U.S. powerbrokers have put the country at risk of another financial crisis to intensify their economic war on Moscow and to move ahead with their plan to “pivot to Asia”. Here’s what’s happening: Washington has persuaded the Saudis to flood the market with oil to push down prices, decimate Russia’s economy, and reduce Moscow’s resistance to further NATO encirclement and the spreading of US military bases across Central Asia. The US-Saudi scheme has slashed oil prices by nearly a half since they hit their peak in June. The sharp decline in prices has burst the bubble in high-yield debt which has increased the turbulence in the credit markets while pushing global equities into a tailspin. Even so, the roiled markets and spreading contagion have not deterred Washington from pursuing its reckless plan, a plan which uses Riyadh’s stooge-regime to prosecute Washington’s global resource war.
What does a canal have to do with human rights? Plenty, according to the thousands of Nicaraguan protesters who filled Managua’s streetson December 10, International Human Rights Day. With banners, flags, chants, and a petition submitted to the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, they came out in opposition to a proposed canal that would pass through Nicaragua, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. No doubt, the canal would increase Nicaragua’s economic importance in the region, bring in much needed income, and generate jobs. But those benefits come at steep costs: The canal is expected to devastate the environment. Moreover, it would displace indigenous communities and hurt some of the nation’s most marginalized peoples.
Citigroup is a very large bank that has amassed a huge amount of political power. Its current and former executives consistently push laws and regulations in the direction of allowing Citi and other megabanks to take on more risk, particularly in the form of complex highly leveraged bets. Taking these risks allows the executives and traders to get a lot of upside compensation in the form of bonuses when things go well – while the downside losses, when they materialize, become the taxpayer’s problem. On Wednesday, a provision — drafted by Citigroup — to repeal part of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms (Section 716) was added by House Republicans to their spending bill. On Thursday, Citigroup led the charge to persuade enough Democrats to vote for that bill. The repeal of Section 716 stayed in the spending bill only because Wall Street brought so much pressure and influence to bear.
Chanting “No to the canal!” thousands protested in Nicaragua’s capital on Wednesday over a plan that threatens an environmental and land rights catastrophe. The 173-mile, $50 billion canal would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, passing through Lake Nicaragua. Construction for the canal, which would be bigger than the Panama Canal, is slated to begin Dec. 22. Impacted communities have held a series of protests over the project, but Wednesday’s action was the first to hit Managua. Hong Kong-based Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) is “set to oversee construction and administer the canal for the first 100 years,” Agence France-Presse reports. HKND was established by Chinese businessman Wang Jing.
Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice. Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks. “The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” — Aldo Caliari
Monsanto stock has been downgraded to ‘Neutral’ from ‘Buy’ after an annual seed dealer industry survey showed bleak returns. This may be the most depressing news in seven years for Monsanto, but great news for the seed industry, which has been monopolized by the chemical peddler since the early 1990s. The target price for (MON +0.1%) has been lowered from $140 to $127. Conditions affecting the downgrade include “greater discounting, reduced trait purchases, reduced spending on seeds, and share gains for non-major seeds brands” – with hardly a mention of the grass-roots, and international efforts of people to shine a light on Monsanto’s illegal influence on the world seed market.
On the weekend of November 16, the G20 leaders whisked into Brisbane, posed for their photo ops, approved some proposals, made a show of roundly disapproving of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and whisked out again. It was all so fast, they may not have known what they were endorsing when they rubber-stamped the Financial Stability Board’s “Adequacy of Loss-Absorbing Capacity of Global Systemically Important Banks in Resolution,” which completely changes the rules of banking. Russell Napier, writing in ZeroHedge, called it “the day money died.” In any case, it may have been the day deposits died as money. Unlike coins and paper bills, which cannot be written down or given a “haircut,” says Napier, deposits are now “just part of commercial banks’ capital structure.” That means they can be “bailed in” or confiscated to save the megabanks from derivative bets gone wrong.
President Barack Obama is ready to buck his liberal base in order to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the pro-corporate international trade deal currently being negotiated in secret by the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. In a speech before the Business Roundtable, an association of conservative CEOs of major U.S. corporations, Obama indicated that he was ready to go head-to-head with Democrats, labor unions, and environmentalists—core groups that oppose the TPP and other so-called “free trade” pacts—in order to move the controversial deal forward. He listed trade as one of his top four economic priorities for the remainder of his presidency, along with tax reform, immigration, and investment in infrastructure.
At its meeting today in Vienna, Austria, the 12 member countries of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) voted to keep their output target unchanged despite a 30 percent slump in the oil price since June, due primarily to the explosive growth in frackingin the U.S. as well as decreasing global demand. While Venezuela made a case for an output reduction, Saudi Arabia, the world’s leading oil producer and exporter, pressured to keep it the same. The price immediately declined in response, dropping below $72 a barrel, a price last seen in August 2010. “There’s a price decline. That does not mean that we should really rush and do something,” OPEC secretary general Abdallah Salem el-Badri told the BBC.
More than 200 people angered by a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson sought to disrupt Black Friday shopping in New York with a protest in front of Macy’s flagship store. A small group of the protesters took their rally to the Manhattan department store’s ground floor for a few minutes, as staff and shoppers seeking post-Thanksgiving bargains looked on in apparent surprise. Some shoppers took pictures of the protests with their cellphones. Many protesters said they were encouraging a boycott of Black Friday to highlight the purchasing power of black Americans and to draw links between economic inequality and racial inequality. “Voicing your opinion is not enough,” said Sergio Uzurin, one of the protesters. “You have to disrupt business as usual for this to happen and that’s the only thing that’s ever made change. It’s the real way democracies function.”
A Belgian investigating judge has charged a Swiss private banking branch of HSBC with massive organized fiscal fraud, money laundering and forming a criminal organization to the benefit of over 1,000 wealthy clients that cost the Belgian authorities “hundreds of millions of euros.” The prosecutor’s office said Monday the accusations against HSBC Private Bank NV/SA are based on its involvement over the years with “wealthy clients, specifically from the Antwerp diamond industry.” It said the justice ministry is also looking into possible money laundering. In August, HSBC Holdings PLC said it knew inquiries were ongoing and that the penalties “could be significant.” On Monday, it said it had been notified of the formal investigation by the Belgian judge.
On November 19, 2014, we sued the Harvard Corporation to compel it to withdraw its investments from fossil fuel companies. As seven Harvard students organized under the name “Harvard Climate Justice Coalition,” we allege that the Corporation’s funding of global warming harms its students and future generations, and that Harvard’s leaders have a duty to divest the university’s endowment from the reckless activities of the oil, gas, and coal industries. We’re bringing this case by ourselves, without lawyers, because we believe that we have a responsibility to confront global warming. Climate change has arrived, wrecking the planet and posing serious dangers to the most vulnerable among us.
A new study tracking the economic effects of whistleblowers has found that people who come forward to report wrongdoing helped the US government secure $21.27bn more in fines over 35 years. The study, conducted by researchers from Arizona State University, American University, Texas A&M University and University of Iowa, set out to discover if the costs of promoting and maintaining programs set up for financial whistleblowers were worth it. It found that in cases where whistleblowers were involved: Firm penalties were $90.16m to $90.88m greater. Penalties imposed on executives and employees averaged $50.22m to $56.50m more than if no whistleblower was involved. The prison sentences for those involved were on average 21.86 to 27 months longer.
The American higher education system is broken: between predatory student lenders, rapacious for-profit colleges, skyrocketing tuition rates and the number of people taking on a lifetime’s worth of debt before they can legally drink, the current system is not sustainable. Instead of providing a ladder to a better life, higher education too often reinforces class- and race-based disparities. And our government is not doing anything to provide relief to students even in the most egregious cases. What we really need is a revolution. Individually, debt can be overwhelming and isolating. Together, given the fact Americans collectively owe over $1.2tn in student loans, we may be able to overwhelm and transform the system. It’s time to believe in power in numbers: You are not a loan.