Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Exxon Bribes Gov Chris Christie to save itself $8b

THE decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation is an embarrassment to law enforcement and good government.
Even more troubling are the circumstances surrounding the decision, which recently came to light. As a judge deliberated whether to assess the $8.9 billion in damages New Jersey sought, the administration stepped in and agreed to take about $250 million and settle the case.
Former colleagues of mine in state government, where I served as commissioner of environmental protection from 2002 to 2006, have told me that Mr. Christie’s chief counsel inserted himself into the case, elbowed aside the attorney general and career employees who had developed and prosecuted the litigation, and cut the deal favorable to Exxon.       
The oil giant, one of the most profitable energy companies in the world, had already been found liable. The only question that remained was, how much would it have to pay?
Now we know, and the result is a disgrace.
The story began in 2004, when I authorized the complaint against Exxon for decades of damage done to the natural resources surrounding the company’s Bayway and Bayonne operations on Arthur Kill and Newark Bay, which are at the heart of the New York Harbor estuary.
The lawsuit was part of a broader initiative, started a year earlier, to ensure that New Jersey taxpayers would be compensated, and natural resources restored, where major polluters had caused damage. Numerous Fortune 100 companies came to the table, including Chevron, DuPont and Honeywell, and resolved their liability promptly, often through innovative watershed protection projects.
Not Exxon. The company’s challenge to its liability was rejected in 2007. But despite the loss, Exxon kept on fighting for nearly eight more years.
When Mr. Christie became governor in 2010, I hoped that as a former prosecutor he would understand how important the case was to environmental law enforcement. I believed that as a lawyer he would understand how unfair it would be to the companies that quickly settled their liability on fair terms if Exxon were to be treated more favorably.
Having conferred with Mr. Christie on past spill cases while he was the United States attorney for New Jersey, I felt he would take seriously the Department of Environmental Protection’s role as a trustee and steward of the state’s natural resources. I was encouraged when his administration continued to pursue the case, and was further encouraged when his attorney general and outside counsel took the case to trial last year.
In the courtroom, New Jersey’s experts testified that Exxon was responsible for $8.9 billion in damages to the state’s natural resources, primarily through the destruction of creeks, wetlands and aquatic life. Exxon swung away at the state’s case during trial but never landed a punch, as I saw firsthand as one of the witnesses called by Exxon to testify. The presiding judge — an admired expert in environmental law who had been recalled from retirement for the trial — had been expected to issue his decision soon.
One would think that Mr. Christie would have kept his immediate political staff at a distance from these negotiations.
While he was chairman of the Republican Governors Association in 2014, the group received $500,000 from Exxon and more from company employees. While this was not Exxon’s first contribution to the group, this donation was made at a time when the New Jersey trial was pending.
If nothing else, the optics, as they say in politics, look bad. Had the governor or his staff stayed away from the case, they would have avoided the obvious and unseemly inference that the settlement had something to do with the contribution.
All settlements involve compromise, of course. But Governor Christie left billions on the table, if the testimony of the state’s own experts is to be believed. This would be true even if the judge, who must still approve the settlement, were to reduce the experts’ figure by 50 percent or more.

The administration has so far refused to release the text of the agreement. One worry is whether it also releases Exxon from liability at other polluted New Jersey sites that were not part of the case and where damage has not been assessed. If so, the value to Exxon of the deal could exceed the $8.9 billion by several hundreds of millions of dollars.
While Mr. Christie’s eye has been on the presidency, his staff has traded away an opportunity to recover billions of dollars to restore natural resources damaged or destroyed by Exxon.
In the process, the administration has squandered the opportunity to distinguish the governor’s tenure with an unsurpassed environmental and law enforcement legacy.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monadelphous information - Scam or what ?

Rachel Cooper
Investor Relations Manager
Dear Rachel
I am concerned information presented on your web site relating to Monadelphous ”PROJECTS AND CONTRACTS” is misleading.
Most of the jobs noted are already completed, yet investors and journalists would be given the false impression that this is work currently in progress.
I think your company has an obligation to produce accurate information to investors and I ask that you clarify your companies "marketing" material within 7 days or I will contact ASIC.
The second concern is your annual report dated 30/06/2014 which notes MND assets of $750m. What set of accounts /audit supports that value?  
Yours faithfully
Christopher Wingate
MND.AX Shareholder
Abbot Point Coal Terminal X50 Stockyard Expansion
Automated Alumina Delivery System Installation
Bargara Waste Water Treatment Plant Upgrade
BHP Billiton Nickel West
BHP Billiton Worsley Alumina
Blacktip Development Project Onshore Gas Plant Construction
Boddington Gold Mine Expansion
Brockman Four
Brockway S2
Burpengary East Sewerage Treatment Plant Upgrade
Cannington Project - Lead, Zinc, Silver Mine & Processing Plant
Cape Lambert Port B Project
Cape Lambert Port B
Cape Lambert Port Upgrade 80 Mtpa Expansion
Cape Lambert Upgrade - Car Dumper Installation
Carborough Downs CHPP Expansion
Chevron WA Oil - General Maintenance Services
Cogeneration Plant - Kwinana Power Station
Dampier Port Upgrade Phase A
Dampier Port Upgrade Phase B
Darwin LNG Maintenance Services
Gladstone Alumina Refinery - Maintenance and Minor Capital Projects
Gladstone Port Rail Receival Station 3
Chevron CO2 Injection Pipeline and Well Sites Preparation and Construction
Gorgon Project - Carbon Dioxide Injection Pipeline 
Gorgon Project - Facilities Management
HIsmelt HRDF Deconstruction
Hope Downs 4
Ichthys Project Onshore LNG Facilities
Karratha Gas Plant
Karratha Gas Plant - Maintenance Services
Macedon Domestic Gas Plant
Million Ounce Plant Upgrade
Million Ounce Plant Upgrade (MOPU)
Mt Arthur North Domestic Coal & Export Coal Facilities
Mt Rawdon Gold Project
Murrin Murrin Nickel Cobalt Project
Pluto LNG - Maintenance Services 
Pluto Offshore Platform Hook-Up and Commissioning Project
Pluto Onshore Mechanical Offsite Utilities and AGRU Project
PNG LNG - Field Facilities Construction Services Contract
Queensland Curtis LNG Plant Maintenance Services
Rio Tinto - Kestrel Mine Expansion
Rio Tinto - Marandoo Mine Phase 2
Rio Tinto Hunter Valley Maintenance and Shutdown Services
Seqwater Fluoridation Project Stage 2 Parcel 1 and 2
Ulan West
Verve Energy - Collie Basin Coal Infrastructure 
Wagerup Calciner Stack Installation Project
West Angelas Plant Project
Western Turner Syncline
Wheatstone Project
Whitehaven Coal - Master Services Agreement
Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET)
Woodford Sewage Treatment Plant Augmentation
Wyndham Water Treatment Plant
Yandicoogina (HIY) 24Mta & 600 kt Upgrade
Yandicoogina (HIY) 36Mta Upgrade

Monday, June 29, 2015

Opinion: Can we hold politicians accountable?

We vote for promises but are stymied when they’re broken

“Can we ever successfully sue a politician for a broken promise?” That was a very simple question posed by one of my students during a recent contract law lecture.
The question drives to the heart of a critical democratic issue: do we have enough measures in place to hold politicians accountable for election promises? Arguably, there is no grander or more important stage for a promise than coming from someone seeking public office, but when there’s little accountability for that promise, what’s a voter to do?
Heading into the Vancouver municipal elections this fall, there have already been the rumblings of electoral platforms from the major parties. Both the NPA and Vision Vancouver are developing policy planks and trying to convince voters of how they would run the city. However, what happens if they’re elected and fail to follow through. What can those who voted in reliance of all those campaign promises do to demand accountability? Here’s the unhappy answer: we can’t do that much.
The idea of holding politicians’ feet to the fire begins and ends with voting. Our vote is considered our true leverage. So if politicians break their promise, our power is to vote them out in the next election. Unfortunately, that does little for the intervening years, and we are left with someone who, at best, has failed to live to their stated promises and, at worst, negligently or fraudulently deceived voters during their campaign. Also, there’s no guarantee that highlighting broken promises will result in an opposition victory in the next election, just look at the recent provincial Liberal party victories in B.C. and Ontario.
Other than just our votes, provincial politicians are accountable to the B.C. Elections Act, which prohibits someone from engaging in fraud. The language of the act (which is also in some other jurisdictions) makes it an offence to compel or persuade a vote using “fraudulent means.”
This prohibition was the linchpin of a lawsuit during the 1990s, when a group of voters sued the NDP and individual NDP MLAs over the “fudge-it budget.” Ultimately, acquittals were issued, but it remains a live option to sue politicians if their promises rise to the level of fraud.
While in practice this seems like a great safety net, the Elections Act is more of a blunt hammer and appears intended to address more severe forms of fraud rather than a mere unkept promise or general dishonesty.
What about my student’s idea of considering an election promise to be a contract? That idea has some definite appeal, but courts have routinely stated that campaign promises do not rise to the level of a contractual promise. The same argument was raised in 2004 when Dalton McGuinty, the former premier of Ontario, was sued by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for breach of contract.
At issue was McGuinty’s signing of the CTF taxpayer protection promise, for which he agreed to not raise taxes in Ontario. That promise burest when the McGuinty government announced the imposition of a health tax. The case went to the Ontario Superior Court, which ultimately held that election promises do not equate to binding contracts. So for better or worse, there is no valid breach of contract claim when a politician promises a course of action and fails to deliver.
Recently, NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe issued a challenge to Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to run a clean campaign.
LaPointe proposed to sign a written code of conduct promising he will resign if the NPA campaign goes negative. That’s a nice way to demonstrate your conviction to a promise, but it likely would not be enforceable as a contractual guarantee. Even more damning, at the federal level such written pledges to resign if the politician acts or fails to act after elected are prohibited.
Assessing the angles, the short answer is there’s not much voters can do outside of not re-electing the politician in the next election or attempting to gathering support for a recall or referendum; we can look to the repeal of the harmonized sales tax for an example of where that resulted in accountability. But such examples are extraordinarily rare and are tough to repeat.
The sad reality of all this is that the issue of broken election promises is one that has real democratic consequences. Elections Canada has been adamant that broken promises by politicians are a key driver of voter apathy and the stunningly bad voter turnout rates seen at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels. If we don’t expect politicians to live by their word, why bother voting in the first place. That is not only a rational conclusion, but a horrifying one for our democracy.
Until more institutional checks are developed, we are left with our vote and the hope that our politicians will remain honest. Let’s hope as the parties gear for the fall municipal elections, we see some of that honesty and that their political rhetoric matches reality.
Brian Fixter is an instructor in the faculty of commerce and business administration at Douglas College.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Iceland's success obtained after screwing the banks back

Three charts that show Iceland's economy recovered after it imprisoned bankers and let banks go bust - instead of bailing them out

1 / 1
The Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations
Getty Images

"It is dangerous that someone is too big to investigate - it gives a sense there is a safe haven."

Iceland’s finance minister has announced a 39 per cent tax on investors looking to take their money overseas.
The country has imposed the tax to prevent it hemorrhaging money as it loosens bank laws imposed six years ago, when Iceland made the shocking decision to let its banks go bust.
Iceland also allowed bankers to be prosecuted as criminals – in contrast to the US and Europe, where banks were fined, but chief executives escaped punishment.
The chief executive, chairman, Luxembourg ceo and second largest shareholder of Kaupthing, an Icelandic bank that collapsed, were sentenced in February to between four and five years in prison for market manipulation.

"Why should we have a part of our society that is not being policed or without responsibility?" said special prosecutor Olafur Hauksson at the time. "It is dangerous that someone is too big to investigate - it gives a sense there is a safe haven."
Read more: Iceland: The economy that came in from the cold?

Bailing on bail out

While the UK government nationalised Lloyds and RBS with tax-payers’ money and the US government bought stakes in its key banks, Iceland adopted a different approach. It said it would shore up domestic bank accounts. Everyone else was left to fight over the remaining cash.
It also imposed capital controls restricting what ordinary people could do with their money– a measure some saw as a violation of free market economics.
The plan worked. Iceland took a huge financial hit, just like every other country caught in the crisis.
This year the International Monetary Fund declared that Iceland had achieved economic recovery 'without compromising its welfare model' of universal healthcare and education.
Other measures of progress like the country’s unemployment rate, compare just as well with countries like the US.

Iceland's unemployment rate compares well

Source: IMF Source: IMF
Rather than maintaining the value of the krona artificially, Iceland chose to accept inflation.
This pushed prices higher at home but helped exports abroad – in contrast to many countries in the EU, which are now fighting deflation, or prices that keep decreasing year on year.

This year, Iceland will become the first European country that hit crisis in 2008 to beat its pre-crisis peak of economic output.
With the reduction of capital controls – tempered by the 39 per cent tax – it continues to make progress.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Only Way to Save People from Bad Government is.....

I’ve said it before, but the only way to protect either human rights, or property rights, is to remove crown immunity and make those running government accountable to a fiduciary obligation. If you don't, you get bias, hidden agenda, corruption or incompetence making final decisions. Those who run the nation should be subject to a jury to test their duty of care. You will have the same old crap year after year until society adopts this type of proposal as all the rules in the world mean nothing to bad leaders.

Monday, June 15, 2015

NZ MP Fletcher Tabuteau: International corporates big winners with TPP

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) continues to be ignored by the mainstream media and so I am grateful for these column inches.
This government has been negotiating a supposed trade agreement with some of the biggest economies in the world.
Your first instinct, I imagine, would be, "great". However, they have been negotiating in secret, despite precedent from around the world showing them how they could keep New Zealanders informed without compromising their negotiations.
The reason they want to keep this trade agreement secret is because New Zealand has nothing to offer the other member countries like Canada or the US.
Those countries could negotiate the lowering of some of their tariffs (rest assured, they will only be lowered, not removed, and they will take decades to make any significant downward moves) but New Zealand is a free market economy with no, or next to no, barriers in place.
So what is this government giving in return?
The TPP is less a trade agreement and more an agreement on how international corporates can take a bigger slice of the pie in every country around the world. So in return for slightly less restricted access to the US market, New Zealand will have to give up little bits of their sovereignty; that is, the right for the people of New Zealand to make decisions in the best interest of New Zealanders.
There is a very real fear that the benefits of Pharmac will be traded away. Medical practitioners, health academics and those practising in the New Zealand health industry are trying to make it clear to the National Party that we cannot afford to negotiate the health of New Zealanders away for the sake of corporate profits. That is not a trade New Zealanders are willing to make.
But New Zealand First also sends a warning to New Zealand businesses, like in the live sheep to Saudi case, international business will have the right to sue government under the TPP if they can prove loss of income/profits under unfair treatment.
Are we compensating New Zealand businesses that can no longer export live sheep for slaughter overseas? No, instead we are paying a bribe to a foreign corporate simply because we changed New Zealand law, because New Zealanders decided the freighting of live sheep was cruel. And so it stopped the practise, but be very clear New Zealand business; international corporates will be compensated for the "inconvenience" of having to comply with New Zealand law but you will not.
Who do you think the winners of this so called trade agreement will be in the long run? Certainly not NZ business.
-Fletcher Tabuteau is a Rotorua-based NZ First list MP.
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