Having the Chevron headquarters in the pristine waters of the San Francisco Bay, we understand the Turkish people better than anybody.
-- Ismail Kafescioglu, Chevron country manager in Turkey, at an international conference in Kazakhstan's oil capital of Atyrau three weeks ago, not long after Chevron announced plans to triple the 260,000 barrels per day of Kazakh oil it ships through the Turkish-controlled Bosporus strait.
Quote of just the other day:
This settlement with Chevron demonstrates the Air District's ongoing commitment to enforce its air quality regulations, and to assess appropriate civil penalties for violations, great and small.
-- Ellen Garvey, executive officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, commenting last week on 52 air quality violations filed against Chevron. The violations resulted in a fine of $300,000.
During this season of railing against capitalists -- landlords, tenants in common, etc.1 -- it seemed like a nice time to check in at the local commanding heights of capitalism, and I'll be damned if the boys at Chevron Corp., who headquarter at 550 Market St., haven't been awfully busy.
Chevron just announced a $2 billion expansion of its operations in the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, a country whose environment and politics have become obscenely polluted since Chevron bought in during the late 1980s. According to an article by renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, Chevron paid millions of dollars in royalties that ended up in the pockets of Kazakhstan fixer James Giffen. Giffen has been the subject of U.S. and Swiss criminal investigations that allege he helped funnel tens of millions of dollars from American oil companies through Swiss banks, Caribbean shell companies, and Liechtenstein foundations and into private accounts benefiting top Kazakh political figures, including the country's dictator/president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
By most accounts Nazarbayev is a corrupt despot who runs the country as a personal checking account. To help this process along, the president last month launched a program exiled opponents call The Big Laundering: He gave all Kazakh citizens the right to bring money in and out of the country unfettered, according to a Kazakh political opposition Web site monitored by the BBC. If history is any guide, that program would absolutely apply to millions of dollars in oil company payments transferred into secret bank accounts set up to personally benefit the president. Fees from Chevron's share of Kazakh oil netted Giffen $3 million last year alone, according to Hersh's account, which appeared in The New Yorker.
Chevron has been rewarded generously for its pull with corrupt Kazakh authorities. For one thing, the company has been allowed to stack 4,500 metric tons per day of sulfur, in football-field-size cakes, near oil processing plants, rather than being required to make the investments necessary to sell the refining byproduct on international markets. Then again, Chevron has fouled the Kazakh air by burning off natural gas discovered during the search for oil, a process that again avoids the investment needed to transport and sell the product on the international market.
Given this record, it's not hard to imagine why Turks might be worried about ever-larger Chevron oil tankers passing through the Bosporus. But it is hard to imagine why Chevron's man in Turkey, Kafescioglu, would make a ludicrous statement that, according to the BBC, associated his company with a love for the "pristine" waters of the San Francisco Bay.
After all, Chevron was slammed in San Francisco last week for refinery fires, sulfur dioxide releases, and repeated violations of emission limits for waste-water separators. Chevron's mistakes must have been doozies. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District is hardly what you'd call a strict agency, having been accused by the EPA inspector general of grossly lax enforcement.
Chevron's flack for international operations, Jan Golon, says the error -- the semantic error, that is -- might have been the result of a Chevron executive's inexperience with global media.
"They need to realize that just because they say something in Turkey, that doesn't mean it's not going to show up somewhere else in the world 15 minutes later," Golon says. "My assumption on that is that he means Chevron is a very environmentally conscious and concerned company, and being in San Francisco, where there are a number of people who have voiced their concern about environmental issues, we, more than other companies, might be acutely aware of those sensitivities. I think that's what he was referencing. I would bet 10-to-1 that that's what he means."
I'll bet he does, Jan. I'll bet he does.
The astonishing malfeasance of local corporate titans like Chevron makes it easy to understand the increasingly manifest urge among many San Franciscans to screw The Man. Brutish profit-mongering also offers at least some explanation for the impulse behind a proposal announced recently by the San Francisco Tenants Union. Called KOOL -- Keep Out Obnoxious Landlords -- the plan, which I'm told wasn't offered up facetiously, would make it illegal for anyone to own more than two apartments in San Francisco. Not two apartment buildings. Two apartments.
Perhaps it's best you get this straight from the Union's Web site:
"OUTLAWING LANDLORDS MEANS HOME OWNERSHIP FOR ALL TENANTS!!
- Tenants get to NAME THE PRICE they'll pay for their apartment. Since only you can buy your apartment, you tell the landlord what you'll pay--$50, $2,000, whatever. Or you can pay nothing and just squat it for 5 years and pay the taxes and it's yours.
- Being unable to profiteer off housing, landlords, speculators, developers and other slime will leave the city in droves. San Francisco will once again be a livable city!
Good For Tenants--Bad For Landlords"
According to the Tenants Union's Ted Gullicksen, the main obstacle to implementing this bizarre, unconstitutional, massive seizure of property is San Franciscans' right-wing belief system. "Well, banning landlords would certainly mean real home ownership for tenants, though it's probably undoable in increasingly-conservative and rich SF where profiteering off of housing means big bucks," Gullicksen told me in an e-mail message.