Wednesday, January 10, 2007

BP Ignores Warnings About Potential Leaks in Caspian Pipeline

By Simon Clark and Stephen Voss

Jan. 8 (Bloomberg) -- As snipers watched from rooftops and an orchestra played national anthems, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey inaugurated in July the 1,768-kilometer Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline pumping oil from the landlocked Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

John Browne, chief executive officer of BP Plc, which built and operates the $3.9 billion pipe, joined in the celebrations at Ceyhan, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. ``BTC is the first great engineering project of the 21st century,'' Browne said.

Maybe not so great, says Derek Mortimore, an engineer who's spent the past 45 years protecting pipelines from corrosion.

``It's got an in-built flaw,'' says Mortimore, 62, who worked as a consultant on the pipeline while it was being planned. That flaw -- a coating paint on the buried pipeline's welds that's subject to cracking -- could allow corrosion that may result in leaks, Mortimore says.

Even before the pipeline began pumping oil, the coating had already cracked once in 2003 -- something London-based BP didn't disclose to its lenders at the time and that caused construction delays and contributed to a cost overrun of almost $1 billion. A leak would pollute the environment and halt the flow of a million barrels of oil a day.

When BP said it would stop the flow of half as much oil last summer after a corroded pipe leaked at its Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, field, the price of oil soared as much as 3.4 percent to $77.30 a barrel the next day. BP's market value fell by 2.7 billion pounds ($5.3 billion), and the U.S. government offered to open its emergency stockpile.

Strategic Importance

``The BTC pipeline is strategically important to the West as a new source of much-needed oil,'' says John Dingell, chairman of the U.S. Congress's Energy and Commerce Committee.

``Nonetheless, serious allegations about potentially flawed workmanship that may result in above-normal corrosion rates have been made,'' Dingell says. ``While there has been considerable public attention to these concerns, it is not clear how they were ultimately resolved and put to rest. Our most-recent experience with BP in Alaska suggests more probing may be needed.''

BP says it solved the coating issue on the Caspian pipeline in 2004, and the company has used the same paint on the 680- kilometer (420-mile) South Caucasus Pipeline, which carries gas and runs underground alongside the BTC pipeline through Azerbaijan and Georgia.

``I have absolutely no concerns that we have a defective field joint coating,'' says David Woodward, who led BP's operations in Azerbaijan for eight years until November.


BP's fix wasn't sufficient; the coating still cracks, exposing the pipe to corrosion and leaks, according to a 2005 report obtained by Bloomberg News and commissioned by the contractors that built the Azeri pipe sections for BP, Athens- based Consolidated Contractors International Co., and Burnley, England-based Pipeline Induction Heat Ltd.

Bureau Veritas SA, an independent Paris-based inspection company, monitored the tests for the report.

``There seems to be a cultural problem at BP resulting in a state of denial,'' says pipeline engineer John Leeds, who holds a doctorate in electrochemistry and has 40 years of experience and more than 70 published technical papers. ``Let's call it an ostrich policy.''

The controversy over the BTC pipeline is another in a list of woes to haunt Browne, 58, during the past year. In March, a corroded, above-surface pipe at BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest in the U.S., leaked about 5,000 barrels of oil onto the tundra. In August, a second leak at Prudhoe Bay forced BP to start shutting the field.

Safety Concerns

Then, in October, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said BP knew about safety concerns at its Texas City, Texas, oil refinery years before a March 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at the plant. BP has settled about 1,000 suits, including all death claims, and set aside $1.6 billion to compensate all victims of the explosion. The company is scheduled to begin trial in February over several injury-related lawsuits.

``BP has publicly accepted responsibility for the March 23 explosion and for the management system failures and employee mistakes which contributed to or caused it,'' Robert Malone, BP's U.S. chief, said in September at a U.S. congressional hearing on the Alaska oil spill. ``We have fallen short of the high standards we hold for ourselves and the expectations that others have for us. We have stumbled operationally.''

Trading Questions

BP's mishaps extend beyond safety. In December, BP said the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission's staff is recommending civil enforcement actions against the company for improper trading of unleaded gasoline in 2002. BP spokesman Scott Dean denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Bloomberg News. The commission also alleged in June that BP attempted to corner the propane market in the northeastern U.S.

The story of how BP built the BTC pipeline using an inappropriate coating, despite repeated warnings that it wouldn't work, points to companywide flaws, says Matthew Simmons, founder of Houston-based oil and gas investment bank Simmons & Co.

``There are clear parallels between what happened here and what happened in Alaska and Texas City,'' Simmons says. ``When you get a problem at BP, you get massive denial.''

Some investors agree. ``Whenever you have these types of failures, you go back and find out that a lot of people realized something was wrong but just didn't do anything about it,'' says Karina Litvak, head of governance and socially responsible investment at London-based F&C Asset Management Plc, which has $200 billion under management, including BP shares.

Stock Falls

Investors have soured on BP's stock in the past year. BP started 2006 as the world's second-largest publicly traded oil and gas company by market value, behind Houston-based Exxon Mobil Corp. By yearend, it ranked fifth, having been surpassed by Moscow-based OAO Gazprom, Beijing-based PetroChina Co. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc of The Hague. BP's shares fell 8.3 percent to 567.5 pence in 2006, while Exxon's soared 36 percent to $76.63 and Shell's rose 0.8 percent to 1,785 pence.

``BP has lost a huge amount of respect in the U.S.,'' says Neil McMahon, a London-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. who once worked as a geologist for BP. ``If they have another problem, I would expect the board and shareholders to turn increasingly negative on BP and its executives.''

The environmental mistakes are all the more jarring because BP's Browne has wrapped himself in a cloak of pro- environmentalism, says Doug Norlen, policy director at U.S.-based Pacific Environment.

In 2000, BP changed its logo from a shield to a flowerlike sunburst design and adopted the slogan ``Beyond Petroleum.'' BP's advertisements often focus on solar and wind operations, and some inform motorists how to pay for trees that will offset their cars' carbon emissions.

`Green Company'

``BP says it's a green company, but its lack of oversight on projects like BTC risk having terrible effects on the environment,'' Norlen says. ``How can they square their green objectives with reality?''

Browne might have prevented the Alaska spill had he listened to whistle-blowers, says Chuck Hamel, a retired oil broker and lobbyist for oil workers in Alaska. ``BP was repeatedly warned about corrosion problems in Alaska,'' he says.

BP made Woodward, 60, available for an interview in the Azeri capital, Baku, in October to discuss the pipeline. Toby Odone, a spokesman for the company, declined to comment further.

Shares Double

Until recently, shareholders weren't complaining at all about Browne, who became CEO in 1995, 29 years after joining the company as a university apprentice. Under his watch, BP's shares have more than doubled, giving the company a market value of 109 billion pounds.

He's led more than $100 billion of takeovers and joint ventures, from the $56 billion purchase of Chicago-based Amoco Corp. in 1998 to a $7.7 billion investment in Russia's TNK-BP oil company in 2003. Browne has returned more than $70 billion to shareholders in dividends and buybacks since the beginning of 2000. Profit at BP rose 31 percent in 2005 to $22.3 billion, a record for the company.

The record earnings followed years of cost cutting in the 1990s that sapped the company of infrastructure investment and engineering expertise, Simmons says. ``If you are trying to cut costs, the first thing you do is cut on maintenance,'' he says. ``Corrosion protection, and experts on corrosion protection, went out of oil majors by the back door.''

Dingell's Criticism

During September's Congressional hearings on the Alaskan oil spill, Dingell, 80, a Democratic representative from Michigan, said, ``For an oil company of BP's size and reputation to allow two of its most-critical transit lines, in America's largest producing oil field, to reach such a sorry state of affairs is staggering.''

Bart Stupak, 54, also a Michigan Democrat, said the leak highlighted flaws in BP's management culture. ``These problems apparently created a chilling atmosphere for workers to report health and safety issues,'' he said.

In September, BP said it would spend $550 million over two years on its Alaskan pipelines and appointed three corrosion experts. BP also hired a former federal judge, Stanley Sporkin, 74, to serve as an ombudsman who could field allegations of wrongdoing from U.S. employees.

In 2005, BP appointed former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III -- who was also co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that recommended withdrawing U.S. troops from combat by early 2008 -- to lead a panel of advisers on corporate governance and safety policies.

``We have had time to reflect and learn from the tragic accident at Texas City, the corrosion of the oil transit lines at Prudhoe Bay and the allegations of inappropriate trading,'' Browne said on Oct. 24 at a press conference at BP's headquarters in London's St. James's Square. ``We are incorporating lessons learned.''

`Making Do'

Browne, who declined to be interviewed for this article, says the company slashed costs to maintain profits during the 1990s when oil fell as low as $10 a barrel. In a video playing on Oct. 25 at BP's headquarters in Villa Petrolea in Baku, Azerbaijan, Browne said that in the 1990s, the company adopted a culture of making do. ``Making do begins to nibble the future away,'' Browne said.

To ensure its future as oil output dwindles in the U.S. and the U.K., BP is being forced to turn to far-flung developing countries, such as Angola and Azerbaijan. The Caspian coast outside Baku is dotted with rickety communist-era derricks, nodding donkeys and oil lakes.

Russian Supplies

In 2005, BP's U.K. oil production of 277,000 barrels a day was 43 percent below its output four years earlier. BP's U.S. production tumbled 18 percent, to 612,000 barrels a day, in the same period. Meanwhile, Russia became its largest source of oil, producing 911,000 barrels a day, while Angola supplied 128,000 barrels and Azerbaijan, 76,000.

BP first began investigating Azerbaijan's energy reserves just after the end of the cold war. In 1993, Heidar Aliyev, former head of the KGB in Azerbaijan, came to power following a coup.

Under Aliyev, Azerbaijan, a secular Muslim nation of 8 million people sandwiched between Russia and Iran, became a staunch ally of the U.S. It has 7 billion barrels of oil reserves, according to BP. Baku had its first oil boom in the 19th century, making fortunes for Europe's Rothschild and Nobel families.

BP is the operator and biggest shareholder in Azerbaijan International Operating Co., or AIOC, the consortium that's drilling oil in the Azeri, Chirag and Gunashli fields in the Caspian Sea. Exxon and San Ramon, California-based Chevron Corp. are also shareholders.

The offshore oil is then piped into the BP-operated Sangachal Terminal south of Baku, where the BTC oil pipeline and SCP gas pipeline begin.

James Bond Movie

The 1999 James Bond movie ``The World Is Not Enough'' was about the construction of an oil pipeline that follows roughly the same route. The pipe travels across 1,500 rivers, over the Caucasus Mountains to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, down to Ceyhan in Turkey, where tankers dock at a two-and-a-half-kilometer-long jetty to load the oil for Western markets.

BP owns 30.1 percent of the pipeline. Other shareholders include Chevron and Paris-based Total SA.

Azerbaijan's renewed oil exploitation has made the country the world's fastest-growing economy, expanding an estimated 25.6 percent in 2006, according to the International Monetary Fund. It's also one of the most corrupt, ranked 130th out of 163 nations in Berlin-based Transparency International's 2006 list, alongside Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

The BTC pipeline will reach its capacity of 1 million barrels of oil a day in 2008. As of Sept. 30, the most oil to flow through the pipe in one day was 520,000 barrels.

Plans to Expand

BP plans to boost the pipe's capacity to 1.8 million barrels a day in coming years by adding pumping stations to tap crude from other energy-rich nations in central Asia such as Kazakhstan, says BP's Woodward, whose office at Villa Petrolea, formerly a Soviet Palace of Culture, retains details such as a stucco hammer and sickle.

In 1994, Aliyev agreed to allow a group of Western oil companies led by BP to develop the offshore fields. ``By having an East-West corridor, you could help secure the independence of countries like Azerbaijan, Georgia and potentially Kazakhstan from Russia,'' says Woodward, who retired from BP on Jan. 1.

``There was strong backing from the U.S.'' says the former BP executive.

As the price of oil slumped, the pipeline looked less economic and the project slowed. In 1998, BP bought Amoco, the fifth-biggest U.S. oil company, uniting two of the biggest shareholders in AIOC and giving new impetus to the project.

Bill Clinton

In November 1999, then U.S. President Bill Clinton flew to Istanbul to sign an agreement with the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia to approve the pipeline. ``For centuries, the Caspian region has been critical to the crossroads of human events but never more so than today,'' Clinton said.

In 2001, BP appointed San Francisco-based construction company Bechtel Group Inc. to start surveying the route in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Turkish pipeline company Botas took charge of the Turkish section.

In February 2002, BP hired Mortimore, who's helped build and repair pipes on six continents. The engineer traveled to Baku to develop a coating plant for the undersea pipes linking BP's offshore oil rigs to the Sangachal Terminal.

One evening, Mortimore met up with Paul Stretch, the technical manager for the BTC pipeline. Stretch gave him a two-page note on the so-called field joint coating.

Protective Coating

This coating was intended to protect the ends of each 12- meter-long section of pipe from corrosion after they were welded together. During construction, each section of pipe arrived on site coated in a plastic polyethylene protective layer. Bare steel was exposed only at the ends, so they could be welded together.

The note favored covering the exposed ends with an epoxy-based product known as SP-2888, made by Langley, British Columbia-based Specialty Polymer Coatings Inc. ``The highest-scoring product is SP-2888,'' the note said.

It also recognized a flaw: Epoxy-based paints don't stick well to polyethylene. ``There is a question regarding the SPC product and its adhesion to polyethylene, which needs to be resolved,'' the note said.

Mortimore says the note was written by Trevor Osborne, BP's materials consultant in charge of selecting the field joint coating. Osborne was contracted by London-based John Brown Hydrocarbons Ltd., which in turn was contracted by Bechtel.

In what Mortimore says was a deeply flawed selection process, BP, at Osborne's recommendation, picked SP-2888, which Mortimore says had no track record of being used on polyethylene- coated pipes. Osborne declined to comment. Jim Banach, Specialty Polymer Coating's international sales manager, also declined to comment.

`Ideal Situation'

``The ideal situation is to have a pipe and a joint coated in the same material,'' says Brian Leis, a senior research leader at Columbus, Ohio-based Battelle, the world's biggest independent nonprofit research and development organization.

Europe's second-largest utility by market value, Dusseldorf- based E.ON AG, wraps a polyethylene and butyl rubber tape around the joints of polyethylene-coated pipes. ``This system has more than 25 years of operational experience,'' says Helmut Roloff, a spokesman at E.ON's Ruhrgas unit.

In July 2002, BP asked Advantica Laboratories Ltd. in Loughborough, England, to run tests on field joint coatings made by Specialty Polymer Coatings and two other companies. SP-2888 came in first in a weighted test in which certain properties earned more points than others, according to the report, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Even so, the report was critical of all the products.


``Since no single coating material consistently performed well in all tests, it was difficult to identify materials that would be best suited for use,'' the report said.

Protegol, the product that came in last in the test, was used on the Turkish section of the pipeline. Mortimore says the selection process didn't adequately test the coatings and didn't consider the full range of possible options.

In October 2002, BP published a document specifying SP-2888 as the sole product to be used on the pipeline. The specification paper allowed SP-2888 some unusual leeway in performance tests, says Leeds, 66, who in 2004 wrote a report on the BTC pipeline's coating defects for a U.K. parliamentary committee.

The BP document says the product could pass a performance test on the pipe, even if it was found that it peeled in large pieces from the polyethylene substrate, according to a copy.

Using the product left the pipe vulnerable to corrosion in an environment that could provoke explosive stress corrosion cracks, a form of deterioration that can cause pipelines, particularly those carrying gas, to rupture, Leeds says.

`Totally Unacceptable'

``It's totally unacceptable,'' he says. ``A major company such as BP, with its huge resources, shouldn't be in this situation.''

In November 2002, Mortimore wrote a memo to BP trying to prevent them from using the paint. ``It is utterly inappropriate as it does not confirm a protective system that can be successfully applied in all the conditions that this pipeline will be constructed,'' he wrote. ``The potential for claims against the company is open-ended.''

Mortimore wasn't the only one objecting to the choice of SP- 2888. Chris McDonnell, managing director of E Wood Holdings Plc, a Northallerton, England-based competitor to SPC, believes the selection process was rigged. He complained to BP in October 2002.

``We were very reluctant to raise this concern for fear of damaging our relationship with BP, but we felt an injustice had been done and that people at the top didn't know what was going on,'' McDonnell says.

BP Investigates

BP ordered an internal investigation into McDonnell's allegation, McDonnell and Mortimore say. Mortimore gave BP auditors documents written by other companies to support his claim that the choice of SP-2888 was flawed. ``Liquid coatings are not compatible with polyethylene style of coatings,'' an executive at TransCanada Corp., Canada's biggest pipeline company, wrote in one document, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

Mortimore also handed BP tests by Advantica -- the same company that assessed SP-2888 for BP -- that were commissioned by ShawCor Ltd., a Toronto-based maker of field joint coatings. The tests showed that SP-2888 failed to meet an internationally recognized U.K. standard known as CW6.

In December 2002, BP wrote to McDonnell to say that no unethical behavior had been found.

Mortimore Departs

A month later, BP's Stretch sent Mortimore an e-mail confirming that his involvement as a consultant on the BTC pipeline was over.

``I wish to thank you for all of the help you have rendered the project and me to date and hope that one day it is recognized that your expertise and guidance has been undervalued,'' Stretch wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Stretch declined to comment.

Mortimore didn't give up, convinced as he was that BP was making a serious scientific and engineering mistake.

In March 2003, he met BP compliance manager David Winter and corrosion engineer David Fairhurst in London. He brought with him a piece of steel coated with SP-2888. ``You think you've got a coating?'' Mortimore said as he bent the steel plate in front of Winter, shooting shattered pieces of paint to the ceiling. ``That's your coating!''

Then he turned the plate over. The other side was coated with another paint, which had remained unfractured.

Construction Begins

Meanwhile, BP started building the pipeline. In November 2003, eight months after Mortimore met Winter and Fairhurst, BP found cracks in the coating on a quarter of the pipe joints in Georgia and 2.6 percent of the joints in Azerbaijan, according to a 2004 report by WorleyParsons Ltd., a Sydney-based engineering company that advises the banks that funded the pipeline.

Woodward says the paint cracks were caused by BP's contractors, who he says didn't apply the paint properly in cold weather conditions.

``It was a mistake that was made by the contractors, who were employed to apply the coating,'' he says. Once the cracks were discovered, BP ordered the contractors to heat the pipe before and after they reapplied paint to the affected areas, he says.

Then they buried it.

``If prudence was invited to the party, you would have considered using an alternative product after the coating cracked,'' Battelle's Leis says. ``But prudence often isn't invited to a party like this, where delays can cost millions of dollars a day.''

Coating Still Cracks

The pipe coating still cracks even after BP changed the procedure, according to the report commissioned in 2005 by the contractors.

``The frequency of cracking is reduced by pre- and post- heating, but cracking is not eliminated,'' David Norman, an independent U.K. corrosion expert hired by the contractors, wrote in the conclusion to the report, which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

``The SP-2888 coating is susceptible to cracking at the interface with the factory-applied polyethylene regardless of the use or otherwise of pre- and post-heating during application,'' he wrote.

Wael Khoury, a director of Consolidated Contractors, and Philip Bond, managing director of Pipeline Induction, declined to comment, citing contractual restrictions from BP.

The contractors made claims against BP disputing responsibility for cost overruns, Woodward says. The claims may not be settled yet, he said, declining to comment further.

Lenders Not Informed

Neither the cracks nor the change in application were reported to BP's lenders at the time they occurred, according to parliamentary testimony in 2004 by the U.K.'s Export Credits Guarantee Department.

The banks, which include ABN Amro Holding NV, Banca Intesa SpA, now known as Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Citigroup Inc. and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, agreed on Feb. 3, 2004, to lend to the project.

Valter Serrentino, head of social and environmental policy at Intesa, says the Milan-based bank decided to sell its $60 million stake in the loan. ``Mortimore raised a doubt in our minds about the integrity of the pipe's coating,'' he says.

The cracks weren't disclosed to the public until the Sunday Times of London published an article about them on Feb. 15, 2004 -- four months after the fissures were found. Mortimore, who suffered a heart attack days before the news article was published, says he felt compelled to write to Browne.

``I have never before witnessed a situation where the client proceeded with construction when he knew that a significant element of the works was going to fail,'' Mortimore wrote on Feb. 17.

Meeting Refused

In reply, Mortimore got a letter from the head of the BTC pipeline saying nothing could be gained from a meeting. That same year, BP began building the SCP gas pipe, which started operating in December. It also uses SP-2888 as a coating.

Leeds says BP's massive effort to bring Azeri oil and gas to the global market makes its pipeline coating problem all the more significant. ``A pipeline is only as strong as its weakest link,'' he says. ``For the BTC and SCP pipelines, from day one, that will be corrosion at field joints due to cracking and lack of adhesion of SP-2888.''

The pipeline has a second protection against corrosion called cathodic protection. In this process, an electric current is run through the earth to the pipeline and prevents corrosion by turning the metal surface into an electric cathode.

The trouble is, it doesn't work well on a poorly coated pipe, says Gordon Bierwagen, professor of coatings and polymeric materials at North Dakota State University. ``If there is a failure of the coating, it won't protect it,'' he says.

Morale Low

BP installations elsewhere had flaws at about the same time. At the company's refinery in Texas City, managers commissioned consulting firm Telos Group to find out why morale was low in late 2004.

Their survey asked more than 1,100 workers what they perceived the plant's priorities to be. ``Making money'' came first and ``people'' ranked last, according to a copy of the report, which was dated Jan. 21, 2005.

``The equipment is in dangerous condition, and this is not taken seriously,'' one unidentified worker was quoted as saying in the report. Two months later, a cloud of flammable vapors escaped from a tank known as a blowdown drum and exploded at the plant, killing 15 workers.

`New Standards'

Woodward says the BTC pipeline coating dispute is a distraction from the scale of BP's achievement in Azerbaijan.

``We have set new standards with regards to the technical aspects of the project and in the way we dealt with communities and the environment,'' he says. ``It does make it another major new profit center for us.''

And the government of President Ilkham Aliyev, who succeeded his late father in 2003, may reap $150 billion from oil and gas revenues during the next 20 years. Aliyev promises to spend funds on improving education, and he's rebuilding his army, which lost a war with neighboring Armenia in 1994.

``We understand from history that if you are strong, if you have power and have the ability to achieve goals, then your position in negotiations also becomes stronger,'' the president said in an interview with Bloomberg News at his palace in Baku on Oct. 27.

Now that the pipe is in the ground, BP must accept responsibility for its mistake by publishing a monitoring process, which it should keep in-house, instead of contracting the job out, Leeds says. ``This is the price to pay for not doing the job properly in the first place,'' he says.

Outside Monitors

That's not happening. BP in 2006 awarded the monitoring contract for its Azerbaijan assets to Rasco International Ltd., a Baku-based building company with no previous pipeline monitoring experience, and BPA, a Hemel Hempstead, England-based manager of pipelines.

They're still talking to BP about whether they'll take charge of the BTC and SCP pipelines, even though the pipelines were described in the contract, says Neil Barber, a Rasco project manager.

BP also cut out a clause in the contract requiring qualifications set by the Houston-based National Association of Corrosion Engineers or a similar organization, according to the preliminary and final versions of the contract, copies of which were obtained by Bloomberg News. BP spokesman Odone declined to comment on the contract.

In 2000, Browne gave a British Broadcasting Corp. Reith radio lecture on the theme of ``Respect for the Earth'' in which he set a high standard for himself.

``Transparency is not just about publishing numbers,'' he said. ``It is also about establishing clarity as to where responsibility lies.''

When it comes to addressing concerns about the BTC pipeline, Leeds says, Browne is not living by those words.

To contact the reporters on this story: Simon Clark in London at Stephen Voss in London at

Last Updated: January 7, 2007 21:00 EST

We May Need A Huge March On Washington To Force Democrats To Put An End To The War Instead Of Immorally Merely Worrying About Their Political Futures

Monday, January 08, 2007

By Lawrence Velvel

Lawrence Velvel is Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law

January 8, 2007

Re: We May Need A Huge March On Washington
To Force Democrats To Put An End To The War
Instead Of Immorally Merely Worrying About Their Political Futures
And Putting Forth A Known-To-Be-False Yooian Theory
Of The Commander-In-Chief Power To Give Themselves Cover.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel

Dear Colleagues:

When it recently began to look as if George Bush would send more troops to Iraq despite the verdict of November 7th, it was suggested here, only half facetiously, that opponents of the war should begin to plan a two to five million person march on Washington to protest. Now that it is a certainty that Bush, like Lyndon Johnson in Viet Nam, intends to escalate by sending more troops, the suggestion is being repeated, with not the slightest degree of facetiousness. It is entirely serious. For it may well be that only a massive march of unheard of dimensions, one vastly exceeding in size the famous march at which Martin Luther King made his “I have a dream” speech, will cause the American government to stop conduct which furthers the conversion of this nation from a democracy, in which voting results like those of November 7th have meaning, into the political and economic plutocracy it has increasingly become. It is already far enough along this horrible path.

Indeed, it is only because the country is far along this path that members of the Executive and many members of the Congress can seriously consider saying the defacto equivalent of “To hell with you” in response to the results of November 7th. We have not seen flouting like this since Viet Nam, when ultimately there was even a certain amount of violence catalyzed by a government that was out of control under Johnson and Nixon. It may not be wholly outrageous to suggest that, if the Pretexter-In-Chief is allowed his escalatory druthers now, and especially if America’s worldwide interventionism subsequently increases (ala the “fighting spirit” of John McCain, who apparently never met a war or proposed military action he didn’t like), we will one day in the not too distant future have to reckon with a certain amount of internal violence once again.

Better a protest march of unprecedented size in Washington, a march sufficient to succeed in causing this war to be shut down, than an escalation of Bush’s folly with hundreds or thousands more American deaths, many thousands of American maimings, and tens, scores or hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

There is, of course, a hope that, despite Bush’s obduracy and lack of acumen, this war could be shut down by purely political means, without a protest march. This would require the Congress to cut off funds for use in Iraq, except for funds necessary to protect our troops during a rapid withdrawal by a specified date. Is such a purely political solution possible? One doesn’t know. Pelosi and Reid have, of course, sent Bush their letter saying his forthcoming escalation in the number of troops is a terrible idea, and Pelosi has said she may not approve funds for more troops in Iraq. But both of them equally have said they will not cut off funds to be used by troops who are already in Iraq -- which means we could have 160,000 or so troops fighting in Iraq for years. And after Bush rejects their position on escalation, as he is certain to do, will they follow up by pushing any kind of cut-off through Congress, even a mere cut off of the use of any funds whatever for an escalation in troops, and will they ensure its success by attaching it to a bill that is veto proof? (Veto proof in the sense that, although Bush doubtlessly will veto any bill that contains a cut-off, no matter how crucial the bill is to American government, the bill will be of such importance that Congress will have to override the veto?) One doesn’t know. One does know, of course, Pelosi currently is rejecting the possibility of a bill that cuts off all funds for troops presently in Iraq except funds necessary to protect those troops during a rapid withdrawal by a specified date.

The currently expressed view of Pelosi regarding a cut off of all non-withdrawal funds for troops now in Iraq points to a major political problem standing in the way of such a bill. The problem is that there are Democrats who do not wish to support a cut off bill due to purely political considerations. They are afraid that they will suffer politically if they put a stop to this war. (This is not, of course, the motivating factor for a pseudo Democrat warmonger like Joseph Lieberman, but is the motivation for others.) I would think that, for most of these Democrats, the fear is not warranted. But, more importantly, what this fear means is that, for mere political considerations, they are willing to allow the deaths and maimings of who knows how many more thousands of Americans and Iraqis rather than do the right thing and stop American participation in the war. They know that stopping American participation is the right thing to do, but, being politicians, they are more concerned about their own political futures than about the deaths of thousands. This is, of course, deeply immoral, and they are no better than George Bush, for whom this war is, from the beginning has been, and remains largely a matter of merely political calculation, albeit dressed up in other kinds of (false) claims.

What is more, one of the reasons given by Democrats for not passing a cut off bill is, or is virtually, a fraud, and a lot of them know it. Unfortunately, the inept American media merely quotes or otherwise presents this phony reason without any analysis -- which would quickly show its utter speciousness.

The phony reason used by some Democrats as hoped-for cover for their political cowardice is the claim that, because the President is Commander-In-Chief, he lawfully can continue to fight the war, can send more troops, etc., regardless of what Congress may do. Though they apparently do not recognize it, the Democrats who have said or implied this are doing nothing other than echoing the claim of John Yoo that under the Constitution the President, as Commander-in-Chief, can do whatever he wants regardless of Congressional laws. In other contexts, of course, they wholly reject Yoo and his fascistic, now completely discredited claim. But when it suits their political purposes, they echo it, apparently not even realizing that they are doing so.

Nothing could be further from the truth than the claim that, because he is Commander-in-Chief, Bush has the legal right to ignore a bill cutting off funds. In fact, the claim is viciously ironic. Ever since the earliest days of Viet Nam, we have been hearing that the way Congress can control Presidential warmaking, if it does not like what the President is doing, is to cut off funds. But now we hear, completely to the contrary, that such a cut off is of no legal consequence? And we hear it, yet, from legislators who claim they want to put an end to the war? Oh, boy.

Not to be forgotten is that a fund cut off, enacted over Nixon’s veto (after something of a compromise between Nixon and those who wanted to end the war) was how Congress stopped our remaining military action in Indo China, the bombing of Cambodia. As well, it was established by the Supreme Court, in a couple of cases as far back as 1800 and 1801, that it is Congress which sets the parameters of any war effort. (The cases were Bas v. Tingy and Talbot v. Seeman, with the opinion in Talbot being written by John Marshall.)

Nor was the Commander-In-Chief power ever intended to allow the President, as a military man, to override Congress. To the contrary, it was enacted to ensure that the military remains subordinate to civilian control (just as George Washington, when Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Army, was subordinate to the civilian authority of the Continental Congress).

So there is no merit whatever to some Democrats’ Yooian claim that as Commander-in-Chief Bush could legally do whatever he wants in Iraq regardless of enactment of a cut off of funds. For Bush to ignore Congress in this way would be both illegal and precisely the type of high crime and misdemeanor that is intended to be impeachable under the Constitution’s impeachment clause. Democrats’ claim that Bush could legally do whatever he wants is only so much bushwa. It is merely a false attempt to obtain political cover for immoral cowardice that places (wrongly perceived) political interest over morality.

It may be, of course, that even the Democrats who have made the Yooian, bushwa claim will feel they have enough political cover to do the right thing if currently planned hearings quickly show the deficiencies of Bush’s actions. It is not without import that even some officials who privately announced Bush’s forthcoming plan to the press were unwilling to say that the plan will succeed, and some are skeptical. (Imagine -- the Kurds are being depended on to help control Baghdad, when they want nothing more than to be rid of Iraq altogether.) Nor is there even any plan, apparently, for what happens if Bush’s plan does not succeed, as it won’t. Individuals who should know have long told me that Iraq is purely tribal -- a view now borne out to even the stupidest American who pays attention -- and that what the Iraqis are doing to each other now is no different from what the relevant groups have been doing to each other for more than a millennium. The chance that a last ditch U.S. effort will change the teaching of centuries are nonexistent, one would judge. (Even the new pro-Bushian-plan general whom Bush has placed in charge of this folly concedes that success would be two to three years away. That is kind, in reality is probably idiotic.)

True, Bush is going to come up with phony reasons to “surge” (e.g., the claim we can fix the situation, a claim that nations in the area will cooperate with us, etc.) But his phony reasons will be no more valid than his claim of WMDs, his claim on the Abraham Lincoln that the war was over, his claim that the capture of Saddam marked the beginning of the end, the claim that the killing of Zarqawi would put an end to the bad stuff, or any of the other false claims Bush has made. That Bush’s claims are bushwa is not surprising. From the time he was a kid at Andover, Bush has been nothing but an eff up -- in college, in business, in his drunken personal life, as President -- and his entire administration has been one big eff up, especially with response to Iraq, from WMDs to cooperation with the sectarian lynching that turned a criminal and mass murderer into a martyr. (Can you believe it?) (Can you imagine if we had hanged the top Nazis or Tojo in the same way that the Shiites hung Saddam?) Bush is living proof that, in future elections, Americans had better start paying attention to competence and prior evidence of it. And currently, if Democrats wait too long for hearings to show that Bush’s newest plan -- a “surge” -- is nothing but yet another in his unending line of eff ups, they will be immorally condemning thousands of American soldiers and Iraqis to death or maiming in pursuit of a failed and still failing policy.

Make no mistake. Absent a rapidly enacted cut off all funds except those needed to protect troops during a withdrawal by a specified date -- a cut off enacted without, or if necessary because of, a two to five million person march on Washington -- Bush will not only engage in a “surge,” but will continue the war in Iraq until his very last day in office. For the war is, for Bush, the alignment of the stars in heaven. That is to say, it is a product of, and inherent in, his major characteristics and background. He is not smart. He doesn’t read. He is incredibly stubborn (as one might expect from a spoiled brat who is used to always having his way because he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth). He bitterly resents opposition. He had no vision for his presidency, no plan for it, nothing, until 9/11 came around and opened for him the vista of a war on terror and a war in Iraq. He is constrained by no threat of criminal punishment for his illegal actions (e.g., torture), since we do not prosecute our federal criminals in high office, and by no threat of harm befalling anyone in his family in the war zone, since no one in his family is there. He staked his Presidency on the war on terror and in Iraq. If the Iraqi war is a failure (as it is), then his presidency and he are failures (as they are). Yet people think he will quit in Iraq unless he is forced to by a cut off of funds and the imminence of impeachment? Not bloody likely if you ask me. People who think it are fooling themselves, are deliberately blinking the truth as it is said. Unless Congress puts a stop to what Bush is doing in Iraq, there will be at least two more years of war and, possibly, hell to pay at home at some point because, while no draft threatens the average young man as it did in Viet Nam, starting with Viet Nam the people of this country have now had 40 years of knowing that their votes mean nothing, that our putative democracy means nothing, in the face of a plutocratic, lawless political class that does whatever it wants regardless of what voters think. Congress must quickly put a stop to Iraq. If Democratic lack of fortitude is so pronounced that stopping the war requires a march so huge that Washington has never seen anything like it and will in various ways be hard pressed by it, then so be it. Better such a march than two more years of this war, with our country playing a continuing role in causing the deaths and maimings of thousands of our own and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.

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Failure = Success (The Real New Way Forward)

Jan 10, 2006

The United States has lost the war in Iraq. Whether it be six months from now or five years, the outcome will be exactly the same. A remnant of US forces will hastily abandon Baghdad's Green Zone, and an Iranian satelite state will take systematic revenge on its Suni minority. An unstable Middle East will become more unstable by an order of magnitude. For the Bush administration, however, this is not a foreign policy problem, a military problem, or even a national security problem. It is a domestic, political problem to be managed through the techniques of modern public relations. From the perspective of longterm management of public opinion, a shortterm escalation of the conflict in Iraq makes sense. The "surge" is not intended to stem the violence in Iraq and it will not. The real aim of the "surge" is to shorten the GOP's years in the political wilderness. Find out how below the fold.

First some background. Start with this image: Saigon 1975, helicopters taking off from the roof of the US Embassy. The Vietnam War had become the Republican's war, and its ignominious end came during the tenure of an unelected Republican president who came to office amid a constitutional crisis and unprecedented scandal. The GOP could reasonably anticipate a generation as a minority party, and the business interests represented by the GOP rightly feared a return to economic democracy represented by the resurgent Democrats.

In fact, the GOP was back in the White House by 1981. Chalk it up to economic turmoil and good public relations. The mid-1970s marked the peak of domestic oil production as domestic consumption continured to grow at an exponential rate. The difference had to be made up for by imports, particularly from the Middle East. The new petroleum supplies did not come without a cost, and by the late 1970s the economy was still reeling from the effects of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Add to that inflation resulting from war debts, and the situation became increasingly bleak. Between 1977 and 1980 the so-called misery index, a figure calculated by adding inflation and unemployment, rose to a postwar high of 16.27. Then American diplomats were taken hostage in Iran as a result of longstanding grievances regarding US petrodiplomacy. "What went wrong with Vietnam?" became a subiteration of the larger question of what had gone wrong with America.

Enter a cheerful huckster named Ronald Reagan who once told the Fresno Bee:

It's silly talking about how many years we will have to spend in the jungles of Vietnam when we could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and be home by Christmas. (1964)

Slowly a new narrative began to emerge, starting with the Vietnam. The United States was the greatest and most powerful nation ever, and the reason that it didn't succeed in Vietnam was because it was not allowed to succeed. the ordinary, decent people of America were sold out by the negativity of the Left. Dale Carnegie was right, and Herbert Marcuse was wrong. Here is a recent (2004) version of the trope:

There are two basic attitudes toward American foreign policy: the Reagan Way and the Vietnam Syndrome. Adherents to the Reagan Way believe in the efficacy and goodness of American power. Sufferers of the Vietnam Syndrome believe American power is tainted with corruption and arrogance and is doomed to failure. These two broad visions have informed the U.S. foreign policy debate, from Vietnam to the war on terror today. Rich Lowry, National Review June 8, 2004

So much for background. Now to deliver on my IOU from above the fold. Let's look at the problem the way Karl Rove would. The GOP has cemented itself to an unpopular and unwinnable war undertaken on false pretenses. The situation is even worse than it was for Nixon and Ford in the '70s who could at least trace their war's origins to at least one Democratic administration. George Bush is in the last two years of his presidency, is wildly unpopular, and Democrats have achieved majorities in both the House and Senate. Query: How does the GOP come back?

Answer: Appear to be making an effort to win the unwinnable war. Surge the forces. Five to seven years from now, once memories fade and the country is paying down its war debt and struggling with a wrecked economy and dwindling peroleum reserves, point a finger back at the Democrats. Say, "We could have won in Iraq. We could have paved it over, painted parking stripes on it, and been home for Christmas but for the negativity of the Left. Once again they sold out the ordinary, decent folk of America. President Bush proposed a New Way Forward, but all the Democrats wanted to do was blame America first."

Perhaps the reader will be tempted to think this is "too cynical" or "some kind of conspiracy theory." To this thre are to responses. First, the GOP was willing to lie to get the country to go to war and succeeded primarily because decent people couldn't imagine them doing such a thing. Is it any less likely that they would design their "New Way Forward" as a domestic, political strategy aimed at minimizing the consequences of their failed policy? Second, from a diplomatic and military perspective the whole idea of a "surge" is irrational. Could it be that we're viewing it from the wrong perspective? Is the "surge" really domestic politics pursued by other means?

--By Stagarite

'All the Troops in the World Won’t Make Any Difference'

Panetta: Why the Bush 'Surge' Won't Work
Leon Panetta, a member of the Iraq Study Group, says advocates of the Bush 'surge' once counseled against it.
By Michael Hirsh
Updated: 9:31 a.m. MT Jan 10, 2007

Jan. 9, 2007 - Most top U.S. military officials—even members of George W. Bush’s administration such as national-security adviser Stephen Hadley—did not recommend a “surge” or escalation of U.S. troops into Iraq when they were interviewed by the Iraq Study Group last fall, says group member Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton. Instead of a surge—which the president plans to announce in a speech to the nation tomorrow—these officials recommended at the time that more U.S. advisers be embedded in Iraqi units, Panetta says. That later led the bipartisan commission co-chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton to come to the same conclusion, he says. Panetta also says that the officials interviewed knew that one of the Study Group’s central recommendations—that U.S. advisory teams in Iraq be quadrupled—was largely incompatible with a ramp-up of troops. The reason? In order to increase the number of U.S. advisory teams to that degree, American combat brigades must be withdrawn so the officers in those units can be turned into advisers. That is apparently not going to happen now, at least not quickly. Panetta spoke with Michael Hirsh, NEWSWEEK’s Washington Web editor. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Based on what you heard as a member of the Iraq Study Group, what do you think will be the impact of an increase of U.S. troops and resources into Iraq?
Leon Panetta:
I think it’s sending the wrong message to the Iraqis. I think one of the things we did as a group was kind of look at the realities of what was happening there: the spiraling violence; the fact that the government was not implementing the reforms they said they would do; the unreliability of the Iraqi Army and police. When we tried to increase troop strength in Baghdad with Operation Forward Together [the failed attempt to secure Baghdad with more troops last year], the Iraqis only sent two of six promised battalions to help. Ultimately we did the clearing and nobody did the holding. It was clear to all of us that a very tough and unambiguous message had to be sent to the Iraqis that we would not give an open-ended commitment … What concerns me is the president’s message isn’t going to make that clear, and that if the Iraqis fail to unite, there will be no consequences.

The president is reportedly going to ask that the Iraqis meet “benchmarks” for reform and unification in order to get more U.S. aid. Can that work?
We spent almost $34 billion in reconstruction money and there’s very little to show for it. I think that while we agree benchmarks have to be set, there has to be a price if they fail to meet those benchmarks. And they’ve been making these promises over and over again … Few of these reforms, if any, have been adopted. I think they’re beginning to take us for granted.

When your bipartisan panel came to the conclusion that relying on Iraqi forces and embedding U.S. advisers was the right course of action, rather than a surge, did you think that you were reflecting the consensus of the U.S. military at the time?
Yes. We sat down with military commanders there and here, and none of them said that additional troops would solve the fundamental cause of violence, which was the absence of national reconciliation. We always asked if additional troops were needed. We asked the question of [Gen. George] Casey and others, we asked it of Marine commanders in Anbar. Do you need additional troops? They all said the same thing: we don’t need additional troops at this point; we need to get the Iraqis to assume the responsibility they’re supposed to assume.…

Did you interview Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who’s about to take over command of multinational forces in Iraq? What did he recommend? He is now said to be a supporter of the surge.
At that time he was talking about the need to train and embed U.S. forces in the Iraqi Army. [Laughs.]

What about the Joint Chiefs of Staff? What did they say?
Again, when the question was put to Gen. [Peter] Pace [chairman of the Joint Chiefs] about the need for additional forces, he basically repeated what [outgoing CENTCOM commander, Gen. John] Abizaid said, which is obviously you can achieve some temporary limits on violence, but past experience made clear it would just continue without a political solution.

What about national-security adviser Stephen Hadley and his team, who were conducting their own review of the administration’s Iraq strategy?
Again, I remember saying to Jim Baker that when you push all the rhetoric aside, I think everyone was saying the same thing. They were basically reinforcing a lot of the things we were talking about, giving us support on the embedding idea.

Did the surge idea take you by surprise? Where did it come from?
I think there was some talk in Operation Forward about whether they’ve needed more than 15,000 [U.S. and Iraqi troops] in Baghdad … But at the time the question was: where the hell are you going to get them? I have to tell you that politically we heard some comments, even within the Iraqi Study Group, that while it was questionable a surge could work, it could provide some political cover for withdrawal.

Are there any aspects of the Iraq Study Group report that are being adopted?
They’re taking some recommendations: greater training and some embedding of Americans in some Iraqi forces.

Can any number of U.S. troops stop small death squads from continuing sectarian killing in the middle of the night throughout Baghdad?
We had an American general tell us that if the Iraqi government doesn’t make political progress then all the troops in the world won’t make any difference.

The Neocon Lobby is Back!

Monday, January 8, 2007

There's several ways to say this.

What counts in life is not to make mistakes, but to LEARN FROM our mistakes.

Said differently, in pre and post 9/11, the neocon lobby (i.e., Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol, the American Enterprise Institute, etc.) became the dog which wagged the tail of American foreign policy.

Specifically, they buried American foreign policy in quicksand Middle Eastern wars which the vast majority of Americans (and all the polls are absolute about this) are now convinced have NOTHING TO DO with our national security.

Indeed, to the contrary, the same polls show most Americans see these Bush/AEI wars as dangerously weakening our national security.

An image which comes to mind is that of a dingbat dealing with a hornets nest in the corner of a screened in porch by trying to knock it down with a broom. Duh. Result, hornets everywhere -- and 3000 plus dead Americans heroes.

Please count to 3000 slowly. It will break your heart. One wonders if the American Enterprise Institute can count to 3000.

OK, now to the moral. This neocon lobby has already trashed our country in a thousand different ways, so shame on them.

But if we allow this secretive lobby to DO IT AGAIN, then shame on us!

And of course that's exactly what they are trying to do, as the recent Kristol/Kagan paper indisputably shows, since these are the core cheerleaders of the throw-good-money-after-bad "surge" policy that Bush is muttering about.

My fellow Americans (as Lyndon Johnson used to say), this neocon lobby has had its way with American foreign policy far too long. It's not surprising that their influence of George Bush has been extreme, since evidently there's quantities of empty space in our president's skull, but the time has come to take a long, hard look at these particular neocons.

Lots of questions.

Just who are these people? And what is their agenda, i.e., their deep and long term agenda? To be fair, their policies have been tested and retested, and the jury has long since judged them to be 100% flawed. God in heaven, EVERYONE hates us now, and these Bush/AEI Wars are literally (and rapidly) bankrupting our economy.

In short, nothing but tragedy, failure, and virtual genocide has come from the advice of these men.

So, why are we still listening to them? And how to we get their hands out of the George Bush puppet?

Bottom line, this all full circles back to the REAL scene of the crime, which was when George Bush sold his soul to Paul Wolfowitz and company.

So once again, what is the deep agenda of this neocon lobby, since it is self evidently indifferent (history is history!) to the well being, economy, and honor of our now tragically wounded Constitutional Republic.

Media deception and the coming nuclear holocaust


January 7, 2007

Forty five years ago in October 1962, people watched in horror as the superpowers went to the brink of a global nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the Soviets attempted to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, to match U.S. deployments in Europe near the Soviet border. What followed next was nearly 30 years of constant fear of a nuclear holocaust. But 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union the threat of a new nuclear disaster still remains.

The recent report by the Sunday Times that 'Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons' may have come as little surprise to those closely following these reports first hint of which surfaced during an MSNBC Interview with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in January 2005 when he literally gave U.S. approval of a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran:

"One of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked ... Given that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards"

Missing in the rhetoric and media reports since are the actual consequences of such an attack and the fact that a nuclear assault on Iran will usher in the very disastrous scenario the world managed to avoid for over half a century during the cold war and that the ensuing mess will not be so easy to clean.

The high risk neo-con strategy for gaining unchallenged U.S.-Israeli dominance in the region has already burdened the American people with one enormous catastrophe in the Iraqi debacle and if left to make good on bringing about a nuclear attack on Iran, the rest of the world will share and experience the very calamity they've so far managed to evade.

Even a conventional attack on Iran could have a catastrophic impact on global economy as Iran produces nearly 4 million barrels a day and can cause havoc for or impede delivery of nearly 25% of total oil passing through the Straights of Hormuz on its way to the world markets.

But a U.S. and Israeli plan for "surgical tactical nuclear strikes" hold far more serious consequences which are ironically packaged and presented by an acquiescent media as means of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Missing, is any debate on the undesirable outcomes of the resulting nuclear holocaust which will adversely affect the lives of millions of people in the region for months, years, or perhaps decades to come.

Once again the unsuspecting public is being primed to accept such an illegal act of aggression as a necessary 'peace-keeping operation' but the world must wise up to such deceptive tactics and realize that no peace can be achieved through violence. What is urgently needed is a sustained, and growing nonviolent opposition to the chain of preparations that will lead to the very kind of disaster we managed to avoid in October of 1962. Now is the time to take decisive and direct action against the warmongers in defense of human life everywhere on this fragile planet. Comment

Daniel M Pourkesali

Bipartisanship? Bah!

January 10, 2007
by Sheldon Richman

One of our smartest political philosophers, Will Rogers, had it right: “Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.”

I think of that whenever I hear politicians and commentators praise bipartisanship. I also think of this saying: “Be careful what you wish for. You might get it.”

Where did all the wise heads get the idea that Americans voted for bipartisan cooperation last November? After six years of full Republican control, it looked to me as though the voters wanted divided government — blessed gridlock — do-no-harm government. Hear, hear!

But our one-party-with-two-denominations system can’t admit that. Both groupings have to come up with a tortured interpretation of the results to justify their continued exercise of exploitative power, taking from those who produce wealth — entrepreneurs and workers — and forking it over to those who haven’t produced it — largely parasitical, rent-seeking business interests (defense contractors, ethanol producers, agribusiness giants, et cetera), and a few others thrown in.

In 1866 New York Judge Gideon J. Tucker famously said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” There’s another piece of political wisdom, and it applies to the Congress. We are most in peril during spasms of bipartisanship, because it means the public looters have put aside their jockeying for supremacy and have become open conspirators against the public interest.

Better that they be fighting, although very often one suspects that the open squabbling is staged to misdirect us from the real damage being done by “our” elected officials.

George Washington is reputed to have pointed out the obvious, namely, that government is not reason but force — like fire, always dangerous, even when under control. But of course regular people are never really in control. On the contrary, they are controlled. The politicians tax us; we don’t tax them. They regulate us; we don’t regulate them. They spend our money; we don’t spend theirs. So much for all persons’ being created equal. Jefferson’s moral truth has not often been honored in the observance.

Yes, yes, every two, four, and six years we each may cast one vote to determine who taxes and controls us and spends our money. Is that really such a comforting thought — especially considering that in the end the candidate-selection process is the province of insiders and their news-media allies?

If you reject the idea that we toil under one party with Republican and Democratic denominations, ask yourself why both denominations vehemently oppose opening the system up to third parties. Why do they hamper the formation of alternatives at every turn? Is two such a magic number. Or is the magic number really one?

If you still have doubts, observe what is happening with the Iraq war. Nearly everyone agreed that the election was a referendum on the war. The polls support this view and show that most people think the war was a mistake and want to see the troops withdrawn. President Bush has staked too much on his blunder to do anything but increase the number of troops. “Surge” sounds temporary. The administration estimates an 18-month operation, but we know that will be an underestimation.

So what do the triumphant Democrats promise? Hearings, and that’s it. They promise not to cut the war money or attach conditions. Yet the leaders say they oppose the surge.

So where does that leave them? No surge and no withdrawal. In other words, stay the course! That’s the Democrats’ alternative. Is that what the majority of Americans voted for? I’m so glad we got to go the polls.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation, author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine. Visit his blog “Free Association” at Send him email.

The ties that bind: U.S. intelligence and neo-con links to Balkan groups allied to "Al Qaeda"

January 10, 2007 -- According to Federal law enforcement sources, two influential businessmen -- Turkish Sunni Muslim Fetullahci charismatic leader Fetullah Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania after being acquitted in Turkey in 2006 of plotting against the secular republic, and Saudi BMI Islamic investment chief investor Yasin Qadi, a major investor in Turkey who was named in October 2001 by President Bush as a Special Designated Global Terrorist -- were both involved with the CIA in the late 1990s in funneling weapons and other support to the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), an Albanian terrorist group operating in the former Yugoslavia. The KLA was allied with the Clinton administration and supported by leading neo-cons such as Richard Perle, whose lobbying firm, International Advisors, Inc., counts Turkey as its major client. Gulen's books have been translated into Albanian.

BMI's founder, Soliman Biheiri, also helped to start PTech, a Braintree, Massachusetts-based firm that had active software contracts with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Pentagon on 9/11. PTech's offices were raided by Federal authorities in December 2002 after it came under suspicion for terrorist financing. Qadi is suspected of using a series of northern Virginia-based businesses and charities to fund "Al Qaeda" activities in Bosnia. Osama Bin Laden was granted a special passport by the Bosnian government in 1993.

The ties that bind: U.S. intelligence and neo-con links to Balkan groups allied to "Al Qaeda."

Qadi was reportedly a business partner of Turkish businessman Cuneyd Zapsu, an adviser to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Reconciliation Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP).

Perle was also a major player in the Bosnia Defense Fund, which acted as a financial liaison to funnel money between Muslim nations and the government of Bosnia. An adviser for the now-defunct Riggs Bank, which handled the finances for the Bosnia Defense Fund and its accounts at the Bosnian Central Bank in Sarajevo, claimed that Perle was not alarmed when he was told that some of the Bosnian Defense Fund money was bleeding over into the hands of people connected with terrorism in Bosnia. Perle's response to the concern of the adviser was reportedly, "Just make it fucking happen."

U.S. behind reign of terror sweeping Philippines

Eyewitness report

By Teresa Gutierrez
Cebu City, Philippines

Published Jan 9, 2007 11:38 PM

The International Action Center (IAC) sent a fact-finding delegation to the Philippines Dec. 7 to Dec. 19. The delegation was comprised of IAC National Co-Director Teresa Gutierrez, and Dianne Mathiowetz of the Atlanta IAC. Also on the trip were two representatives of BAYAN USA and a member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement from New York City.

Jan. 8—Our trip coincided with the scheduled meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which was to take place the first week of December in Cebu City. ASEAN’s main role is to facilitate economic and political penetration of the area for imperialism. However, the Philippine government announced that the ASEAN meeting would be cancelled due to a reported typhoon that was to hit the island at the same time. It was evident, however, that the summit of 25 Asian countries was actually cancelled due to the political typhoon sweeping the country.

Major demonstrations and massive political sentiment against the president of the country, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were the real reasons the summit was cancelled. As of this writing, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has announced that the ASEAN summit will take place here in Cebu City from Jan. 10 to 15.

One of the most outstanding developments revealed to our delegation was the tremendous wave of repression hitting the Filipino population. Since 2001, over 700 people in the Philippines have been killed or disappeared. The wave of repression against the people is so stark that every week since 2004 approximately two activists have been killed and one has disappeared.

This alarming situation was described to us repeatedly, confirming published reports by several sources. Amnesty International issued a report in August stating its concern over “continued violation of human rights in the country.”

In fact, during the two-week period since we arrived, a total of seven people have been reported missing or killed by the official newspapers of this country.

The findings of the “Stop the Killings in the Philippines Campaign,” published by the IBON Foundation, concluded that, “The pattern of assassinations and political persecution of activists, members of people’s movements, and leftist leaders in the Philippines has become an urgent international issue.”

IBON continued, “While killings and summary executions are not rare in the Philippines, this trend of political assassinations intensified in 2004 during the national elections, and has continued in the last two years—making it possibly the worst period for human rights violations since the Marcos era.”

Behind the wave of terror: U.S. imperialism

The wave of terror currently sweeping the Philippines is part and parcel of U.S. imperialism’s historical and bloody drive to dominate and control the South East Asian region, especially the Philippines. These aims are best capsulated in the words of U.S. Sen. Alfred Beveridge when he said in 1900, “The country that rules the Pacific, rules the world.”

U.S. imperialism invaded and occupied the Philippines and other countries of the Asia Pacific region at the beginning of the 20th century.

Indeed, East Asia is key to imperialist aims to control markets and make ever greater profits. Over 2.5 billion people live in this region—one-third of the world’s population—and their economies are 25 percent of the world’s gross domestic product. Southeast Asia is 9 percent of the world’s population and 5 percent of the global GDP.

The region is home to some of the most strategic countries in the world: China, Korea and Vietnam, which have all been at the center of imperialism’s war drive. Japan, an imperialist country, is a major rival to Wall Street.

According to the Institute of Political Economy, based in the Philippines, the U.S. currently has more than 386,000 U.S. troops deployed in 150 countries, including 70,000 troops in East Asia. There were 850 U.S. military bases in 138 counties as of 2005.

Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are key nations to Washington, used in every way possible to maintain its domination in the area.

The task of these thousands of troops is to make sure that the main strategic objectives of the U.S. are protected in the region. Southeast Asia is of particular interest to the U.S. It seeks to maintain hegemony with its puppet regimes and exclude Japan and China, one reason why the Philippines is key to the U.S. It wants free access to major sea lanes and to deepen and expand trade and investment in the area.

Imperialism carries out these aims at the same time that it drives the Asian Pacific people further and further into poverty and despair. Eliza Griswold, a journalist, writes: “[T]he most pressing problem in today’s Philippines isn’t terrorism or even government corruption but poverty and a lack of social mobility. About 15 percent of its people live on less than $1 a day.”

The war on terror: a basis for re-colonization

The U.S. has operated military bases in the Philippines since 1947. After righteous struggles that shook the country, most of these bases closed in 1992. But with the advent of U.S. imperialism’s so-called war on terror, there is now a concerted effort to once again militarize the Philippines. The rebuilding of official U.S. bases in the Philippines is centered in Mindanao, a primarily Muslim area.

U.S. Navy Commander Adm. William J. Fallon—commander of the U.S. Pacific command—said last March 7, “Southeast Asia is the front line of the war on terror.”

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has not only become a key ally of imperialism, she is a puppet of Washington.

This so-called war against terrorism is in reality a war of terror against the people.

Victims of repression in the Philippines—those who have died as a result of these extrajudicial killings—are mainly people who are fighting against deadly economic policies or who are denouncing the repression: activists, students, labor leaders, journalists, members of people’s movements and leftists.

State terror reigns in the Philippines. The situation is so serious and so critical that even spokespeople of foreign chambers of commerce and transnational corporations have been forced to pay lip service against the repression.

On Jan. 6 the Macapagal-Arroyo administration announced that the government will spend about 10 billion pesos in 2007—a lot of money for an impoverished nation. About $200 million is earmarked for the purchase of attack helicopters and other military equipment, which is a sign that the repression will not only continue but intensify.

Repression breeds resistance

Since Macapagal-Arroyo assumed office in 2001, about 730 people have been killed. (IBON)

They include Bishop Alberto Ramento; Markus Bangit, an indigenous leader of the Malbong Tribe of Tomiangan, Tabuk, Kalinga and the coordinator of the Elders Desk of the Cordillera People’s Alliance; activist teacher Napolean Pornasdoro; Bayan Muna Party (People First Party) members Jayson Delen and Jimmy Mirafuente; Cris Hugo, the regional coordinator of the League of Filipino Students; and Nestle Union president and KMU leader, Diosdado Fortuna. The KMU is the revolutionary workers union in the Philippines and stands for the May 1st Movement.

More than 168 leaders and activists remain missing.

The IAC delegation met with the mother of one of missing student leader, Sherlyn Cadapan. Sherlyn was abducted with another student leader, Karen Empeño, and 55-year-old activist Manuel Merino.

The young women, both in their early 20s, are students at the University of the Philippines (UP). The three were abducted on July 26, 2006. They were volunteers of the Alliance of Peasants in Bulacan, Philippines.

Six armed men forcibly entered the house where the students were staying. Merino, who was staying at a house nearby, came to help the two young women. All three were forced into a vehicle and driven away. The young women’s parents believe that troops of the 56th infantry Battalion in Bulacan were the ones who abducted the three activists.

The commander of the 7th Infantry Division, based where the abduction took place, told the family that the young women were members of the New Peoples Army, the armed wing of the resistance in the country. The family believes that such statements indicate the military knows the whereabouts of the three.

The mother of Sherlyn Cadapan told me at a demonstration against proposed changes to the Philippine Constitution that she will not stop until she finds her daughter.

Despite the wave of repression sweeping the country, the movement is strong. The abductions and assassinations have not stopped the people’s struggle for self determination and freedom from imperialist domination.

Despite a heavy police presence in preparation for the scheduled ASEAN conference here, the movement organized conferences for Jobs and Justice and against Global Terrorism, as well as demonstrations in the streets, which IAC representatives participated in.

Many of the people who attended these events told of family members missing or dead. But the history of the will of the Filipino people to resist domination is as long as imperialism’s aims in the region. It will be the Filipino people who will ultimately prevail, as seen by the courage and commitment here.

Copies of the IBON Foundation report can be ordered at

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Details emerge in Italian abduction

A court weighs whether to try CIA agents in the alleged 'extraordinary rendition' of Abu Omar.

By Tracy Wilkinson
Times Staff Writer

January 10, 2007

MILAN, ITALY — On an early autumn day more than four years ago, the CIA station chief in Rome allegedly presented Italy's top spymaster with a list of people he described as prime targets in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The CIA wanted the targets "taken away," in the words of one Italian official.

At the top of the list of about 10 names was a radical Egyptian cleric widely known as Abu Omar. Within months, Abu Omar was abducted, allegedly by CIA operatives, as he walked along a Milan sidewalk. He was secretly flown to an Egyptian jail, where he says he was tortured and where he remains to this day.

The Abu Omar case has provided the most detailed look yet at a highly controversial practice in the U.S. government's anti-terrorism arsenal: "extraordinary renditions," the capture of suspects without court order and their transport to clandestine prisons in countries with dubious human rights records.

Additional exposure of the practice, which has been used in Europe on a scale much larger than initially acknowledged, came Tuesday when a court in Milan began deliberating whether to order the trial of 26 Americans and nine Italians implicated in the February 2003 abduction of Omar.

Judge Caterina Interlandi heard opening arguments in a well-guarded courtroom closed to journalists and the public. Lawyers for the American and Italian defendants attempted to halt the proceedings on constitutional grounds but failed.

A decision on whether to hold what would be the first trial involving renditions could come as early as next month. The Italian government also may demand the extradition of the accused Americans, including an Air Force colonel and 25 CIA operatives, among them the former station chiefs of Rome and Milan. All are fugitives.

Nicolo Pollari, the man who was Italy's top spy until he was fired late last year, also is a defendant. A trial would cast light on some of most secretive agreements and tactics shared by European and American spies.

Abu Omar was caught up in what European investigators called a global web of renditions that might have snared hundreds of people. Though the details of his abduction have been well publicized, new information was revealed as prosecutors prepared the case that went before Interlandi on Tuesday.

Italian prosecutors say documents, testimony and telephone wiretaps clearly demonstrate that Italian agents collaborated with the CIA in activities they knew to be illegal.

Luciano Pironi, a senior officer from the paramilitary carabinieri police force, has confessed to helping kidnap Abu Omar. The cleric, whose full name is Hassan Osama Nasr, lived in Italy with political refugee status, although he was under investigation for alleged terrorism-related activities. Pironi told prosecutors that he lured Abu Omar to a van by asking him to show his identity papers.

Kidnappers hustled Abu Omar into the vehicle and whisked him away to the U.S.-run side of Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, for a flight to Egypt. Pironi's presence was detected when his cellphone was tracked to the street where Abu Omar was picked up on the date he disappeared.

Pironi testified that the CIA station chief in Milan, the now-retired Robert Seldon Lady, assured him the operation had "cover" and would not be questioned, prosecutors say.

Some of the most damning statements came from Gen. Gustavo Pignero, a former senior official in SISMI, Italy's military intelligence service headed by Pollari. Pignero said Pollari was visited in late 2002 by the CIA station chief in Rome, Jeff Castelli, who allegedly gave Pollari the names of people the CIA wanted captured.

Pignero, who has since died, recalled passing Castelli in the corridor outside Pollari's office. Pollari then gave the list to Pignero and indicated that the CIA wanted priority given to Abu Omar.

"The director [Pollari] explained to me that the Americans were pursuing a strategy of 'search and offensive capture' of terrorists," Pignero said. "It was clear that we were dealing with a plan for aggressive searches, and it was clear that the project envisioned the capture of terrorists, and of Abu Omar in particular, with procedures that were outside the law."

Pignero made his statement during several hours of interrogation while under house arrest last year. He maintained that both he and Pollari were opposed to the kidnapping, but prosecutors believe they cooperated nonetheless. Pignero acknowledged helping to document Abu Omar's movements, information that prosecutors contend was supplied to the CIA operatives.

"I told Castelli, 'Don't worry, you will have the maximum collaboration,' " Pignero said.

Pignero died last autumn, but his statements, contained in warrants and other documents made available to The Times, will be entered as evidence in any eventual trial, prosecutors say. Pignero allegedly destroyed the CIA hit list in 2005, when the investigation intensified, a source close to the case said.

Another defendant, Marco Mancini, the former No. 2 at SISMI, is accused of working with Pignero to set up Abu Omar's kidnapping. Mancini, in prison on unrelated corruption charges, was caught in two taped telephone conversations discussing the abduction. One tape was made by investigators without his knowledge; the other he made himself, in an effort to prove his innocence.

In the first tape, Mancini asks Pignero to tell him what government prosecutors were asking in their interrogations.

"I spoke of a search operation, a capture, but not, not an activity that was, let's say, illicit," Pignero says.

"Yeah, but I've told people exactly what you told me, that this was an illegal activity," Mancini responds.

"Oh, I know, but we can't say that," Pignero replies.

On Tuesday, Mancini's attorney argued that evidence makes it clear that SISMI agents refused the alleged CIA request for help in kidnapping Abu Omar.

Attorneys for Pollari, the former SISMI chief, said they would attempt to call as witnesses Prime Minister Romano Prodi and his predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch ally of Washington who was in office at the time of the abduction. Berlusconi has denied involvement, but potentially embarrassing questions linger over how high in the government the approval went.

Also Tuesday, Daria Pesce, the attorney for former Milan station chief Lady, withdrew from the case, saying her client believed the court lacked jurisdiction in a matter better settled between governments.

Lady was the only American defendant who had tacitly acknowledged the case by hiring an attorney. (The others are represented by court-appointed lawyers.) Pesce's withdrawal may be an effort by the CIA to distance itself from the proceedings.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro used Tuesday's hearing to introduce into evidence an 11-page statement from Abu Omar. The letter, smuggled out of prison, was first reported in November by The Times and other papers. In it, Abu Omar describes his rat-infested cell, where he says Egyptian captors tortured him with electrical shocks and threatened to rape him.