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US Businesses in Libya Made Certain They Could Operate in the Rogue State

8:06 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The only people more terrified of the foreign mercenaries or anti-aircraft missiles or the fighter jets deployed to shell protesters than Libyans are the businessmen working for oil and gas companies in Libya. In fact, this whole democracy thing is a nightmare for companies in Libya that fought just over two years ago to ensure the market in Libya would not be restricted by an amendment that aimed to prevent companies from doing business with rogue states designated as state sponsors of terrorism.

Financial Times reports escalating violence in Libya has kept oil prices at two and a half year highs. Many of the oil ports and refineries are now shut down. International oil companies are evacuating their staff from the “world’s 12th largest oil exporter.”

All the violence, protest and political tension in Libya and the wider Middle East and North Africa seems to have led the US-Libya Business Association to make a cold calculated decision to disappear from the Internet for the time being until calm returns to Libya. RAW STORY reported on February 21 that the website of the US-Libya Business Association (USLBA) went down.

The group, which incorporated in 2005, describes itself as “the only US trade association” focused on the US and Libya.

Most recently, US-Libya Business Association Honorary Chairman Ambassador David Mack and Executive Director Charles Dittrich participated in a Middle East Institute-sponsored discussion in Washington, DC, titled, “US-Libya Relations: Surviving the WikiLeaks Controversy?” The two, who visited Libya for five days and met Libyan government officials in mid-December were scheduled to discuss their “impressions regarding the political and economic climate in Libya and the implications for both overall US-Libyan relations and the prospects for American business interests.”

A cache of the USLBA website reveals the companies affiliated with the association. Founding members include Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Hess Corporation, Marathon Oil Corporation, and Occidental Petroleum. General members include Dow Chemical, Fluor, Halliburton, Midrex Technologies, Motorola, Raytheon, Shell, United Gulf Construction, Valmont, and White & Case LLP.

Cables released by WikiLeaks on Libya so far do not explicitly name the USLBA. The cables do specifically deal with some of the member companies. They reveal that one of the chief objectives of diplomats in Libya over the past years have been to improve and ensure that the energy sector is able to have maximum commercial opportunities. This led the USLBA, the National Foreign Trade Council, the National Association of Manufacturers and the US Chamber of Commerce to urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to “pursue waiver authority for Section 1083 for countries that have been removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism” on February 28, 2008.

Section 1083 of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (also known as the “Lautenberg Amendment”) made it easier for “plaintiffs in terrorism-related lawsuits to seize foreign government-owned assets to satisfy US court judgments.” It caused concern among US firms, especially those in the oil & gas sector, because the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) informed American oil companies that this was “their problem” to be solved.

Big Oil Companies Face Possibility of Seized Assets

Libya, which had terror claims lawsuits pending, worried this could impact business. The NOC wanted to cut business altogether to avoid any problems.

A little over two weeks before the USLBA and other organizations launched their pursuit of a waiver in February, a cable was filed explicitly dealing with Section 1083 on behalf of US businesses that were to be impacted. The author of 08TRIPOLI113 explicitly addresses the risks to oil & energy companies as a result of Section 1083:

OIL PRODUCING & OIL SERVICES COMPANIES AT GREATEST RISK

-2. (SBU) U.S. companies participating in joint venture partnerships with Libyan national oil companies assess themselves as being at greatest risk under section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act. This list includes Occidental, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Amerada Hess. These companies are involved in jointly developing Libyan oilfields and in extracting and lifting crude oil. The three U.S. partners in the Oasis Group (Marathon, ConocoPhillips and Amerada Hess, who are partnered with Libyan state firm Waha) pay $2 million/month to the GOL in operating fees, and $100 million/month in taxes and royalties. Company reps assess that these payments — as well as jointly-held facilities and equipment — would be exposed to court-ordered attachment and seizure under section 1083. U.S. oil service companies, such as Halliburton, may also be exposed, according to local company reps, and most service companies have frozen further expansion until the risks are clarified. Company reps have expressed concern to us that their GOL partner companies would view any U.S. court-ordered attachments of payments or equipment as a breach of contract, potentially leading to termination of their work in Libya.

3.(SBU) U.S. companies engaged exclusively in the exploration (as distinct from production), such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, assess themselves to be subject to less risk for the moment, since they make no regular payments to the GOL that would be subject to attachment (the signing bonuses agreed in connection with winning their Exploration and Production Sharing (EPSA) agreements have already been paid to the GOL, and day-to-day exploration work is contracted out to largely non-GOL entities). Nevertheless, company reps say that they are concerned about the longer-term impact of this legislation on their future plans in Libya.

Shukri Ghanem, Libya’s NOC Chairman, reacts swiftly to the recent legislation and instructs “all international partner companies to cease conducting transactions in U.S. dollars.” Through contacts with US oil companies, US officials find out that NOC would like to “reduce its exposure to U.S. courts, since dollar transactions are routed through the U.S. financial system.” Furthermore, the cable shows that US companies believe the legislation could “find” the companies “in breach of their contractual obligations if US courts disrupt their montly payment of operational fees to the NOC.”

Leader and Guide of the Revolution Threatens Retaliation

08TRIPOLI214 , a cable filed on March 12, 2008, features Leader Gaddafi giving oil companies a “browbeating” for the fact that the passage of Section 1083 is coinciding with litigation over a settlement to compensate victims of the UTA Flight 772 bombing.

U.S. OIL COMPANIES TREATED TO BROWBEATING 2.(C) ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva was summoned to Sirte for a half-hour “browbeating” by Leader Muammar al-Qadhafi during his visit to Libya on/about February 24. Country manager Page Maxson told P/E Chief that the entire conversation focused on al-Qadhafi’s “personal ire” about the so-called “Lautenberg Amendment” (section 1083 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008) and the USD 6 billion award against Libya in the UTA bombing case, and al-Qadhafi’s view that Libya had not been sufficiently compensated for its decision to give up WMD and renounce terrorism. Al-Qadhafi passed a copy of his recent letter to the President on the subject (ref B) to Mulva. Telling Mulva that he and his fellow U.S. oil company CEOs needed to engage members of the U.S. Congress and the Administration on the matter, al-Qadhafi threatened to dramatically reduce Libya’s oil production and/or expel out U.S. oil and gas companies. Al-Qadhafi claimed Libya would rather “keep its oil in the ground” and wait for a more favorable overseas investment climate than continue high levels of production in an environment in which sizeable portions of its oil-related assets could be seized.

3.(C) In a related development, Exxon-Mobil Country Manager Phil Goss told P/E Chief that Shukri Ghanem, Chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation, had chastised him during a meeting on February 25 for nearly an hour on the “dire political signal” represented by the Lautenberg Amendment and the UTA judgment. Ghanem told Goss that U.S. oil and gas companies should “tell Washington” that Libya was serious in its threat to “significantly curtail” its oil production as a means to “penalize the U.S.” for Lautenberg and UTA. According to Goss, Ghanem — a U.S.-educated former Prime Minister — was emotional in insisting that Libya “would not tolerate” Lautenberg and UTA without taking some retaliatory measures. Privately, Goss questioned whether the GOL could really afford to significantly curb oil output at a time when it is making massive investments in infrastructure as part of the run-up to the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought al-Qadhafi to power on September 1, 2009. Stressing the erratic nature of decisionmaking in the GOL, Goss was careful not to rule out the possibility that Libya could choose “to do something stupid”.

Days later, a discussion to focus on three major outstanding claims cases in US venues: Pan Am 103, LaBelle, and UTA is urged. Plans to settle and use the high-profile case to “find a mechanism to mitigate the effects of Section 1083″ are made by Libya and US officials. This indicates that the US was likely seeking to use the power of Section 1083 to force a pay out from the Libya government before finding a loophole for US-Libya business relations to return to normal.

New Freedom to Establish Position in a Lucrative Market

By August, the two countries managed to come to an agreement over Section 1083 and the outstanding claims cases in US courts. The reaction to the agreement was favorable. 08TRIPOLI666 summarizes:

Reaction among ordinary Libyans and well-informed contacts to news that the U.S. and Libya finalized a comprehensive claims settlement agreement has been enthusiastic. Coverage in state-owned media has been positive but limited, in part to minimize questions about the parameters of the compensation package and potential criticism from old guard elements. Some informed contacts have characterized the agreement as a “grand opening” in U.S.-Libyan bilateral relations, as compared to the “soft opening” between the re-establishment of diplomatic ties in 2004 and the signing of the claims agreement in 2008. There are high expectations in some quarters that the U.S. will seek to capitalize on the new tenor of the relationship to press Muammar al-Qadhafi to open further political space – particularly with respect to respect for human rights, freedom of the press and an expanded role for civil society – in what remains a tightly-controlled society.

Additionally, the diplomat who authored this cable comments, “There is also the belief that expanded political and economic engagement with the U.S. and the West, which is expected to accelerate with the lifting of the Lautenberg Amendment and potential asset seizure, will help solidify internal Libyan reforms undertaken in recent years. Many Libyans hope that expanded engagement with the U.S. will include U.S. advocacy for political reform and greater respect for human rights. A key challenge for al-Qadhafi will be to temper expectations that fully normalized relations with the U.S. will prompt an immediate shift in the nature of the regime and its reluctance to move quickly on political reform.”

Sec. of State Rice Travels to Libya to Seal the Deal

On September 5, 2008, Secretary of State Rice traveled to Libya. One of her key objectives was to help come up with a solution to this Lautenberg Amendment kerfuffle. A “scenesetter” was prepared for Rice so she could be prepared to help mediate this conflict over US company operations in Libya. It reads:

10. (C) Libya’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil and gas. Libya has the largest proven oil reserves (43.6 billion barrels) and the third largest proven natural gas reserves (1.5 billion cubic meters) on the African continent. Libya currently produces about 1.7 million barrels/day of oil; only Angola and Nigeria produce more in Africa. Oil and gas infrastructure suffered during the sanctions period. The lifting of sanctions has opened the way for new exploration and improved production. New technology and refined management techniques introduced by international oil companies (IOC’s) are a key part of Libya’s plan to increase oil production to 3.0 million barrels/day by 2013. Most of Libya’s oil and natural gas are exported to Europe – Italy, Germany, Spain and France are key customers. Major U.S. energy companies active in Libya include Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Marathon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Occidental. Joint ventures involving U.S. companies currently account for about 510,000 barrels/day of Libya’s 1.7 million barrels/day production. A large number of small to mid-sized U.S. oil and gas services companies are also working in Libya.

11. (C) After years of isolation under sanctions and limited spending by the GOL, Libya is currently in the midst of an economic boom, partly driven by a desire to complete large-scale infrastructure projects as tangible symbols of the regime’s achievements in advance of the 40th anniversary of al-Qadhafi’s revolution on September 1, 2009. High oil prices have helped fuel the outlays. Western companies, eager to establish a position in what is expected to be a lucrative market, are arriving in sizeable numbers. A temporary pause prompted by adoption of the Lautenberg Amendment in January 2008 and concern about asset seizure is coming to an end on news of the comprehensive claims agreement. XXXXXXXXXXXX Despite great promise, Libya remains a challenging business and investment environment. Contradictory regulations, inefficient government bureaucracy, limited human capacity and rampant corruption (in 2007, Transparency International ranked Libya 133rd out of 180 countries in terms of being most corrupt) are significant challenges that could hamper greater investment.

The Washington Consensus think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, notes Libya was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in the early 1970s after “Gaddafi established terrorist training camps on Libyan soil, provided terrorist groups with arms, and offered safe haven to terrorists” from groups like the Irish Republican Army, Spain’s ETA, Italy’s Red Brigades, and Palestinian groups such as the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988, the bombing of a French passenger jet over Niger in 1989, and the Libya-sponsored bombing of a Berlin disco that killed two US soldiers all helped keep Libya on the list. The Libya government was also believed to be in pursuit of WMDs.

In the late 1990s, the Gaddafi regime began to take steps that led the US to alter the designation. It began to offer to surrender its WMD programs and cut ties to terror groups. It finally agreed to compensate victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing and also sent a letter to the UN Security Council taking responsibility for the attack.

Most importantly, the past ten years have seen the world close in on peak oil (if that point has not been passed already). Libya, in the past few years, has begun to privatize and open up its resources to development and exploitation by foreign companies. US companies that are a part of USLBA have greatly benefited from measures, which US diplomats have been keen to advocate for in meetings with Libyan government officials.

The last thing USLBA companies want right now is to see revolutionary change that leads Libya to no longer be opened for business .

Photo from the NY Daily News

Saif Speaks to Libyans: What WikiLeaks Cables Say About His Address

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

An address from Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, was aired on television in Libya early on February 21. Saif al-Islam told Libyans he had come without a prepared speech and was going to speak from his heart and mind.

The address (which can be read here) was given as Tripoli was turning into more of a battlefield. Snipers were firing in Saha Al Khadra. His father’s “thugs” were allegedly going into hospitals and killing Libyans who had been out in the streets and been wounded.

Rumors are circulating that Saif al-Islam was shot. Some of the unconfirmed reports say Saif al-Islam is dead and his father and some from the Gaddafi family has fled. Muammar has gone to Venezuela, some reports allege.

The death of Saif al-Islam is possible, but until there are reports which go beyond unconfirmed, this is largely a distracting story. What Saif al-Islam said in the recorded address that aired on February 20 is much more important.

Saif’s Address to Libya

In his rambling address, Saif al-Islam manages to outline what he thinks are key aspects of what is happening in Libya. First, there are political activists whom Libya should work with, who likely have valid grievances and demands worth considering. Two, in Bayda, where he is from and where his mother lives, “Islamic elements” have stolen weapons, killed soldiers, and would like to establish “an Islamic Emirate in Bayda.” And, third, “children” out protesting managed to take drugs and then were “used.” (The last part is interesting given the fact that since Libyans’ “Day of Rage” on February 17 there have been little reports, if any, on Libyans finding people are getting doped up and causing problems.)

If one looks through the entire address and then sifts through the many cables from Libya that have been released by WikiLeaks and leaked to newspapers by WikiLeaks, it is possible to pull out threads to illuminate what might happen from this point forward.

Saif al-Islam emphasizes oil in Libyan society at one point saying, “American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya.” He indicates his fear of an Islamic Emirate being established in Bayda saying, “The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. ou think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us.”

In a call for Libyans to lay down arms and not become enmeshed in conflict, he says, “Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution.” He says even his father, “Leader Gaddafi,” wants a constitution.

Saif’s Quixotic Bid for a Libyan Constiution

Saif has been one of the few leaders in Libya to push for Libya to develop a constitution. He is often regarded as a leader who owes his popularity to backers who are “reformists.” In a cable from November 19, 2009, on who which Qadhafi son will succeed Muammar, Mutassim is seen as a brother who stands with “conservatives” in Libya. The cable mentions in March 2009 he drafted a constitution but it was dropped from the General People’s Congress agenda.

In August 2008, Saif spoke at a youth forum, where he said he would be withdrawing from politics entirely to work with civil society organizations in Libya. He pushed for reforms and spoke explicitly about passing a constitution because, to him, the Jamahiriya system had failed. 08TRIPOLI679 details”:

Turning to governance, Saif al-Islam resurrected his call for a constitution, something he explicitly advocated in his 2006 Youth Forum speech in Sirte, which drew harsh criticism at the time from the Revolutionary Committees and other conservative regime elements. Reacting to that, Saif al-Islam had softened his language in his 2007 speech in Benghazi (ref B), using the term “social contract”. In Sabha this year, he adopted slightly more forward leaning language, saying Libya “needs something, which is perhaps called a constitution – let’s say a popular pact similar to the social pact or a pact of the mass of the people”. Such a contract should stem from the popular authority of the people, he said, but stressed that a formal document of some kind was needed to enshrine and protect the will of the people against unconstitutional attempts to usurp power as in the recent coup in Mauritania.

Criticizing the inchoate nature of the decentralized Jamahiriya system, he said Libyans are frustrated with the the existing system’s failure to deliver basic services such as trash collection, pest control, water and electricity, and now want a clearly articulated system of rules that govern personal conduct, economic affairs and governance. Describing the bedrock of good governance as effective local government, he stressed that despite the rhetoric about popular local committees, the Jamahiriya system of his father had not delivered on that front. Describing the decision to dismantle formal decisionmaking structures and to effectively decouple the local and central governments as “a mistake”, he called for a “new administrative structure” that would better integrate local municipalities and districts with the central government.

Referring to Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 address to the General People’s Congress, in which he called for government restructuring and radical privatization (ref C), Saif al-Islam conceded that he had been personally involved in the work of the committees tasked with implementing his father’s vision. He emphasized that plans for restructuring the government are underway, and will involve reshaped local institutions and greater privatization. Arguing for aggressive privatization, he said “the state will not own anything” and “everything should be done by the private sector”. (Note: As reported ref C, five committees were established to formulate plans for implementing Muammar al-Qadhafi’s March 2 vision. Contacts have told us Saif al-Islam established shadow committees staffed by personnel from the Economic Development Board (EDB) and National Planning Council (NPC); the final recommendations for implementing al-Qadhafi’s vision reflected heavy input from the shadow committees. End note.) Referring obliquely to reports of fierce infighting over recommendations about restructuring and privatization, Saif al-Islam noted that “many things that were not nice” had happened in the course of recent intra-government debates, but stressed that those issues had been resolved.

Muammar initiated a process for adopting a constitution quietly in mid-November of 2008. 08TRIPOLI936 shows Muammar allegedly kept it quiet so his son, Saif, could be involved in the process.

The cable notes, however that the “secretive nature of the project has prompted concern among constitution committee members,” who fear Muammar could change his mind. A small circle of Libyans involved in the process are also keenly aware that “secretly developing a constitution reflects the failure of al-Qadhafi t orealize the importance of robust processes (a key weakness of the Jamahiriya system) as a precursor of durable political results.” Muammar is described as “taking the politically expedient route” instead of “investing in a more transparent and slower (but more credible) process.”

Is Saif Afraid Army of “John McClanes” Will Bring Libya to Utter Ruin?

Given the role of Islamic extremists in the continued global war on terrorism, it is no surprise that US diplomats have kept tabs on Islamists in Libya, especially ones believed to be engaged in terrorism. The fear Saif expresses in his address to Libyans appears to reflect a knowledge of how fixated US and European officials have been on what has been happening in Egypt and whether democracy will lead to an Islamist state run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some other group that the US might consider to be similar.

The city of Derna, which is ninety-three and a half kilometers east of Bayda, is described in one cable as a wellspring for foreign fighters who are heading off to fight coalition forces in Iraq. Gaddafi’s link to the US is alleged to be fueling the radicalization of young Libyans in the area. The cable quotes a Libyan “interlocutor,” who likens the young men in Derna to “Bruce Willis’ character in the action picture “Die Hard’” because, for them, “resistance against coalition forces in Iraq is an important act of ‘jihad’ and a last act of defiance against the Qadhafi regime.” The interlocutor suggests many of them refuse to die quietly.

Derna is compared to Bayda and other cities like Benghazi:

Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya had benefited in the last several years from increased government patronage, Derna continued to “suffer from neglect”. Citing an indeterminate grudge between Libya’s former monarch, King Idriss al-Sanussi, and leading citizens of Derna, xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Derna had long been the victim of a deliberate government campaign to keep it poor. He compared Derna’s plight to the fortunes of another conservative eastern Libyan town, Bayda. While Bayda had been the summer retreat for King Idriss and was initially shunned in the early years of Qadhafi’s rule, its fortunes changed after Qadhafi married Sadia Farkhis, daughter of a prominent citizen of the town. The government subsequently established the Omar al-Mukhtar University in what had been the royal palace and sited a number of government-owned enterprises there. By contrast, Derna had not benefited from any such measures.

The neighborhood of Baab al-Shiha, a “district from which a large number of the Libyan foreign fighters identified in documents captured during September’s Objective Massey operation in Iraq had hailed,” is described. Of interest in the “lower-middle class neighborhood” is the “number of small, discrete mosques tucked away in side alleys,” which are part of a “profusion of “popular mosques’” that has “complicated effective monitoring by security forces.”

Just how closely Libya likes to monitor cities comes through in this section of the cable:

4. (C) A number of residents were on the streets; however, they were visibly more wary and less friendly than in other Libyan towns. xxxxxxxxxxxx later noted that some residents were closely questioned by security officials after speaking with a visiting Newsweek reporter in April. Told P/E Chief was an American, xxxxxxxxxxxx jokingly swore and said “there goes my evening”. Clarifying, he said he had plans that night, but would likely be detained and questioned by security officials about his interactions with an Emboff. While P/E Chief had not obviously been followed, word would doubtless reach security officials’ ears that foreigners had visited and inquiries would be made. He dismissed the idea of parting company to avoid creating problems for him, saying it was important that he, as a son of Derna, not bow down to the central government’s authority. “They may have their boot on our throat, but it’s important that they know that we are still breathing and kicking”, he said.

In 08TRIPOLI120, which appears to be a cable that immensely influenced the aforementioned cable, US diplomat Chris Stevens comments, “[The] ability of radical imams to propagate messages urging support for and participation in jihad despite GOL security organizations’ efforts suggests that claims by senior GOL officials that the east is under control may be overstated.”

It describes the frequent references to “martyrdom” in the mosques in Benghazi and Derna:

(S/NF) xxxxxxxxxxxx partly attributed the fierce mindset in Benghazi and Derna to the message preached by imams in eastern Libyan mosques, which he said is markedly more radical than that heard in other parts of the country. xxxxxxxxxxxx makes a point of frequenting mosques whenever he visits Libya as a means to connect with neighbors and relatives and take the political pulse. Sermons in eastern mosques, particularly the Friday ‘khutba’, are laced with “coded phrases” urging worshippers to support jihad in Iraq and elsewhere through direct participation or financial contributions. The language is often ambiguous enough to be plausibly denied, he said, but for devout Muslims it is clear, incendiary and unambiguously supportive of jihad. Direct and indirect references to “martyrdom operations” were not uncommon. By contrast with mosques in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country, where references to jihad are extremely rare, in Benghazi and Derna they are fairly frequent subjects.

The contents of the mentioned cables suggest that in Libya violent revolution is much more possible than it was in Egypt. The area of eastern Libya is filled with Libyans who may seize this moment as opportunity to finally throw off the chains of tyranny that have bound them for over four decades. That they have been repressed for so many years by Gaddafi’s regime will likely fuel desires to wage guerrilla warfare for freedom.

Libya’s Privatization of State Enterprises Increasing U.S. Oil’s Influence?

Saif’s nod to “American oil companies” either signals the growing instability worries Saif because it might have a negative impact on his ability to accumulate more wealth from oil operations in Libya or it points to how successful US oil companies have been at convincing the Gaddafi regime to open up its doors in the past few years.

Prospects for U.S. oil companies appear to be relatively good on February 11, 2010. 10TRIPOLI116 features Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) Shokri Ghanem expressing “support for improved Libya-U.S. relations.” He explains near-term goals for the NOC that include “plans for increasing oil and gas exploration and production” and “developing a cadre of Libyan experts to replace the expatriate workforce.”

Ghanem tells Ambassador Gene Cretz “76 percent of the positions in the oil and gas industry in Libya were occupied by “foreigners.” Many of the positions are jobs he thinks Libyans could be doing (although jobs requiring “experience with new technologies” would still require “expatriates”).

A Libyan privatization board was set up recently and welcomed US companies” in February 2010. And, in a cable titled, “U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Opens For Business in Libya,” suggests that over the course of the past years Libya has become more and more open to US corporations, particularly energy, telecommunications and construction companies. The cable describes Libya’s efforts “to diversify its economy and to privatize government enterprises.” Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary and Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service Israel Hernandez, who has just opened up a “new Foreign Commercial Service office at the Embassy and discussed commercial opportunities with U.S. and Libyan business leaders and cooperation with senior Libyan government officials,” talks about Libya as “one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. trade.”

However, months ago, in June 2008, a cable is sent out lamenting how soaring oil prices are making it possible for Libya to push for “more stringent long-term contracts with foreign oil and gas producers.” The cable describes a Libyan national oil company ratifying a twenty-five year extension for a contract with Italian firm Eni North Africa BV. The outcome is seen as something that may lead international oil companies (IOCs) to abandon “production efforts” in Libya (this in spite of the fact that Libya is “widely perceived to be one of the relatively few places in the world with significant unproven reserves of sweet, light crude and natural gas”).

Several other major extensions are anticipated in the coming months, including those involving U.S. firm Occidental Petroleum (along with Austrian partner OMV) and Petro-Canada. Those agreements were signed with the NOC in late 2007, but still require GPC [General People's Congress] ratification. It is possible the NOC will seek further concessions in light of its deal with Eni. Spain’s Repsol and the NOC are renegotiating along the EPSA IV contractual model. The initial deal between Repsol YPF and NOC stipulated a 50-50 split of production; however, the NOC is now seeking a minimum production share of 72 percent.

“The NOC has approached numerous other IOCs about extensions, raising the possibility that it will reopen deals that were only concluded a few years ago. Even the U.S. Oasis Group (comprising Amerada-Hess, Marathon and ConocoPhillips), which paid $1.8 billion in December 2005 to return to acreage in Libya’s Sirte Basin that it held before the suspension of U.S.-Libyan diplomatic ties and the imposition of U.S. and UN sanctions, may be affected. Libya’s relatively modest 59.2 percent production share in that deal has generated preliminary probing by the NOC as to whether the Oasis Group would consider renegotiating, which it has so far successfully opposed” [emphasis added]

The diplomat authoring the cable comments:

Libya and the IOC’s have been here before: a spate of renegotiations and extensions occurred in the late-1960s and early 1970s, driven in part by the then-new al-Qadhafi regime to demonstrate to its people that it was a better steward of Libya’s hydrocarbon resources than the Sanussi monarchy had been. As during that period, the current penchant for shifting the goalposts has not been well-received by the IOCs. Despite Libya’s relatively unique position in terms of unproven reserves, high quality oil and low recovery costs, observers here expect that some IOCs facing potentially long renegotiation periods (and associated costs of idle personnel and materiel) and diminished production returns may choose to abandon altogether their production efforts in Libya.

How Saif benefits from Libyan oil business is detailed in the cable, “Qadhafi Incorporated,” from May 10, 2006, which details how Muammar al-Gaddafi’s children supposedly have “income streams from the National Oil Company and oil service subsidiaries.” Saif is believed to be “involved in oil services through One-Nine Petroleum and other Qadhafi family members and associates are believed to have large financial stakes in the Libyan Tamoil oil marketing company based in Europe and Oil Invest.” And notes, it is “believed that millions of dollars are distributed to politically connected Libyans and Libyan expatriates.”

Several cables mention Muammar’s plan to redistribute the country’s oil wealth to Libyans through a privatization scheme. That aspect of Libya’s recent history is worth exploring further as it seems like it is much more likely to have been a ploy to open up Libya to more foreign investment. US cables show the Libyan government has typically not wanted to up the standard of living for Libyans because it might lead to political instability. (Of course, they didn’t expect neighboring countries to inspire Libyans to revolt so the fear of raising Libyans to a better standard economically is no longer likely a chief concern for leaders at this moment.)

For the latest on Libya, follow WLCentral’s live blog.

100 Days Since the BP Gulf Oil Disaster Began, NOLA Natives Explain Disaster is Not Over

8:36 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

4654252107_ed080f435d.jpg
Flickr Photo by dsb nola

 

One hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded creating the worst environmental disaster in the world’s history, those who live down along the Gulf coast in the areas that have been most impacted are standing strong and reminding the world that, while the well gushing oil may have been capped and while BP CEO Tony Hayward may be going to Siberia, the disaster is not over.

 

Elizabeth Cook, a Louisiana native, said she’s “lived in New Orleans most of [her] life” and “when this happened, [her] sense of anger and grief moved her to begin to talk to friends about organizing some sort of people’s response.” She had been organizing post-Katrina on the housing issue because after the hurricane there was a real situation with lack of housing, which produced a huge homeless problem.

 

She connected with a group called the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster and helped organize a People’s Summit that took place on June 19th. She has been organizing protests, press conferences, meetings, gathering data, creating fact sheets, and writing about the disaster in the Gulf ever since.

 

Cook described the current situation:

 “We don’t know how long the dispersant is going to remain in the water with the oil, how long it will take to break down the dispersant and/or the oil. We’re not sure of the full impact on our marine life and our wildlife and also the government and BP are not forthcoming with scientific information about this. Certain areas of the Gulf have been reopened for fishing and their testing the seafood for oil but they aren’t testing it for dispersants…

… We want to remind folks and make people aware this is not over. We’ve got 1.8 billion gallons of toxic dispersant that was dumped in the Gulf and also sprayed pretty close to shore in Barataria Bay and along the shoreline of the Gulf coast. We are continuing to see the effects of this toxic chemical. We need to be vigilant. We need to demand accountability. We need to demand remediation and bio-remediation.“

 

Robert Desmarais, also someone who lives in New Orleans, said he’s been back since the city flooded after Katrina (the federal walls broke along the canals in his neighborhood and he was unable to come back to where he lived for a while). Now that “this volcano in the Gulf” has erupted, Sullivan explains “it just hit me very hard. I’d come back to the city, redid the house, got very involved in politics and I’m [now] facing exile again. I’m angry.”

 

For people like Desmarais, the worst-case scenario is a real possibility. Desmarais said it’s “really sad to think that if something happened in this hurricane season a lot of people including me probably wouldn’t want to come back to a city that had been flooded by oil as well as water. A lot of us see that [if that happened] it would be the end of the city. And, a lot of people are hurt, really hurt.”

 

The plight of fishermen in the Gulf, as a result of the disaster, is especially disconcerting for Desmarais.

“The real crisis is along the Gulf — Mississippi, Alabama, where my family is from. Those people fish for a living. I’ve had students who have left school at the age of 16 because they figured they were going to do what their father and grandfather had done. They were going to be a shrimper. They were going to be a fisherman. And, that’s all they knew. That’s all they wanted. They loved the life. It wasn’t just a way of earning a living. And now not only do they have no means of earning a living any longer but that whole lifestyle – going out in the boat in the morning, being in the water, being with friends and relatives—that’s being poisoned.”

 

Those impacted—for example, the people in the oyster industry who are having to close up shop—are going to be compensated for the economic and emotional trauma being endured. Right? Partially, at least. In full? Highly unlikely.

 

According to Cook, Kenneth Feinberg, the pay czar administering the BP escrow fund, is working for BP (although he claims to be independent) and saying “folks have to make a decision as to what their long term damages are going to be now and accept the payouts now.”

“This is absurd. This is a contradiction because no one knows yet what the long-term damages or impacts of the toxic oil and dispersant are going to be on the livelihoods of people down here. Yet, they’re being asked to make a decision now as to what kind of monetary payout to accept,” said Cook. “And this is outrageous. There should be a national cry. Folks should not be put in these positions. This is unfair, unjust and criminal.”

 

In addition to this apparent corporate scheming to escape accountability and responsibility, another scheme continues on. Those down along the Gulf still are unconvinced that information is flowing properly. They do not think they know what is happening and many are skeptical that the oil has in fact stopped leaking into the Gulf.

 

“Personally, I was lied to twice by coast guards,” explains Desmarais. “A coast guard told me dispersants weren’t harmful,” which was contrary to scientific information Sullivan has been reading.

 

Desmarais added, “Residents haven’t been told how much oil was gushing out. And, the “worst thing was that the Coast Guard ordered under penalty of arrest for a felony and a $40,000 fine that no one” could get within sixty-five feet of a prohibited site. At that point we went to see the ACLU and we complained about this.”

 

Cook spoke with someone with a nonprofit organization in Louisiana monitoring the Gulf’s water and he said he got the “necessary permit to go within 65 feet but they had since laid boom so he could only get within 80 feet.” She added, “I spoke to a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries person who explained that you don’t want people trampling around Barrier Islands where chicks are yet.” There would be no problem except:

“We have got to be able to somehow assess our damages. We have got to be able to see, to witness, to document. With all of the clampdown on information, the purpose isn’t just to protect the birds, the islands where they are nesting, it’s to clampdown on the flow of information.”

 

Residents are relying on fishermen for information and, because they aren’t being told how polluted their environment is, people have gone ahead and are testing their own rainwater to “circumvent the clampdown” and do what they can to get the data needed to stay healthy and as free of toxic chemicals as possible.

 

There are some residents finding a sliver of hope and optimism in the midst of what some think is a disaster with no end in sight. Sullivan shared his thoughts on people who have come down to the Gulf to organize, take action and give back to people in the Gulf.

 

He explained that he has “learned to appreciate the people who come here” as they are “animated by an amazing generosity for Louisiana.” He said it “touches me to the heart. Sometimes they are not so saddened by the immediate effect that they see, that my own depression might not allow me to see. And they wake up to possibilities that stimulate me quite a bit and get me energized again with hope. For their energy and inspiration I’m very glad to see them here.”

 

People have come here with the intent to reach out to residents and help them confront BP and the government. People like Frederick-Douglass Knowles, an English professor, spoke with a member of the Emergency Committee and within weeks, left his home in Connecticut to travel down to the Gulf and hear stories from people.

 

Knowles didn’t know any of the people he would be meeting, where he would be staying or what plans he would be taking part in until he got to the Gulf, but what he did know was that he would hear stories from people like Desmarais. He said that he now has stories he can take back to Connecticut when he returns home.

 

“What I’ve witnessed is a very strong presence of strong-spirited people in New Orleans. They have been through a lot,” said Knowles. “They went through Hurricane Katrina years ago and they are saying, ‘You know, we’re not going to take this lyin’ down.’”

 

Knowles hasn’t made it to the “frontlines” or the coast but he has talked with a few residents, people like one lady he remembers who lives on the coast and her yard is the ocean. Her backyard has become “an oil swamp.” She is breathing “toxic fumes every single day” and there’s nothing she can do; this is her home.

 

When Knowles arrived, he learned the Emergency Committee would be organizing for “100 Days of Outrage,” which takes place today, July 30th. The event meant to promote the organizing of 100 different actions across the nation in response to the ongoing situation in the Gulf moved Knowles to contribute his energy and spirit to the creation of a “100 Days of Outrage: Collective Piece,” a collective poem one hundred verses long made up of 4-line verses from one hundred different people expressing their poetic reaction to the disaster in the Gulf.

 

He now thinks people all over the country should come down here and spend some time seeing what has happened through their own eyes so they can really get a sense of what has taken place here.

 

Actions all over the country are taking place as a result of "100 Days of Outrage." For example, Burlington, VT will hold a Rally and Speak Out Against BP in Burlington City Hall Park. In Kalamazoo, Michigan, they will be marking the 100th Day with a protest action to call attention to their city’s recent oil disaster that has unleashed millions of gallons of oil into a major Michigan river that runs through their city. And, in Chicago, there will be a demonstration against Nalco, makers of Corexit.

 

Thousands if not millions will be taking snapshots of themselves with a sign or quote on the snapshot. They will be posted on the StopGulfOilDisaster.org website for everyone to see how millions aren’t giving up on the people who are down in the Gulf still suffering from this disaster. (If you would like to have a photo posted  and participate in this effort, send it to stopgulfoildisaster@gmail.com.)

BP Doesn’t Want You Filming, Move Along Now

8:17 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

 Photo by MindfulWalker

 

Drew Wheelan, conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association chose to film a video in Houma, Louisiana, with a BP building in the background. He stood right in a field that was private property but was not owned by BP. A police officer approached him and asked him for ID and “strongly suggested” he get lost because BP didn’t want people filming.

 

 

The two went back and forth. Wheelan asked if he was “violating any laws or anything like that.” The officer said “not particularly” but that BP didn’t want people filming. Wheelan said he was not on BP’s property and they had nothing to say about what he was doing right now. The officer restated that BP didn’t want people filming and then added all he could really do is strongly suggest he “not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

 

Wheelan continued the work he was doing. He finished up, got in his car and drove away only to be pulled over by the same cop. This time the cop had someone with him named Kenneth Thomas, who had a badge that read “Chief BP Security.”  Thomas interrogated Wheelan for 20 minutes asking “who he worked with, who he answered to, what he was doing, why he was down here in Louisiana, “phoned Wheelan’s information in, tried to figure out if he had any outstanding warrants, and then confiscated Wheelan’s Audubon volunteer badge from an Audubon/BP bird-helper volunteer training he had recently attended.

 

After bullying Wheelan for a period of time, he was let go, but as he drove away, “two unmarked security cars” followed him. He pulled over to figure out if they were following him. Each time he pulled over, the two unmarked vehicles pulled over behind him.

 

This is what Mac McClelland reported weeks ago from Louisiana. It’s one example of the authoritarian state that the corporation, BP, and the government, through the Coast Guard, National Guard, police officers, etc, have erected in the aftermath of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In the context of the society we live in, it is less of an anomaly than one might think.

 

Under “Spy Files,” in a post published in the last week of June titled, “More About Suspicious Activity Reporting,” the ACLU connects the targeting of photographers to the expansion of “suspicious activity reporting” (SAR) programs (programs set up to encourage the public to report ‘suspicious’ activities of their neighbors to law enforcement or intelligence agencies”):

 

Photographers appear to be the most frequent targets of SAR and SAR-like information collection efforts. Whether lawfully photographing scenic railroad stations, government-commissioned art displays outside federal buildings or national landmarks, citizens, artists and journalists have been systematically harassed or detained by federal, state, and local law enforcement. In some instances, the ensuing confrontation with police escalates to the point where the photographer is arrested and their photos erased or cameras confiscated with no reasonable indication that criminal activity is involved. A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy even threatened to put a subway photographer on the Terrorist Watchlist. 

Comedian Stephen Colbert had a light-hearted take on the story of a man arrested by Amtrak police for photographing an Amtrak train for an Amtrak photography contest, but illegal arrests of innocent Americans exercising their right to photograph in public (like this and this and this) are happening too often to be just a laughing matter. Congress held hearings into the harassment of photographers at Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Several government agencies, including the New York Police Department (NYPD), the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the Department of Transportation, and Amtrak have had to send out memos to their police officers and security personnel reiterating that photography is not a crime. Given the contradictory messages sent by SAR programs, however, it is not surprising there is confusion among the officers on the street…

 

What is the extent that SAR and other security programs have influenced the treatment of journalists, photographers, videographers, freelancers, etc? As the increase in security personnel on the Gulf Coast continues and becomes more and more a part of the narrative on the cleanup response (or lack thereof) in the Gulf, what might the influence of SAR program be on the treatment of press and independent videographers/photographers? How advantageous is the existence of SAR programs to BP and is BP using these programs to advance their agenda, to prevent the production of images, video and news reports that might negatively impact their market share, which recently rose 9 points?

 

One can see BP is exercising full authority with the cooperation of the U.S. government to severely limit access to areas where stories could be produced and told that would not follow BP’s official storyline (which seems to be that they will clean this up and find it honorable to have been tasked with the patriotic duty of “saving” the Gulf Coast). Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, wrote in a recent column:

 “Stories of denial of media access accumulate like tar balls on the beach (which have now made their way into Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain and to beaches in Texas). “PBS NewsHour” reporters were repeatedly denied access to a Department of Health and Human Services “National Disaster Medical System” trailer, ringed with barbed wire. A “CBS Evening News” crew on a boat was accosted by another boat with five BP contractors and two U.S. Coast Guard members, and denied access to an oil-drenched beach.”

 

Adm. Thad Allen issued a directive days before the Fourth of July requiring individuals and organizations to obtain direct permission to get closer than 65 feet to any response vessels or booms out on the water or on beaches. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges. The directive ran counter to a public claim made earlier in June that the media was receiving uninhibited access.

 

McClelland and others have been conducting high-quality investigative reporting, confronting police blockades and areas where media access has been all but limited or shut off.

 

That said, what happened to Wheelan should be distinguished from media organizations. Wheelan does not have the protections someone with credentials might normally have. Individuals who do what they do have little to shield them from police intimidation that might occur as a result of requests made by property owners or nearby property owners. And, law enforcement may not understand what they are being told is repressive and out-of-line. They may not care and, in the case of Wheelan, one might find out the police officer was actually off-duty and working for BP. (To here more, listen to Mac McClelland talking with Glenn Greenwald on Salon Radio.)

 

However, in the case of the Pro Publica journalist being detained, your job in the media may not protect you from security interfering with your work at all.  

World Oceans Day: Soon to Be World Dead Zones Day?

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Flickr Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service

The Ocean Project, which consists of over one thousand aquariums, zoos, museums and conservation organizations, has designated June 8th “World Oceans Day.” This day, which earned official recognition from the United Nations General Assembly as the result of a resolution passed in December 2008, is a new celebrated day, and, as oil continues to gush at perhaps 100,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico (which connects to the Atlantic Ocean), this day carries even more significance.

 

Ocean conservation is essential to the future of our planet. In fact, the UN recently reported on estimates from a report indicating the world could face fishless oceans in 40 years, a notion that should frighten all the people of the world into becoming stewards of the Earth.

 

The Ocean Project says people should celebrate World Oceans Day because the world’s oceans “generate most of the oxygen we breathe, help feed us, regulate our climate, clean the water we drink, offer us a pharmacopoeia of medicines, and provide limitless inspiration.

 

Those behind the day have the best of intentions when it comes to World Oceans Day. They would like people all over the world to change the perspective of others who do not understand what oceans have to offer, to discover how daily actions affect oceans and how we are all interconnected, to change our ways and act as caretakers for the ocean, and/or to participate in activities and celebrate the oceans of the world.

 

One would like to think the most obvious threat to oceans would be on the table for discussion: the continued practice of offshore oil drilling in deep and shallow areas of the ocean. The Gulf oil disaster caused by BP, Transocean and Halliburton should compel us to justify the risks being created, which contribute to further pollution of the world’s oceans.

 

Unfortunately, World’s Oceans Day is likely to be marked insincerely. The news is President Obama is going to re-open waters to shallow oil production. Before any investigative commission provides a report on moving forward after this disaster, the Obama Administration is bowing to the oil lobby and doing it on the World Oceans Day; one could liken this move to cutting aid to African countries stricken with AIDS on World AIDS Day.

 

President Obama appears to think repeating angry toothless rhetoric about BP’s CEO Tony Hayward over and over again–rhetoric which creates the perception that he does not like that Hayward continues to control BP and how cleanup efforts continue in the Gulf–will get America through this crisis that may last until Christmas and be enough to convince Americans major changes to the regulation of oil companies are going to be made. It seems President Obama is doing this for show and not because this is all the federal government can do.

 

The Pew Oceans Commission understands that the oceans are in crisis. They find the BP oil disaster intersects with campaigns to secure protections for bluefin tuna, end overfishing in the Southeast, protect life in the Arctic, conserve sharks, address global warming and develop a clean energy policy. It also brings to the forefront the need for a national ocean policy.

 

The Commission describes why a national ocean policy is necessary:

 

 

The increasing industrialization of our oceans threatens the fragile health of marine ecosystems.  If poorly planned or managed, drilling for oil and natural gas in federal waters, developing aquaculture and building wind, wave and tidal energy facilities all have the potential to damage America’s marine environment. Currently, several federal agencies manage industrial activities in our oceans under a number of statutes, and there is little coordination or consideration of the cumulative impacts their decisions have on the health and productivity of marine ecosystems and coastal communities.

 

Among its cardinal recommendations, the Pew Oceans Commission called for establishing an enforceable national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of marine ecosystems.  This will not only support economically and culturally valuable fisheries, but also provide countless recreational opportunities for the public and protect critically important ecological services, such as air and water purification.  The commission also recommended changing the organizational structure and laws governing our oceans to make their protection and productivity a priority, and it urged better coordination and management of the full spectrum of activities affecting marine resources.  Finally, it proposed establishing a permanent source of funding for ocean and coastal conservation and management. [emphasis added]

 

Not only do Americans need to recognize the folly of expanding oil drilling in American oceans without a clear policy to protect the oceans and properly regulate oil rigs, but Americans need to recognize the threat global warming poses to the oceans (and face up to the reality that increased oil production contributes to global warming).

 

Sadly, there has been a decrease in the number of Americans who find global warming to be a concern. Media coverage and political discussion of “climate change” (the political re-branding of global warming) has led people to doubt the science behind global warming despite the fact that there is very, very little debate (if any) among scientists on whether global warming is taking place or not.

 

Sixty-seven percent responded in a Gallup poll in March of this year that they do not think global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life in their lifetime while thirty-two percent said yes it would pose a threat and affect them at some point in their lifetime. The poll also found that more and more Americans think natural causes are responsible for the change in the Earth’s temperature, not human activity.

 

Oil and energy lobbyists whose utmost concerns are profit and short-term gains have conspired against science and worked tirelessly to sow doubt in the minds of Americans through public relations campaigns, “astroturf” citizens’ groups, and fake research studies that skew data to favor their free market agenda. The American Enterprise Institute, which receives a substantial amount of money from ExxonMobil, planned “Energy Citizen Rallies” in 2009 to attack “climate change” legislation in Congress.

 

People like Art Robinson, who is running for Congress on the GOP ticket, also increase the likelihood that the planet’s oceans will become total dead zones. Robinson claimed in an issue of a newsletter he edited in 2004 called Access to Energy:

 

“Wastes dumped into the deep ocean will soon reach the bottom, where they are less hazardous than nearly any other place on Earth. Most materials will remain there: marine organisms are rare in the deep ocean, food chains are long, and few materials will be carried back to mankind. And that is what waste disposal is all about…”

 

“…The oil companies’ reckless greed, we are told, has devastated the oceans with their oil spills. Baloney…”

 

“…As for oil spills in the open and deep ocean, they amount to far less than natural seeps and river runoff, and any unbiased oceanographer will confirm that they are a boon to marine life, inflicting damage mainly on the oil and shipping companies. For crude oil is a natural, organic, biodegradable product of the earth’s ancient plant and animal life, and it is this type of hydrocarbon that marine life in the open and deep ocean is starved for…”

 

“…The environment, then, has no better protector than its owner, and no worse enemy than a system where everything belongs to “the people.” Species are endangered when they belong to everybody and nobody; and nothing short of the profit motive will protect them.”

 

If the future of the world’s oceans are not endangered by arrogant numbskulls preaching the Gospel of the Free Markets like Robinson, then they are significantly at risk by people like Dick Armey who preach the Gospel of Christian Fanaticism (and manufacture Tea Party rallies through ventures like FreedomWorks).

 

Appearing as a witness at a Republican bicameral hearing on climate change legislation on Capitol Hill in July of 2009, Armey testified:

 

DICK ARMEY: What I’m suggesting is we have a sort of an eco-evangelical hysteria going on and it leads me to almost wonder if we are becoming a nation of environmental hypochondriacs that are willing to use the power of the state to impose enormous restrictions on the rights and the comforts of, and incomes of individuals who serve essentially a paranoia, a phobia, that has very little fact evidence in fact. Now these are observations that are popular to make because right now its almost taken as an article of faith that this crisis is real. Let me say I take it as an article of faith if the lord God almighty made the heavens and the Earth, and he made them to his satisfaction and it is quite pretentious of we little weaklings here on earth to think that, that we are going to destroy God’s creation. [...]

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Mr. Armey it’s great to have you here. Great to see you again and we appreciate all you’ve done throughout the years and your work on Capitol Hill. Great job. [emphasis added by Think Progress]

 

What’s worse? Armey’s comments or the fact that this country has senators like Orrin Hatch who praise people for making pathologically insane comments like these in hearings that should be based in science?

 

The goals of World Oceans Day are paramount. However, this country doesn’t understand the value of the environment. Many may suggest that humans have a duty to protect and preserve the environment but far too many think God or the Almighty Dollar will save the environment and are blind to the reality that Mother Nature is under siege from fanaticism and free market desires.

 

One can hope more Americans will find the moral fortitude and courage to take on those that spread disinformation to pollute science, which demonstrates global warming is a threat to our oceans. One can hope more Americans will directly call out this country’s inability to have a future focus, which forgets short-term profit and favors the long-term protection of the environment for future generations of Americans.

 

Unfortunately, anger and frustration seem to be better responses than hope. Hope often makes people passive. As it becomes obvious the world’s oceans need the help of thousands if not millions of citizens now more than ever, the oceans need physical and meaningful action, not hope.

Obama’s Oil Spill Panel: Will It Be Better or Worse Than Carter’s Three Mile Island Accident Commission?

9:25 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

In the next few days, President Obama will announce the formation of an independent commission to investigate the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. The commission will likely be similar to previous commissions convened by presidents to investigate the space shuttle Challenger disaster and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.

The commission convened will likely face tremendous pressure from BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and other oil and energy company interests who wish to ensure the commission organized by the Obama Administration does not come to a decision that puts further constraints on offshore drilling or drilling for oil altogether.

McClatchy Newspapers reported May 18, 2010, that BP is withholding facts about the oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico and the Obama Administration is allowing BP to withhold facts. The story said:

"… the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn’t monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf.

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Private assurances to not follow all the data and testimony from workers, researchers, and scientists on the disaster may also be made so that information in any published report will have a limited negative impact on oil companies like BP.

Time constraints will likely be placed on the commission that will impact or hurry the work of the commission like time constraints did for the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident.

A "Supplemental View by Bruce Babbitt," former governor of Arizona who served on the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident stated:

"We had a real problem coming to grips with this issue because of the time constraints on examining the characteristics of other utilities operating nuclear power plants. I can, therefore, understand the difficulties in formulating a specific recommendation at this time.

Yet I must believe that our findings do support more than what we have said here by way of recommendations. We cannot simply urge the utility, industry, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to pay more attention to safety and to establish higher standards.

While this Commission has clearly addressed the institutional shortcomings of the NRC in its recommendations, it has not addressed the institutional problems of the industry."

The likelihood that the commission will not investigate the full extent of the accident and address the systematic or institutional failings of oil companies certainly exists.

The Three Mile Island Commission was a decent selection of individuals that combined a diversity of institutional perspectives. In addition to Babbitt, Patrick E. Haggerty, co-founder of Texas Instruments, Inc., Carolyn Lewis, Assoc. Prof. of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, Paul A. Marks, Vice President for Health Sciences and Frode Jensen Professor at Columbia University, Cora B. Marrett, Prof. of Sociology and Afro-American Studies at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, Lloyd McBride, President of the United Steelworkers of America, Harry C. McPherson, a partner with Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, and McPherson, Russell W. Peterson, President of the National Audubon Society, Thomas H. Pigford, Prof. and Chairman of the Dept. of Nuclear Engineering at U.C. Berkeley, Theodore B. Taylor, visiting lecturer at the Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, and Anne D. Trunk, a resident of Middletown, Pennsylvania, all served on the Commission.

Voices present on that commission that should be present on the one convened by the Obama Administration include a health scientist, a voice who can speak about the impact oil has on wildlife, a union leader who can speak on behalf of the workers, an engineer who can discuss the reality of oil drilling, and, most importantly, a resident from the Gulf coast who can testify on the impact of the oilrig disaster in his or her community.

There is a small likelihood that the Obama Administration convenes a truly diverse panel on the oil rig explosion and leak in the Gulf. As Politicoreports, there are at least two investigations that have been started on the disaster: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is leading a study of the causes of the oil rig explosion; Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is working on how to split up the Minerals Management Service (MMS) into two agencies so oil drilling can be better regulated and reviewing the rules for drilling. Those investigations may be continued and finished and become the extent of the commission’s investigations; whether new, original investigations are launched for the purposes of a comprehensive public report on the disaster is probably unlikely given the track record of presidential commissions in the past decade.

Finally, it is possible that voices will not be as independent as the administration would like us to believe. Players appointed to investigate will likely be from institutions that sound like good organizations that conduct good research and studies. Upon further investigation, they will probably be revealed to have ties to the very companies or industry being investigated.

The public should hope the Obama Administration surprises those concerned about the future of the Gulf of Mexico, the people in communities on the Gulf coast, the nature and wildlife in the region, the wellbeing of workers who are employed by energy companies, and the impact on oil on planet Earth. But, the reality is that President Obama made an announcement calling for new areas to be open for offshore drilling weeks before the oil rig disaster.

Be weary of the fact that companies could use this disaster to re-brand their companies, regain the confidence of politicians, up their funding of key political leaders in shrewd manners that are not altogether obvious when campaign spending reports are disclosed, and continue to obstruct movement towards dependency on clean, renewable energy in this country.

The oil rig disaster was tragic. The aftermath could be even more tragic if the people are not vigilantly following the work of all those involved in investigating the tragedy.

________________________________________________________

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Decision Forces Filmmaker to Turn Over 600 Hours of Footage to Chevron

9:13 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Federal District Court in New York granted Chevron’s request for a subpoena, which demands access to over 600 hours of footage from "Crude," a documentary that chronicles a legal battle being supported by 30,000 Amazonian settlers hoping to hold Texaco (now owned by Chevron) responsible for environmental devastation in Ecuador.

Joseph Berlinger, the filmmaker behind "Crude," claimed he was protected by "journalistic privilege," but, according to the New York Times, he qualified for the privilege but "the conditions for overcoming that privilege had been met" by Chevron.

Berlinger plans to ask the judge to "stay the subpoena" so the decision can be appealed.

Many in the documentary filmmaking community have indicated that they will support Berlinger’s effort to appeal and resist this decision. Filmmakers understand what this decision could mean for the future of documentary filmmaking.

Gordon Quinn, artistic director and founder of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, said, "My experience is that the ‘outs’ of a film usually show the big and the powerful to be worse than they are portrayed in our films, but if we have to turn over footage and spend time in court and defend ourselves for expressing our First Amendment rights it can be an overwhelming burden for a small organization like ours."

Quinn added, "It has the feel of intimidation and using the legal process to let us know don’ttake onthe big guys or they can drive you crazy and drain your resources by tying you up in court."

Documentary instructor at Columbia College Chicago and director of "The Return of Navajo Boy," a film that touched upon the impact of uranium mining on the Navajo, Jeff Spitz, had not heard about it. He noted from his experience making "Navajo Boy, "The extraction industries have absolutely no interest in the safety and/or benefits of their work for indigenous people. Indigenous people pay the hidden price of our energy."

An Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with forty years of documentary filmmaking experience, Russell Porter, reacted, "The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment."

"The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism," said Porterin fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal."

New York Times writer for the ArtsBeat Blog diligently followed this story conducting interviews with filmmakers Michael Moore and Ric Burns (the director of "Andy Warhol" and PBS’ "New York") on Thursday.

Burns reacted, Chevron is "really saying ‘O.K., pal, drop your drawers, and with it, 600 hours of film.’" And added, "That’s insane. That’s a weapon so blunt that it’s impossible not to feel that Judge Kaplan doesn’t care about the impression that is conveyed."

Burns added this "contributes to a general culture of contempt for investigative journalism" and next time someone goes to make a "Crude" the group that provides information on the subject will be a "much leerier group of informants."

Michael Moore had "never heard of such a ruling." Moore told the ArtsBeat Blog he never had to deal with any corporation suing him to find out how he gathered his information.

"Obviously the ramifications of this go far beyond documentary films, if corporations are allowed to pry into a reporter’s notebook or into a television station’s newsroom," said Moore.

Moore hoped the decision would be overturned on appeal and, if not, Berlinger should "resist the subpoena." He also said that "hundreds of filmmakers" would support Berlinger’s fight to not turn over his footage to Chevron.

Documentary as Journalism?

The New York Times put together an article that suggested this decision re-ignites a debate over whether a documentary filmmaker should have journalistic privileges or not.

In his interview with ArtsBeat Blog, Moore said, "Documentaries are a form of journalism."

The lawyer for Chevron, Randy M. Mastro, according to the New York Times, firmly believes that "Crude" should not be considered journalism. And, Mastro claimed that this decision is not about "the First Amendment" or journalistic privilege.

Mastro said, "This is about a plaintiffs’ lawyer who decided he wanted to star in a movie and gave a sympathetic filmmaker extraordinary access to the plaintiffs’ case and strategy."

Porter said of this statement, "The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as ‘…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star’ would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue."

A key problem is the fact that documentary filmmakers are expected to have subjects sign releases that they agree to appear in the film. With "Crude," pact agreements were actually formed between the filmmaker and the settlers and those agreements would clearly be violated if Chevron was able to use the footage for their own agenda.

What are documentary filmmakers supposed to do in the future if this stands? What will filmmakers need to look out for and do to protect themselves? What additional amount of self-censorship will filmmakers have to engage in?

Will filmmakers have to begin to destroy all of their footage that they have left over once their film is complete? How are filmmakers going to handle a reality where corporations can force filmmakers to compromise their sources and turn over unused footage to them?

At a time where BP is responsible for the leaking of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, what should those documenting the destruction be weary of if a precedent is set that corporations like Chevron can subpoena unused footage to take down plaintiffs who are challenging business practices and suggesting corporations should be held responsible or accountable for their actions?

There are many more questions about the ramifications of this decision on filmmaking. The issue of journalistic privilege and documentary should be the subject of conversation for the next months especially if filmmakers unite and mount a visible effort in support of Berlinger’s right to not hand over the footage to Chevron.

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The following is Associate Professor of Columbia College Chicago and documentary filmmaker Russell Porter’s full response to the decision.

I am an Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago with almost forty years experience as a documentary filmmaker, journalist and teacher on five continents. I have extensive experience of working with indigenous people and their struggles to maintain their traditional ways of life in the face of ever more destructive encroachment by extractive and environmentally damaging industries.

I first visited the upper Amazon region of Ecuador in 1969-70 when I lived and traveled through the then pristine Amazon regions bordering the Napo River, and was privileged to visit several indigenous communities (including the Huaorani/ Waorani and Achuar people).

I returned to the region on a research trip in 1999 to see for myself how this unique world had changed during my lifetime. I was appalled buy what my Huaorani hosts showed me as a result of the impact of oil exploration and extraction on their health and environment. I traveled with them to several sites that were at least as damaged by oil spills and dumps (in "piscinas") like those shown in the film "Crude" – which, in my my view, if anything understates the impact on the culture, environment and the ecosystems that have sustained these communities for millennia.

The Huaorani community I visited (in the remote Shiripuni region) had been forced to relocate there since their traditional homeland had become unsustainable as a result of the massive intrusion of oil industry machinery and associated contamination and deforestation. I also visited the regions around Lago Agrio featured in the film, and witnessed the total transformation that the oil industry has cause to the environment integrity, health and well-being of traditional indigenous people there, with the associated often violent social destruction of their way of life.

The reported federal judgment that filmmaker Joe Berlinger must turn over his outtakes to Chevron’s defense lawyers strikes me as an arbitrary and dangerous interpretation of the First Amendment. The role of independent documentary filmmakers has almost totally replaced what was historically the function of investigative journalism – in fact there is no difference between the methodology and social/political function of filmmakers like Berlinger and that of – say – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward during the Watergate scandal.

Without such scrutiny, It is my opinion that the ever-increasing corporate malfeasance would go unchecked, to the detriment of society as a whole. It is an intrinsic facet of our democratic system that such independent scrutiny is allowed the full protection of the law.

The cynical dismissal of the film "Crude" as "…a case of a lawyer who decided he wanted to be a movie star" would be laughable if it were not so obviously disingenuous, self-serving and untrue.

Documentary filmmakers of course have the right to include, structure and interpret their raw material in any way they chose – just as a journalist will draw on his or her research notes to compile a coherent narrative story. Film material is edited in just this way, and for whatever reason some footage may be left out, it remains the intellectual property of the filmmaker and he or she is under no obligation to hand it over to anyone. It is a right – just as that held by journalists – protected under the First Amendment. Whatever the legality of the case against Chevron, the principle is unchanged.