Friday, July 22, 2005

It's Fuck You Friday

A resounding fuck you to our modern-day robber barons, and the Republicans who enable them.


Oil Industry Awash in Record Cash
But a smaller portion of profits is going to find new oil discoveries

When major oil companies report their quarterly profits next week, they're once again expected to post record numbers. With crude trading around $60 a barrel, the oil industry is enjoying one of the biggest windfalls in its history. But as the industry looks for places to put that cash, it's finding it harder and harder to put funds to work finding new deposits of oil and natural gas.

By just about any measure, the past three years have produced one of the biggest cash gushers in the oil industry’s history. Since January of 2002, the price of crude has tripled, leaving oil producers awash in profits. During that period, the top 10 major public oil companies have sold some $1.5 trillion worth of crude, pocketing profits of more than $125 billion.

“This is the mother of all booms,” said Oppenheimer & Co. oil analyst Fadel Gheit. “They have so much profit, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches. They don’t know what to do with it."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Treason in the White House

Looks like the Roberts announcement didn't divert the press attention too far from Rove/Libby.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story about a memo that likely has formed the basis for the Fitzgerald investigation - and it's a stunner.

A classified State Department memorandum central to a federal leak investigation contained information about CIA officer Valerie Plame in a paragraph marked "(S)" for secret, a clear indication that any Bush administration official who read it should have been aware the information was classified, according to current and former government officials.

Plame -- who is referred to by her married name, Valerie Wilson, in the memo -- is mentioned in the second paragraph of the three-page document, which was written on June 10, 2003, by an analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), according to a source who described the memo to The Washington Post.

The paragraph identifying her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV was clearly marked to show that it contained classified material at the "secret" level, two sources said. The CIA classifies as "secret" the names of officers whose identities are covert, according to former senior agency officials.

Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame's name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said. It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a federal official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA official if the person knows the government is trying to keep it secret.

So, someone in the White House "knowingly" leaked the identity of a CIA operative. Who? Well, here's a suspect:

The memo was delivered to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on July 7, 2003, as he headed to Africa for a trip with President Bush aboard Air Force One. Plame was unmasked in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak seven days later.

We know Powell wasn't the culprit. Could it have been Bush ordering Rove to leak the information? Could this be why Bush is standing by Rove, and not fulfilling his earlier promise to fire anyone "involved" with the leak?

It certainly is getting interesting...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Spin Begins

Young Master Roberts dances with glee, knowing that his upper-class white Christian male privileges will be protected for his generation. Yay!

The corporate media has been at some pains over the last 15 hours or so to assure us that the pro-corporate candidate for the USSC is a mainline conservative, a run-of-the-mill Republican lacking even the slightest hint of extremism. Russert and Co. solemnly assure us of a speedy, uncomplicated confirmation, thus setting the stage for Democrats to be branded as obstructionists should they take umbrage at the actual record of Mr. Roberts.

This record, to be sure, isn't good. But this fight needs to begin and end at the Roe decision, and despite the fact that the pundits waved this issue off last night as though his influence on Roe will be benign, he needs to be examined carefully on this during the confirmation process. While the press (wrongly) protrayed his views on Roe last night as somehow mysterious, those of his wife are well known and on the record. She's an Executive Vice President of Feminists for Life, a radical anti-abortion organization that offends and degrades the definition of feminism in that special Orwellian way that Republicans have of twisting the very meaning of language.

Despite the fact that the media has assured us that the fight is over, it's just begun - they also told us that Bolton would breeze through confirmation. This isn't over yet - not by a long shot.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The media has been unable to hide the grim facts that surround the bungled occupation of Iraq due to the high death tolls of both Americans and Iraqis. The thousands of car bombs that have taken place thus far this year are also difficult to shove underneath the carpet.

What has been effectively hidden is the bungled reconstruction effort in Iraq, which is turning into an endless rathole into which US taxpayer money is being poured directly into the pockets of Bush campaign contributers, ready to be wasted, embezzled, and then flipped into the next GOP campaign. Meanwhile, the billions of dollars that have already been drained from our treasury are accomplishing very little for the Iraqi people.

It's gotten to be so corrupt that the Iraqi government itself is beginning to act, begging nations other than the United States to do something and do it right, finally shaming the media to cover the corporate swindle that's taking place in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times today tells the shameful story (as does the New York Times - both stories are worth a glance).

AQABA, Jordan — In language both sharp and subtle, Iraqi and international officials on Monday criticized the U.S.-led rebuilding effort for moving too slowly to improve the lives of Iraqi citizens.Meeting for a donors conference at this Jordanian resort town sandwiched between desert cliffs and the placid Red Sea, the officials announced the expected approval of $4 billion in loans from Japan and the World Bank to help speed reconstruction.

They said the United States' $18.4-billion effort had fallen short of restoring essential services such as power, water and sanitation. The criticism reflected a growing belief in Iraq and elsewhere that the Bush administration had bungled the reconstruction by giving billions to private corporations to tackle major infrastructure projects.

"It is now clear that these mega projects, though essential, have not succeeded in providing quickly enough for Iraqis' basic needs," said Barham Salih, Iraq's minister of planning and development cooperation. "Iraqis throughout the country remain dissatisfied."

The State Department, in a little-noticed report released this month, acknowledged the necessity of "adjusting [U.S.] support" to improve the reconstruction plan.

More than $6 billion in U.S. funds and billions more in Iraqi money have been spent so far, but the country's electricity supply is far from meeting demand; oil production is below prewar levels; and barely half of Iraqis report having access to safe, stable supplies of drinking water.

Unemployment is estimated at between 25% and 50%; fuel and food subsidies have resulted in a significant budget deficit; U.S. and Iraqi audits have been unable to account for billions in spending; and at least three U.S. officials and scores of Iraqis, including two former government ministers, are facing corruption charges.

In addition, more than 350 contractors working on reconstruction have been killed; scores have been kidnapped. Insurgents have also targeted Iraqi civilians working with U.S. firms.

At Monday's conference, the World Bank announced final approval of $500 million in loans. Iraq, meanwhile, said it had agreed in principle to another $3.5 billion in loans from Japan.

Although couching criticism in diplomatic language, officials from the World Bank and the U.N. made it clear that the international community's $13.5-billion rebuilding effort would differ from the U.S. approach.

The United States in early 2004 awarded contracts to a handful of U.S.-based multinational firms such as Halliburton Co., Bechtel Corp. and Perini Corp. for massive infrastructure projects such as building power plants, hospitals and clinics and refurbishing water treatment facilities.

But many of the firms have had difficulty completing projects in the face of insurgent attacks, logistical difficulties and complicated U.S. contracting guidelines. At least one contractor, Contrack International Inc., has pulled out. Perini and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp. have had jobs taken away from them over concerns about rising costs.

The international officials said they had learned from the U.S. experience and would rely on Iraqi contractors. Besides being cheaper, Iraqi contractors often face fewer security concerns, said Michael Bell, a Canadian official overseeing part of the international reconstruction effort.

Bell said about 2% of World Bank and U.N. project costs are for security. The U.S. estimate for security costs is 16% to 22%.

"We can't afford to sit and wait," Bell said. "There are rather urgent needs."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Bringing "Democracy" to Iraq, Bush-Style

It's hardly a surprise that after every phony pretense for the war in Iraq has been shattered the favored reason du jour for the carnage - bringing democracy to Iraq, ergo the Middle East - also now lies in smoking broken tatters in the gutters of GOP morality.

The Bush version of democracy in Iraq begins and ends with the Bush version of democracy in America - rigged elections.

As Sy Hersh writes in the current edition of The New Yorker (a must-have subscription these days), the Bush administration attempted to fix the much vaunted January elections in Iraq. The article makes for shocking reading, even if you thought you were immune from further shock from the sewers of Bush corruption.

Here are some key excerpts:

Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq's election?

The January 30th election in Iraq was publicly perceived as a political triumph for George W. Bush and a vindication of his decision to overturn the regime of Saddam Hussein. More than eight million Iraqis defied the threats of the insurgency and came out to vote for provincial councils and a national assembly. Many of them spent hours waiting patiently in line, knowing that they were risking their lives. Images of smiling Iraqis waving purple index fingers, signifying that they had voted, were transmitted around the world. Even some of the President's harshest critics acknowledged that he might have been right: democracy, as he defined it, could take hold in the Middle East. The fact that very few Sunnis, who were dominant under Saddam Hussein, chose to vote was seen within the Administration as a temporary setback. The sense of victory faded, however, amid a continued political stalemate, increased violence, and a hardening of religious divides. After three months of bitter sectarian infighting, a government was finally formed. It is struggling to fulfill its primary task: to draft a new constitution by mid-August.

Whether the election could sustain its promise had been in question from the beginning. The Administration was confronted with a basic dilemma: The likely winner of a direct and open election would be a Shiite religious party. The Shiites were bitter opponents of Saddam's regime, and suffered under it, but many Shiite religious and political leaders are allied, to varying degrees, with the mullahs of Iran. As the election neared, the Administration repeatedly sought ways--including covert action--to manipulate the outcome and reduce the religious Shiite influence. Not everything went as planned.

...A former senior intelligence official told me, “The election clock was running down, and people were panicking. The polls showed that the Shiites were going to run off with the store. The Administration had to do something. How?”

By then, the men in charge of the C.I.A. were “dying to help out, and make sure the election went the right way,” the recently retired C.I.A. official recalled. It was known inside the intelligence community, he added, that the Iranians and others were providing under-the-table assistance to various factions. The concern, he said, was that “the bad guys would win.”

Under federal law, a finding must be submitted to the House and Senate intelligence committees or, in exceptional cases, only to the intelligence committee chairs and ranking members and the Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress. At least one Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, strongly protested any interference in the Iraqi election. (An account of the dispute was published in Time last October.) The recently retired C.I.A. official recounted angrily, “She threatened to blow the whole thing up in the press by going public. The White House folded to Pelosi.” And, for a time, “she brought it to a halt.” Pelosi would not confirm or deny this account, except, in an e-mail from her spokesman, to “vigorously” deny that she had threatened to go public. She added, “I have never threatened to make any classified information public. That’s against the law.” (The White House did not respond to requests for comment.)

The essence of Pelosi’s objection, the recently retired high-level C.I.A. official said, was: “Did we have eleven hundred Americans die”—the number of U.S. combat deaths as of last September—“so they could have a rigged election?”

Sometime after last November’s Presidential election, I was told by past and present intelligence and military officials, the Bush Administration decided to override Pelosi’s objections and covertly intervene in the Iraqi election. A former national-security official told me that he had learned of the effort from “people who worked the beat”—those involved in the operation. It was necessary, he added, “because they couldn’t afford to have a disaster.”

A Pentagon consultant who deals with the senior military leadership acknowledged that the American authorities in Iraq "did an operation" to try to influence the results of the election. "They had to," he said. "They were trying to make a case that Allawi was popular, and he had no juice." A government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon's civilian leaders said, "We didn't want to take a chance."

I was informed by several former military and intelligence officials that the activities were kept, in part, "off the books"--they were conducted by retired C.I.A. officers and other non-government personnel, and used funds that were not necessarily appropriated by Congress. Some in the White House and at the Pentagon believed that keeping an operation off the books eliminated the need to give a formal briefing to the relevant members of Congress and congressional intelligence committees, whose jurisdiction is limited, in their view, to officially sanctioned C.I.A. operations. (The Pentagon is known to be running clandestine operations today in North Africa and Central Asia with little or no official C.I.A. involvement.)

"The Administration wouldn't take the chance of doing it within the system," the former senior intelligence official said. "The genius of the operation lies in the behind-the-scenes operatives--we have hired hands that deal with this." He added that a number of military and intelligence officials were angered by the covert plans. Their feeling was "How could we take such a risk, when we didn't have to? The Shiites were going to win the election anyway."

In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush Administration's increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals. This allowed the Administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic
infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders.

Thus ends the sad sham of "bringing Democracy to Iraq" - a sham that has claimed almost 1800 American lives and countless Iraqi lives. What casus belli remains? The only one that truly matters in the twisted, greedy minds of the Cheney faction that really runs the show - oil.