Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
With the BP oil spill, the nation is currently witnessing one of the worst acts of corporate negligence—or crime—in history. This eco-nightmare is occurring during a time of economic trouble triggered by brazen corporate malfeasance in the financial sector. So it might not be a good moment for a politician to be a CEO. Yet in California, Republican voters on Tuesday flocked to two self-financing ex-corporate honchos, selecting ex-eBay CEO Meg Whitman to be the party’s gubernatorial candidate (to face onetime Democratic governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown) and picking ex-Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina to be the party’s senatorial candidate (to take on Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer). Whitman might make some sense as a candidate, given that she left the corporate world with a solid reputation, having presided over massive growth that brought eBay from a company of 30 employees to one of 15,000 workers (though she engaged in controversial "spinning" while a member of the board of Goldman Sachs.) Yet Carly Fiorina had a controversial, if not troubled tenure, at HP. Which raises the question: what are Californian GOPers (and Sarah Palin) thinking?
Fiorina, a marketing and sales expert, took over HP in 1999, as the tech boom was ending. Her solution to the company's many problems at the time was engineering a $19 billion acquisition of Compaq—a move opposed by many HP stockholders and that ultimately was not widely regarded as a slam-dunk. On her watch, HP downsized and canned almost 18,000 employees—as Fiorina joined with other corporate execs to defend outsourcing and oppose measures that would limit this practice. After six years in the job, she was pushed out, but her departure was eased by a $21 million severance package. On the day she was dumped, the company's stock price went up 7 percent. CBS News technology analyst Larry Magin noted,
There is plenty to criticize about Fiorina's tenure at HP. At this point, the changes that Fiorina made didn't turn out so well for the thousands of Hewlett-Packard and Compaq employees that were laid off and the millions of HP stockholders who lost equity since she took over. HP stock is worth less today than it was in 1999. Dell and IBM stock has increased in value.
Fiorina ended up symbolizing not one but three excesses of the corporate elite: mergers-and-acquisition mania, outsourcing, and golden parachutes. Yet during the Republican Senate campaign, this former corporate insider re-marketed herself as an anti-establishment Tea Partier, even though one of her foes in the primary contest, Assemblyman Chuck Devore, had a stronger claim on the Tea Party label. (Fiorina was helped in the who’s-the-Tea-Partiest-of-them-all competition when Palin endorsed her.)
Elected Democrats haven't been shy about slamming BP for the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, Senate majority leader Harry Reid emotionally declared on the Senate floor that the oil company's "greed led to 11 horrific and unnecessary deaths. It has harmed an enormous tourism industry, threatened business at countless fisheries and disrupted life for many along the Gulf Coast. As the pollution grows worse, those consequences will only compound." This week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted the petro-giant: "We have been told that the technology is such that we could go all the way down, miles into the sea...and that this was safe. Nobody said, 'But if it doesn't work, we don't have the faintest idea what to do.'" President Barack Obama has decried the "scandalously close relationship" between oil firms (like BP) and federal regulators, noted that he is "furious" that BP "didn't think through the consequences of their action," and raised the prospect of a criminal investigation targeting BP.
As for the top Republicans in Washington, they've hardly said boo about BP. When it comes to the Gulf tragedy, there's been a partisan outrage gap.
Let's look at House minority leader John Boehner. He's an active tweeter, but how many times has he mentioned BP on his Twitter feed? None. Unless you count a May 12 tweet about a USA Today editorial that urged politicians not to use the spill as an excuse to stop drilling. His congressional website blog has had no postings on BP or the spill. Boehner has called for BP to bear the entire financial burden of clean-up. But he has refrained from criticizing the company. Yet he has not hesitated to blame the Obama administration for "not fulfilling their responsibility to the people of the Gulf Coast area or the people of the United States."
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the minority whip, has followed his leader's example. He has not tweeted a negative word about BP. And he's blamed Obama for imposing a quasi-moratorium on drilling and for blaming others: "Pointing fingers, placing blame, and reversing previously made policy decisions is not the kind of leadership people want and deserve in times of crisis." Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the senior GOPer on the House select committee on energy independence (which is chaired by Democrat Rep. Ed Markey, a fierce critic of BP), has not fired any noticeable shots at BP.
GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has also refrained from slapping BP. Last month, he appeared on Meet the Press and emphasized the "administration's involvement in this" more than BP's role. He, too, chastised Obama for spending "a whole lot of time pointing the finger at" BP. McConnell argued vigorously against lifting the cap on BP's liability. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), an active Twitterer, has not tweeted about the spill. His Senate office has issued no press releases regarding the spill.
In May, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the senior Republican on the environment and public works committee, attended two hearings that the committee held on the spill. In each of his opening statements, Inhofe, long a supporter of the oil industry and a global warming denialist, did not say anything about BP. He griped that the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 "was politicized, and continues to be politicized, by certain activist groups bent on blocking access to America's domestic resources." Inhofe did note that that if there was "gross negligence or other violations of federal law on the part of oil companies or their subcontractors, then we will hold them accountable." He just didn't mention BP or the others by name.
For leading Republicans, it seems BP practically stands for Beyond Pronouncing.
When Afghan President Hamid Karzai was in Washington last month, President Obama and his aides repeatedly maintained that the Afghan leader was making progress in fighting corruption, which is rampant throughout Afghanistan and threatens the Obama administration's plans to bolster a central government that can become capable of taking on the Taliban and al Qaeda. A joint statement from Obama and Karzai referred to Karzai's "efforts to strengthen the powers and authorities" of the High Office of Oversight, Kabul's national anti-corruption unit. Asked whether Karzai was making progress combating corruption, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointed to this office, and he noted that the High Office "now operates with a mission to increase its accountability." In another briefing, Lt. General Douglas Lute, a deputy national security adviser, asserted that Karzai had provided the head of this office "renewed powers to deal with corruption." Yet shortly after Karzai departed Washington, the RAND Corporation held a briefing on Capitol Hill that delivered a starkly different message: The High Office of Oversight and its commissioner, Mohammad Yusin Osmani, are virtually powerless to confront the serious corruption that infects the senior levels of Karzai's government.
Osmani became head of this anti-corruption office in 2008, and last November he was grousing that his outfit lacked the resources and authority to pursue or prosecute cases. His High Office could only refer corruption cases to police and prosecutors, who might themselves be corrupt. At that time, the Afghan government was announcing new initiatives to crack down on graft, yet Osmani's office was only 30 percent staffed. In December, the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a report on the High Office of Oversight, noting that Osmani's unit "suffers from significant gaps in operational capacity." SIGAR's investigation concluded that the HOO is "greatly understaffed, and many of its employees are either inexperienced or lack basic skills, such as computer use and information gather ing techniques." The report added, "the HOO lacks the organizational, external, and personal independence required by international standards for an oversight institution." (The report also pointed out that the US government had "no office or individual specifically designated to oversee or coordinate" US assistance to this office.) The SIGAR report was clear: the High Office of Oversight was a mess. In March, Karzai, under pressure from Washington to demonstrate progress on the anti-corruption front, signed a decree granting the office the power to investigate allegations of corruption. "I wish him success," Karzai said of Osmani.
But Osmani hasn't had much success. This spring, RAND held a three-day workshop in Kabul that brought together several dozen members of Afghanistan's small anti-corruption community, including journalists, members of parliament, public interest advocates, and Osmani. The conference participants reported that in Afghanistan—which is ranked the second most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International (after Somalia)—corruption has far exceeded what was once customary graft. They complained that corruption has infested small daily interactions, large government contracts, and the appointments of senior government officials, and that it is undermining the legitimacy of both the Karzai government and the international community, including the United States. These participants shared their own tales of graft: having to pay tax agents bribes to accept tax filings, having to offer bribes so they can pay electricity bills. (A recent UN report estimates that bribes make up one-quarter of the Afghan economy, and it notes that one out of four Afghans were forced to pay at least one bribe to a police office in the previous year.)
Tired of all the bad news from the Gulf of Mexico? Well, let's change the channel and look at what's happening in Bonn, where the UN is holding its latest climate change meeting. This is a follow-up session to last December's Copenhagen gathering, where the United States, China, and other major emitters of global warming gases banged out a last-minute accord separate from the UN proceedings. Under that deal, these nations (developed and developing) pledged to make voluntary emissions cuts in line with keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Throughout the Copenhagen negotiations, island nations and many countries in the developing world, particularly African states, had called for binding cuts with a 1.5-degrees Celsius target, contending that anything above that would mean catastrophe for them. But the major polluters ignored their demand, saying essentially, "we'll cut what we can to reach 2 degrees." And they came up with an international registry, where nations would state their reductions pledges.
No surprise, this may not work. Research released today by three climate groups—the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Ecofys, and Climate Analytics—suggest, as they put it, that "current pledges by countries around the world to cut greenhouse gas emissions are not sufficient to keep global temperature rises below the 2°C agreed in the Copenhagen Accord." These research outfits note that
even if Nations go further than they did in Copenhagen and agree to halve emissions by 2050, there would still be about a 50% chance that warming exceeds 2°C and it would almost certainly exceed 1.5°C, which is the target set by the Small Island States and Least Developed countries. This is a stark finding given that it is probable that nations will only meet the lower ends of their emissions pledges.
In other words, oh boy. Such research only sets up a bigger fight to come in Cancun at the end of the year, when the nations of the world are supposed to complete the unfinished work of Copenhagen.
I wonder if Peter Beinart could have—and would have—written this, were he still editor of The New Republic:
The [Israeli] embargo [against Gaza] was designed to weaken [Hamas], and bolster Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But, in fact, Abbas himself is reportedly considering a visit to Gaza in an effort to bring Hamas into a national unity government. Besides the ordinary men, women, and children of Gaza, in fact, the entity that the embargo has most weakened is Israel. It threatens to rupture the Jewish State’s vital alliance with Turkey, whose government was furious about the embargo even before yesterday’s attack killed several of its nationals. It has wrecked Israel’s relations with Qatar, which offered to re-establish trade ties if Israel allowed the Gulf State to send supplies to Gaza. And now it has produced a public-relations disaster that will further destroy Israel’s reputation around the world.
The Gaza embargo—as currently constituted—is indefensible, which is why Israel’s American supporters have not so much defended it as pretended it was something other than what it really is. In the name of solidarity, we have practiced denial. In the name of anti-terrorism, we have justified the brutalization of innocents. Now all of us who enabled Israel’s callous, reckless policy are reaping what we sowed. Don’t blame the Israeli commandos for what happened yesterday on the high seas; blame us.