Wednesday, October 1, 2014

8 Shocking Things the Kochs Have Done to Amass Their Fortune

According to a recent Rolling Stone report, the Koch brothers control one of the world's largest fortunes. Unsurprisingly, they are not eager to share how they acquired their billions of dollars. The report outlines not only the brothers' business trajectory over the years, it also delves into their family lineage, revealing how their father was something of a pioneer in shady business practices. It's a comprehensive outline of their most vile business and political doings. Here are eight details.

1. Stealing oil from Native Americans. In 1989, investigators told a congressional panel that Koch Industries regularly ended its year with far more barrels of oil than it had paid for. The oil was stolen from Indian lands. All in all, the Kochs made out with a total of $31 million worth of oil that wasn't paid for over three years, according to the Associated Press. The Kochs would eventually pay the U.S. government $25 million to settle the case in 2001.

2. Covering up faulty pipelines. In 1994, a pipeline in South Texas built in the 1940's exploded, spewing more than 90,000 gallons of crude oil into Gum Hollow Creek. Employees had warned Koch Industries that the pipeline had serious issues but to no avail. The spill would eventually reach six states. Koch Industries was sued for violating the Clean Water Act and forced to pay a $30 million civil penalty, at the time the biggest in the history of U.S. environmental law. Carol Browner, the former EPA administrator, said of Koch Industries, "They simply did not believe the law applied to them."

3. Treating the Mississippi River like a toilet. Koch's Pine Bend refinery in Minnesota spilled some 600,000 gallons of jet fuel into wetlands near the Mississippi River through much of the 1990s. It even increased its discharges over the weekends, as it knew it wasn't being monitored. Koch Petroleum Group pleaded guilty to "negligent discharge of a harmful quantity of oil." It also admitted to violating the Clean Water Act and was ordered to pay a $6 million fine and $2 million in remediation costs.

4. Treating the air we breath like an ashtray. Koch was accused of violating the Clean Air Act in 2000, when the feds hit the company with a 97-count indictment for "venting massive quantities of benzene at a refinery in Corpus Christi" and then attempting to cover it up. At first, Koch claimed it released 0.61 metric tons of benzene for 1995, just one 10th of what was allowed under the law. But the feds argued that Koch was told of its true emissions that year: 91 metric tons, or 15 times the legal limit. The Koch brothers worked their magic, pleaded guilty to a single felony count and avoided criminal prosecution. Koch also paid $20 million in fines and reparations.

5.  Profits over public safety. On Aug. 24, 1996, near Lively, Texas, Danielle Smalley and her friend Jason Stone were burned to death after a decrepit Koch pipeline exploded after the teens started the ignition of their truck. The feds documented "severe corrosion" and "mechanical damage" in the pipeline. Koch Pipeline Company LP failed to "adequately protect its pipeline from corrosion," a National Transportation Safety Board report would state. After a lengthy trial, Koch Industries was ordered to pay the Smalley family $296 million, then the largest wrongful-death judgment in American legal history. The family would later settle with Koch for an undisclosed sum.

6. Pulling strings in the White House. George W. Bush's campaign benefitted handsomely from Koch money and he repaid the brothers by appointing Susan Dudley, an anti-regulatory academic who hailed from the Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason University, as its head regulatory official. Of course, Koch became the second coming of Sierra Club--according to them. Koch points to awards it has received for "safety and environmental excellence." "Koch companies have a strong record of compliance," Koch's top lawyer told Rolling Stone. "In the distant past, when we failed to meet these standards, we took steps to ensure that we were building a culture of 10,000 percent compliance, with 100 percent of our employees complying 100 percent." 

7. Doing business with Iran when U.S. companies weren't supposed to. American companies aren't supposed to do business with the Ayatollahs, but Koch Industries took advantage of a loophole in the 1996 sanctions. Basically, the loophole made it possible for foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to do a certain amount of business with Iran.
And the rest is history:
In the ensuing years, according to Bloomberg Markets, the German and Italian arms of Koch-Glitsch, a Koch subsidiary that makes equipment for oil fields and refineries, won lucrative contracts to supply Iran's Zagros plant, the largest methanol plant in the world.
And thanks in part to Koch, methanol is now one of Iran's leading non-oil exports.
"Every single chance they had to do business with Iran, or anyone else, they did," said Koch whistle-blower George Bentu. Having signed on to work for a company that lists "integrity" as its top value, Bentu added, "You feel totally betrayed. Everything Koch stood for was a lie."
Koch reportedly kept trading with Tehran until 2007 – after the regime was exposed for supplying IEDs to Iraqi insurgents killing U.S. troops. According to lawyer Holden, Koch has since "decided that none of its subsidiaries would engage in trade involving Iran, even where such trade is permissible under U.S. law."
8. Their father did business with Stalin. Fred Koch, father of David and Charles, partnered with engineer Lewis Winkler to form Winkler-Koch Engineering Co. One of its major contracts was with the USSR, where Joseph Stalin was starving a large portion of his population. Their competitors were reluctant to do business with the tyrant, but Winkler-Koch Engineering Co. lacked any such qualms. 
Between 1929 and 1931, Winkler-Koch built 15 cracking units for the Soviets. Although Stalin's evil was no secret, it wasn't until Fred visited the Soviet Union, that these dealings seemed to affect his conscience. "I went to the USSR in 1930 and found it a land of hunger, misery and terror," he would later write. Even so, he agreed to give the Soviets the engineering know-how they would need to keep building more.
There is more to the Koch brothers' shady, destructive business practices. Check out the Rolling Stone feature.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior editor at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @Russian_Starr.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

World Wide Web inventor: ‘I want a web where I’m not spied on, where there’s no censorship’

By Agence France-Presse

Tim Berners-Lee gives a speech on April 18, 2012 at the World Wide Web international conference (AFP) The British inventor of the World Wide Web warned on Saturday that the freedom of the internet is under threat by governments and corporations interested in controlling the web.

Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist who invented the web 25 years ago, called for a bill of rights that would guarantee the independence of the internet and ensure users’ privacy.

“If a company can control your access to the internet, if they can control which websites they go to, then they have tremendous control over your life,” Berners-Lee said at the London “Web We Want” festival on the future of the internet.

“If a Government can block you going to, for example, the opposition’s political pages, then they can give you a blinkered view of reality to keep themselves in power.”

“Suddenly the power to abuse the open internet has become so tempting both for government and big companies.”

Berners-Lee, 59, is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, a body which develops guidelines for the development of the internet.

He called for an internet version of the “Magna Carta”, the 13th century English charter credited with guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms.

Concerns over privacy and freedom on the internet have increased in the wake of the revelation of mass government monitoring of online activity following leaks by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

A ruling by the European Union to allow individuals to ask search engines such as Google to remove links to information about them, called the “right to be forgotten”, has also raised concerns over the potential for censorship.

“There have been lots of times that it has been abused, so now the Magna Carta is about saying…I want a web where I’m not spied on, where there’s no censorship,” Berners-Lee said.

The scientist added that in order to be a “neutral medium”, the internet had to reflect all of humanity, including “some ghastly stuff”.

“Now some things are of course just illegal, child pornography, fraud, telling someone how to rob a bank, that’s illegal before the web and it’s illegal after the web,” Berners-Lee added.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Eric Holder's Failure to Prosecute Wall Street in One Graph

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

Is there any reason to think his successor do any better?
This week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he would be stepping down, which set off speculation about who President Obama would appoint to replace him.

Holder's legacy is being appraised in many areas, from drug policy reform to civil rights to accountability for war crimes by the previous administration.

But one of the Holder's most glaring failures was little-discussed: his Department of Justice's  failure to prosecute financial fraud by Wall Street.

From the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, here's a graph showing prosecutions for financial fraud from October 2003 to April 2014 – notice the downward trend that continued under Holder despite the financial crisis and the fraud that accompanied it:
Under Holder, a long line of Justice Department officials (and those at the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission) have left their jobs in the government to join the finance industry or law firms that specialize in defending it.

This poses a pair of questions for the Obama administration: Who will replace Eric Holder, and will Holder soon leverage his weak oversight of Wall Street for a much more lucrative job?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Why does anyone still listen to Dick Cheney?

Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia and Republican strategist John Feehery join Chris Matthews to discuss what explains Dick Cheney’s severe criticism of the president on his ISIS strategy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Liberians Explain Why the Ebola Crisis Is Way Worse Than You Think

By Alex Park

Health workers in Liberia haul away the body of a person suspected of dying of Ebola

As of this week, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is known to have infected more than 5,700 people and taken more than 2,700 lives. Yet those figures could be dwarfed in the coming months if the virus is left unchecked. On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the total number of infections could reach 1.4 million in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. Though cases have been reported in five countries, nowhere has been harder hit than Liberia, where more than half of the Ebola-related deaths have occurred.
The outbreak has crippled Liberia's economy. Its neighbors have sealed their borders and shipping has all but ceased, causing food and gas prices to skyrocket. Schools and businesses have closed down, and the country's already meager health care system has been taxed to the breaking point.

Meanwhile, as panic grips the country, crime has risen steadily and some reports suggest that Liberia's security forces are among the perpetrators. To get a picture of how dire the situation is on the ground, we got in touch with Abel Welwean, a journalist and researcher who lives outside of Monrovia. He conducted a handful of interviews with Liberians in his neighborhood in the second week of September and also provided his own harrowing story of what life is like in the country.

The outbreak has forced many Liberians to stay indoors and avoid interacting with other people. Since the virus can be caught merely by touching the sweat of an infected person, once-common forms of physical contact, like handshakes, have become rarer.

Frances (a university student): Football has been suspended in our country. We are sitting at home just doing nothing—all in the name of protecting ourselves. It is hurting us, but we have to play the safe rules, because we value our own lives.

Abel: I don't wear short sleeve shirts to step outside my house. I keep my children in my yard throughout the day. I make sure we wash our hands periodically. We do not shake hands with anybody outside of our house. We do not entertain visitors in our house… These behaviors are very strange amongst Liberians… Shaking hands is our one of the cultural values that we have. Liberia may be poor and not willing to be developed, but we are friendly people who believe in shaking hands in a special way, and eating together from the same bowl.

Frances: Schools are closed for time indefinite. We don't know when schools will open. We are sitting at home, watching and praying that school will open sooner. Rumors are coming that schools will open next year— we don't know. What I think the youth can do now is to get on our feet and educate the common man, those that are still in the denial stage, to sensitize them, give them the actual information about this Ebola virus, let the youth get on their feet from house to house, door to door, and try to inform the populace about the deadly Ebola virus, and how it can be prevented.

Abel: I worry a lot about the future of our children's education. I was at the verge of paying my children's tuition when the government announced the closure of all schools in the country. For now, I am my children's tutor at home.
"We are urging the international community to come to our rescue, for the downtrodden, because pretty soon there will be another war, and that will be the hunger war."

When the epidemic struck Liberia, a number of hospitals closed, often because their staffs had fled in fear. Adding to the problem, Ebola's symptoms mimic other, still common diseases, but treating anything that resembles Ebola necessitates protective gear that's not always available outside the quarantine centers. That means that many people who are suffering non-Ebola illnesses are going untreated.

Esther (a nurse and midwife): Before, August, September were months we had diarrhea cases in Liberia. But right now, the symptoms of Ebola and malaria are all the same. It's very, very difficult to know an Ebola patient from malaria, so it's very, very difficult to treat any patient in that direction.

Frances: Many were afraid that if you have malaria, you have common cold, you have fever, you go to the hospital, they would diagnose you as an Ebola patient... I even got sick during the outbreak. I was afraid to go to the hospital. I had to do my own medication, but God looked out for me. I'm well. But these were the messages that were going around, that once you have this, they will confine you to a place, they will quarantine you for 21 days, they will inject you. So many Liberians were afraid to go to hospitals. But now the message has spread out. We now know people are surviving of Ebola. Even if it is not Ebola, you just have malaria, you go there, you are treated. They get you tested; they release you on time.

Brooks (an American who was working at the Accountability Lab, an anti-corruption NGO, in Monrovia and has since left the country): Even in July, you heard stories of pregnant women going into labor, bleeding profusely, and not being tended do because people were afraid of Ebola.

Esther: As a midwife, most of the time I have to do deliveries. But right now, as we sit here, this clinic is closed. These are cases that could be treated, but since we don't have the proper equipment, the proper outfits to wear and treat our patients and do tests [for Ebola], we decided to stay away from treating patients, because you don't know who you are touching. Obviously, it's a kind of embarrassment, but we have to go through with it for now.

Before it spread to Monrovia, Ebola struck in Lofa County, Liberia's rice-producing center. Many farmers avoided their fields, severely hurting domestic food production. Food imports (the country imports about two-thirds of its grain supply) have also been hampered because of the crisis. Borders with neighboring countries have been closed, and shipping companies have avoided the nation's ports. All of that has led to the biggest increases in food prices since the nation's civil war, which ended in 2003. In a country where 84 percent of everyone lived on less than $1.25 per day in 2011, this shock has become its own crisis.

Esther: There were times, we were paying, for a 25-kilo [55 pound] bag of rice, we were paying something like 1,150-1,250 [Liberian dollars, or $14 to $15], but right now it's like 1,500 [$18].

John (a Liberian employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross): I see so many people, sometimes they are walking to town [about six miles]. Even if they have money, they prefer walking a distance and saving the money to buy food so they will eat for the day. We tend to be afraid to assist someone from the vehicle, even to tell them the distance they are going, because we don't know who is carrying the virus.

Lawrence (the Liberia country director for Accountability Lab): Hunger is really hitting the country… If the ships are not coming, [farmers] are not making rice, the stockpiles are depleted…the animals are eating the crops, what happens then? The production will decrease, the price will increase, and if you don't have money, what is going to happen? Hunger is going to strike… This is a serious war, without bullets.

It's not just a rise in food prices that Liberians are struggling with; transit costs have increased as well, partly because the government has forbidden commercial vehicles from carrying large numbers of people. Markets have been shut down; NGOs and companies are asking employees to stay at home; schools are closed so teachers are not working. On September 17, the World Bank warned that Ebola could cut Liberia's GDP by 3.4 percentage points, costing $228 million by 2015.

Esther: In my own clinic, I have a staff of twelve. But right now, everybody has to be home until otherwise. Since we don't have protective gear, we don't have anything to work with, we cannot risk our own lives, because if you are not able to protect yourself, you will not able to work with other people. It will be difficult for their families.

Frances: It is better for us to stay at home, but we need, also, to have our daily bread. The international community, international donors, need to come to our rescue, because hunger is taking over Liberia, gradually.

Abel: I have gone out of job because of the Ebola outbreak. Before the outbreak, I had contracts with Princeton, PBS Frontline, Nursing For All, and the Gender Ministry. All of my contracts are on hold until the crisis is over.

The statistics are unreliable, but many report that violent crime is rising since the outbreak began. Even more troubling: some of these crimes have reportedly been at the hands of police and soldiers in uniform. Some Liberian's blame the government's curfew for the problem.

John: Armed robbery is increasing because the government placed this curfew from 9 [p.m.] to 6 AM. Before, there used to be community watch teams. At that time, there was no curfew.

Abel: Our lives were relatively peaceful before the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus. We could go out any hour and return any hour. There were robberies once in a while, but not compared to the recent ones… I do not know if the proliferation of robberies was political or some criminals just decided to take advantage of the situation.

There have been numerous cases of armed robberies since the curfew was announced… There was one in my community and my neighbors were badly affected. I was really afraid that night when I heard the bullet sound. At that time my family and I were watching movie in the living room. We got scared so much that we couldn't continue the movie. We turned the video off, turned all the lights in the rooms off and went to bed. Fortunately for me, those police officers that came to rescue my neighbors were my friends. They came to my house that night to see how my family and I were doing. [Later, I learned] the robbers wore police uniforms and were fully armed.

Esther: I was a victim about four days ago. I just left my back door open to hang clothes in the front. By the time I was back in, someone had snuck in and took the two phones I had charging. Because the children are not in school, most of the young ones are turning to crime—and not just the young ones, even people who were working and they are not able to work now, some of them are thinking, how do they maintain their families? They are collaborating with some of these criminals to get their way through.

Frances: Liberia is declining, the economy is declining, and things are just getting difficult on a daily basis. We are not free to move around, we are not free in our own country because of this deadly Ebola virus. We are urging the international community to come to our rescue, for the downtrodden, because pretty soon there will be another war, and that will be the hunger war.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One thing is clear: America is at war

The United States and Arab partners began a targeted airstrike in Syria in hopes of defeating and destroying ISIS. Ed Schultz, Rep. John Garamendi and Col. Lawrence Wilkerson discuss.

Armed Scott Walker Supporters In WI Plan to Follow Dem Voters Home from Polls

AP Photo / Scott Bauer
The Facebook page for the militia has since been scrubbed.

The group plans to follow people from polling locations to their homes, according to a Facebook post viewed by The Capital Times.

"Please private message us names of people you know are active voters and wanted on warrants. We can get our agents to watch their polling location, identify the individual, and then follow them to their residence. A call the police and they will be picked up for processing," the Facebook message read.

The group is using the website Put Wisconsin First to identify petition signers who have outstanding arrest warrants and those with tax defaults.

According to Politicus USA, the Facebook page for the group featured pictures of African-Americans, but the group denied that they are targeting blacks.

"We can assure you that we will be targeting all democrats, not just black ones," a Facebook message read, according to the Capital Times. "If you think we meant blacks only it is because you are a racist who thinks the only people with warrants are black. We know better because we have a nice list of people who are wanted democrat activist types. Most are actually white. We will target everyone."

Building blocks of war