This post first appeared on Think Progress. As ThinkProgress has documented, the “U.S.” Chamber Of Commerce has for years received at least hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign-owned corporations. While the Chamber claims that the foreign funds it receives do not fund its $75 million in partisan attack ads, it would be highly unusual for these foreign corporations to be donating to the organization without expecting some sort of political activity on their behalf. Now, a new Chamber paper advocating for a change in a U.S. law intended to crack down on American-based multinational corporations bribing foreign governments may provide an answer as to why these foreign firms are doling out cash to the right-wing lobbying group. Yesterday, the Chamber kicked off its U.S. Chamber Institute For Legal Reform Legal Reform Summit 2010, where it is advocating for its pro-corporate “legal reform” agenda. As a part of the agenda, the Chamber is presenting a paper at its summit titled “Restoring Balance: Proposed Amendments to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” Since 1977, when it was first enacted, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) has been the government’s main enforcement mechanism to stop American-based multinational firms from bribing foreign governments in order to win special business advantages. The anti-corruption law has been especially strong during the Obama Administration, during which FCPA-related fines collected by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) dramatically increased — in just the first two months of 2010, they totaled $1.2 billion, far more than the measly $87 million collected in all of 2007 by the Bush Administration. Therefore, it makes sense that, now, with the “likelihood of a Republican wave in midterm elections” being increasingly high, the Chamber would release a paper proposing amendments to the law that would serve to gut many of its core provisions:
Limiting a company’s successor criminal FCPA liability for prior acts of a company it has acquired: The Chamber’s paper advocates for restricting the amount of liability a company can take on from a firm it merges with that is guilty of FCPA violations. This would allow companies to engage in corrupt practices and then merge with other businesses and reduce the penalties they face. (page 14) – Limiting a parent company’s civil liability for the acts of a subsidiary: This amendment would restrict the ability of the SEC and DOJ to hold American companies accountable for the actions of their foreign subsidiaries as long as the American parent firms could reasonably prove that they were not aware of the actions of their foreign subsidiaries. The problem with changing the law in this way is that it could greenlight corruption abuses by foreign subsidiaries that the parent company would profit from but not be held accountable for. (page 22) – Clarifying definition of “foreign official”: The Chamber complains about a 2009 case by the Obama DOJ and SEC where they fined Control Components, Inc. for bribing state-owned companies in China, Malaysia, South Korea, and the UAE. The government defined bribing state-owned companies as the same as bribing foreign governments. The Chamber seeks to limit this definition, which it believes is too broad. Overly restricting the government’s ability to hold firms accountable for bribing state-owned companies just as if they were bribing foreign governments would potentially open up new channels of corruption. One of the Chamber’s cited cases of supposed abuse of this government authority is for fining defense contractor KBR for bribing a company that is 49 percent owned by the Nigerian government. Presumably, 49 percent is not a high enough threshold for the business lobby to consider it corrupt influencing of a foreign government. (pages 24-26)
In trying to weaken the FCPA so as to allow corporations greater leeway in engaging in corrupt practices, the Chamber is not simply acting out of ideological solidarity with the big business interests it champions. Numerous members of — and donors to — the Chamber have engaged in FCPA violations or are currently under investigation. Here is a short but far from comprehensive list:
Dow Chemical: Dow, which donated $1.9 million to the Chamber last year, paid a $325,000 settlement with the SEC in 2007 for FCPA violations. – Shell: Petroleum giant Shell is a dues-paying member of the Chamber that refused to quit the organization despite its climate change denialism last year. The company is currently nearing a settlement with the DOJ and SEC over an FCPA violation related to bribing Nigerian officials. Analysts expect it to pay at least $30 million. – General Electric: Chamber member General Electric (GE), while denouncing its climate change denialism, also refused to quit the organization over it. GE settled with the SEC with a $23 million settlement earlier this year for FCPA violations related to the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal. – Halliburton: Halliburton, a proud member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had a record-breaking settlement with the SEC in 2009, paying $800 million for an FCPA violation related to bribery in Nigeria.
While the Chamber of Commerce continues to use the slogan “Fighting For Your Business,” it is increasingly apparent that the people it fights for above all else are its funders — multinational corporations whose loyalty is not to American consumers or transparency and good governance, but rather to their own bottom lines.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Author, radio host, and TV personality Lou Dobbs — who ended his long career at CNN this past November with an $8 million severance pay package — made his name in public life by railing against undocumented immigrants. Dobbs has always reserved special derision for illegal employers, who he says are “acting against the national interests, acting against the law in every respect.” Now, a new investigation by journalist Isabel Macdonald for The Nation Magazine has found that the notorious pundit “has relied for years on undocumented labor for the upkeep of his multimillion-dollar estates and the horses he keeps for his 22-year-old daughter, Hillary, a champion show jumper.” Macdonald interviewed five immigrants who were undocumented at the time they were employed by Dobbs to do work at his “sprawling white mansion on his 300-acre estate in Sussex, New Jersey” and ” spacious multimillion-dollar winter holiday home in Eagle Isle, the most exclusive enclave of the Ibis Golf and Country Club, a gated community in West Palm Beach, Florida.” At one point during the investigation, Macdonald asked an undocumented worker she refers to under the psuedonym “Pedro Gomez” if he believes that the Dobbs family knew that many of the workers they were hiring were undocumented. Gomez replied that he believed at least Hillary Dobbs knew, and that the stable owner at the Dobbs estate definitely knew “that some people didn’t have papers…and had even taken precautions to keep the workers away from the immigration agents who often patrol the areas around horse shows.” Interestingly, when Macdonald reached out to Dobbs and the contractor that does the landscaping for his estate in West Palm Beach, both repeatedly dodged any questions about the subject. Dobbs refused to comment on the piece and said through his attorney that he would only answer questions “if posed on his live radio show.” The owner of the landscaping company said he “didn’t feel comfortable talking” about the status of the workers on the property he worked on:
Responding to The Nation’s request for comment from Lou Dobbs, Chad Wilkinson, producer of The Lou Dobbs Show, said by e-mail that “Lou will not be commenting for the piece.” Dobbs’s attorney, Robert Zeller, clarified by e-mail that Dobbs would only answer questions if posed on his live radio show. (The Nation agreed to appear on the show but only after publication of this article.) I asked Mike Sedlak, the owner of Sedlak Landscaping, the contractor that maintains the grounds on Dobbs’s West Palm Beach property, whether Dobbs has ever inquired about the status of his employees. Sedlak said only, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” and quickly got off the phone.
The Nation produced a video to illustrate Dobbs’s long history of hypocrisy attacking undocumented immigrants and those who employ them. Watch it:
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that “more people signed up for Medicaid last year than at any time since the program’s inception,” and that 48 million Americans are now enrolled in the federal-state health insurance program designed to serve low-income Americans who otherwise would not be able to afford to get health care. In an interview posted on YouTube last week, Tom Tancredo — the American Constitution Party candidate for governor who has overtaken GOP candidate Dan Maes in the latest polls — explained one way to reduce enrollment or eliminate participation in the insurance program would be to starve the government of the funds to operate it. While explaining that he is interested in Colorado’s Proposition 60, which would limit how taxes can be raised in the state and would automatically reduce some taxes, Tancredo says that it’s been his “experience anyway that the only way you actually get government under control is by reducing the flow of dollars.” He argued that the only way to “eliminate” Medicaid and similar programs is when the government is “pressed to the wall financially,” concluding, “I like the idea of doing something that absolutely presses you to the wall”:
TANCREDO: It’s been my experience anyway that the only way you actually get government under control is by reducing the flow of dollars. I’m not an anarchist. There are some things that have to be done by the state, but it is so hard to get the state to look at things that don’t have to be done. I’ll give you an example, there are at least a dozen increases in medical services came about as a result of what the legislature and the people did by passing the cigarette tax [...] I don’t think you can attribute all of the increase in Medicaid recipients to this but a substantial number came about as a result of it. We went from 260,000 people eligible for Medicaid to almost double, 480,000. Now as I say, recession plays a role to that, less jobs [...] but also there are a whole bunch of things we don’t have to do. Now have you ever heard anybody suggest that we can eliminate those? Even though you could, it is not mandated by the federal government. The only way you get to that point is when you are pressed to the wall financially. Will we ever really deal with PERA unless we are pressed to the wall [...] So I like the idea of doing something that absolutely presses you to the wall.
Watch it: Although Tancredo’s explanation for exactly how he plans to stop the government from helping sick Americans is new, his opposition to any government role in health care is not. During a GOP Iowa Straw Poll debate in 2007, Tancredo admitted that his views are “unique, different and scary to some people,” but he doesn’t believe that the federal government has any role in helping people get health care. He opted instead for boosting “individual responsibility.” When the questioner asked Tancredo about voting against an expansion of children’s health insurance, the former GOP congressman proudly boasted, “You bet I did.”
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Wisconsin GOP U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson often touts the fact that he comes from outside the political system and has spent his life building busineses in the private sector. Yet before running for Senate, Johnson did have one prominent act of political participation. In January 2010, Johnson testified before the Wisconsin state legislature in opposition to the bipartisan Wisconsin Child Victims Act. The legislation, if passed, would alter Wisconsin law to eliminate the statute of limitations on civil suits for child abuse and allow a three-year window to bring suit for victims who were victimized before the bill. The legislation also specifies that the entities that can be sued would include not just individuals, but also a “corporation, business trust, limited liability company,” and other formal organizations that could be held accountable for the illegal behavior of their employees. As the bill’s authors write, “We believe that there should be no deadline on justice for child sexual abuse victims.” But Johnson did not place protecting victims as his highest priority. In his testimony before the Wisconsin legislature, he said it was “extremely important to consider the economic havoc…and the other victims” that the new law would “likely create” — ridiculously comparing child abuse victims to the economic damages faced by employers being sued. Johnson warned that the Child Victims Act would lead to businesses or other organizations that work with children to be “damaged or destroyed” by civil suits and that it would “send a chilling signal” to civic-minded organizations like the Boy Scouts to not work with children in the future. He then opined that if the bill were passed, “I have no doubt trial lawyers would benefit, I’m not so sure that the actual victims would“:
JOHNSON: I think it is extremely important to consider the economic havor and the other victims [the Wisconsin Child Victims Act] would likely create. [...] I believe it is a valid question to ask whether the employer of a perpetrator should also be severely damaged, or possibly destroyed, in our legitimate desire for justice. [...] It would also send a chilling signal to avoid this civic minded activity in the future. [...] I have no doubt trial lawyers would benefit, I’m not so sure the actual victims would.
Watch it: In an interview with a Wisconsin radio host, Alsion Arngim — child advocate, Little House on the Prairie actress, and a former victim of child abuse herself — said that Johnson’s statements “blew her mind.” Reflecting on Johnson’s positions, she asked, “Do you have to flunk a course in logic to run for office?” (HT: FDL).
This post first appeared on Think Progress. For months, extremist pastor Terry Jones’s Dove World Outreach Center planned to hold “International Burn a Qur’an Day,” where Jones’s congregation would publicly burn copies of the Islamic holy text. While Jones back down in the face of public rebuke from officials like Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his hate campaign spawned a number of copycat extremists across the country who enacted their own plans to burn the Islamic holy book, held anti-Muslim rallies, and vandalized Muslim places of worship:
– A burned Qur’an, its “pages covered in feces,” was found outside a mosque in East Lansing, Michigan. The FBI is currently investigating the incident. [9/11/10] – “Stop Islamization of America” held a 1,500 person-strong rally against the Park 51 Islamic community center in New York City, with the headline speaker being Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who has called Islam “the ideology of a retarded culture.” [9/11/10] – In Springfield, Tennessee, two pastors burned copies of the Qur’an, “answering what they say was a message from God.” The burning “took place in front of just a handful of people, most of them from the media.” [9/12/10] – A burned and shot Qur’an was left outside the Annoor Mosque in Knoxville, Tennessee. [9/12/10]
Yet as extremists continued their anti-Islam crusade, a broad majority of mainstream Americans pushed back against hate over the weekend. They held rallies, hosted interfaith events, and even utilized skateboards to fight back against the rising tide of Islamophobia among the far right:
– Leaders of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths in Atlanta, including the “dean of the Civil Rights Movement,” Rev. Joseph Lowery, held a press conference and rally “on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary” to denounce religious bigotry. [9/10/10] – More than a thousand people attended an interfaith event in Gainesville, Florida, where Jones originally planned to burn the Qur’an. Members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu faiths attended the event. [9/10/10] – 75 people, including “Christians, Jews, Quakers, members of the Baha’i” faith, gathered in Santa Cruz, California, for an interfaith rally at the Town Clock. [9/11/10] – As ThinkProgress previously reported, a 23 year-old skateboarder named Jacob Isom stopped the burning of a Qur’an by a radical right-wing pastor. Isom grabbed the book before the pastor was able to light it on fire, telling him, “Dude, you have no Qur’an,” before taking off. [9/11/10]
In Rochester, New York, scores of people attended a rally and heard speeches from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders about the need to be tolerant of other faiths. Former Rochester mayor Bill Johnson keynoted the event. Watch local news station WAHM 13’s report about the rally: More »
Update A man also ripped pages out of a Qur'an and set them on fire near Ground Zero in New York City. Animal New York caught the event on video. Watch it:
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. As news that Rev. Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Center planned to publicly burn a Qur’an — an operation which appears to have been called off, for now — raced around the world, many in the Muslim world reacted with angry protests, feeling that Jones’ actions were indicative of an America that was indifferent to the sensitivities of the Islamic faith. Yet on Saturday, the day that Jones had dubbed “International Burn a Qur’an Day,” one American stepped forward to fight back against the rising tide of Islamophobia among the far-right. In Amarillo, Texas, David Grisham, director of Repent Amarillo, “which aims to deter promiscuity, homosexuality and non-Christian worship practices through confrontation and prayer,” planned to burn the Islamic holy text at a public gathering. But before he could set the book ablaze, a 23 year-old skateboarder named Jacob Isom swooped in and grabbed it:
A planned Quran burning Saturday in Amarillo was thwarted by a 23-year-old carrying a skateboard and wearing a T-shirt with “I’m in Repent Amarillo No Joke” scrawled by hand on the back. Jacob Isom, 23, grabbed David Grisham’s Quran when he became distracted while arguing with several residents at Sam Houston Park about the merits of burning the Islamic holy book. “You’re just trying to start Holy Wars,” Isom said of Grisham after he gave the book to a religious leader from the Islamic Center of Amarillo.
Local news station News Channel 10 covered the event and interviewed Isom. Isom told News Channel 10 that “he heard something about burning the Qur’an. Then I snuck up behind [Grisham] and told him, ‘Dude, you have no Qur’an,’ and took off.” Watch it: As Amarillo Citizens Against Repent Amarillo’s Facebook page shows, Isom made sure the book made it into the safe hands of a smiling local Muslim leader.
This post originally appeared on Think Progress. A recently-released Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll surveyed Americans on a variety of issues, including their views on the country’s direction, their approval of the president’s handling of the economy, and what they think of Congress’ performance. One section of the poll asked respondents how they would feel about a candidate who ran based on several different policy platforms. Respondents then replied whether they were enthusiastic about the platform, comfortable with it, had reservations about it, were very uncomfortable with the position, if it made no difference, or they weren’t sure. The results were listed numerically responding to each category from left to right. The two issues that netted the highest “uncomfortable” rating from poll respondents were Bush’s economic policies and Social Security privatization. 39 percent of those polled responded that they’d be uncomfortable with voting for a candidate who supported the economic polices of former president George W. Bush. But the position that provoked the highest level of opposition was supporting “phasing out Social Security and instead [supporting] allowing workers to invest their Social Security contributions in the stock market,” with 49 percent of respondents saying the position made them “very uncomfortable“: poll7 While the poll shows that only 21 percent of the public is “enthusiastic” or “comfortable” with slowly privatizing Social Security, there are a number of leading Republican officeholders who have endorsed the concept of doing so. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the “ranking member on the House Budget Committee,” has put together a road map for privatizing the program that is similar to President Bush’s failed 2005 plan. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has also indicated that he’d like to revive the Bush effort. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has talked about the need to “wean” Americans off the program. Meanwhile, a number of leading Republicans running for office have also endorsed radical plans to privatize the program. Both Pennsylvania Republican senate candidate Pat Toomey and Rand Paul have endorsed at least partially privatizing Social Security. Nevada Republican senate candidate Sharon Angle has called for the program to be “phased out,” and Alaska Republican senate candidate Joe Miller has gone even further, declaring that the program is simply unconstitutional.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the chairman of the Atlantic Council, recently sat down for an interview with the Washington Diplomat. In the interview, the former senator touched on a variety of topics, including what he feels is the need for the United States to “unwind” from the war in Afghanistan. Towards the end of the interview, Hagel says that while he has “no plans to renounce his membership in the party,” he finds that the Republican Party of which he is a part is not “presenting any new alternatives, any new options, or any new thinking“:
“I don’t see them presenting any alternatives, any new options or any new thinking,” Hagel said. “If the Republicans get back in power, what are they going to do? There is no articulation. It’s just a ‘no no no, I’m against Obama because he’s a socialist and he’s taking America in the wrong direction.’ That’s certainly an opinion, but what about you, Mr. Republican? What would you do?”
In fact, leading Republicans like Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Peter King have proudly embraced the “no, no, no” agenda. Hagel told the interviewer that he remains confident that his party will once again rebuild itself. “The Republican Party will find a new center of gravity,” he said. “I think they’ll let this nonsense play out. It’s like a bad storm — it just has to go through.”
This blog first appeared on Think Progress. For months, conservatives have led a hateful campaign against the proposed Park 51 Islamic community center that is going to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City. High-ranking Republicans have spearheaded this campaign, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich even going as far as to claim that Park 51 will act as a launching pad for the introduction of “Sharia law” to America. Now, Newsweek reveals the most concrete evidence yet that this campaign is serving to bolster support for Islamic radicalism abroad. In an interview with the magazine, a Taliban operative going by the name Zabihullah said that, by “preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor.” He goes on to explain that the anti-mosque campaign is providing the Taliban with “with more recruits, donations, and popular support.” Another Taliban official expects that the anti-mosque campaign will provoke a “new wave of terrorist trainees from the West,” similar to suspected Times Square car bomber Faisal Shahzad. Zabihullah concludes, the “more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get”:
Taliban officials know it’s sacrilegious to hope a mosque will not be built, but that’s exactly what they’re wishing for: the success of the fiery campaign to block the proposed Islamic cultural center and prayer room near the site of the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. “By preventing this mosque from being built, America is doing us a big favor,” Taliban operative Zabihullah tells NEWSWEEK. (Like many Afghans, he uses a single name.) “It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.” [...] Taliban officials say they’re looking forward to a new wave of terrorist trainees from the West like this year’s Times Square car bomber. “I expect we will soon be receiving more American Muslims like Faisal Shahzad who are looking for help in how to express their rage,” says a Taliban official who was a senior minister when the group ruled Afghanistan and who remains active in the insurgency. As an indication of the anger that is growing among some Muslims in the West, this official, who requested anonymity for security reasons, mentions the arrest of three Canadian Muslims in Ontario last week on charges of plotting to build and detonate improvised explosive devices. (A fourth individual was arrested in Ottawa last Friday in connection with the case.) The Ground Zero furor will likely add to that anger. “The more mosques you stop, the more jihadis we will get,” Zabihullah predicts.
As ThinkProgress previously noted, researchers at Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill concluded in a study earlier this year that contemporary mosques in the United States serve as a deterrent to Islamic radicalism. It now appears that the relationship works both ways. As the majority of tolerant and progressive Muslim Americans — like those heading Park 51 and other mosques — are prevented from peacefully practicing their own faith, the more likely it is that Muslims across the world will be radicalized and turned violent.
Cross-posted from Think Progress. Last Thursday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) held a town hall with his constituents in Shelby, Ohio, and fielded questions on a variety of topics ranging from health care to the economy. At one point, a constituent asked him about Republicans’ plans to throw “a monkey wrench in the gears of everything Obama does” if they re-take the House of Representatives. Jordan replied by saying that “most of what [the GOP] can get done” if they happen to capture the House is “have the big fight, have the big debate, and have the framework for the 2012 election”:
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Assuming it’s accurate that Republicans will get the House, how effective will that be in throwing a monkey wrench in the gears of everything Obama does?JORDAN: If we win, what will we get done? Mostly, I’ll be honest, most of what we can get done is have the big fight, have the big debate, and have the framework for the 2012 election.
Watch it: Jordan’s comments are the latest piece of evidence that suggests that the GOP does not have a substantive policy agenda it plans to implement if it makes gains in the 2010 congressional elections. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said that if the GOP wins, “all we should do is issue subpoenas.” And Rep. Peter King (R-NY) argued the GOP shouldn’t lay out an agenda because it might become “a campaign issue.”