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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Clinton Foundation, Corruption and Human Rights

According to the New York Times in 2013, one of the largest donors to the Clinton Foundation, Frank Giustra, accompanied former president Bill Clinton on a visit to Kazakhstan, secured multi-billion dollar uranium mining contracts, and went on to reward the Clinton Foundation with over $30 million in donations.

The Clinton Foundation claims to operate to improve lives around the world but its corporate, political and other connections, undermine its philanthropic claims. And it is just one small actor in a much larger picture of foundations, corporations and financial and banking institutions, frequently linked with US and other federal agencies and departments, elite universities and think tanks. This tight-knit series of groupings is fundamental to explaining the character of American power and its motivations.

The NYT article is excerpted below.

"Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.

"Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.

"Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader’s bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton’s public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

"Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.

"The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said.

"Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalized, Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra that had remained a secret until he acknowledged it last month. The gift, combined with Mr. Giustra’s more recent and public pledge to give the William J. Clinton Foundation an additional $100 million, secured Mr. Giustra a place in Mr. Clinton’s inner circle, an exclusive club of wealthy entrepreneurs in which friendship with the former president has its privileges."

Clinton Foundation Highlights Politics of US 'Philanthropy'

27 February 2015, 4.54pm GMT
Hillary Clinton donor scandal puts spotlight on US philanthropy sector
As As she plans her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is getting embroiled in the sort of influence-peddling fiasco that has dogged philanthropists for decades.

Though she has yet to announce her 2016 presidential candidacy, Hillary Clinton is already assumed to be runnning – and has already hit trouble.

In recent weeks, there have been unedifying reports that the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation accepted millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as US secretary of state, skirting dangerously close to outright violation of conflict-of-interest agreements it had made with the Obama administration.

But this isn’t just a problem for Hillary’s imminent presidential campaign – it also indicates a deep structural problem with the whole edifice of American philanthropy.

The US’s philanthropic sector is massive and hugely powerful. It’s also unrepresentative, unaccountable and generally secretive. Despite having tax-exempt status, it exists outside democratic electoral or shareholder oversight and is entirely beholden to the interests and whims of the very wealthy and powerful and their donors – whether they are major transnational corporations, dictatorial governments, or lobbyists out for direct or indirect personal gain or client influence.
This way of doing things has been causing trouble for a long time.

Rockefeller row
In 1915, in the wake of a controversy about the political and self-interested character of the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Congress condemned the foundation as nothing more than a front for the industrial interests of one of the richest men in history, John D Rockefeller.

Rockefeller had wanted his foundation to focus on the “causes of industrial unrest” – this in the wake of a series of strikes for decent pay, conditions and union rights, which were bloodily suppressed by privately armed gangs in his own iron ore mines in Colorado.

It is unsurprising that exactly 100 years later, when the new corporate billionaires have set up their own philanthropic (or rather philanthro-capitalist) foundations, that a another public scandal is brewing around a major politico-philanthropist. After all, much this wave of billionaires derive their corporate wealth from the latest technological revolution, just as the Rockefellers and Carnegies set up theirs during the post-US Civil war era of rapid industrialisation.

And in terms of wealth at least, America is just as unequal and polarised a society today as it was when Rockefeller came under fire: in 1916, the richest 0.1% owned around 20% of total wealth, and today, the percentage is even higher, at around 25%.

Political animals
Politics is a fundamental raison d'ĂȘtre for American philanthropists, despite their foundations' loud proclamations of non-partisanship and independence from both big business and the state.
The Clinton Foundation’s role has long mirrored and complemented the official approach of the US State Department, dealing as it does in microcredit initiatives, free-market boosterism, corporate-linked development strategies, and “partnership-building” above, through and beneath state structures.

In a way, it’s better to think of organisations such as the Clintons' not as lobbying and fundraising foundations, but as tax-exempt intelligence-gathering bodies and diplomatic powerhouses. Their ultimate role is to channel American influence around the world and create lasting bonds to ensure stability in formal relations.

Working along these lines, foundations have been at the core of American “soft power” for a century, embedding American influence in difficult places. China is a core example.

American philanthropic organisations are now firmly embedded as major presences in Chinese territory. Since at least the 1970s, while public relationships between US politicians and their Chinese counterparts have fluctuated between politeness and froideur, American foundations have kept up a massive programme of complex bond-building work across the Pacific.

Independent of any explicitly articulated US government policies, the Rockefeller, Ford and Carnegie foundations – among many others – have long been establishing inroads and building major operations within China. The Ford Foundation, for example, has had an office in Beijing since 1978, from which it engages in developing the “rule of law”, efficient local election machinery, and greater non-governmental organisation activity. But in reality, most its efforts have focused more on stabilising Chinese society rather than democratising it.

It is the long-term work of these foundations that has made China and the US’s present interdependency virtually unbreakable. Yes, the US is reliant on goods from the East – and benefits increasingly from the hundreds of thousands of students and tourists that come to its shores – but the relationship works both ways.

US firms and other organisations have major presences in China, which is happy to accommodate their investment and avoid doing anything to turn them off.

This is the reality that a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign will have to negotiate. And while it may not do her any favours, the unflattering attention directed at the Clinton foundation might help shed some light on a hitherto very cloistered wing of America’s society and economy.

Foundations such as the Clintons' are some of the world’s largest and most closed institutions, even as they are part of one of the world’s most open societies. In the interests of democracy, propriety and morality, their doors need to be opened, and their activities subject to meaningful scrutiny.