Tuesday, October 17, 2006

how dangerously undemocratic the US political system had become

* digby:
"Think about that. Within one two-year period, the Republicans tried to remove a legitimately elected and popular president from office on a purely partisan basis and then assumed the presidency through an unprecedented partisan Supreme Court decision after losing the popular vote.

We all watched that happen, many of us not realizing how extraordinary and how dangerously undemocratic the US political system had become. It was all "legitimate" after all."
This will, I predict, be the latest fad: bipartisan nothingness. Now that the Republicans have successfully moved the political center so far to the right that they drove themselves over the cliff, we must stop all this "partisan bickering" as if the Democrats have been equally partisan and therefore can ask for and expect the right to meet them halfway, which they never, ever do. That means we must let their most heinous ideas congeal into conventional wisdom, let their criminal behavior go unpunished, clean up the global disaster they've created, do the heavy lifting to fix the deficit they caused. While we're fixing things, they'll count their ill-gotten gains, catch their breath and gear up to trash the place all over again.
This time the stakes are so high and the failures so manifest that we cannot allow this zombie revolution to rise again. No matter how tempting it is to let bygones be bygones and get to work to "fix" the problems, the Democrats must recognize that fixing the problem requires discrediting this Republican revolution once and for all. Until that happens, they will keep coming back and each time they do they destroy a little bit more of our democracy.

We may win this one but we are basically the janitors, winning the contract to clean up after the conservative frat boys trashed the place for the last few years.

read the rest. ranteriffic.

* tpmm has a great video of weldon blaming everyone for his latest trouble!

* welson's story hits WaPo A1:
"A grand jury, impaneled in Washington in May, has obtained evidence gathered over at least four months through wiretaps of Washington area cellphone numbers and has scrutinized whether Weldon received anything of value, according to the sources. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.

The investigation focuses on Weldon's support of the Russian-managed Itera International Energy Corp., one of the world's largest oil and gas firms, while that company paid fees to Solutions North America, the company that Karen Weldon and Sexton operate.

The congressman, for example, intervened on Itera's behalf when U.S. officials canceled a federal grant to the company. He also encouraged U.S. companies to do business with Itera at a time when its reputation had been sullied by accusations of Russian corruption.
Yesterday's raids of six locations in Pennsylvania and Florida were moved up in part because of leaks about the investigation late last week, according to two of the sources. Top federal prosecutors supervising the inquiry concluded early this month that they were progressing significantly on another front in the investigation and did not want to make their work public too soon by conducting searches, especially so close to the Nov. 7 elections.
Prosecutors are usually loath to conduct raids against a public official so close to an election. But some involved in the investigation debated whether holding off could also appear to have been influenced by the election, sources said.
[]That complaint was based on a lengthy 2004 report by the Los Angeles Times that described the meteoric rise of Solutions North America and its relationship to Itera, which has long been dogged by international controversy over its obscured ownership.

The company, formed in 1992, made huge profits as an intermediary in natural gas sales between the state-controlled Russian company Gazprom and former Soviet republics. It eventually purchased some of Gazprom's gas fields and other assets for nominal sums, estimated by critics to be billions of dollars below their real value, and became a rival.

Oil and gas traders and Russian experts have long suggested that Itera's real owners are former senior Gazprom executives and that the company was established in the United States as a vehicle to transfer money out of Russia and into their pockets."


starroute said...

I've *never* gotten all this Russian stuff straight -- it's like reading Anna Karenina without the list of characters at the front for reference, and I've never had a clear sense of the players.

However, I do find in my notes that Gazprom comes into the 1997 Abramoff/DeLay Russian junket story. That would be an interesting connection -- I keep waiting for the Abramoff scandal to converge with all these others, and it never quite does.

And I find in my emails that a few months ago I sent you something from Asia Times saying:

On May 26 Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also announced that his country would definitely supply Iran with sophisticated Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles, reportedly as a prelude to supplying even more sophisticated weapons.

Then, in one of the more fascinating examples of geopolitical chutzpah, the Kremlin-controlled Gazprom gas monopoly entered quiet negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert through his billionaire friend, Benny Steinmetz, to secure Russian natural-gas supplies to Israel via an undersea pipeline from Turkey to Israel.

According to the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot, Olmert's office has said it will support the Gazprom proposal. In several years Israel faces a shortage of gas from Tethys Sea drilling and soon from Egypt. Tethys Sea gas is projected to run dry in a few years. British Gas is in talks to supply gas from Gaza but Israel disputes BG's right to drill.

But even with Egypt and Gaza, gas shortages are expected by 2010 unless Israel is able to find new sources. Enter Gazprom and Putin. The gas would be diverted from the under-used Russia-Turkey Bluestream Pipeline, which Russia built to increase its influence over Turkey two years ago. Putin clearly seeks to gain a lever inside Israel over the one-sided US influence on Israeli policy.

starroute said...

Ah, Caspian oil, of course. Why does this smell more and more like it's going to get tangled up with all the Sibel stuff? And here I thought Weldon was only involved in flacking Able Danger and relaying Ghorbanifar's tall tales.

Here's Wikipedia on Itera:

Itera Group Ltd. is a Cyprus holding company with investments in Russian natural gas, and US timber, and real estate. It has the headquarter in Moscow, Russia, and offices in Limassol, Cyprus and Jacksonville, Florida. The company was originally started in the United States under the name Itera International Energy Corporation as a basic commodities trading company. In 1994, after a sale of sugar to the country of Turkmenistan, Itera obtained rights to sell Turkmenistan natural gas as payment for its sugar transaction. Itera began sales to the Ukraine of the Turkmenistan gas in 1995 and based on that success continued to expand its natural gas trading activities throughout the Former Soviet Union (FSU) becoming the second largest seller of natural gas in the FSU in the late 1990's. . . .

In March 2002, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency killed a $868,000 grant to Itera as questions were raised about its legitimacy. In May, Representative Curt Weldon led a congressional delegation to Russia and visited Itera. Upon his return he supported Itera; in the beginning of September Itera paid the expenses for a Weldon trip to NYC. The next week Itera told Karen Weldon, Curt's daughter, it would sign a contract with her newly-formed lobbying firm, Solutions North America, Inc.

Here's that LA Times story, which isn't as illuminating as it might be:

The congressman was advocating for the Karics and other Eastern European business interests long before his daughter opened her firm, Conallen said. . . .

Weldon, a Russian studies major in college, also is a noted advocate of closer relationships with the former Soviet Union. He has made more than 30 trips to Russia as a member of Congress. He is the founder and chairman of the Congressional U.S.-Former Soviet Union Energy Caucus and founder and co-chairman of the official interparliamentary exchange between the U.S. and Russia.

And here's more on Itera, from a 2001 BusinessWeek article (with horrendous popup ads):

Itera is hardly a household name in Russia, to say nothing of the rest of the world. But Western investors--especially energy giants--are likely to be hearing a lot more about this mysterious company. It's the fourth-largest holder of gas reserves on the planet. It has a virtual monopoly on gas trading in two key former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine, that lie at the gateway for transporting the region's energy resources to the West. And it's already a player in the energy-rich Caspian Sea region, where it has close ties to political leaders. Indeed, Itera President Igor V. Makarov says he holds the key to the Caspian for any foreign energy company wanting a foothold in the region, considered one of the hottest oil and gas plays anywhere. . . .

But even as Itera seeks recognition and funding from the West, law enforcement officials in Europe and the U.S. are scrutinizing Itera's activities for possible money-laundering.

Makarov denies the allegations, but Itera's rise from barter trader to global gas giant in nine years is raising questions inside Russia, too, where the company has been under fire for months. Some minority shareholders of Russia's Gazprom, the world's biggest gas company, suspect that Gazprom managers helped create Itera as a vehicle to park choice assets siphoned from Gazprom for their own personal enrichment. Gazprom and Itera have denied the charges, but a minority shareholder move for an independent audit conducted by Deloitte & Touche of Gazprom's deals with Itera has been voted down by the Gazprom board, which is dominated by the government and management. The board hired its own autitor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to probe the relationship. But some investors question the objectivity of a firm that has to review its own previous audits. Meanwhile, the Russian Audit Chamber, the parliament's budgetary watchdog agency, is investigating links between Gazprom and Itera.

PR OFFENSIVE. Makarov is fighting back with a public-relations offensive. He has hired Western Strategy Group, a New York and Washington firm headed by former Republican Senator Malcolm Wallop from Wyoming. Makarov met recently in the U.S. with energy players Enron, Ruhrgas, and Unocal. And he is promoting a project to build a pipeline that would ship gas from the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan's vast reserves of more than 8 trillion cubic meters through Georgia into Turkey, the gateway to the lucrative energy markets of the West. He hopes to drum up Western investment for the $200 million project.

Malcolm Wallop! Now there's a name that gets my spidey-sense tingling. Among other things, he was along on the DeLay/Buckham/Feulner Malaysia trip in 2001, the same year that this article describes him as representing Itera. (Feulner, it should be pointed out, is the former president of the Heritage Foundation, which seems to have considerable interests in East Asia these days.) And that particular rogues gallery, of course, points back to the Abramoff/DeLay/Russian nexus again.

There's something strange and stinky about all this -- I mean beyond Weldon just getting wined and dined and having his daughter put on the payroll -- but I'm damned if I can put my finger on just what it is or how it fits into the rest of this vast, sprawling mess.

emptywheel said...


It seems that the Crazy Curt story effects an important convergence. It was always clear--from his loony insistence on WMD--that Crazy Curt was fiscally tied to the hard Neocons (and Ledeen was dealing him info at one point, as well as Ghorba). I'd be interested in sniffing out any involvement of Man on Dog and Hoaxstra in this, as they've been playing the same stupid stooge role as Weldon (even if they've got more self-respect, barely). But Crazy Curt (busted, if we can believe Laura's instincts, by Abramoff) ties the CA defense contractors to Abramoff to the Neocons in a way that hasn't happened yet.