Richard Adkerson, the Grasberg mine, Max Jarman and the banality of evil...

Betcha Max Jarman's seen his mini-me..

I wonder what it feels like to butt-lick one of the biggest assholes on face of the planet? That's what I'd like to ask Arizona Republic journo (and I use that word loosely) Max Jarman, after reading his verbal rim-job of Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. in Sunday's business section. Titled blandly, "Freeport CEO stays focused on the future," the article is an example of everything that's wrong with journalism today. Adkerson is an environmental Darth Vader, a Dark Prince of Dirt whom The Bird wrote about in the May 3 column item "A Hole." His company's Grasberg mine, the largest gold mine in the world, is an immense gaping sore visible from space, caused by the excavation of nearly a billion tons of earth in the past 30 years. This environmental mega-disaster has been the subject of a shitload of critical articles, including a massive 6,000-plus-word expose on the Grasberg mine by The New York Times titled "Below a Mountain of Wealth, a River of Waste."

The Grasberg mine from space, courtesy of NASA.

The Times article documents the Grasberg mine's rape of the local landscape, and the way Freeport-McMoRan's bought off the Indonesian military to the detriment of the environment and the local Papuan population. Indeed, the Times article reports that,

Company records obtained by The Times show that from 1998 through 2004, Freeport gave military and police generals, colonels, majors and captains, and military units, nearly $20 million. Individual commanders received tens of thousands of dollars, in one case up to $150,000, according to the documents.

As you might expect, the Indonesian military is not exactly known for its support of human rights, and it's used its close connection with the Grasberg mine to suppress the locals and squash any rumblings of a separatist movement. The Times cites "Australian anthropologist, Chris Ballard, who worked for Freeport, and Abigail Abrash, an American human rights campaigner," who estimate that "160 people had been killed by the military between 1975 and 1997 in the mine area and its surroundings." Violent demonstrations and rioting have erupted previously in Papua over the Grasberg mine's pollution and the human rights abuses of the military, which many locals associate with Grasberg.

The ecological damage caused by Grasberg is enormous, and so severe that even the Indonesian Environment Ministry has denounced it, but they can't do diddly because Freeport-McMoRan has a lock on the military. For example, the Times article states,

A multimillion-dollar 2002 study by an American consulting company, Parametrix, paid for by Freeport and its joint venture partner, Rio Tinto, and not previously made public, noted that the rivers upstream and the wetlands inundated with waste were now "unsuitable for aquatic life."

An operation in any way similar to Grasberg would be impossible, illegal in the U.S. But in Indonesia, Freeport-McMoRan can do anything it wants. It's corporate evil of the blackest stripe, which in part allows Freeport to rake in billions. Grasberg itself has an estimated worth of $50 billion. In addition to being the world's largest gold mine, it's the world's third largest copper mine, and copper is in high demand. Since acquiring PHX mining co. Phelps Dodge this year, Freeport-McMoRan has become the largest publicly traded copper company in the world. Richard Adkerson, an accountant by trade, is the company's top bean-counter. He started out providing accounting services to Freeport, then later teamed up with Freeport's founder and chairman James Moffett, becoming CEO in 2003.

With the Phelps Dodge acquisition, Adkerson's moving to Sand Land, which is the reason for Jarman's piece. But in that piece, you'll learn nothing about Freeport's environmental abuses, its ties to the Indonesian military, or even the fact that Adkerson's previous home in New Orleans' French Quarter has been the target of protesters waving signs saying things like "A Rich Murderer Lives Here." Instead, Jarman makes only passing reference to Adkerson having to deal with "angry indigenous people," and "aggressive environmentalists."

Of course, Jarman never explains why those indigenous people might be angry or why the environmentalists might be aggressive. Rather what we get is the functional, modern-day equivalent of a puff piece on Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann comes to mind because of that phrase "the banality of evil," which author Hannah Arendt uses in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann was of course a far, far more evil bean-counter, but the similarity is in Adkerson's ordinariness, which is one thing reporter Jarman gets right in his prolonged puffery. We learn Adkerson was "good at math" as a kid, that he's a cordial Southerner, that he enjoys "bird hunting, fly fishing and hiking," and that he "grew up in a landscape shared by Elvis and Oprah."

He's also the CEO of a company that does some really evil shit. But Jarman ignored this issue in the Sunday profile. The Repugnant did do a piece by Andrew Johnson back in November raising the Grasberg controversy. However, that hardly excuses Jarman's kiss-ass approach to Adkerson seven months later. Jarman also penned a Q&A in December with Adkerson, but asked just one fleeting query about protests at Grasberg, making it sound like it was some weather problem Adkerson had to address. And in at least one other piece on Freeport in November, Jarman made a brief, desultory reference to riots at Grasberg.

I'm not saying Jarman has to agree with Adkerson's critics, but the ongoing controversy over Grasberg is certainly worth mentioning and challenging Adkerson about at length. Maybe Jarman just loves blowing execs like Adkerson in print. Who knows? Personally, I get madder at douchebags like Jarman than I do dicks like Adkerson. It's brown-nosers such as Jarman who sometimes make me truly ashamed to be in any way associated with the Fourth Estate.

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