Lost in the Flood

newyorker:

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Why did disastrous floods in the Balkans fail to capture Western attention? Téa Obreht explains: http://nyr.kr/1hbpplU

“The Western world continues to hold the Balkans at arm’s length, as though its scattered nations were a clutch of badly behaved children that won’t be allowed back to the grown-ups’ table until they have served an adequate timeout.”

Above: Flood waters cover the village of Gunja, in eastern Croatia, in May. Photograph by Davor Javorovic/Pixsell/AP.

newsweek:

When big oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron set their sights on a prime new oil reserve in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, the first phone call they make usually isn’t to the government office putting it up for sale. Instead, they ring up one of their contacts in a small, elite group of so-called “fixers,” a shady cabal of a few dozen well-connected billionaires who hold the strings on the market for the world’s most valuable commodity.

The fixer gets a fat fee and a straightforward assignment: Do whatever you need to do to get us those oil rights.

Unlike the US, where oil rights are held by individual property owners and leased to mining companies, in most developing nations oil rights are held by the government, and getting them means having a personal relationship with the right ministers—and knowing how to grease their palms.

Since the mid-1900s, oil companies have relied on fixers to do their dirty work, crisscrossing the globe with a Rolodex stacked with the calling cards of corrupt heads of state. In the end, we get cheap oil, oil companies get plausible deniability, and the leaders of some of the world’s most oppressive regimes get astronomically rich.

Ken Silverstein is a veteran journalist who has spent the last several years finagling his way into the traditionally hyper-reclusive world of oil fixers, gaining unprecedented access to many key players and amassing a portfolio of outrageous tales of bribery, exploitation, and obscene wealth. His book, The Secret World of Oil, hit shelves yesterday, and I spoke to him about how US companies continue to skirt anti-bribery laws in the high-stakes pursuit of oil.

Bribes, Favors, and a Billion-Dollar Yacht: Inside the Crazy World of the Men Who Do Oil Companies’ Dirty Work)

wnyc:

Bravo, Business Week.

-Jody, BL Show-

pulitzercenter:

Four Days in April

On the morning of Thursday, April 24, 2013, traffic on the Dhaka–Aricha Highway was lighter than usual. On most days, the industrial artery that connects the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to suburbs in the northwest is choked with Suzuki hatchbacks, scooters, and banged-​up buses that honk and belch incessantly as they carry commuters to construction sites and factories in towns like Dhamrai, Gakulnagor, and Savar, a subdistrict of the capital dominated by garment makers. But on that morning, they were in the third day of another nationwide hartal, or strike, called by opponents of the ruling Awami League party, the latest in a never-​ending cycle of political brinkmanship that had paralyzed the country on and off for years. Like power outages and flash floods, strikes are a fact of life in Bangladesh. In Savar and other manufacturing hubs, the protocol among working-​class people generally is to heed them or be prepared for trouble.

Rana Plaza, a hulking commercial complex that fronts the highway, was an exception that day. The building’s owner, Sohel Rana, insisted that employees report for work as usual, in defiance of the opposition, with plans to mobilize them for a possible street protest. This was not an empty gesture: On any given day, the plaza’s eight stories held as many as five thousand people, most of whom were employed by garment-​making companies linked to well-​known Western brands.

At his pastry shop across the street from the plaza, Saiful Islam was reading about the strike in the morning paper when he heard a shriek of breaking glass cut the air. He looked up to see shards of blue glass from the building that adjoined the plaza raining onto the far sidewalk, cutting several people waiting at the bus stand below. For a moment Islam assumed it was sabotage, a brick through a window, until the ground started to quake. Rana Plaza seemed to be imploding.

As the quake intensified, more panels blasted out onto the street, and several workers jumped to their deaths. Then the upper floors fell in quick succession, one after another, causing the bottom half of the building to pancake under their weight. In a matter of seconds, the eight-​story building was reduced to a heap of slabs and iron.

As the cloud of concrete dust began to settle on the rubble, Islam and others bolted across the street to look for survivors. Police and the fire brigade were called to the scene, but word of the collapse spread even faster through nearby bastis—​dense neighborhoods of concrete and tin barracks where poor garment-​making families live. By the time fire-​brigade officers showed up ten minutes later, an agitated crowd of hundreds had already gathered and was quickly swelling into a crowd of thousands, hindering authorities’ ability to access the site. “It was a human sea,” says Islam.

Lutfer Rahman, whose wife, Rina, worked at Rana Plaza, was sipping tea in their damp one-​room home when a neighbor yelled through his doorway: The plaza was gone. Lutfer and Rina had married in their hard-​bitten farming village and, like legions of people, moved to Dhaka for better prospects. They soon had two daughters, Arifa and Latifa, and Lutfer had supported the family by pulling a rickshaw until asthma forced him to quit. So Rina had become the breadwinner, a factory helper passing materials to sewing operators for 5,000 taka ($62) a month. Now, for the first time since he’d given up his rickshaw, Lutfer ran: about half a mile through the winding labyrinth of dirt lanes and workshops, past blacksmiths and brick kilns, trailed by his daughters. They reached the site just as two bodies were pulled from the wreckage, neither of them Rina’s. Lutfer, overwhelmed by the rising din of sirens and shouting, bent over to catch his breath.

The full story can be read in the spring issue of VQR and on its website.

Jason Motlagh traveled to Bangladesh to investigate the industry-wide failures that led to the Rana Plaza disaster, the worst accident in the history of the garment industry. A year later, many of the problems remain unresolved. His in-depth investigation is featured in the spring issue of VQR.

The Ghosts of Rana Plaza: an interactive timeline presentation of this story, produced by Pulitzer Center and VQR.

newsweek:

On the evening of Jan. 27, Kareem Serageldin walked out of his Times Square apartment with his brother and an old Yale roommate and took off on the four-hour drive to Philipsburg, a small town smack in the middle of Pennsylvania.

Despite once earning nearly $7 million a year as an executive at Credit Suisse, Serageldin, who is 41, had always lived fairly modestly.

A previous apartment, overlooking Victoria Station in London, struck his friends as a grown-up dorm room; Serageldin lived with bachelor-pad furniture and little of it — his central piece was a night stand overflowing with economics books, prospectuses and earnings reports.

In the years since, his apartments served as places where he would log five or six hours of sleep before going back to work, creating and trading complex financial instruments.

One friend called him an “investment-banking monk.” Serageldin’s life was about to become more ascetic. Two months earlier, he sat in a Lower Manhattan courtroom adjusting and readjusting his tie as he waited for a judge to deliver his prison sentence.

During the worst of the financial crisis, according to prosecutors, Serageldin had approved the concealment of hundreds of millions in losses in Credit Suisse’s mortgage-backed securities portfolio. But on that November morning, the judge seemed almost torn.

Serageldin lied about the value of his bank’s securities — that was a crime, of course — but other bankers behaved far worse. Serageldin’s former employer, for one, had revised its past financial statements to account for $2.7 billion that should have been reported.

Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, Countrywide and many others had also admitted that they were in much worse shape than they initially allowed. Merrill Lynch, in particular, announced a loss of nearly $8 billion three weeks after claiming it was $4.5 billion.

Serageldin’s conduct was, in the judge’s words, “a small piece of an overall evil climate within the bank and with many other banks.”

Nevertheless, after a brief pause, he eased down his gavel and sentenced Serageldin, an Egyptian-born trader who grew up in the barren pinelands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to 30 months in jail.

Serageldin would begin serving his time at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center, in Philipsburg, where he would earn the distinction of being the only Wall Street executive sent to jail for his part in the financial crisis.

Why Only One Top Banker Went to Jail for the Financial Crisis

thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.
thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.
thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.
thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.
thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.

thenewrepublic:

Photographer Michael Christopher Brown accompanied reporter Graeme Wood to the Central African Republic. These are just some of the amazing images he capture. See more here.

yahoonews:

We love everything Mexican — music, beaches, architecture, interior design, films… So, why don’t we love Mexico?

anthonybourdain:

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Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure…

politicalprof:

Apparently, once deer learn where they can and cannot safely go, that becomes a rule — even when the electric fence that once separated today’s Czech Republic from yesterday’s West Germany disappears. 25 years ago.