Thursday, November 06, 2008

CHANGE.GOV is up and running at - Obama / Biden Website

The website of the President-Elect Barack Obama and Vice President Elect Joe Biden is up and running at   You can find out about the Presidential Inauguration and even apply for a job in the Obama White House. 

Bowoto v. Chevron - Witness Testimony For Each Trial Day

This is a full text of recorded witness testimony given to date in the Chevron Trial. It comes from Scott Gilmore's blog -- -- who's worked to attend every day of the trial since it's beginning.

Gilmore doesn't take a side but seems more interested in legal strategy than outcome, none the less I do provide commentary at some points below.

At any rate, here is just enough to give one a taste of what's going on but not by any stretch all of it -- that's Scott's blog.  So you should read "bottom to top" in terms of day if you want a forward chronological order or just go to the blog for the whole deal.

Day 7 11.5.08
In Trial Notes on November 5, 2008 at 5:23 pm
Federal Courthouse, San Francisco. Ambient temperature: 60 F.

Witness: Harrison Ulori

Today’s session began with the conclusion of Harrison Ulori’s testimony.  Mr. Ulori was an Itsekiri worker aboard the Parabe platform barge at the time of the Ilaje occupation.  He  also participated–along with Boyo Johnson–in the Itsekiri’s March 1998 occupation of Parabe.

Under cross examination by Mr. Klein–attorney for Chevron–Mr. Ulori corroborated previous accounts of the military operation on Parabe.  Mr. Ulori stated that from May 25th to 27th he observed no altercations and no violence between the Ilaje protesters and the Naval and Mobile Police aboard the platform and barge. Mr. Klein inquired if he had witnessed a mobile soldier brandishing his belt as a whip and he said he had not. This is the first time we have heard of this incident, and I wonder if Mr. Klein has a card up his sleeve here.

Mr. Ulori also testified that he heard several gunshots after the soldiers leapt from the first helicopter to land on the morning of May 28th. While this slightly contradicts other testimony that the soldiers opened fire while the helicopter was still hovering in the air, the discrepancy in sequence doesn’t strike me as being particularly consequential.

Witness: Methuselah Aiyenumelo

Next, we heard testimony from another of the Ilaje protesters. Questioned by Dan Stormer, counsel for the plaintiffs,  Methuselah (as he is commonly called) described the meeting held by Ilaje elders at Ikorigho at which they generated a list of demands from Chevron and decided on a course of action for the protest.

The list was entered into evidence and contained inter alia the following items:


employment opportunities from Chevron Nigeria Ltd.
employment opportunities with the permanent contractors working with CNL
opportunities for indigenous contractors
Social Amenities

provision of potable water
town halls/meeting center
electricity/electric lights
post office
school assistance
Redress for Ecological Problems

embankment [protection from erosion]
sand filling [repairing erosion]
resettlement [for zones beyond rehabilitation]
Methuselah then described the events that occurred at the tugboat on May 28th. Arriving in the first Ilaje speedboat, Methuselah corroborated Mr. Bowoto’s previous testimony that the protesters arrived bearing placards with slogans like: “We want to speak to Kirkland [George Kirkland, Managing Director of Chevron]“

Aboard the vessel, the Ilaje refrained from entering the crew’s quarters or the galley below deck.  According to Methuselah, another Ilaje protester named Judah came to the tugboat on the evening of May 27th (the night before the attack) to inform him that Chevron’s negotiator and the Ilaje elders had agreed to meet on May 29th in Ikorigho and that the elders would send boats to evacuate the protesters the following morning. Thus far, all of the protesters’ testimony that the they were preparing to leave on the 28th have been consistent.

That night Methuselah slept aboard the barge with Judah. The following morning he awoke to the sound of gunfire. He witnessed soldiers leaping out from a helicopter and opening fire.  When a youth ran past him screaming that the soldiers were killing the Ilaje, Methuselah dove into the sea and swam for the tugboat. Once aboard the tugboat, Methuselah helped pull other protesters from the water. He testified that a helicopter hovered over the tugboat and fired tear gas onto its deck.

At that point, he asked Captain Schull to pilot the boat to shore.  The captain refused and Methuselah pleaded that it was a matter of life and death.  According to his testimony, the captain didn’t give his consent, but he did show Methuselah how to operate the levers that steered the boat.

Methuselah described hearing over the radio that two Ilaje protesters had been shot dead and that 10 others had been locked inside a cargo container on the barge. Then, the youths decided to hold the captain and crew of the tugboat in order to eventually secure the release of the detainees and to reclaim the bodies of the dead. Once at shore, they transferred the crew to a speedboat, brought them upriver and held them in town for three days before the Ilaje king–the Olubo–brokered their release. In the end, Chevron and the Nigerian military did not free the detainees for a month afterwards.

It is perhaps important to note that Methuselah’s account of the holding of the tugboat captain and crew occurred after the raid at Parabe.  While the situation aboard the tugboat was by all accounts a hostage-taking, it should not be conflated (as the defense suggests) with the protest aboard the platform.  The Ilaje seized the tugboat under duress and fearing for their lives after the armed military intervention: this should count as a somewhat mitigating factor. Whether the jury will see it this way of course remains to be seen.

Methuselah held up better under cross-examination than many of the other Ilaje witnesses, thanks to his better command of English.   Sensitive to the defense attorneys’ interrogatory strategy, Methuselah’s responses seemed carefully chosen to avoid repeating potentially prejudicial terms.  He expressed his disapproval of commandeering the tugboat and her crew, but stated that it was a desperate act. “We learned that two peaceful protesters were shot dead, and others were incarcerated, plus others were scattered in the waters–I knew that lives were at stake, so we took the tugboat ashore.”

Mr. Mittelstaedt only scored a few points with his line of questioning on the oil blocs. He got Methuselah to admit that there was an established legal mechanism for disputing the community representatives chosen to negotiate with Chevron–one which presumable was not used.

Finally, Mr. Mittelstaedt questioned Methuselah’s version of the Parabe attack. Aside from insinuating that Methuselah stayed in the tugboat’s radio room in order to keep the captain from piloting away from the barge–a seemingly unfounded allegation–Mr. Mittelstaedt was unable to tease out any serious contradictions in his testimony.

Witness: Bassey Jeje

The plaintiffs then presented a videotaped deposition of Bassey Jeje–one of the Ilaje protesters aboard Parabe. Mr. Jeje’s interview was recorded with Bob Mittelstaedt and Bert Voorhees in Lagos, Nigeria in January, 2005.

Mr. Jeje described the attack on Parabe in great detail. By his account, the soldiers fired automatic rifles and shot numerous rounds at the protesters.  This somewhat contradicts previous testimony that only a few rounds were initially fired.  However, Mr. Jeje–who was shot in the hand and suffered from an injury to his ribs. He was directly in the line of fire and witnessed the shooting of Larry Bowoto and the corpse of Arolika–it’s not surprising that his description of bullets whizzing past his ears might be somewhat exaggerated.

At one point in the deposition, Mr. Mittelstaedt asked Jeje a rather strange question: “Did you think that if they hit you, the bullets would bounce off your body?”

What was this magical thinking all about? Was Mittelstaedt resorting to the ‘Heart of Darkness’ argument I described a few posts back? Was he subtly depicting the Ilaje plaintiffs as superstitious savages?  To me it seems unthinkable that Mr. Mittelstaedt would have asked the same question of any of the white witnesses in this trial.

After a pregnant silence–where Mr. Jeje seemed to puzzle over the odd question–he answered matter-of-factly, “If a bullet hits a body, it will penetrate–it will not bounce.”

With that, the videotape ended.

In the final minutes, the plaintiffs called one last witness, but I will treat his testimony in its entirety tomorrow.

* Plaintiffs’ counsel announced tomorrow’s witnesses: Louis Wells and Majemu Osupayojo (by video)

▶ Comment
Day Six 11.4.08
In Uncategorized on November 5, 2008 at 3:37 pm
All apologies for missing Tuesday’s session.  I hope to link to another synopsis of the day’s events however. Check in later…

▶ Comment
Day Five 11.3.08....CLICK HERE FOR MORE

Bowoto v. Chevron - Chevron Did Not Violate Human Rights According To Article

This article below gives a balanced view of what happened in Nigeria between Larry Bowoto and Chevron and why the case is important.

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27 -- Chevron Corp. is at the center of a legal case before federal court in San Francisco that will ask jurors to decide whether the firm sanctioned human rights abuses that resulted in the deaths and injuries of protesters at its Nigerian facilities, or whether the company was simply protecting its employees from belligerent kidnappers.

The lawsuit—identified as Bowoto vs. Chevron, No. C99-2506SI (N.D. Calif.)—alleges that Chevron, in conjunction with the Nigerian military, engaged in torture, assaults, and the killing of two protesters over Chevron's environmental record and its failure to hire locals in the delta region near its oil drilling operations.

Both sides in the current case recognize that the impending courtroom battle, described by one observer as "epic," has legal implications that reach far beyond a single incident by one corporation operating in Nigeria.

"This case could have serious ramifications for workers in developing parts of the world," said Charles A. James, Chevron vice-president and general counsel.

"If plaintiffs had their way, a company could not report hostage-taking to law enforcement authorities without facing the threat of a lawsuit in the US," James said.

Dan Stormer of Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson & Renick in Pasadena, Calif., is representing the plaintiffs, a group of Nigerians who were injured during protests on a Chevron offshore oil platform in 1998.

Stormer said his firm is trying to hold a corporation liable for their bad actions in another country, even if it is committed by their surrogates, a wholly owned subsidiary, or by the Nigerian government.

According to Chevron, the hostage-taking incident occurred 10 years ago on oil facilities operated off the Nigerian coast by Chevron Corp. subsidiary Chevron Nigeria Ltd. (CNL). More than 100 CNL workers and contractors were held for ransom and threatened with acts of violence.

Chevron said the incident began when plaintiff Larry Bowoto and other members of the Concerned Ilaje Citizens, an unsanctioned Nigerian community group, threatened CNL with violence and sea piracy if the company did not pay them money and give them jobs.

Weeks later, according to Chevron, they followed through on their threats by seizing the oil platform, an adjacent barge, and a tug boat on May 25, 1998, holding CNL employees and contractors hostage and demanding money and other considerations. CNL attempted to negotiate a resolution without success...MORE

Through OBAMA's MIRROR we see our better selves

RT Rybak, Mayor of Minneapolis, MN An excerpt of Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak’s contribution to a compilation of reactions by Susan Albright. The full article with comments by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Peter Bell (R-MN and chair of the Metro Council,) and others is available, of course, but as the first big city mayor to endorse Obama's run for the Democratic nomination, Rybak's unique perspective encompasses a broad arc of challenges getting Obama's message out in Minnesota and surrounding states.

"When we faced one of the toughest moments in our generation, a remarkable man and a remarkable campaign turned a mirror onto the American people and we saw our better selves."

Minneapolis Mayor Raymond Thomas "RT" Rybak

Rep Rahm Emanuel May Be Obama Chief of Staff But "Thinking About It"

In the assembly of the Obama cabinet, one name was mentioned first: Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel.  "Rahmy", as he's called, is a charismatic political figure who's known for his quick wit and fast decision-making.  I met Emanuel at the DNC Convention and had the pleasure of attending his party, "Chicago Night In Denver" at Fado's. 

Then, at Pepsi Center the Wednesday night of the convention, I literally ran into Rahmy three times in 27 minutes (we calculated this).  I was trying to get an interview with him the first time, but the last two times were totally by accident, and so random that Emanuel said "If this keeps up, our wives will talk" which reminded me of how much I would prefer marriage at ths point, but...

That aside, my read of Rahmy is that he's very confident, and if you can't match his level of confidence, he could eat you alive.  He's not a soft touch and indeed, he's very much like me in his temperment. (Which is why I like him so much.) 

As to his failure to just plain take the job right off, it's a smart move.  He was right to put the breaks on the annoucement publicly rather than say he's going to take the job, then all of a sudden not do it. 

I totally disagree with Joe Scarbourough in total.  Rahm's name was just kind of thrown out there, but Barack Obama's said nothing to confirm it.  This is pretty much media driven, and the Obama campaign may have to step in and put out the fire. 

YouTube and iReport - Online Video's Impact On The Election

President Barack Obama's success can be attributed to many factors, but online video is one of the major ones. YouTube, which didn't exist in the last election cycle, 2004, had a profound impact on the communication of Obama's brand, and changed politics forever. Now, authenticity is prized over what are now called "flip-flopping messages" to different groups to get votes.