Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Senate Republicans Block Windfall Profits Tax on Big Oil Companies

Democrats fall eight votes short of preventing filibuster

With gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon, Senate Democrats wanted the U.S. government to throttle back on the billions of dollars in profits being taken in by the major oil companies. But with the White House threatening a veto of the bill, the Senate voted 51-43 to close debate, well shy of the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

The proposed windfall profits tax would have been somewhere between 10 and 12 billion dollars for this year, and it would have been levied against the country’s five largest oil companies. The legislation would have also rescinded $17 billion in tax breaks the companies expect to enjoy over the next decade.

“The oil companies need to know that there is a limit on how much profit they can take in this economy,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, warning that if oil prices are not reined in, “we’re going to find ourselves in a deep recession.”

A statement issued by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said, “Rather than addressing the principal cause of fuel price increases — rising world petroleum demand without a similar increase in supply — (the bill would) undercut U.S. energy security and decrease U.S. energy production, thus exacerbating market tightness and increasing energy prices.”

I find it quite striking that the White House is still claiming that the principal reason for the precipitous jump in oil prices is the rise in global demand, when according to Chevron Vice President of Strategic Planning, Paul Siegele, demand is not currently on the rise. Siegele raised this very point with me less than two weeks ago at a panel discussion at Stanford. (For more on the slowing of global oil demand, this article in MarketWatch reports on the International Energy Association’s projected slowdown).

Following the bill’s defeat, Democrats said they may work on separate legislation to increase oversight of trading by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Many argue that one of the principal drivers of rising gas prices is actually because of futures speculation on the commodities market. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) said that parts of the windfall tax bill including commission provisions could be split into separate proposals.

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BBC uncovers lost Iraq billions

Henry Waxman
Waxman: "It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

A BBC investigation estimates that around $23bn (£11.75bn) may have been lost, stolen or just not properly accounted for in Iraq.

For the first time, the extent to which some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding has been researched by the BBC's Panorama using US and Iraqi government sources.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

War profiteering

While George Bush remains in the White House, it is unlikely the gagging orders will be lifted.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq.

The president's Democratic opponents are keeping up the pressure over war profiteering in Iraq.

Henry Waxman who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said: "The money that's gone into waste, fraud and abuse under these contracts is just so outrageous, its egregious.

"It may well turn out to be the largest war profiteering in history."

In the run-up to the invasion one of the most senior officials in charge of procurement in the Pentagon objected to a contract potentially worth seven billion that was given to Halliburton, a Texan company, which used to be run by Dick Cheney before he became vice-president.

Unusually only Halliburton got to bid - and won.

Missing billions

The search for the missing billions also led the programme to a house in Acton in West London where Hazem Shalaan lived until he was appointed to the new Iraqi government as minister of defence in 2004.

Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi
Judge Radhi al Radhi: "I believe these people are criminals."
He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2 billion out of the ministry.

They bought old military equipment from Poland but claimed for top class weapons.

Meanwhile they diverted money into their own accounts.

Judge Radhi al-Radhi of Iraq's Commission for Public Integrity investigated.

He said: "I believe these people are criminals.

"They failed to rebuild the Ministry of Defence , and as a result the violence and the bloodshed went on and on - the murder of Iraqis and foreigners continues and they bear responsibility."

Mr Shalaan was sentenced to two jail terms but he fled the country.

He said he was innocent and that it was all a plot against him by pro-Iranian MPs in the government.

There is an Interpol arrest out for him but he is on the run - using a private jet to move around the globe.

He stills owns commercial properties in the Marble Arch area of London.

Original here

The Big Story You May Have Missed During the Obama v. Clinton Finale

For those of you who were understandably busy following the last round of the Democratic Nomination Ultimate Fighting Championship this past week (I won't give away the ending for those who have it TiVo'd), I'd like to call your attention to a major story you may have missed: the Senate Intelligence Committee's 200-page "Phase II" report on how the Bush administration used -- and abused -- pre-war intelligence in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

The Committee's conclusion: the president and his top officials deliberately misrepresented secret intelligence to make the case to invade Iraq. No surprise there.

But it's vitally important that we continue to reiterate and document the truth of what happened and who was responsible for perpetrating this fraud on the American public. And here's why: the war is still going on (and American soldiers continue to die as a result of the deception); the same people responsible for this debacle still have their hands on the wheel; desperate to cover their tracks, they continue to lie about how we got into this mess; and they are currently hitting all the same notes in agitating for war in Iran.

The report is a direct rebuke to the administration's continued claims that it was the intelligence that was faulty, and that Bush and co. were simply presenting what the C.I.A. had given them.

A statement released by committee chairman Jay Rockefeller makes it clear that the administration "on numerous occasions, misrepresented the intelligence and the threat from making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent."

The report doesn't use the word, but we all know what it's called when someone presents something as fact that's directly contradicted by the evidence. A lie. Not a mistake. A lie.

Some specifics from Rockefeller's statement (emphasis mine):

  • Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa'ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa'ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

  • Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

  • Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

  • Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq's chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community's uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.

  • The Secretary of Defense's statement that the Iraqi government operated underground WMD facilities that were not vulnerable to conventional airstrikes because they were underground and deeply buried was not substantiated by available intelligence information.

  • The Intelligence Community did not confirm that Muhammad Atta met an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in 2001 as the Vice President repeatedly claimed.

So much for the tired claim that "everybody in the world" agreed that Iraq had WMD, was a "grave and gathering threat," was in league with Al Qaeda, etc., etc., etc.

The report also details how a cabal very high up in the Pentagon and the Vice President's office got played by a group of shady Iranian exiles in order, as McCaltchy's John Walcott puts it, to "feed bogus intelligence on Iraq and Iran to senior policymakers in the Bush administration who were eager to oust the Iraqi dictator."

This meeting was brokered by neo-con All-Star Michael Ledeen, who is now one of those desperately agitating for war with Iran. The story reads like a bad spy novel.

In December of 2001, Ledeen and two Pentagon Iran experts met an Iranian named Manucher Ghorbanifar in Rome. Ghorbanifar sketched out his plan to overthrow the Iranian regime on a cocktail napkin. The plan involved, as the Senate report puts it, "simultaneous disruption of traffic at key intersections leading to Tehran," which would "create anxiety, work stoppages and other disruptive measures." Ghorbanifar asked for $5 million in seed money to get started.

This was not the first time Leeden and Ghorbanifar had met. Both are alumni of the Iran-Contra arms scandal. In fact, in 1984, the CIA had said that Ghorbanifar "should be regarded as an intelligence fabricator and a nuisance."

Operation Desert Gridlock never happened, but Ledeen continued to feed his dubious intelligence to an eager Pentagon, including giving Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith a 100-day plan which would provide evidence that Iraqi WMD had been secretly moved to Iran. On this, he was backed up by three Republican senators: Rick Santorum, Jon Kyl and Sam Brownback.

Eventually alarm bells went off in the CIA and State Department and an investigation of the Pentagon's contacts with Ghorbanifar was started. It was shut down after only one month, however, by Stephen Cambone, then Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

The reaction of Republicans to the Phase II report has been predictable. They're desperate for the public not to dwell on the truth about this war. And if they can't present contrary evidence to refute the report (and they can't, because it doesn't exist), they can at least sow doubt -- acting as if the report is the result of partisan bickering as opposed to the smoking gun of the Bush administration's tragic acts.

In fact, the committee vote on the report was 10-5, with Republicans Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snow voting with the Democrats.

"It rots the very fiber of democracy when our government is put to these uses," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in response to the report.

It's no coincidence that a war built on lies continues to be conducted using lies ("the surge is working"). Mark Green proposes a way to end the cycle of deception: create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. "This worked in a very different historical situation of South Africa and can work here as well," wrote Green on HuffPost. "South Africans who engaged in murder and violence were given amnesty if they confessed under oath to their crimes and knowledge -- but would be prosecuted if they didn't.... The largely successful effort led to both truth and reconciliation."

Richard Clarke echoed Green's proposal last week, and also suggested something each of us can do: "I just don't think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let them pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 Americans dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded, and they'll carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives."

If the leaders responsible for that suffering are not held accountable -- both at the ballot box and by being shamed and shunned as Clarke suggests -- we dishonor the sacrifices of the fallen, and make it likely that many more will endure a similar fate.

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