It’s All About The Oil…Is It?

I was on the blogger call with Tony Snow and Bret McGurk yesterday, and was actually pretty impressed by them. But the basic truth is that while they knew and acknowledged that we were getting our heads handed to us in Information War, they really didn’t strike me as having much of an idea as to what to do about it.

As one aspect, I asked about the report in the Independent (yes, Robert Fisk’s paper) that the new Iraqi oil law would both provide shares in national oil revenue to all Iraqis (great thing to do, three years too late), and that it would rely on “Production Sharing Agreements” with US oil companies to exploit the oil – PSA’s being a way that a nation might hypothecate it’s oil reserves in return for allowing them to be exploited.

There’s a bad history with national oil contracts like that in Iraq (and throughout the Middle east, to be honest); in 1925, the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company had the exclusive franchise – which the British imposed on Amir Faysal (the king they had in turn imposed on Iraq).The terms of the agreement – as presented by the Independent – are quite generous to the oil companies:

It is also understood that once companies have recouped their costs from developing the oil field, they are allowed to keep 20 per cent of the profits, with the rest going to the government. According to analysts and oil company executives, this is because Iraq is so dangerous, but Dr Muhammad-Ali Zainy, a senior economist at the Centre for Global Energy Studies, said: “Twenty per cent of the profits in a production sharing agreement, once all the costs have been recouped, is a large amount.” In more stable countries, 10 per cent would be the norm.

While the costs are being recovered, companies will be able to recoup 60 to 70 per cent of revenue; 40 per cent is more usual. David Horgan, managing director of Petrel Resources, an Aim-listed oil company focused on Iraq, said: “They are reasonable rates of return, and take account of the bad security situation in Iraq. The government needs people, technology and capital to develop its oil reserves. It has got to come up with terms which are good enough to attract companies. The major companies tend to be conservative.”

OK, this is, plain and simple, a public relations disaster. And, if true, a moral disaster as well.

My question to Snow and McGurk (go over to Outside the Beltway for a full recounting of the call) was along the lines of “Is this true? And if so is this something the Administration supports?”

Snow, amusingly, answered “I’m not even going to fake it. Brent?”

Brent had read the article, said it was based on a very early draft, and that it had been shot down on Al Jezzera (I couldn’t find it searching…) – and he expects the Iraqi Parliament would be modifying the terms (note that he didn’t take a position).

I pointed out that this was doubtless all over the Arab and Iraqi press – and where was the Administration reply? Why wasn’t the Administration taking a strong position that we wouldn’t allow US oil companies to exploit the Iraqi people by entering into contracts reminiscent of 1920’s imperial exploitaton?

So I’m left with two concerns – does the Administration realize how bad issues like this make us look? And if they do, why can’t they take a lesson from political campaign management and create a message machine that looks at what’s out there and responds? Bueller? Anyone?

A Little Help …

Gary Farber is still struggling, and is looking for some help. I read his story and was reminded of how fortunate I am – in health, family, love and money. That luck brings some obligations with it, so I toss some money at Soldier’s Angels or another charity every month, and can probably stand to miss a another restaurant lunch – and help Gary out – and so can you, I’ll bet.

I’d hope you’d help Gary out, but even if you choose not to please take a moment and do something for the folks who have it harder than you do. In many of our cases, that’s almost everyone.

There Ain’t No Magic Hide-The-Ball Play

Wow. Lots of long faces here at Winds.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Actually I am, but I kinda don’t want to say it to my co-bloggers.

No, there’s no magic play in the Bush plan we heard about tonight that will suddenly win the war. No, the mistakes we’ve made over the last three years can’t be unwound.

Everyone is looking for a magic spell that will suddenly unlock all our troubles, or a secret hidden-ball play that will guarantee victory.

Ain’t here. Ain’t happening at all.There are a few points I’d like to make that we all seem to have forgotten.

Iraq is a battle, not a war. If we won – as completely as anyone could imagine – we’d still face a conflict that poses capable, committed adversaries worldwide against us.

It matters a lot that we win in Iraq – both in terms of the impact on the worldwide conflict and in terms of the lives of the Iraqis themselves. Bush is absolutely right – losing in Iraq unlocks a set of potential futures that we really, really won’t like.

Those of us who support (and supported) the war are losing the public argument bigtime; we’re increasingly standing alone in a corner. Get used to it; we’re not an effective political force, and our political leadership (the President…) has pretty much blown things. OK, so what’s the plan? What do we do?

Well, it’s like this.

First, and foremost, I hope we’re all wrong. I hope, more than anything, that the national collapse of belief in the war doesn’t lead to a military collapse. I hope that a military collapse doesn’t lead to a wider war.

As I say – I could well be wrong about this, and hope I am. I’d like to be.

But what if I’m not?

Well, there’s not a lot I can do about it as an individual citizen and blogger. There’s not a lot you can do as blog readers. We’re not even backbenchers right now.

But we’re looking at this as though the daily news is what matters. It’s not.

There is going to be a national debate over the next two years over what to do. We’d better learn how to participate in that debate. That will involve a lot of examination, a lot of discussion – including discussion with people who oppose us.

Pivotal Moments

It’s interesting to be somewhere when a tide turns. Yesterday, I was in Sacramento.

“There will be an open process and as much transparency as we can muster all the way down to how voting machines and counting equipment operate. We are going to eliminate the use of private, invisible, proprietary software that no one can evaluate as a means of counting our votes.”

– California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s inaugural remarks.

Jamail Found?

Per hypocrisyrules, E & P is reporting that the Iraqi police have found Jamail Hussein.

I’m buried until Sunday when a project is delivered, but have sent a few emails and will chase more down early next week.

I’ll note that AP (who delivered the “he’s found” story) obviously hasn’t been ignoring the complaints, and that had they simply said “That’s weird, give us a week and we’ll have some kind of explanation” and continued – with some transparency – to explain what they were doing, I’d have spend less time in High Dudgeon.

There’s still the issue of whether he’s telling any kind of truth that anyone would recognize…but let’s take it one step at a time.

Nicht Zum Kernkrieg, As They Say

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The Polish government, in an effort to “…draw a line under the country’s Communist past, and “educate” the Polish public about the old regime” has released the documents from a 1979 Eastern Bloc war game, in which Poland is sacrificed to Allied nuclear weapons blocking Soviet reinforcements, and Soviet citybusters strike most Western European cities. Note that the Soviets did not expect NATO to launch against Eastern cities.

The new conservative government that released them said “It’s important for citizens to know who was a hero, and who was a villain. It is important for the civic health of society to make these things public.”

I’m less sanguine; I’m thinking it’s possible we have files full of similar plans.

But it’s both important to note what the Soviet military leadership expected from us – and planned to do about it – and to put into context the challenges and risks we face as compared to those we faced as recently as the 1980’s.

Lots has improved since then. But we do have a ways to go…

“It’s Just A Scratch”

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In a display of clueless arrogance unmatched since the Black Knight refused to yield to King Arthur, the AP replies to its critics on l’affaire Jamail Hussein:

NEW YORK A long-running dispute between The Associated Press and critics over one of its Iraqi sources show no signs of abating, despite at least two lengthy rebuttals by the news organization. The new IraqSlogger web site, founded by former CNN news chief, Eason Jordan, is out with a fresh challenge, after failing to resolve the issue in its own detective work. This has not set off a new round of examination by the AP, apparently.

Kathleen Carroll, AP executive editor, told E&P today that she had not read Jordan’s latest item, posted Monday, and likely would not. But she stood by the news organization’s previous statements backing the existence of an Iraqi police captain, Jamail Hussein.

“I’ve been pretty public about what we have done to get to the crux of the criticism we have gotten about it,” she added. When asked about critics’ demands that AP produce Hussein to prove his existence, she said “that area [where he works] has pretty much been ethnically cleansed, it is a nasty place and continues to be.”

Carroll said that Hussein “is a guy we’ve talked to for years,” adding that “we don’t have anything new to say about it, nothing new to add.”

Linda Wagner, AP’s director of media relations and public affairs, said she had just seen Jordan’s post, but did not expect to have more to say about it. She said “it would be highly unusual for any news organization to provide sources on the demands of critics.”

When asked about the fact that no other major news outlet appears to have been using Hussein as a source, Wagner said, “whether he might be used as an anonymous source by someone else, I don’t know.” She added that having a source that is not used by others may not be unusual in a war zone.

Here’s the problem, Ms. Carroll. We don’t believe he exists. If he doesn’t exist, much of your reporting from Iraq is subject to dispute. If your reporting from Iraq is subject to dispute, your credibility is pretty much blown apart – and I don’t know what else you have to sell.

Because we (individuals) aren’t customers of AP, they can afford to ignore our unhappiness. But as we transfer our discontent with their poor professionalism to the newspapers that are their customers – and, for example, cancel our subscriptions in large part because we don’t see the value of subscribing – the AP will be called to account. If you take a look at the share prices of major media properties who own AP – they’ve lost about 20% of their value in the last few years – I’ll bet there will some interesting discussions when it comes to pricing AP’s services over the next few years. So, Ms. Carroll, our views do matter – or more accurately, your ability to publicly defend the value of yours do. You used to be able to do so as casually as you chose because you owned the press.

Not so much any more.

It’s truly sad that they can’t get ahead of the issue. I’ll point out a major media example of someone who has:

From: Kevin Anderson-Washington XXXXXXXXX@bbc.co.uk Date: Thu, 5 Jan 2006 16:30:18 -0000
To: XXXXXXXXX@eon.law.harvard.edu
Subject: RE: Best of Both Worlds Continued

OK,

I’ve been meaning to contribute to this discussion because I come from the mainstream media world – the other world so to speak. And the editor of the programme I work on at the BBC World Service, Mark Sandell, has been following this discussion.

Our programme has asked several of you to join us to talk about what is going in your part of the world, and we use Global Voices as a way to broaden out our agenda. What stories are you talking about that we should be aware of?

I still am considering my thoughts about the ways in which blogs and traditional media complement each other. I definitely am not of the view of an adversarial relationship between bloggers and traditional media although being from the US, I have definitely seen this in action.

But, I just wanted to flag up a little note from our editor Mark Sandell, about our thinking in covering stories. We had a discussion yesterday about the mining tragedy in the US, although we expanded this to deal with mine safety elsewhere, including China and South Africa. We had a lot of e-mail comments about why we weren’t covering the landslides in Java or returning to cover the plight of quake victims in South Asia.

Mark posted his thoughts here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/world_have_your_say/4584506.stm

Right now, it’s at the top of the page, but it will shift to the middle after our day-end update. Look for the Note from the Editor. Let me know what you think. We’re trying to be more open about why we do what we do.

best,
k

Kevin Anderson
BBC World Service and Five Live

Patterico Prosecutes The Times

Patterico has his year-end roundup of the – incompetence is one word, but not the only one I’d use – of the LA Times. God, I hope I never do anything that results in his prosecuting me…

I also cancelled my subscription after the SWIFT program debacle, and haven’t missed it (except for a couple of opera reviews), altho I do read some of the paper online.

Much of my news these days comes via RSS reader – my subscriptions can be found at http://www.bloglines.com/public/ArmedLiberal. If you can think of something worth adding, please let me know.