Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Influence for Hire, No Scruples to Speak Of


Today was a bad day for the 1% (to use the language so much in vogue these days), at least in the pages of British newspapers. 

In the first, place, BP and Halliburton, those scions of corporate irresponsibility, are at each other’s throats over the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the ensuing oil spill, each trying to pin the blame on the other (see the Independent).  As infuriating as it is that these corporate bodies are unwilling to take responsibility for their unethical, immoral and greedy actions, their attempts to absolve themselves of responsibility seems likely to continue to bring out new revelations, such as those revealed in the above story, which include allegations that Halliburton has destroyed potentially incriminating evidence.  I can understand why they would be worried if there is evidence out there that would make them look even detestable and corrupt than they already obviously are.

And then there is the extraordinary series of stories that emerged thanks to the work of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  Tony Blair’s squashing of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into the corrupt deal between BAE and the Saudi Arabian government back in 2006 illustrated the extent to which British foreign policy was in thrall to some pretty unsavoury corporate interests (the Saudis threatened to halt intelligence sharing if the SFO did its job...basically an admission of guilt on the Saudis’ part).  David Cameron continued the trend when he pledged to reorient foreign policy towards trade.  He has since been seeing hawking weapons to authoritarian governments in the Gulf and elsewhere.

But the Bureau and the Independent have published a series of stories about Bell Pottinger, a British lobbying firm for whom no client is too unsavoury.  Journalists used a sting operation to catch members of the firm boasting about their access to top politicians and officials.  These are people who use proximity to power, their connections from past government service, and their willingness to sink to any level and exert a totally unacceptable level of influence on government policy.  Their actions illustrate the extent to which corporate and security interests cut across national boundaries and influence governments to pursue policies which have nothing whatsoever to do with the good of the people of those nations, and everything to do with money and power.

I actually hadn’t heard of Bell Pottinger until October, when I mentioned them in conjunction with their work on behalf of the incumbent in the Zambian elections.  Joking about their Division for Dictators and Autocrats, I didn’t realise how close to the mark this was, now that we are able to see what these ennobled thugs are willing to do for a buck. 

I’m sure that Bell Pottinger would be willing to act for BP and Halliburton simultaneously, to try to win them both a sympathetic hearing as they go to war against each other in their efforts to escape taking responsibility for their actions.

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