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Archive for December 15th, 2006

Big Oil companies begin to face oversight and justice


Even before the 110th Congress, Big Oil companies are beginning to face justice and oversight regarding infractions in their payment of royalties to the US government, according to a recent blog entry by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

POGO’s Beth Daley described major errors in the 1998-99 offshore leases signed by oil companies for their drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, depriving the US Treasury of substantial royalties. Yesterday, the Department of the Interior, which oversees the royalties program, announced that it had entered payment agreements with 17% of the oil companies in question.

Representative Edward Markey (D – MA) also announced that the Interior Department’s Inspector General had made a pair of criminal referrals related to the case, in spite of the Interior Department’s attempt to keep quiet about this move.

Daley noted in her blog entry that this is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the money owed to the American people by major oil companies. She offered some optimism, however, that with the Bush-era Department of the Interior having “to answer…to House Resources Committee Chair Nick Rahall” in the next Congress, meaningful oversight and progress on the royalties issue may be at hand.

Daley’s full blog post can be found at POGO’s website.

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While much of Washington kept rapt attention on the health of Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, an article in Salon today speculated that President George W. Bush could tip the Senate to a Republican majority via other means – namely, appointing Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to be America’s next Ambassador to the UN.

Salon political columnist Joe Conason notes that if Lieberman were to leave the Senate, Connecticut’s Republican Governor would be able to appoint a Republican to fill his seat. Knowing this, Conason reasons, the White House could use the enticement of the UN posting as a means to encourage Lieberman to exit the US Senate.

Conason acknowledges that Lieberman, having fought so hard to keep his seat, is unlikely to give it up. But he points out that Lieberman was a candidate for the job of UN Ambassador at an earlier time. And, he also suggests that the move could be used to put Lieberman on course to be the Vice Presidential candidate on a ticket with John McCain in 2008.

Conason’s column can be accessed by Salon subscribers and anyone viewing one of Salon’s advertisements at this link. A short excerpt is provided below.

To Bush, however, Lieberman might represent a refreshing change — if only because the long nomination struggle over Bolton could end at last with a resounding victory instead of an infuriating defeat. Selecting a three-term senator who has made alliances on both sides of the aisle would ensure a smooth confirmation process. Many Democrats have mixed feelings about their old colleague these days, and he feels the same way about many of them. But institutional comity would require them to vote for him. (And how amusing for the Republicans to watch their adversaries vote themselves back into the minority with gritted teeth.)

According to the New York Daily News, Lieberman actually was the president’s first choice for the U.N. post. Thomas DeFrank, the paper’s Washington bureau chief, reported last December that Bush had offered the job to the Connecticut senator, who thought about it for a week before saying no. If that is true, then he may be at the top of the list of nominees, which is said to include U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky and Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who lost his congressional seat last month.

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The Government’s case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair’s justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain’s key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act.

In the testimony revealed today Mr Ross, 40, who helped negotiate several UN security resolutions on Iraq, makes it clear that Mr Blair must have known Saddam Hussein possessed no weapons of mass destruction. He said that during his posting to the UN, “at no time did HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] assess that Iraq’s WMD (or any other capability) posed a threat to the UK or its interests.”

Mr Ross revealed it was a commonly held view among British officials dealing with Iraq that any threat by Saddam Hussein had been “effectively contained”.

He also reveals that British officials warned US diplomats that bringing down the Iraqi dictator would lead to the chaos the world has since witnessed. “I remember on several occasions the UK team stating this view in terms during our discussions with the US (who agreed),” he said.

“At the same time, we would frequently argue when the US raised the subject, that ‘regime change’ was inadvisable, primarily on the grounds that Iraq would collapse into chaos.”

He claims “inertia” in the Foreign Office and the “inattention of key ministers” combined to stop the UK carrying out any co-ordinated and sustained attempt to address sanction-busting by Iraq, an approach which could have provided an alternative to war.

Mr Ross delivered the evidence to the Butler inquiry which investigated intelligence blunders in the run-up to the conflict.

The Foreign Office had attempted to prevent the evidence being made public, but it has now been published by the Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs after MPs sought assurances from the Foreign Office that it would not breach the Official Secrets Act.

It shows Mr Ross told the inquiry, chaired by Lord Butler, “there was no intelligence evidence of significant holdings of CW [chemical warfare], BW [biological warfare] or nuclear material” held by the Iraqi dictator before the invasion. “There was, moreover, no intelligence or assessment during my time in the job that Iraq had any intention to launch an attack against its neighbours or the UK or the US,” he added.

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