As shameful a propagandist for Washington’s war machine as the New York Times has been over the years, sometimes I still cannot believe the brazenness of its abandonment of even a pretext of dispassionate journalistic standards. One of those moments came today, when I read the left-column page-one article by Jim Yardley and Jo Becker headlined “How Putin Forged a Pipeline Deal that Derailed.”
In this Putin hit piece, the two journalists write that the pipeline in question, the so-called South Stream, which was intended to deliver Russian natural gas to southern Europe via a route through Bulgaria, was “Mr. Putin’s most important European project, a tool of economic and geopolitical power critical to twin goals: keeping Europe hooked on Russian gas, and further entrenching Russian influence in fragile former Soviet satellite states as part of a broader effort to undermine European unity.”
No suggestion here that laying a pipeline from Russia’s gas fields to directly supply (and sell) natural gas to nations like Italy, Austria, booming southern Germany, the Czech Republic, Rumania, Hungary and the Balkan states might make good business sense!
The Times has written a lot of verbiage about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline designed to bring filthy and massively polluting tar-sands bitumen through the continental US to refineries in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. It’s a dicey business proposition, given that the extracting this sludge from the sands of northern Alberta requires massive expenditure of natural gas and water resources, and costs approximately $100 per barrel of “oil” produced, yet nowhere have we read that the pipeline is “Washington’s most important Canadian project, a tool of economic and geopolitical power critical to twin goals: keeping Canada hooked on US refineries for its crude oil resource, and further entrenching US influence in the growing Canadian economy as part of a broader effort to keep Canada as a US satellite.”
No. The Keystone XL pipeline is always written about as an economic story and/or an environmental story.
But it gets worse.
The Times article goes on to claim that the bill authorizing the South Stream pipeline that was presented to the Bulgarian parliament was “a dream for Mr. Putin.” Although it was “ostensibly” written by Bulgaria’s energy ministry, the article states, “documents reveal the hidden hand of the Kremlin: Not only did much of the language come from a subsidiary of Russia’s state-owned energy giant, Gazprom, but Mr. Putin’s energy minister was directly involved.”
The journalists quote Martin Dimitrov, a critic of the bill who is a member of the Reformist Bloc in Bulgaria’s parliament, as saying, “If this happens in the US, the whole government would resign. Not in Bulgaria, apparently.”
At which point, you might have expected the two American journalists, both Pulitzer Prize winners, to add, “not in America either.” After all, the reality is that a) American governments don’t “resign,” b) Washington politicians as individuals rarely resign even when indicted for major crimes, and c) it’s embarrassingly common for companies, including foreign companies, to write legislation that later gets passed into law by the US Congress.
In fact, we have a recent example of this: an amendment slipped into the final $1.1-trillion budget bill that passed earlier this month, exempting big banks from some critical parts of the Dodd-Frank legislation designed to protect the country from another financial crisis. That amendment, we learned, which frees the big banks from any liability in the event of collapse of commodity-based derivatives they’ve bet on, shifting it all onto taxpayers, was written in full by Citibank lawyers, and was then slipped into the budget bill deceptively by Kansas Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder. There was a big hue-and-cry about this amendment at the last moment, when it was called out on the floor of the Senate by a furious Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who asked, “Who do we work for — Wall Street or the American people?”
The answer to her rhetorical question came when the budget passed with the Yoder amendment still in it. Nobody, not even Rep. Yoder, has resigned from office over this outrage.
Actually, we have an even better case in point, one which almost perfectly mirrors the South Stream bill in Bulgaria: namely the Keystone XL Pipeline. As Mother Jones magazine reported last year, a State Department environmental review clearing the pipeline route across the US mid-section turned out to have been authored secretly by a lobbyist for TransCanada, the main company behind and profiting from the project, and a foreign, Canadian-based company at that. Did Secretary of State John Kerry resign over that scandal? Nope. He’s still bloviating about the need for nations of the world to “take action” on climate change even as his own State Department sought to push through a disastrous pipeline project that is critical to the continued economic viability of the climate-destroying tar-sands mining project in Canada’s arctic region.
Plenty of bills like this and worse — including acts of war like the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — have been orchestrated by lobbyists or presidential advisors with dual US/Israeli citizenship, like the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Paul Wolfowitz respectively. Wolfowitz, a former assistant secretary of defense and a former US ambassador (to Indonesia) despite his divided loyalty to the US and Israel as a dual citizen, was acknowledged to have been the “prime architect” of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, by no less an insider than former Bush Defense Department Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
When the Times can make a big and sinister deal about the Russian state oil company Gazprom’s having allegedly had a hand in writing up the legislation to authorize a pipeline through Bulgaria, while totally ignoring the similarly hidden hand of a Canadian oil firm in pushing through approval for a pipeline by the US Congress and the White House, and when Putin can be demonized for pushing such a multinational project, while Wolfowitz, during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, was being lionized by the Times (a shameless promotor of that war and of the fraudulent arguments for it, like the supposed threat of “weapons of mass destruction”), we have reached a nadir in journalism here in the US.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).