Archive for April 21st, 2012
Big report in the NY Times by David Barstow:
In September 2005, a senior Wal-Mart lawyer received an alarming e-mail from a former executive at the company’s largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico. In the e-mail and follow-up conversations, the former executive described how Wal-Mart de Mexico had orchestrated a campaign of bribery to win market dominance. In its rush to build stores, he said, the company had paid bribes to obtain permits in virtually every corner of the country.
The former executive gave names, dates and bribe amounts. He knew so much, he explained, because for years he had been the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits for Wal-Mart de Mexico.
Wal-Mart dispatched investigators to Mexico City, and within days they unearthed evidence of widespread bribery. They found a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million. They also found documents showing that Wal-Mart de Mexico’s top executives not only knew about the payments, but had taken steps to conceal them from Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. In a confidential report to his superiors, Wal-Mart’s lead investigator, a former F.B.I. special agent, summed up their initial findings this way: “There is reasonable suspicion to believe that Mexican and USA laws have been violated.”
The lead investigator recommended that Wal-Mart expand the investigation.
Instead, an examination by The New York Times found, Wal-Mart’s leaders shut it down. . .
Continue reading. A perfect example of “bending the needle” (when danger signs are pointed out (the “needle in the red zone” in effect), the automatic response of business executives—at least in my experience—is to bend the needle: if reports show problems, massage the reports rather than tackle the problems. Partly, I think, it’s laziness, partly stupidity, partly fear (that it may be more than they can handle), and partly it’s kicking the can down the road, hoping to cash out and retire before those particular problems explode.
I tend think of my meals as indicated in the title: Protein, greens, and starch. Protein first is merely professional courtesy: in fact, greens are the heart of the meal and where I often start.
In the morning, planning this, I cooked 3/4 c black rice in 1.5 cup water with a pinch of salt. That was standing by when I began the grüb. I often will cook a pot of rice (black, white, or Minnesota wild) in the morning, figuring that will be the starch of whatever meal I make. I use 1/4 c uncooked rice as 1 serving, and I generally plan amounts so I get less than a serving of starch. (I’m diabetic.) I cooked 3/4 c rice in the expectation that the pot of grüb that would include the rice would make 4-6 meals.
This recipe uses my 4-qt sauté pan, which was pretty full by the end.
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb (or a little less) peeled shallots, sliced thinly (I used the Swissmar V-Slicer: quick and easy)
pinch kosher salt
several grindings black pepper
Sweat those over medium heat until fully softened, then add:
1/4 c minced garlic
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped small
1 handful, celery chopped small
8 oz tempeh, cut into slabs then chunks—I tried a pre-sliced marinated tempeh: lemon-pepper
good sprinkling crushed red pepper
Sauté for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add:
8 domestic white mushrooms, sliced
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 yellow crookneck squash, cubed
1/2 head red cabbage, chopped
the black rice previously cooked
1/4 c Amontillado sherry
juice of 1 lime
splash of sherry vinegar
good squirt of Thai fish sauce
That made a pretty full pot, and the two servings of tempeh seemed a little slack for so many meals. So I added:
1/2 cup salted peanuts
Cover and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Some things the crossed my mind but I didn’t use: black olives, black garlic, a cubed Meyer lemon (I would have done that, but I had already used the lime juice by the time I thought of it).
Drug tests for welfare recipients have as their actual purpose, I feel sure, to humiliate people who need assistance, and to make sure they understand that they are not as good as other people. Have you noticed that the actions conservative lawmakers take are exactly the actions they would take if they hated the poor?
But now it turns out that drug tests cost much more than they save—in fact, the strong driving force behind the testing movement, and the source of funds for the lobbyists, are the businesses that do the testing: with a government requirement, their profits are built in and not subject to ups and downs of public demand (and whim): the tests are required by law so the revenue stream is assured. Businesses like that and are willing to pay money to get it (e.g., through lobbyists, campaign contributions, and the like).
Brittany Alana Davis reports in the Miami Herald:
Required drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved and failed to curb the number of prospective applicants, data used against the state in an ongoing legal battle shows.
The findings — that only 108 of the 4,086 people who took a drug test failed — are additional ammunition for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued the state and won a temporary ban on the drug-testing program in October, said ACLU spokesman Derek Newton.
Attorneys for the state immediately appealed the ban, and will face off against the ACLU again at the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta and the U.S. District Court in Orlando in coming months.
The costs and benefits of the law — and the outcome of the court case — could reverberate nationwide. This week, Georgia passed its own drug welfare law.
Since Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law last year, 25 states have considered similar legislation, Newton said.
Data about the law’s cost may impact the court of public opinion, but Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said it won’t play a role in the legal proceedings.
That’s because ACLU’s case rests on whether the law violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against “unreasonable searches” by the government.
“Any costs associated with the program are irrelevant to the analysis of whether the statute is constitutional,” Meale said.
Of the 4,086 applicants who scheduled drug tests while the law was enforced, 108 people, or 2.6 percent, failed, most often testing positive for marijuana. About 40 people scheduled tests but canceled them, according to the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as the TANF program.
The numbers, confirming previous estimates, show that taxpayers spent $118,140 to reimburse people for drug test costs, at an average of $35 per screening.
The state’s net loss? $45,780. . .
I wonder what the US would be like if ordinary citizens could do what corporations do: when found guilty of a crime, just write a check (“without admitting or denying fault or wrong-doing” as the formula for corporations goes) and be done with it. As with corporations, the total of the check should be relatively modest in terms of total assets and annual revenue—as you can see from look at corporate fines, the amount fined is always a small fraction of annual earnings—and quite often a small fraction of daily earnings. The FCC fined Google for impeding an FCC investigation (more or less equivalent to obstructing justice, sounds to me) a total of $25,000, equivalent to 68 seconds of Google profits. So the fine for an individual might be a couple of dollars for a similar offense.
Still, the US continues to follow two systems of justice: corporations that do wrong pay small fines—tiny, in comparison to their ability to pay—and no one goes to jail, the corporations neither admit nor deny wrongdoing, and life goes on with no real change. An individual, on the other hand, goes to jail and has his or her life disrupted if not destroyed. This is what the US calls “justice.”
Take BP, for example: 11 dead, environmental damage still on-going, and no one is held accountable. No jail time is even contemplated. But steal a loaf of bread and get caught and see what happens—particularly if you’re poor. Abrahm Lustgarden has an interesting column in the NY Times:
TWO years after a series of gambles and ill-advised decisions on a BP drilling project led to the largest accidental oil spill in United States history and the death of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, no one has been held accountable.
Sure, there have been about $8 billion in payouts and, in early March, the outlines of a civil agreement that will cost BP, the company ultimately responsible, an additional $7.8 billion in restitution to businesses and residents along the Gulf of Mexico. It’s also true that the company has paid at least $14 billion more in cleanup and other costs since the accident began on April 20, 2010, bringing the expense of this fiasco to about $30 billion for BP. These are huge numbers. But this is a huge and profitable corporation.
What is missing is the accountability that comes from real consequences: a criminal prosecution that holds responsible the individuals who gambled with the lives of BP’s contractors and the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. Only such an outcome can rebuild trust in an oil industry that asks for the public’s faith so that it can drill more along the nation’s coastlines. And perhaps only such an outcome can keep BP in line and can keep an accident like the Deepwater Horizon disaster from happening again.
BP has already tested the effectiveness of lesser consequences, and its track record proves that the most severe punishments the courts and the United States government have been willing to mete out amount to a slap on the wrist.
Before the gulf blowout, which spilled 200 million gallons of oil, BP was convicted of two felony environmental crimes and a misdemeanor: after it failed to report that its contractors were dumping toxic waste in Alaska in 1995; after its refinery in Texas City, Tex., exploded, killing 15, in 2005; and after it spilled more than 200,000 gallons of crude oil from a corroded pipeline onto the Alaskan tundra in 2006. In all, more than 30 people employed directly or indirectly by BP have died in connection with these and other recent accidents.
In at least two of those cases, the company had been warned of human and environmental dangers, deliberated the consequences and then ignored them, according to my reporting.
None of the upper-tier executives who managed BP — John Browne and Tony Hayward among them — were malicious. Their decisions, however, were driven by money. Neither their own sympathies nor the stark risks in their operations — corroding pipelines, dysfunctional safety valves, disarmed fire alarms and so on — could compete with the financial necessities of profit making.
Before the accident in Texas City, BP had declined to spend $150,000 to fix a part of the system that allowed gasoline to spew into the air and blow up. Documents show that the company had calculated the cost of a human life to be $10 million. Shortly before that disaster, a senior plant manager warned BP’s London headquarters that the plant was unsafe and a disaster was imminent. A report from early 2005 predicted that BP’s refinery would kill someone “within the next 12 to 18 months” unless the company changed its practices. . .
Continue reading. Prison seems appropriate for this scale of wrongdoing, but of course it’s the scale of the wrongdoing that protects the miscreants from prison.
A find from The Wife. Amazing. Here’s just one:
Fascinating post, pointed out by James Fallows, by the Guardian‘s environmental reporter Jonathan Watts, who’s just spent the past 9 years in China. Here’s what he had to say as his valedictory address:
This is the text of a speech given by Jonathan Watts at the 2012 China Environmental Press Awards in Beijing on April 10. The annual awards are co-organised by chinadialogue and The Guardian, in cooperation with Sina and with the support of the SEE Foundation. They aim to recognise and promote outstanding environmental journalism in China.
It is a very great pleasure to speak to you today for professional and personal reasons.
Professionally, I am delighted because the China Environmental Press Awards are now strongly established after three years and the partnership between The Guardian, chinadialogue and Sina to organise this event has moved from strength to strength. On behalf of The Guardian Media Group, let me extend our appreciation to our excellent partners, and to all of you for participating.
Personally, this is also a special moment. I will be leaving China later this month, and I would like to take this opportunity to share some reflections on my nine years in China. In essence, what I am going to say is that I believe you are covering the most important story in the world, but that story is too often shunted into a cul-de-sac. It is necessary to be more assertive and to take the key issues into other areas – economics, politics, foreign affairs.
That is a bold statement. I want to explain how I reached such a viewpoint. It is mainly as a result of working in China since 2003, first as a general news correspondent up until the 2008 Olympics and then as Asia environment correspondent.
I did not come to China expecting to become an environmental writer.
When I arrived in China in 2003, I believed I had the best job in the world, working for my favourite newspaper in the biggest nation at arguably the most dramatic phase of transformation in its history. I still clearly recall my first few weeks and months here. Like many newcomers, I delighted at discoveries of Chinese literature and Daoist philosophy, Beijing parks, the edgy eccentricity of Dashanzi and the Chinese language, though I never managed to master it.
That was a thrilling time – as Beijing prepared for The Olympics and a new leadership of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao held out the prospect of change. My mantra in those early years was that in China “nothing is certain, so everything is possible”.
This was true for the environment, which was horrible. I very quickly came to the conclusion that the situation was so appalling in China that this was the country most likely to make a change for the better. I told journalist friends at the time of my hopes for a green revolution here but they were more focused on politics and hopes for reform.
But when I look back at the past nine years, the environment and the economy have been bigger drivers of change. It has been a remarkable period. Let me just give you a few numbers to hammer home the point: in the past nine years, China’s GDP has quadrupled; incomes have risen three-fold and car ownership five-fold; coal consumption has more than doubled and carbon-dioxide emissions have followed suit to become easily the biggest in the world. . .
And you might also find this article by James Fallows on Chinese aviation to be of interest.
The movie reminds me to recommend Carla Needleman’s superb book The Work of Craft. Secondhand copies at the link.
Extremely nice shave today. I used the new Edwin Jagger artificial badger—this was a gift, and it’s quite good: soft but effective. I got three samples of Mystic Water Shaving Soap, and it turns out to be an excellent soap: abundant thick lather for every pass. This is in marked contrast to the two earlier soaps, both of which required some care to get that third pass—or a return to the soap. In addition, the lather had the requisite tiny bubbles, unlike the large bubbles in the Soap by Judy, which I attribute to the olive oil in her soap: olive oil just doesn’t seem to work well with shaving soap—at least that’s been my experience to date. Mystic Water soap, in contrast, uses tallow—and not just any tallow, but tallow rendered from suet from grass-fed beef raised locally in Maryland’s abundant green pastures.
At any rate, this was a very nice soap, and now I’ve ordered some tubs. Her description of this fragrance:
The emphasis here is on the lime and lemon verbena, with sweet coconut to round it out. I think it will be a nice summer scent. Fragrance oil.
That is right on target. I got the lime and lemon verbena, but I couldn’t find the coconut—I suspect it adds some depth. Wonderful lather, fine fragrance, and—once I picked up the razor—it did a good job in the shave. Three passes with the Amazing ARC Weber (I’m moving it to Superhero status), and I feel refreshed and renewed, especially after a good splash of Captain’s Choice Bay Rum. Aaaargh, me hearties! Time for a weekend!