Warren, Mandela, and Truth

This morning’s Washington Post ran the story “Think tank’s criticism of Elizabeth Warren’s populist policies leads to Democratic feud”. Click HERE to read the story.

The story runs the day after the death of one of the world’s great leaders who turned his vision into reality in South Africa: Nelson Mandela. It was reading the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and biographies of Gandhi that Mandela became the voice that changed Apartheid.

Reading the online “comments” on today’s Washington Post article about Senator Warren led me to leave my own comment, as follows.

Elizabeth Warren rankles the feathers of all who have yet to see the insidious assault of crony capitalism on the integrity of a democratic Republic. Right, left, and center thinking people in this country recognize we have a VERY serious systemic problem that required redress. Think tanks, like political parties themselves, belong to the people who pay their bills. Senator Warren does not work for a think tank, and does not work for the Democratic Party. She represents the people with conscience, clarity, and boldness that cut to the quick. That’s to be applauded. Dismissing her as an unrealistic idealist is also to dismiss Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and, particularly apt for today, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who saw something better for their societies.

Chime in with your views.

Stopping Crony Capitalism

“Cashing in on public service by lobbying for unethical corporations is offensive to the American people….” Click HERE to read the petition to stop a former U.S. Senator from turning her Washington, D.C. public service into private insider influence on behalf of the likes of Monsanto.

It’s called “Crony capitalism.”

Cutting the umbilical cord that keeps money flowing from the public treasury to private sector corporations whose lobbying resources are unmatched by the voting public is an act of patriotism on behalf of the integrity of a democratic Republic. A nation governed by Crony Capitalism is not a country “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Consider signing the petition and passing it along to your friends. Thanks!

Hide-and-Seek: Oysters Can’t Hide

Oysters can't hide!

Oysters can’t hide!

The subsistence fishers who have inhabited Isle de Jean Charles since 1830 see things differently from BP and the mainline press.

‘Come to Louisiana. Everything is fine’ say the BP ads. Well, they’re not fine. There are no oysters. There are no shrimp,” said Chief Albert Naquin of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw during a recent three hour conversation in Chaska, Minnesota.

Chief Naquin and Kristina Peterson were on route to Duluth for a consultation of American indigenous people focusing on the Mississippi River from its headwaters in Minnesota to its mouth in Louisiana, the site of the vanishing traditional home of the Isle de Jean Charles tribe.

Kristina is a professional community disaster recovery specialist who splits her time between the University of New Orleans Center for Hazards Assessment, Response, and Technology (CHART) and the Blue Bayou Presbyterian Church in Gray, LA, where she is the Pastor. Kristina had come to Chaska, MN two years ago as speaker for First Tuesday Dialogues: examining critical public issues locally and globally, a community forum of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church.

For three hours we discussed what was happening three years after the ecological tragedy America has almost forgotten.

ABOUT ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES

The people of Isle de Jean Charles have been there since 1830. They re-settled there after fleeing the U.S. government’s forced re-settlement program, leaving their native lands in search of a place where they could continue their culture and live together in hiding.

The place that became home was a piece of solid land hidden deep in the freshwater marshlands of the Louisiana Delta. When they settled there, the island measured 10 miles long by five miles wide.

From there they fished the coastal waters abundant in oysters, crabs, shrimp, and fish. They grew their own vegetables and fruit trees, and used its green pasture for horses and cows. The members of the tribe in hiding shared their seafood, dairy products, chickens, and produce with each other in a barter economy.

“My mother told me every time I went out to play, ‘If you see a stranger, hide.”’

THE 1940s: OIL CANALS

As Chief Albert tells the story, the accelerated erosion of the Gulf coastlands dates to the early 1940s. Big oil received a license from federal, state, and local authorities to dig canals through the Delta marshlands in search of oil. The new canals cut every which way, often crisscrossing, in search of liquid gold. And as they did, the marsh began to disappear. The salt water of the Gulf of Mexico seeped further and further into the Delta.

Chief Naquin and his people do not forget. They have long attention spans. They remember that oil canals were created by licensed permission under specified conditions. They remember that the licenses had time limits The time limits have long since passed. They remember what others have ignored or conveniently forgotten: the terms of the licenses required the oil companies to remediate the land at the conclusion of the license period.

The reclamation never took place. The Chief remembers. Click HERE for BP’s online promotion of its work to restore the Gulf of Mexico since Deep Water Horizon. There’s nothing about the canals or the licenses that required reclamation of the Delta.

ISLE DE JEAN CHARLES TODAY

The island that once measured 10 miles by five miles has shrunk to two miles long and one-quarter mile wide. The island will not survive.

Chief Naquin has been working to negotiate a suitable substitute for their ancestral home. The Army Corp of Engineers offered an alternative site that would have kept the tribe together, preserved their way of life, and helped bring income to the tribe by means of a visitor center for tourists.

A condition of occupying the new land, however, was that 100% of the tribe’s members vote Yes on the proposal. The vote was 85%. The 15% minority are mostly older people who have lived their entire lives on Isle de Jean Charles and insist they will go down with the island.

“When’s the last time any city, any nation, any group, any organization was asked for a vote of 100%?” asks Chief Naquin. “It’s impossible. We had 85% but it wasn’t enough.”

There is no hiding place. There is no lasting hiding place.

CHASING DOWN THE STRANGER: SURVIVAL BEYOND HIDING
Perhaps survival beyond hiddenness is the lesson of Isle de Jean Charles. Not just the Chief’s people who once hid from hostile powers in the Louisiana Delta, but all of us who hide from the harsh reality of the crony capitalism that grants a permit to oil companies to cut their canals through our fragile ecosystems and then allows those same companies to disappear into hiding from the initial terms of the licenses.

They call the oil rigs “rigs” for a reason. The whole thing is rigged.

If we see a stranger on what used to be Isle de Jean Charles; if we see canals still crisscrossing through the marsh; if we’ve seen the fires of Deep Water Horizon light up the Gulf of Mexico and slick the waters and estuaries with black gold; if we’ve seen the evidence of breaking-and-entering in the house of the Gulf Coast waters, if we see empty oyster shells where once there were oysters; if we’ve heard about the oil companies hiding without anyone playing seek, we can ignore the game or we can seek and find for the sake of survival.

There is a stranger on our island. The fire of Deep Water Horizon lit up the horizon to expose his hideout. The blazing fire in the Gulf of Mexico three years lit up the world with a previously hidden truth that called us to embrace the more transparent future we share with the shorebirds, shrimp, crabs, and oysters.

The oysters can’t hide. Will we, who can make moral choices, hide, or will we seek and call to account the strangers on our island?

The Wall Street Tattler

Gordon C. Stewart               March 15, 2012

How could he do this? Is Greg Smith a tattler? Or, perhaps, Judas?

How could one of Wall Street’s own go to the New York Times (“Why I am leaving Goldman Sachs”) to publicly denounce the company’s culture?  “He just took a howitzer and blew the entire firm away,” said Larry Doyle of Greenwich Investment Management.“ (“Wall Street Exec Quits with Public Broadside).

According to the LA Times article, Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein suggests that Mr. Smith – Golman’s executive director and head of the firm’s United States equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.- is a “disgruntled employee.” William Cohan, author of Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World, says that “there are lots of disgruntled people who leave Wall Street, and they don’t do this” (i.e. open their mouths.) “What I’m hearing (on Wall Street),” said Cohan, “is sour grapes. You just pigged out at the trough for 12 years and you don’t have enough sense to keep your mouth shut.” (underlining mine)

Keeping one’s mouth shut is the name of the game on Wall Street.

Conscience may have its place so long as you keep it to yourself. You can have a conscience on Wall Street, just don’t exercise it. You’re part of an elite gang. Whether on the Street corners of impoverished neighborhoods like Watts in LA and Bedford-Styvesant in NYC, or in the center of crony capitalism that is Wall Street, gang members don’t rat on other gang members. If you don’t like it, swallow hard and keep your mouth shut.

Goldman’s rebuttal to Mr. Smith’s statement -“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping off their clients,” referring to their own clients as Muppets – hardly has the ring of strong denial. “We disagree with the views expressed, which we don’t think reflect the way we run our business.”

Hmmm. “…don’t think…”? Why not “don’t”?

It’s a rare thing for a spokesperson for a corporation with the best legal counsel in the world to say anything than a flat-out denial. “We don’t think” sets up the issue as a matter of perception, not fact. It’s Goldman’s perceptions of itself versus Mr. Smith’s disgruntled perception.

Mr. Smith’s refusal to live by the Wall Street gang code of conduct will lead to a barrage of attacks on his character calculated to divert the public’s attention from an institution that eats people’s investments and life savings to the Judas who is without integrity.

Goldman understands that for most of us the world is personal, not institutional. We don’t like tattlers and turn-coats, disgruntled employees who never learned the lesson of kindergarten that you never tattle on your friends. You don’t go running home to tell momma. Part of the code of the playground is not to tell.

What’s even more unusual in this case is that Greg Smith dealt in derivatives. Remember them? Derivatives – a complicated form of financial market gambling so convoluted that even the people who manage them can’t explain how they work – were at the center of the Wall Street meltdown in 2008. They were legal then. They are legal now. Goldman Sachs and the rest of the Wall Street gang of crony capitalism are still calling the shots with the highest paid Washington lobbyists money can buy.

Greg Smith is a Wall Street Judas who betrayed his gang not with a kiss but with a howitzer.

How could he do this? Why didn’t the guy who ate at the pig trough for 12 years just kiss and say good-bye? Why did he make his money and then break the code?  Unless…unless…unlike so many of those who were taught not to tattle, Greg Smith couldn’t live with himself and decided not to run home to tell momma but to run to the New York Times. He’ll never again be allowed on the playground.