he was able to borrow more than $1 billion, judging by the published accounts of his investment company. The loan came from a bank headed by another longtime associate of Putin, and where Shamalov’s brother holds a senior position. The money was used to make an investment in Sibur that within months proved highly profitable for Kirill.
Asked about his business deals and the wedding, Kirill Shamalov and Sibur declined to comment.
The trajectory of Kirill’s fortunes sheds new light on how people close to Putin have taken commanding positions in key companies – and how such opportunities are now being extended to a new generation. [Continue reading…]
Nicholas McGeehan writes: Whether it’s ‘cash for questions’ or ‘homes for votes’, there is often a tawdry quid pro quo at the heart of a good British political scandal. So it’s worth asking why there has not been more public outrage about explosive revelations that David Cameron was offered lucrative arms and oil deals for British businesses if he helped reign in the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the UK.
Leaked emails obtained by The Guardian revealed that in June 2012 the United Arab Emirates tried to influence the UK to take steps against the Muslim Brotherhood in return for keeping or getting lucrative contracts. The emails suggest that the UAE government is supremely confident of its ability to influence British policy, which in turn begs the wider question as to what the UK’s priorities are in the UAE, and the rest of the Gulf.
In 2013, during a Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, MP Rory Stewart quite reasonably asked whether there is any proof that the UK can exert a positive influence over its foreign allies, where governance and the rule of law are concerned. Increasingly, the behaviour of the UK suggests that a more pertinent question is whether the UK’s Gulf policy is actually strengthening repression and emboldening authoritarian rulers in the region. [Continue reading…]
In September, Climate Change News reported: At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.
It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.
A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.
“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed,” Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.
His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. “Present thinking,” he wrote in the 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”
Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.
Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. [Continue reading…]
In October, the Los Angeles Times reported: Back in 1990, as the debate over climate change was heating up, a dissident shareholder petitioned the board of Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil companies, imploring it to develop a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its production plants and facilities.
The board’s response: Exxon had studied the science of global warming and concluded it was too murky to warrant action. The company’s “examination of the issue supports the conclusions that the facts today and the projection of future effects are very unclear.”
Yet in the far northern regions of Canada’s Arctic frontier, researchers and engineers at Exxon and Imperial Oil were quietly incorporating climate change projections into the company’s planning and closely studying how to adapt the company’s Arctic operations to a warming planet.
Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher for Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary, was leading a Calgary-based team of researchers and engineers that was trying to determine how global warming could affect Exxon’s Arctic operations and its bottom line. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times now reports: The New York attorney general has begun a sweeping investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how those risks might hurt the oil business.
According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents.
The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.
The sources said the scrutiny would include a period of at least a decade when Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives. [Continue reading…]
David Sirota writes: The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.
Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.
Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts. [Continue reading…]
By Megan McCloskey, ProPublica, November 2, 2015
This story has been updated.
The watchdog charged with overseeing U.S. spending in Afghanistan says the Pentagon is dodging his inquiries about an $800 million program that was supposed to energize the Afghan economy.
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said the military is restricting access to some documents in violation of law and has claimed there are no Defense Department personnel who can answer questions about the Task Force for Business Stability Operations, or TFBSO, which operated for five years.
“Frankly, I find it both shocking and incredible that DOD asserts that it no longer has any knowledge about TFBSO, an $800 million program that reported directly to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and only shut down a little over six months ago,” Sopko wrote in a letter to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter released today.
The Pentagon’s claims are particularly surprising since Joseph Catalino, the former acting director of the task force who was with the program for two years, is still employed by the Pentagon as Senior Advisor for Special Operations and Combating Terrorism.
USA Today reports: U.S. taxpayers footed the bill for a $42 million natural-gas filling station in Afghanistan, a boondoggle that should have cost $500,000 and has virtually no value to average Afghans, the government watchdog for reconstruction in Afghanistan announced Monday.
A Pentagon task force awarded a $3 million contract to build the station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, but ended up spending $12 million in construction costs and $30 million in “overhead” between 2011 and 2014, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found. Meanwhile, similar gas station was built in neighboring Pakistan cost $500,000.
“It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000% more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. “Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that’s been wasted — an unacceptable lack of transparency that I’ll be thoroughly investigating.” [Continue reading…]
InsideClimate News reports: As he wrapped up nine years as the federal government’s chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken lashed out at ExxonMobil for opposing the advance of climate science.
His own great-grandfather, he told the Exxon board, had been John D. Rockefeller’s legal counsel a century earlier. “What I rather imagine he would say is that you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position,” he wrote.
No wonder: in the opening days of the oil-friendly Bush-Cheney administration, Exxon’s chief lobbyist had written the new head of the White House environmental council demanding that MacCracken be fired for “political and scientific bias.”
Exxon was also attacking other officials in the U.S. government and at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), MacCracken wrote, interfering with their work behind the scenes and distorting it in public.
Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the IPCC, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming, documents written by an Exxon lobbyist and one of its scientists show. The company persuaded the White House to block the reappointment of the IPCC chairman, a World Bank scientist. Exxon’s top climate researcher, Brian Flannery, was pushing the White House for a wholesale revision of federal climate science. The company wanted a new strategy to focus on the uncertainties. [Continue reading…]
Markus Feldenkirchen writes: The two candidates currently attracting the most attention in the American presidential primaries seem to be polar opposites. First, there’s self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders, who can pack entire arenas with as many as 20,000 supporters. And then there’s a man who claims to possess $10 billion, Donald Trump, who is leading in the broad field of Republicans. The two do, however, have one thing in common: They reject the US campaign finance system. One out of conviction; the other because he has the resources to finance his own campaign.
One, Bernie Sanders, takes pride in stating that he doesn’t want rich people’s money. Some 400,000 largely middle class Americans have contributed to his campaign so far, donating $31.20 on average. The other, Donald Trump, proudly announced recently that he had rejected a $5 million donation from a hedge fund manager. And that he is prepared to pump $1 billion of his own wealth into the campaign. One of Trump’s most popular arguments so far is that his rival Jeb Bush has managed to raise over $150 million. “Jeb Bush is a puppet to his donors,” Trump says disparagingly. Sooner or later, he argues, they will call in their favors. “I don’t owe anyone any favors.” It’s a message that is proving popular with potential voters. But is it really any more democratic that a billionaire can buy his own election instead of allowing himself to be bought by others?
Two fatal developments are converging during this election in the United States. The decoupling of the super-rich from the rest of society is an accelerating trend in recent years. And also the consequences of a series of rulings by the Supreme Court in 2010 that enable politicians and support groups to accept unlimited donations. This confluence of events is undermining the development of the world’s proudest democracy. [Continue reading…]
David Hearst writes: Of all the bizarre encounters the Palestinian conflict has generated, Tony Blair’s four meetings in Doha with Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader must surely rank as one of the oddest.
Here was the Quartet’s Middle East envoy breaking the Quartet’s own rules about talking to Hamas until it recognises Israel – rules that Blair and Jack Straw , enforced as prime minister and foreign secretary by pressing the EU to declare Hamas a terrorist organisation. Two of the four meetings were held before Blair resigned as envoy.
Here was Blair, the man linked in mind, body, and soul to the military coup in Egypt (he said the army intervened ” at the will of the people” to bring democracy to Egypt) attempting to mediate between Hamas, Israel and Egypt – the two countries that have kept a stranglehold around Gaza’s neck. The Egyptian leader has been an even more zealous enforcer of the blockade than Netanyahu is.
In a British context, Blair’s dialogue with Hamas took place as his supporters accused the far left candidate in the Labour leadership race Jeremy Corbyn of making Labour unelectable if he became leader. Corbyn had advocated talks with Hamas and Hezbollah – a crime of which the man who won power three times was a repeat offender.
Blair did not just talk to Meshaal. He invited him to London, offering him a specific date in June, on which the current prime minister David Cameron must have agreed. This is the same prime minister who has strived and failed, so far, to publish a report branding the Muslim Brotherhood presence in Britain as extremist. Bizarre.
And yet Blair kept going, even after the existence of the talks was revealed by the Middle East Eye, In the last few days he has still been pushing the deal in Cairo. Why?
His motivation is not obvious. It is surely not out any belated humanitarian concern for 1.8m Gazans. As prime minister and peace envoy, Blair has provided Israel with valuable international cover for one operation in Gaza after another. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, is backing a new “science-based” solution to the obesity crisis: To maintain a healthy weight, get more exercise and worry less about cutting calories.
The beverage giant has teamed up with influential scientists who are advancing this message in medical journals, at conferences and through social media. To help the scientists get the word out, Coke has provided financial and logistical support to a new nonprofit organization called the Global Energy Balance Network, which promotes the argument that weight-conscious Americans are overly fixated on how much they eat and drink while not paying enough attention to exercise.
“Most of the focus in the popular media and in the scientific press is, ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ — blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” the group’s vice president, Steven N. Blair, an exercise scientist, says in a recent video announcing the new organization. “And there’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”
Health experts say this message is misleading and part of an effort by Coke to deflect criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in the spread of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. They contend that the company is using the new group to convince the public that physical activity can offset a bad diet despite evidence that exercise has only minimal impact on weight compared with what people consume.
This clash over the science of obesity comes in a period of rising efforts to tax sugary drinks, remove them from schools and stop companies from marketing them to children. In the last two decades, consumption of full-calorie sodas by the average American has dropped by 25 percent.
“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption,” said Michele Simon, a public health lawyer. “This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding.” [Continue reading…]
New York Magazine reports: Just after noon on June 18, Laurence H. Tribe, the nation’s foremost scholar of constitutional law, fired off an angry and anguished self-defense. “I just finished my roughly half-hour interview on WNYC with Brian Lehrer,” he wrote in an email to the publishers of his most recent book about the Supreme Court, Uncertain Justice. “I suppose I did well enough, but the interview was a complete disaster. Please let the Brian Lehrer Show know that I felt totally sandbagged.”
The appearance had begun innocuously, with a discussion of the most recent Supreme Court decisions — what the Harvard Law professor later called June’s “series of thunderclaps.” Tribe’s credentials as a liberal legal activist are the stuff of legend — counsel in Bush v. Gore, slayer of archconservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork — and he is as informed about the Court’s opaque inner workings as any outsider can be. He taught Elena Kagan and John Roberts at Harvard and played an unusually involved role in Barack Obama’s education in the law; for a brief time during Obama’s first term, he served at the Justice Department. At 73, Tribe is accustomed to his preeminence. So he bristled when Lehrer courteously but insistently turned the conversation to his other role, as a highly compensated litigator for a coal company fighting Obama’s climate-change initiative.
“Can a scholar take a client like that and maintain an appearance of independence?”
“Well, I’ve been doing this kind of thing for decades,” Tribe replied, the ice creeping into his voice. “And I’m just not for sale.” He had the urge to hang up the phone then and there. But he fought it off and handled another 90 seconds of questioning with superficial aplomb. “I have had a career that I’m proud of. I’ve represented causes that I believe in,” he said. “And whether I believe in the cause or not is not a function of whether the client is corporate or noncorporate.” Inside, though, Tribe was churning. “It was an inexcusable ambush,” he wrote immediately afterward, an “awful caricature.” He was flummoxed that people involved with a friendly NPR show would prove to be “such venomous snakes.”
Tribe’s emotions might seem extreme in light of the tenor of the conversation and the fact that he should have known the questions were inevitable. But the controversy over his role in the climate case had upended his place in the world, setting friends and colleagues against him and shaking two pillars of his reputation: his liberal idealism and his legal brilliance. [Continue reading…]
Katherine Eban writes: Why, exactly, did the United States end up torturing detainees during George W. Bush’s administration’s war on terror, when there was no scientific proof that coercive interrogations would yield valuable intelligence, and ample proof that it would harm our national security interests, elicit false information and spread unnecessary ill will throughout the Muslim world, possibly for generations to come?
It’s a head scratcher, to say the least, but a blockbuster report issued last week suggests one answer: greed. Specifically, the greed of psychologists who hoped to receive, and in some cases did receive, financial benefits in exchange for providing the Pentagon with intellectual and moral cover for its torture of detainees.
The American Psychological Association, roughly the equivalent of the American Medical Association for psychologists, played a crucial, long-hidden role in the story of American torture. James Elmer Mitchell, who created the C.I.A.’s torture program with Bruce Jessen, was a member of the A.P.A. Psychologists sold the C.I.A. and the Pentagon on a menu of aggressive interrogation techniques presented as scientifically proven to be effective; in reality, they were based on Communist methods designed not to find the truth but to produce false confessions that could be used for propaganda purposes. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: ExxonMobil gave more than $2.3m to members of Congress and a corporate lobbying group that deny climate change and block efforts to fight climate change – eight years after pledging to stop its funding of climate denial, the Guardian has learned.
Climate denial – from Republicans in Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level – is seen as a major obstacle to US and global efforts to fight climate change, closing off the possibility of federal and state regulations cutting greenhouse gas emissions and the ability to plan for a future of sea-level rise and extreme weather.
Exxon channeled about $30m to researchers and activist groups promoting disinformation about global warming over the years, according to a tally kept by the campaign group Greenpeace. But the oil company pledged to stop such funding in 2007, in response to pressure from shareholder activists. [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: The first detailed accounts of the brutal interrogation program the Central Intelligence Agency established after the Sept. 11 attacks noted that psychologists and other medical professionals played key roles in abetting the torture of terrorism suspects. However, much about their role and their degree of responsibility in one of the most macabre and shameful chapters of American history has remained shrouded in secrecy.
A new report by a former federal prosecutor, first disclosed by James Risen in The Times, contains astonishing, disturbing details. It found that top members of the American Psychological Association, the largest professional organization of psychologists, colluded with officials at the Pentagon and the C.I.A. to keep the group’s ethics policies in line with tactics that interrogators working for the agency and the military were employing.
At a time when intelligence and Department of Defense officials were desperate for intelligence that would help them foil new terror plots, they were willing to pay handsomely for experts who could give the torture program a veneer of legitimacy. Prominent psychologists were apparently happy to indulge them. “A.P.A. chose its ethics policy based on its goals of helping D.O.D., managing its P.R., and maximizing the growth of the profession,” the report said.
The 542-page report, which was commissioned by the board of directors of the American Psychological Association, says that some medical personnel at the C.I.A. became concerned about the torture program, which was run by Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, two contractors who were former Air Force psychologists. The critics at the agency expressed concerns about the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics and questioned whether they were in line with the ethics guidelines of the psychologists association.
The association assembled a task force in 2005 to study the concerns. The task force was dominated by “national security insiders,” Mr. Risen reported. They concluded that psychologists could resume assisting in brutal interrogations.
On Friday, Physicians for Human Rights justifiably called on the Department of Justice to begin a criminal investigation into the psychologists association’s role in the Bush administration’s torture program.
“As mental health professionals, our first obligation must be to our patients,” said Dr. Kerry Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist and the vice chairman of the board of Physicians for Human Rights, in a statement. “The A.P.A.’s collusion with the government’s national security apparatus is one of the greatest scandals in U.S. medical history.”
The Obama administration has so far refused to prosecute the torturers. As more evidence about this program comes to light, that position becomes increasingly indefensible.
George Monbiot writes: Had I been asked a couple of years ago how I would vote in the referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union, my answer would have been unequivocal.
The EU seemed to me to be a civilising force, restraining the cruel and destructive tendencies of certain member governments (including our own), setting standards that prevented them from destroying the natural world or trashing workers rights, creating a buffer between them and the corporate lobby groups that present an urgent threat to democracy.
Now I’m not so sure. Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage.
I accept the principle of sharing sovereignty over issues of common concern. I do not accept the idea of the rich nations combining to crush the democratic will of the poorer nations, as they are seeking to do to Greece.
I accept the principle that the EU should represent our joint interests in creating treaties for the betterment of humankind. I do not accept that it has a right to go behind our backs and quietly negotiate a treaty with the US – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that transfers power from parliaments to corporations.
I accept the principle that the EU could distribute money to the poor and marginalised. I do not accept that, as essential public services are cut, €57bn (£41bn) a year should be sloshed into the pockets of farmers, with the biggest, richest landowners receiving the largest payments. The EU’s utter failure to stop this scandal should be a source of disillusionment even to its most enthusiastic supporters.
While these injustices, highly damaging to the reputation of the EU among people who might otherwise be inclined to defend it, are taking place, at the same time the EU’s restraints on unaccountable power are in danger of being ripped away. [Continue reading…]