Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Last Call For The Bribes Heard Round The World

The Huffington Post has published the results of a major international bribery investigation into a company called Unaoil, which is apparently something of a global bribery fixer outfit responsible for helping multinational corporations do business with unsavory failed state types and paving the way for terrorist organizations.

Hundreds of major international corporations — including Halliburton, its former subsidiary KBR, Rolls-Royce and Samsung — counted on Unaoil to secure lucrative contracts in Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and other countries in Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union, tens of thousands of internal emails and documents reveal. It’s common for large multinational corporations to partner with smaller firms with local expertise to win contracts. But in many cases, Unaoil wasn’t winning contracts because of its expertise — it was winning them by paying millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt officials. 
Most of the companies that worked with Unaoil denied involvement in corrupt activities. “KBR is committed to conducting its business honestly, with integrity, and in compliance with all applicable laws,” a spokeswoman said. “We do not tolerate illegal or unethical practices by our employees or others working on behalf of the Company.” Samsung “has always complied with the laws and regulations when performing business,” the company said. Rolls-Royce, which sent a Unaoil subsidiary a letter in 2013 suspending the relationship, citing corruption allegations, said that it is “co-operating with the authorities and do not comment on ongoing investigations. We have made it clear that Rolls-Royce will not tolerate business misconduct of any kind.” 
By aiding the corruption of already-distrusted regimes and accelerating the flow of money and resources out of poor countries, Unaoil and its partners were risking far more than fines and criminal penalties. They were creating political instability, turning citizens against their governments, and fueling the rage that would erupt during the Arab Spring — and be exploited by terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Companies and individuals pay at least $1 trillion in bribes to public sector officials annually, according to an estimate by Daniel Kaufman, a governance expert with the World Bank Institute.

The Unaoil emails don’t show corrupt third-world kleptocracies shaking down helpless western corporations. They show the opposite: Unaoil, working for western companies, is seen slowly corrupting foreign officials, starting off with small gifts and shopping sprees and eventually hooking them on major graft. 
“There is always somebody who pays,” the billionaire hedge fund magnate George Soros has said, “and international business is generally the main source of corruption.” That’s part of the story that terrorists have long told local populations to justify jihadist insurgency. In many of the cases uncovered here, it happens to be true.

I'm not surprised that international corporations are involved in blood money in order to move products and resources through other companies to hide that involvement.  I'm more that a bit concerned however at the number of companies that all used Unaoil to grease the skids over the last decade or so and basically nobody noticed.

Based in Monaco but incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, Unaoil says it provides “industrial solutions to the energy sector in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.” It was founded in 1991 by Ata Ahsani, an Iranian-born millionaire who left the country after the 1979 revolution. The company’s work, Ahsani told HuffPost and Fairfax Media, is “very basic. What we do is integrate western technology with local capability.” Two of Ata Ahsani’s sons, Cyrus and Saman, are deeply involved in the company’s day-to-day operations. 
Here’s how Unaoil’s schemes often worked. During the time frame covered by the documents — most of which date from the end of 2003 to the middle of 2011 — Unaoil’s practice was to ask its partners for a percentage of the revenue from any contracts Unaoil helped them win. Once Unaoil made sure it had a stake in its client’s business, it would sometimes use a portion of its cut to bribe government officials — and keep the rest for itself.

They say the simplest schemes are the most tried and true methods, I guess.  All we need is a fabulous desert casino, a car chase in Abu Dhabi or Tunis, some Russian mobsters, and an exotic assassin or three and James Bond would be damn proud.  Throw in the angle that these bribes are going to everyone from tinpot dictators to terror groups like AQ and IS and you wonder just how much blowback we've avoided here in the US that we're more than due.

Because insurgents thrive when Western-friendly governments become corrupt and weak, they are especially pleased when the U.S. and Western corporations undermine governance by enabling corruption. As Soros said, somebody has to pay the bribes. Corruption in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, has only gotten worse since the U.S. invaded, bringing western corporations and money with it. Between 2003 and 2015, Iraq fell from 113th on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index to 161st. “We’ve learned our lesson kind of the hard way,” said Keith Henderson, who evaluated Iraqi anti-corruption efforts for the State Department in 2008 and now teaches at American University’s law school. “If you don’t do something to abate or address corruption in state institutions, one of the very probable outcomes is civil unrest and possible insurgency.”

We'll see where this all goes.  The US government is definitely looking into bribery fueling terrorism, but how far are they going to get when the major players paying up have bought the same governments investigating them?

More Tortured Logic, Con't

The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels and mass shooting spree in San Bernardino hasn't made Americans any less bloodthirsty when it comes to justification of torture of terror suspects.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe torture can be justified to extract information from suspected terrorists, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, a level of support similar to that seen in countries like Nigeria where militant attacks are common. 
The poll reflects a U.S. public on edge after the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino in December and large-scale attacks in Europe in recent months, including a bombing claimed by the militant group Islamic State last week that killed at least 32 people in Belgium. 
Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has forcefully injected the issue of whether terrorism suspects should be tortured into the election campaign. 
Trump has said he would seek to roll back President Barack Obama's ban on waterboarding - an interrogation technique that simulates drowning that human rights groups contend is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. Trump has also vowed to "bring back a hell of a lot worse" if elected. 
Trump's stance has drawn broad criticism from human rights organizations, world bodies, and political rivals. But the poll findings suggest that many Americans are aligned with Trump on the issue, although the survey did not ask respondents to define what they consider torture. 
"The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions," said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between terrorist threats and public opinion. "Fear, anger, general anxiety: (Trump) gives a certain credibility to these feelings," she said. 
The March 22-28 online poll asked respondents if torture can be justified "against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism." About 25 percent said it is "often" justified while another 38 percent it is "sometimes" justified. Only 15 percent said torture should never be used.

Republicans were more accepting of torture to elicit information than Democrats: 82 percent of Republicans said torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified, compared with 53 percent of Democrats.
About two-thirds of respondents also said they expected a terrorist attack on U.S. soil within the next six months.

So more than half of Dems and more than 80% of Republicans think torture is justified in some way, including a quarter of folks saying it's often justified.  Two-thirds expect some kind of terror attack before the election as well.  Americans are frightened out of their wits, frankly.

The effect this will have on the election?  Politicians have been playing the fear card for a long time, and it works time and time again.

We've learned very little since 9/11, and I don't see any reason why we'd start learning now.

The Budget For Bevinstan

With time running out on a March 31 deadline for Kentucky's 2017-2018 budget, GOP Gov. Matt Bevin and the Republican-led Kentucky Senate are starting up the blame game on Kentucky Democrats in the House for daring to resist Bevin's across the board austerity cuts.

The Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate appear to have made no progress in conference committee negotiations that began Thursday on a 2016-18 state government spending plan. 
A press release from Bevin's office early Tuesday said, "Gov. Matt Bevin and House and Senate GOP leadership will hold a media availability to discuss the status of budget conference negotiations." 
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, on Monday blamed the deadlock on Bevin, saying the governor was interfering with the talks. 
Between negotiation sessions of the conference committee on Monday the governor visited Senate Republicans behind closed doors. And later he blamed Stumbo. "We are willing to negotiate with anyone who is willing to sit down at the table," Bevin said. "Greg Stumbo is not such a person, unfortunately."

The sticking point is who will have to bear the billions of shoring up Kentucky's critically underfunded state pension system.

Over two years the Senate budget would add nearly $1.48 billion to the state's ailing pension funds. The House also adds a lot for pensions - about $1.4 billion. The House provides a bit more for the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System than the Senate but significantly less than the Senate to Kentucky Employees Retirement Systems. And the Senate also leaves $250 million in a reserve fund - called the 'permanent fund" - to be used in the future for pension funding. 
The House leaves no money in the permanent fund. Instead, the House uses that money to restore deep cuts Bevin and the Senate have proposed to universities and scores of programs that support public schools
Also apparently still part of the discussions is the judicial branch budget.- which has been passed by both chambers in a form that chief Justice John Minton said is $76 million short of funding the court system in the next two years
Minton has said if that budget becomes law it would require him to cut 600 employees in the judicial branch, shut down successful drug courts and likely result in 17,000 people awaiting trial on criminal charges being sent back to jail because of a lack of staff to supervise them while on release.

It's those school and university cuts that are the dealbreaker so far, especially since Bevin wants to use those massive austerity cuts to make a half-billion dollar slush fund to spend on his budget priorities, a non-starter for KY Dems.  It's not quite Kansas's level of austerity cuts.  Yet.

We'll see where this goes, but the clock is almost up, and without a budget, all of Kentucky will suffer.


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