Feds Investigate Transocean’s Possible Ties to Burmese Drug Clan

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The world’s most infamous drilling firm, Transocean, has been slapped with a subpoena by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) over one of its projects in Burma. Basically, the drilling-platform operator best known for its exploding Deepwater Horizon rig is drilling in Burmese waters co-owned by a family of drug lords (including the “Godfather of Heroin”) with whom it is verboten to do business under federal sanctions. The government wants to know if any sanctioned parties are actually listed on the drilling contract, and if Transocean was aware who it was dealing with.

I want to know something different: Who cares?

Though it sounds juicy, this story entirely misses the forest for the trees. This isn’t the first time Transocean has worked in Burma: It also handled exploratory drilling for Daewoo’s stake in the country’s giant Shwe gas reserves; but since Daewoo’s not blacklisted, that was okay. And Transocean isn’t the only American company with interests in Burmese energy. Chevron helps operate a pipeline that earned the dictatorship more than $1 billion in 2008 and is the single largest source of income for a regime that propagates genocide and is allegedly trying to build nukes. But that’s okay because Chevron lobbyists got some big fat loopholes in the US sanctions, guaranteeing the company doesn’t have to divest. All of which doesn’t matter much anyhow, because the plenty of other countries profiting off Burma’s resources would be happy to grab up the American companies’ stakes if they had to abandon them. Even the Congressional Research Service recently released a report (pdf) saying that more than a decade of US sanctions hasn’t had any demonstrable impact on the junta’s finances or power.

The Transocean probe will likely end up being as inconsequential as the sanctions the company might be violating. “We do not expect the liability,” Transocean has stated in company filings, “if any, resulting from these inquiries to have a material adverse effect on our consolidated statement of financial position, results of operations or cash flows.” In this case, the company’s rosy PR assessment probably isn’t just spin.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

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Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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