Wednesday, December 26, 2012

CalSTRS Forces Sale of Bushmaster Investment—Retains Other Death Holdings

 Image by Mike Licht,
Less than one day after the California teachers’ pension fund, CalSTRS, threatened to cut ties with the private equity firm  Cerberus Capital Management, the company sold off its stake in Freedom Group (see Edsource), which includes Bushmaster, manufacturer of the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza to massacre 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

Cerberus is owned by the billionaire financier Stephen A. Feinberg, who is a gun enthusiast. His father, Martin Feinberg, lives in Newtown, CT. Despite this connection to the tragedy, the firm’s decision to jettison Freedom Group probably has much more to do with profits than either ethics or pressure from CalSTRS. Weapons stocks have been on the decline since the shooting in anticipation of new gun control legislation, while cutting ties with Bushmaster will no doubt improve public perception of Cerberus and make them appear like a good corporate citizen.

CalSTRS has $600 million invested in the Cerberus fund, according to the New York Times, while the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, has roughly  $400 million invested in the company. Edsource quoted California Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who sits on the boards of both pension funds: “Our objective is to make sure that both CalPERS and CalSTRS are scrubbed clean of any investment in any company that makes guns that are illegal in this state and expose our communities to violence and death.”

In reality, Lockyer and the CalPERS and CalSTRS boards are only interested in scrubbing their own images clean. They have merely chosen the lowest hanging fruit—the company that manufactured one of the guns used by one psychopath in just the most recent deadly school rampage. CalSTRS continues to maintain holdings in numerous other “merchants of death,” including Smith and Wesson. Indeed, their holdings are a veritable rogues gallery of companies involved in everything from warfare to union busting to ecological destruction. Here are just a few:
Image by Donkey Hotey
  • Bain Capital’s role in liquidating businesses and laying off workers was heavily covered by the press during the recent presidential elections. What received much less coverage was the fact that Mitt Romney helped found the company with investments from Salvadoran elites who had ties to their country’s death squads.
  • The Carlyle Group is sometimes called the “Ex-Presidents Club” for all the ex-politicians that have served on its board or as company advisors (George Bush Sr., John Major, James Baker, Frank Carlucci). It is the 3rd largest equity firm in the world and a major player in the military-industrial complex, reaping huge profits from the war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. California attempted to ban CalPERS from investing in companies like Carlyle that are partly owned by countries with poor human rights records, but the legislation was withdrawn (probably due to influence peddling by Carlyle lobbyists).—(Sources: SF Chronicle, The Guardian)
  • Chevron is responsible for regular explosions and fires at its Richmond, California plant, sickening thousands of local residents and polluting the air and water, as well as far more extensive and devastating pollution in the Niger Delta and Ecuador. However, Chevron has also been complicit in outright murder in Nigeria and elsewhere. In 1998 Chevron recruited and supplied the Nigerian military in its assault on activists in the Niger Delta that killed 2 protesters and injured several others. (Sources: Democracy Now, SF Chronicle, the Huffinton Post)
  • Coca Cola has been accused of contracting and directing the paramilitaries in Columbia in assassinations of union members, as well as the rape and murder of unionists and their families in Guatemala. It has also been accused of pollution in many countries and depleting their water supplies. (Sources: KillerCoke, PBS Frontline, Common Dreams)
  • Dow Chemical has a long and sordid history of producing deadly and environmentally destructive products. It was the producer of Agent Orange, which is estimated to have killed 400,000 Vietnamese and maimed another 500,000 during its use by the U.S. military in the 1960s. In 2001, Dow merged with Union Carbide, which was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas explosion, which killed as many as 8,000 people within the first 2 weeks and another 8,000 or more since. It was the largest industrial accident ever, exposing over 500,000 people to methyl isocyanate and other toxic chemicals. The ground water is still contaminated and people continue to be born with deformities and suffer illness and debilitation so severe they cannot work or support themselves. Dow refuses to pay compensation to the victims or to clean up the local environment.
  • DuPont has a 200-year history of producing weapons and toxic chemicals that are responsible for thousands of deaths world-wide. DuPont began as a gun-powder manufacturer, but has also contributed to the development of chemical and nuclear weapons. The company has been implicated in union busting, environmental pollution and numerous instances of workplace injury and death. (Sources: Corp Watch)
  • General Electric is most notorious for its role in manufacturing nuclear weapons. However, the company is also responsible for massive environmental contamination and numerous corporate crimes. Its nuclear waste facility in Hanford, WA, has released more radiation into the environment than the 3 Mile Island disaster. GE was also responsible for the release of 138 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River. As of 2001, GE had 78 Super Fund sites and had paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements. GE was also involved in gruesome experiments in which U.S. prisoners and other civilians were deliberately exposed to radiation without warning them about the cancer risks. (Sources: Clean Up GE, Multinational Monitor)
  • Halliburton is one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies and one of the most viciously anti-union. They have a history of partnering with repressive dictators and complicity in human rights violations, including in Burma, Libya, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia. They were partly responsible for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the largest in U.S. history and they profited handsomely from the war in Iraq. (Sources: Wikipedia, Corp Watch)
  • Lockheed Martin is America’s largest defense contractor, receiving over $29 billion per year in Pentagon contracts. It has produced spy satellites and helped the Pentagon spy on U.S. citizens, provided interrogators (i.e., torturers) for Guantanamo Bay, built military aircraft, and helped shape U.S. foreign policy for decades. Lockheed Martin produces Hellfire missiles, which are the most common missile fired from U.S. drones and which are responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths. (Sources: Prophets of War, Alternet, Salon)
  • Nike is guilty of gross labor violations in Latin America and Asia, including the exploitation of children. (Sources: Counter Punch)
  • Occidental Petroleum has been accused of funding death squads and a Columbian military unit that assassinated unionists. (Sources: Courthouse News)
  • Raytheon is the world’s largest producer of guided missiles. Its missiles were used in several civilian massacres by Israel in Lebanon. In the 1990s, its Patriot missiles were used by the U.S. to slaughter tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq. (They also produce Tomahawk missiles and “bunker buster” bombs). Raytheon admitted using prisoners in California to test a “nonlethal” pain weapon and they have contaminated many of the areas in which their production plants are located with deadly carcinogens. (Sources: Raytheon-Wikipedia, Raytheon 9-Wikipedia, Corp Watch)
CalSTRS is also invested in Bank of America, Walmart, Microsoft, Waste Management Inc., Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, Taser, Monsanto, Morgan Stanly, Green Dot.

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