Monday Reads: Some Populist Pokes at the Eyes of the Privileged

Good Morning!21-026  Life Cover

I thought I’d take a few looks at what should be done differently in this country if we indeed we’re interested in progressing as an entire nation.  It seems these days the only folks that progress are the politicians and their owners.  So, hold on here, we go.

Why is no one calling for an investigation of Booze Allen Hamilton? 

Booz Allen reacted with anger in a press statement released hours later:

“News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

Core values? Let’s examine Booz Allen Hamilton’s track record.

In February 2012, the US air force  suspended Booz Allen from seeking government contracts after it discovered that Joselito Meneses, a former deputy chief of information technology for the air force, had given Booz Allen a hard drive with confidential information about a competitor’s contracting on the first day that he went to work for the company in San Antonio, Texas. US air force legal counsel concluded (pdf):

“Booz Allen did not uncover indications and signals of broader systemic ethical issues within the firm. These events caused the air force to have serious concerns regarding the responsibility of Booz Allen, specifically, its San Antonio office, including its business integrity and honesty, compliance with government contracting requirements, and the adequacy of its ethics program.”

It should be noted that Booz Allen reacted swiftly to the government investigation of the conflict of interest. In April that year, the air force lifted the suspension – but only after Booz Allen had accepted responsibility for the incident and fired Meneses, as well as agreeing to pay the air force $65,000 and reinforce the firm’s ethics policy.

Not everybody was convinced about the new regime. “Unethical behavior brought on by the revolving door created problems for Booz Allen, but now the revolving door may have come to the rescue,”  wrote Scott Amey of the Project on Government Oversight, noting that Meneses was not the only former air force officer who had subsequently become an executive in Booz Allen’s San Antonio office.

So, corruption is rampant in these organizations that only exist to expand government destruction of civil liberties.  But, let’s not forget that a lot of these organizations also are responsible for our economic bad health.   Rampant corruption is part and parcel of the financial industry. As our ability and desire to produce real stuff has fallen, so our national experience shows we have gambling houses for financial institutions eager for extraordinary returns.  And, it’s all for profits of a few.

This reminds us of something I fear is often forgotten – that our economic troubles did not begin with the financial crisis of 2007-08 but rather pre-dated them. Capexp

My chart shows this. It shows that firms were loath to invest long before the crisis. Capital spending fell relative to retained profits in the early 00s and stayed very low by historical standards. This reflects the “dearth of domestic investment opportunities” in western economies of which Ben Bernanke spoke in 2005. This is, of course, a cause of the weak income growth of which the IFS speaks; firms’ reluctance to spend held down wage and employment growth. The “Great Moderation” might have led to irrational exuberance in financial markets, but it certainly did not unleash a boom in corporate animal spirits and real investment.

In fact, one could argue – as Ravi Jagannathan has (pdf) – that the financial crisis is not the cause of our woes but rather a symptom of this underlying problem. The story goes something like this.

After 1997, Asian economies wanted to run big current account surpluses, either as a policy of export-led growth or in order to rebuild reserves depleted by the 97 crisis. By definition, this meant they were net savers, which put incipient downward pressure upon global interest rates. In a parallel universe, these high savings might have financed a boom in real capital spending in the west. But because firms couldn’t see good investment opportunities, this didn’t happen.Instead, the lower interest rates fuelled a housing boom and the hunt for yield led to strong demand for mortgage derivatives. These bubbles in housing and derivatives then burst, giving us the crisis.

In this way, we’ve seen what Marx saw in the 19th century – that a lack of profitable opportunities in the real economy pushes people down “the adventurous road of speculation, credit frauds, stock swindles, and crises.”

Our state is a pretty good example of what happens to people and the natural environment if the only driving force in a decision is profit of the owners.  Here’s some information on the chemical plant explosions we recently experienced near the place I taught for a few years during grad school.

Back-to-back explosions at chemical plants only miles apart along the Mississippi River have given pause to those who live in the shadows of America’s dirtiest industries.

On Thursday, an explosion at a chemical plant in Geismar, La., owned by Williams Cos. Inc. led to two deaths and injuries – some serious – to dozens of others. Then late Friday, another explosion at a chemical plant just a few miles away in Donaldsonville claimed one life and injured eight people after a nitrogen tank exploded during an offload.

“The incident involved the rupture of an inert nitrogen vessel during the off-loading of nitrogen,” a news release from the company, CF Industries, said. “There was no fire or chemical release nor is there any threat or hazard posed to the community.”

Hundreds of industrial plants, many that either produce or consume poisonous and explosive chemicals, line rivers and bayous throughout the South, but in few places as heavily as around New Orleans and the Mississippi River.

Some 311 chemical manufacturers employing 15,727 people currently exist in the parishes that line the Mississippi from Baton Rouge to its mouth. That number excludes the large numbers of oil refineries and plastics manufacturers in the area.

To be sure, locals welcome jobs that pay an average of more than $40,000 a year. But explosions like the ones that roiled the river this week remind many of the dangers, both to human life and the environment, such jobs bring.

I’d like you to read a story about the Tulane Environmental Law Center and how the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction–a mentor of Bobby Jindal–tried to destroy it in an effort to let a Japanese chemical company locate here. It gives you an idea of what we’re up against when trying to protect the people, the wild life, and the natural beauty of the nation’s Mississippi delta and Gulf area.

In late 1996, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic (the Clinic) took on representation of a community group called St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment in a controversial challenge to Shintech Inc.’s proposed construction of a polyvinyl chloride plant in Convent, Louisiana. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted a petition to veto the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s issuance of an air permit to Shintech,1 Shintech changed its plans and located a downsized facility elsewhere in Louisiana.2

The Shintech dispute sparked a national controversy, featured on national television news shows and, ultimately, in a cable-television movie called “Taking Back Our Town.”3 A common postscript to retellings of the Shintech story is a statement that the Clinic essentially paid for its contribution to St. James Citizens’ success with its life—suffering retaliatory restrictions that supposedly would prevent it from ever representing a group like St. James Citizens again.4 In fact, the Clinic has continued to represent St. James Citizens and similar clients and continues to enjoy its fair share of successes and to weather its share of defeats.5

We continue to have efforts to suppress protection of people, animals and environments from the abuse of the petro-chemical industry. They create huge costs to taxpayers, people and the environment, yet many governments refuse to ensure these costs are recoverable and the loss of life and natural gifts prevented.

No where has the suppression of so many by so few been felt than in the area of women’s health.  No less than 300 bills have been introduced this year that restrict women’s access to birth control, abortion, and basic family planning and health care.

State legislatures across the country have enacted an avalanche of restrictions that deny women of their reproductive rights. Just this year alone, more than 300 anti-abortion measures have been introduced in the states — in direct violation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

The anti-abortion legislation is an unprecedented assault on a woman’s right to make decisions about her body and health. At least 185 anti-abortion laws have been enacted since 2011, and the likelihood that more will be passed this year are very real.

“Half of pregnancies are unintended,” Elizabeth Nash told She is the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute. “Instead of trying to figure out why and preventing women from being put in the situation to need an abortion, we’re doing nothing but putting all these restrictions in place to make it harder to access services when they are needed.”

The laws are the result of the 2010 elections, when droves of conservative and tea party candidates were voted into the state legislatures. The result has been a surge of radical and unconstitutional laws that choke off reproductive rights.

For example:

  • Eleven states have passed abortion bans, making it illegal to get an abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization, or as early as 12 weeks in Arkansas and six weeks in North Dakota. Women are often unaware they are pregnant within this time. Roe v. Wade provides a right to abortion up to 24-26 weeks, when the fetus is viable.
  • Eight states have passed “personhood” laws, giving the zygote legal rights. These laws could make an abortion a crime — regardless of rape, incest or the life of the mother.
  • Eight states require the doctor to give the woman false information, such as requiring doctors to tell women that having an abortion increases their risk of suicide. Scientific research refutes this claim.
  • In 26 states, women are required to receive anti-abortion “counseling” followed by a waiting period before they’re allowed to undergo an abortion.

There is a pattern of increased control of individual rights and of usurping national assets in the name of corporate profits. It’s been systemically enshrined in law at all levels of government.  It is hard to be complacent in the face of these assaults.  We await this week the decision of the Supreme court on issues central to GLBT rights in this country.  It seems there are few government institutions that aren’t corrupted by religious nuts, anti-science nuts, and profit-addicted corporations.  Whatever happened to our rights?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?