Sunday, March 11, 2012

Banking on the Bomb

The Nuclear Weapons Industry & Its Financial Backers

“Most financial institutions don’t consider the social and environmental consequences of their investments. Unless members speak up and take action, they’re unlikely to take ethical considerations into account. Our research shows that teachers’ pension funds in the United States, Canada and Britain invest heavily in companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry. Yet polls show that teachers — the guardians of our future, in many ways — are overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear weapons. Through their daily work, teachers promote understanding, tolerance and cooperation. Nuclear weapons are the very antithesis of these virtues. Teachers should refuse to have their retirement savings invested in this horrible industry.”
– Daniela Varano International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
“TIAA-CREF declines to comment.” 
The most open and forthright firm on this matter has been TIAA-CREF. Though they will be in the firing line they have tried to make decent investments.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons released an eye-popping report on 5 March 2012 titled Don’t Bank on the Bomb. In that report are listings of banks, financial institutions and funds that, in some form, fund the research, design, development, production, deployment and maintenance of nuclear weapons.
Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu penned the introduction to the report. He indicated that battling against the entrenched interests (government/military and banks/financial firms) that sustain nuclear weapons and fund their modernization will be a long and arduous struggle. But he points to the model of boycott and disinvestment used to pressure the apartheid government of South Africa as both inspiring and successful.
“Banks and other financial institutions should be called upon to do the right thing and assist, rather than impede, efforts to eliminate the threat of radioactive incineration by divesting from the immoral nuclear arms industry. In the long struggle to end racial segregation in South Africa, our freedom was won with the help of concerned individuals around the world who pressured their leaders and corporate actors to stop funding the racist regime. To those who invested in our country, we said: you are doing us no favor; you are buttressing one of the most vicious systems. Divestment was vital in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. Today, the same tactic can – and must – be employed to challenge man’s most evil creation: the nuclear bomb. No one should be profiting from this terrible industry of death, which threatens us all.”
Teach Your Children Well
Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers a treasure trove of data on the financial institutions that invest either directly or tangentially in the nuclear weapons industry. Some financial entities referenced are surprising. One of those is TIAA-CREF which the report describes as “TIAA-CREF: Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association,  College  Retirement Equities Fund is a financial services organization that is the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. It has US$453 billion in combined assets under management, reported revenue of US$32.22 billion in 2010 and employs 7,200 people. It has major offices in Denver, Charlotte and Dallas as well as 70 local offices throughout the United States. It invests in: Alliant Tech Systems, Babcock & Wilcox, BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Finmeccanica, GenCorp, Honeywell International, Jacobs Engineering, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.”
TIAA-CREF manages the funds for thousands of K-12, college and graduate school educators in public and private/parochial-religious educational institutions across the United States. Arguably ironic, and certainly contradictory,  is that religious affiliated schools, whose leadership preaches peace and cultural unity at home and abroad, find that their retirement funds depend, in part, on the financial performance of the nuclear weapons industry and military strategists in Washington, DC, Moscow, Beijing, Tel Aviv, London, Delhi and Islamabad.
Landmines and Nukes
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) recently celebrated its 13th Anniversary in March 2012. Next to Bishop Tutu’s South Africa boycott and disinvestment model stands the ICBL’s tireless effort to ban the use of landmines around the world. The grassroots organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work which culminated in the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in “Ottawa, Canada, on 3 December 1997. It entered into force less than two years later, more quickly than any treaty of its kind in history.”
Unfortunately, the flaw in ICBL’s model is that the United States of America and 36 other countries refuse to become parties to the treaty. The USA has splendid company that includes Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Coincidently, these are the same countries that hold the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons (the UK has signed the Ban Mine Treaty). If these countries are not willing to forsake the use of landmines, then the prospects for eliminating nuclear weapons seems dismal.
At the moment, President Obama has requested $11.5 billion for the FY2013 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Only $2.5 billion of that amount is directed to nonproliferation with the remainder to be funneled to national security purposes.
Religion’s Role
For FY2012, according to the Arms Control Association, the situation was this: “The United States military maintains a modern arsenal of 1,790 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, according to the September 2011 accounting under the New START treaty. These warheads are deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers. The Departments of Defense and Energy currently spend approximately $31 billion per year to maintain and upgrade these systems. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, the Obama administration is requesting $7.6 billion in funding for weapons activities in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, a 10 percent increase over the FY 2011 appropriation of $6.9 billion.
In the next four years NNSA plans to spend $9.6 billion on maintaining, securing, and modernizing the nuclear stockpile, and $34 billion on all of its weapons activities programs.  The U.S. military is in the process of modernizing all of its existing strategic delivery systems and refurbishing the warheads they carry to last for the next 20-30 years or more. These systems are in many cases being completely rebuilt with essentially all new parts.”
And that’s big business.
Perhaps some flavor of religion as a stimulant to mobilize a campaign against nuclear weapons development and their haunting presence is necessary. Bishop Tutu is correct, of course. And so is the Ayatollah Khamenei, “…the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”
John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security matters. Reach him at

The Blood on Stratfor’s Hands

Intelligence for the Highest Bidder
by KHADIJA SHARIFE, Counterpunch

Even if we were to place epistemological and ethical questions aside, certain Stratfor’s analysts are turning out to be rather twisted creatures.
While some turn party tricks for intelligence, except in AIDS-infested Africa, others, such as Fred Burton – a counter-terrorism and security expert, alleged to frequently service US intelligence, are a tad aggressive. One of Fred’s gems include: “The owner is a peacenik. He needs his head dunked in a full toilet bowl at Gitmo.”
So much for niceties.
But beyond the flippant remarks (and who isn’t facetious from time to time?) there exists a more dangerous reality: Stratfor – as evidenced by  their own content – is neither a politically nor ideologically neutral intelligence agency.
They have clearly picked a side.
When analyst Lauren Goodrich had lunch with former Federal Judge Sam Kent, found guilty of consensual sexual misconduct and perjury, she tried to convince him that Halliburton – a company he ruled a major case against – was not responsible for his suffering.  “Isn’t it strange that the Justice Department begins sniffing around for dirt to throw at me just weeks after I ruled a heavy case against Halliburton. Then a small set of affairs turn into an untrue situation and then spun up into an unprecedented case against a Federal Judge,” asked Kent.
“Of course, I told him he was nuts to rule anything against Halliburton. I also told him that this sounds like a John Grisham plotline,” responded Goodrich. Allegedly, Halliburton – like Lockheed Martin and others, is a client.
Similarly, Stratfor’s internal narrative reveals that organizations such as International Rivers (one email promoting Nnimmo Bassey’s new mega-dam video was listed) are monitored. There is nothing wrong with this.
It is their intent that matters.
Clients from Coca-Cola and Dow Chemicals frequently dole out cash, around $8000 per average report, to investigate civil society ‘opponents’ from PETA to comedy spoof crew, the Yes Men. And the latter is one example of why and where Stratfor gets really dirty: the company was paid to spy on activists protesting the gas leak from Union Carbide’s Bhopal pesticide plant (1984), considered one of the world’s worst industrial catastrophes, causing mass environmental damage, killing over 15 000 people and injuring 500 000 others.
In one fundamental sense, there is no such thing as objectivity. Humans are essentially subjective beings, and even if one were to consciously engage an issue from a perceived neutral stance, the habitus of personal development (absorbed, learned, or acquired) extending from ideological collective myths to class aesthetics, comes to the fore of man’s identity.
And vulgarity is cultivated, through tribalism, nationalism, ethnicity, religion and culture, rather than weeded out. Modern civilisation, rooted in amoral scientificity, tells us that ethical behaviour is relative and not a ‘factual’ reality. Capitalism tells us that man operates from the premise of self-interest.
But history – and our own innate nature – tells us otherwise.
Wars may be the delusional and dangerous creatures of politicians but most humans join these bloody battlefields, going to certain death or worse – an injured life – driven by the urge  to defend and protect; to fight the good fight. They may not understand the reality of it, but in their own minds, they are doing the right thing. And never are such men more inspired than when their leaders lead from the front. What men like South Africa’s heroic Mandela have showed us, is that humans are willing to put life, aside, for what they believe to be a just cause, especially when led by a seemingly just leader.
This is why Hollywood movies, with their fairy-tale endings, are so successful: never do we, as individual or collective audiences, honor or respect a human being more than when he rises above the worst, to become his best.
So, when indifference to the destruction of what is irreplaceable, for something as common as money constitutes the core foundation of intelligence agencies – the microcosms of the forces that drive foreign policy – and this indifference, as Balzac noted in Lost Illusions, deadens the world, it is no wonder that the world is in a state of hell.
With their emails, Stratfor appears to advocate for a world where polluters and murderers, circumvent accountability by obtaining information to pre-empt – and in the process destroy – their opposition. And this is the rule, rather than the exception, for any agency gathering intelligence for the highest bidder.
In this sense, it is a company with blood on their hands.

Khadija Sharife is a journalist; visiting scholar at the Center for Civil Society (CCS) based in South Africa and contributor to the Tax Justice Network. She is the Southern Africa correspondent for The Africa Report magazine, assistant editor of the Harvard “World Poverty and Human Rights” journal and author of Tax Us If You Can (Africa). 
This article originally appeared in Africa Report.