John Nichols on Romney’s Libor pals, George Zornick on Colorado’s gun laws, Michael Z. Youhana on WikiLeaks in Guatemala and Zoë Schlanger on tar sands.


ROMNEY: WHAT LIBOR SCANDAL? When the Supreme Court ushered in what historians will record as the Citizens United era of campaign fundraising, shamelessness became the order of the day. Want proof? With London abuzz about the Libor (London interbank offered rate) scandal—in which it was revealed that the big banks lied about interest rates in order to game the system—Mitt Romney jetted into the city for a pair of lavish fundraising events at which key players in the controversy-plagued banks were scheduled to hand him checks for as much as $75,000. Former Barclays head Bob Diamond, who was forced to resign as the scandal metastasized, had already quit as co-chair of Romney’s London welcoming committee. But one of Diamond’s chief lieutenants, Barclays lobbyist Patrick Durkin, was front and center for the fundraising appeal. So, too, were chief executives and managing directors with Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and HSBC, as well as key players from Goldman Sachs, Blackstone, Wells Fargo Securities and, of course, Bain Capital Europe.

While Democratic Senators Carl Levin, Jack Reed and ten of their colleagues were urging Attorney General Eric Holder to bring “appropriate criminal prosecution and civil action” in response to the Libor revelations, Romney was padding his campaign accounts with checks from bankers who, it’s fair to presume, would prefer a US president willing to put the brakes on those prosecutions.

Approached by Britain’s Telegraph, one invitee hailed the “American understanding of capitalism,” as exemplified by Romney. That “understanding” is worth a lot to embattled bankers: certainly at least the $75,000 fee for what the UK Independent described as a “chance to whisper some of their own policy preferences into the ear of the man who may—or may not—be US President.”   JOHN NICHOLS

COLORADO’S DANGEROUS GUN LAWS: In the wake of the horrific movie theater massacre in Aurora, the debate has turned to gun control. As details continue to emerge about how James Holmes bought his deadly arsenal, the following facts about Colorado must be part of the conversation:

§ Holmes bought his guns in Colorado, where he did not have to register them; the state prohibits gun registration. But if Holmes had bought the guns outside Colorado, there are no laws restricting bringing them into the state.

§ The expiration of the assault weapons ban under George W. Bush enabled Holmes to purchase the high-powered weapon that he reportedly used, an AR-15, as well as the high-capacity magazine. President Obama campaigned on renewing the ban, but quickly dropped it from his agenda and “won’t even talk about” renewing it.

§ Since 2003 it has been illegal for local government or law enforcement in Colorado to “enact an ordinance, regulation or other law that prohibits the sale, purchase or possession of a firearm that a person may lawfully sell, purchase or possess under state or federal law.”

For more on gun laws, go to   GEORGE ZORNICK

WIKILEAKS, GUATEMALA EDITION: Among the tens of thousands of State Department cables released by WikiLeaks relating to Latin America was a 2009 cable from Stephen McFarland, US ambassador to Guatemala, who noted that “widespread poverty, hunger, marginalization of the large—but fractious—indigenous minority, and a long history of state neglect of the poor could prove fertile ground for the rise of a new, more radical left.”

Poverty, hunger, marginalization of indigenous peoples and a “more radical” left are not new to Guatemala. After the nation’s 1944 “October Revolution,” its most neglected citizens, seeking economic justice, helped elect President Jacobo Arbenz, a leader deemed too “radical” for Guatemala’s right-wing elite. Arbenz was overthrown
in a US-backed coup in 1954. Decades of gruesome state terror would follow. “Radicalism” (as defined by US interests) was all but entirely stamped out by the end of Guatemala’s civil war in 1996.

But today the WikiLeaks cables reveal a different kind of economic radicalism at play. In another 2009 cable, McFarland described his efforts to aid Citibank in the country. At the bank’s request, McFarland approached former Guatemalan Attorney General José Amilcar Velasquez to ensure that a local lawmaker’s attempts to implicate Citibank in an embezzlement scandal involving the Guatemalan Congress would fail, lest “depositors…lose confidence in Citi Guatemala.” McFarland succeeded, and a form of government-sponsored economic justice was finally administered in Guatemala—this time for a private bank, not for landless peasants. No coup followed.   MICHAEL Z. YOUHANA

A TURN IN THE DEBATE ON TAR SANDS: One million gallons of diluted bitumen, called “dilbit,” gushed into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010—the biggest pipeline spill most people have never heard of. Bitumen, the oil extracted from tar sands, is nothing like its conventional crude counterpart: it’s thick and sticky and has to be diluted to flow through pipelines. The chemical mixture used to dilute it is a trade secret, but often includes carcinogens like benzene.

Now an investigation released by InsideClimate News—followed by a scathing federal report—has discovered that the pipeline had defects that were neglected for years. The finding means a proposed record fine of $3.7 million for Enbridge, the company behind the spill. Enbridge is also the company involved in the $6 billion Northern Gateway tar sands project proposed for Canada, currently nearing the end of its review process and facing tremendous backlash.

Meanwhile, the Keystone XL pipeline company TransCanada is receiving a new kind of scrutiny from Nebraskan officials: they want to see the chemical information about dilbit that’s currently protected by trade secret laws. “What are the characteristics of the products being transported?” a feedback report asks. “How toxic are the products being moved through the pipeline?”

This is a key shift in attention for such a project. These are also the kinds of questions that will likely change the conversation about tar sands. With major dilbit pipelines under construction, these developments are a reminder of the untold risks we face as each section of pipe is installed.   ZOË SCHLANGER

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