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    Tuesday, October 14, 2008

    CNN - Whistleblower: Oil watchdog agency 'cult of corruption'

    Sent from bombastic4000@yahoo.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.

    Whistleblower: Oil watchdog agency 'cult of corruption'


    Bobby Maxwell kept a close eye on the oil industry for more than 20 years as a government auditor. But he said the federal agency he worked for is now a "cult of corruption" -- a claim backed up by a recent government report.

    "I believe the management we were under was showing favoritism to the oil industry," Maxwell told CNN.

    Maxwell is referring to a tiny agency within the Department of the Interior called the Minerals Management Service, which manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on federal lands.

    A report, conducted by the Interior Department's inspector general and released earlier this month, found that employees at the agency received improper gifts from energy industry officials and engaged with them in illegal drug use and inappropriate sexual relations. It looked at activities at the agency from 2003 through 2006.

    Maxwell said the report doesn't surprise him. The agency, he said, is corrupt "top to bottom."

    "It sounds like they forgot they work for the government," he said. "It's disgusting. ... There's no excuse for that. Those people should not be working in those positions at all.

    "They crossed a lot of lines that should never have been crossed," he said. "They lost all objectivity."

    Maxwell was in charge of keeping track of the millions in royalty payments owed taxpayers by oil and gas companies who explored and found oil on U.S. government lands.

    He estimates he and his team were responsible for saving the government close to $500 million in royalties, either underpaid or somehow skipped by oil and gas companies, over the years.

    He received the Interior Department's highest award in 2003 for his work. But not long afterward, his job was killed.

    He believes it was retribution for his cracking down on Big Oil and blowing the whistle on what he believes was a "cult of corruption" within the agency. The Interior Department denies that, saying his job was reorganized as part of routine restructuring.

    Just before he lost his job, he said, one of his superiors in Washington ordered him not to investigate why Shell Oil had raised its oil transportation costs. Maxwell said it jumped from 90 cents to $3 a barrel without adequate explanation. The government paid Shell to transport oil from offshore platforms.

    When asked why a government worker would tell an auditor not to investigate, he said: "I believe it started from the top down," he said.

    Shell Oil told CNN it "pays the same rate any shipper does" and that it has "never engaged in fraudulent transactions or entered into sham contracts as Mr. Maxwell alleges."

    Maxwell, a registered independent, said the shift in attitude at the agency began about seven or eight years ago, about the time the Bush administration came into power. He said he was discouraged from aggressively auditing oil companies.

    "Laws and regulations were not applied, also not enforced," he said.

    The inspector general's 27-page summary says that nearly a third of the roughly 60 people in Maxwell's former office received gifts and gratuities from oil industry executives.

    Two received improper, if not illegal, gifts at least 135 times, the report says. It goes on to describe a wild atmosphere in which some staff members admitted using cocaine and marijuana.

    In addition, two female workers at the Minerals Management Service were known as the "MMS chicks" and both told investigators they had sex with oil industry officials they were supposed to be auditing.

    One e-mail from a pipeline company representative invited government workers to a tailgating party: "Have you and the girls meet at my place at 6 a.m. for bubble baths and final prep ... Just kidding."

    Inspector General Earl Devaney said in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne accompanying the report that it details "a textbook example of improperly receiving gifts from prohibited sources."

    Maxwell is now retired from the government and teaches at the University of Hawaii. He said it was just a matter of time until the agency's behavior was exposed. He feels vindicated now in the wake of the inspector general's report, but is still disgusted by what he was happening at the Minerals Management Service.

    "Their job is to protect United States taxpayers' interest. It's like they completely forgot that, like they just became part of the oil companies," he said.

    The Interior Department said it could not comment on Maxwell's specific allegations or removal, saying his former supervisor no longer works for the Interior Department either.

    Kempthorne said he was "outraged" by the disclosures in the inspector general's report and that the actions "of a few has cast a shadow on the entire agency."

    But the department said there is no evidence taxpayers lost money as a result of unethical behavior between government workers and the oil and gas industry.

    Maxwell doubts that.

    The former auditor said he'd love to put all the government royalty records under his magnifying glass.

    "I think the government should be transparent. We are for the people, by the people. This is the government. We're here to serve," he said.

    Maxwell has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Kerr-McGee Corp., an energy company involved in oil and gas exploration. In it, he claims the company defrauded taxpayers out of millions in oil royalty payments.

    The company denies the accusation. If Maxwell wins, the government would recieve about $40 million in additonal revenue and Maxwell would be entitled to about a third of that.

    CNN - Whistleblower: Oil watchdog agency 'cult of corruption'

    Sent from bombastic4000@yahoo.com's mobile device from http://www.cnn.com.

    Whistleblower: Oil watchdog agency 'cult of corruption'


    Bobby Maxwell kept a close eye on the oil industry for more than 20 years as a government auditor. But he said the federal agency he worked for is now a "cult of corruption" -- a claim backed up by a recent government report.

    "I believe the management we were under was showing favoritism to the oil industry," Maxwell told CNN.

    Maxwell is referring to a tiny agency within the Department of the Interior called the Minerals Management Service, which manages the nation's natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on federal lands.

    A report, conducted by the Interior Department's inspector general and released earlier this month, found that employees at the agency received improper gifts from energy industry officials and engaged with them in illegal drug use and inappropriate sexual relations. It looked at activities at the agency from 2003 through 2006.

    Maxwell said the report doesn't surprise him. The agency, he said, is corrupt "top to bottom."

    "It sounds like they forgot they work for the government," he said. "It's disgusting. ... There's no excuse for that. Those people should not be working in those positions at all.

    "They crossed a lot of lines that should never have been crossed," he said. "They lost all objectivity."

    Maxwell was in charge of keeping track of the millions in royalty payments owed taxpayers by oil and gas companies who explored and found oil on U.S. government lands.

    He estimates he and his team were responsible for saving the government close to $500 million in royalties, either underpaid or somehow skipped by oil and gas companies, over the years.

    He received the Interior Department's highest award in 2003 for his work. But not long afterward, his job was killed.

    He believes it was retribution for his cracking down on Big Oil and blowing the whistle on what he believes was a "cult of corruption" within the agency. The Interior Department denies that, saying his job was reorganized as part of routine restructuring.

    Just before he lost his job, he said, one of his superiors in Washington ordered him not to investigate why Shell Oil had raised its oil transportation costs. Maxwell said it jumped from 90 cents to $3 a barrel without adequate explanation. The government paid Shell to transport oil from offshore platforms.

    When asked why a government worker would tell an auditor not to investigate, he said: "I believe it started from the top down," he said.

    Shell Oil told CNN it "pays the same rate any shipper does" and that it has "never engaged in fraudulent transactions or entered into sham contracts as Mr. Maxwell alleges."

    Maxwell, a registered independent, said the shift in attitude at the agency began about seven or eight years ago, about the time the Bush administration came into power. He said he was discouraged from aggressively auditing oil companies.

    "Laws and regulations were not applied, also not enforced," he said.

    The inspector general's 27-page summary says that nearly a third of the roughly 60 people in Maxwell's former office received gifts and gratuities from oil industry executives.

    Two received improper, if not illegal, gifts at least 135 times, the report says. It goes on to describe a wild atmosphere in which some staff members admitted using cocaine and marijuana.

    In addition, two female workers at the Minerals Management Service were known as the "MMS chicks" and both told investigators they had sex with oil industry officials they were supposed to be auditing.

    One e-mail from a pipeline company representative invited government workers to a tailgating party: "Have you and the girls meet at my place at 6 a.m. for bubble baths and final prep ... Just kidding."

    Inspector General Earl Devaney said in a letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne accompanying the report that it details "a textbook example of improperly receiving gifts from prohibited sources."

    Maxwell is now retired from the government and teaches at the University of Hawaii. He said it was just a matter of time until the agency's behavior was exposed. He feels vindicated now in the wake of the inspector general's report, but is still disgusted by what he was happening at the Minerals Management Service.

    "Their job is to protect United States taxpayers' interest. It's like they completely forgot that, like they just became part of the oil companies," he said.

    The Interior Department said it could not comment on Maxwell's specific allegations or removal, saying his former supervisor no longer works for the Interior Department either.

    Kempthorne said he was "outraged" by the disclosures in the inspector general's report and that the actions "of a few has cast a shadow on the entire agency."

    But the department said there is no evidence taxpayers lost money as a result of unethical behavior between government workers and the oil and gas industry.

    Maxwell doubts that.

    The former auditor said he'd love to put all the government royalty records under his magnifying glass.

    "I think the government should be transparent. We are for the people, by the people. This is the government. We're here to serve," he said.

    Maxwell has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Kerr-McGee Corp., an energy company involved in oil and gas exploration. In it, he claims the company defrauded taxpayers out of millions in oil royalty payments.

    The company denies the accusation. If Maxwell wins, the government would recieve about $40 million in additonal revenue and Maxwell would be entitled to about a third of that.

    Reuters - Samsung re-enters U.S. laptop market

    This article was sent to you from bombastic4000@yahoo.com, who uses Reuters Mobile Site to get news and information on the go. To access Reuters on your mobile phone, go to:
    http://mobile.reuters.com

    Samsung re-enters U.S. laptop market

    Tuesday, Oct 14, 2008 12:43PM UTC

    By Eric Auchard

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Diversified electronics maker Samsung Electronics Co Ltd said it is re-entering the U.S. computer market with a range of branded products that build on its component supply strengths.

    The Korean-based company will introduce on Tuesday new ultralight notebooks designed to appeal to potential buyers of Apple Inc's ground-breaking MacBook Air and smaller "netbook" models from the likes of Asustek Computer.

    Breaking into the crowded U.S. market involves taking share from more established players. The Korean electronics maker sees other Asian brand-name players as vulnerable, especially Toshiba Corp, Sony Corp and Lenovo.

    Samsung is also coming out with models aimed at business professionals and the market for bulkier laptops known as "desktop replacements," a Samsung executive said.

    Like Apple's Air, Samsung's X-Series premium lightweight notebooks come with options for either a hard drive or solid state memory. But Samsung's X360 is priced at $2,499 and carries 128 gigabytes of flash memory, twice the 64 gigabytes that comes with the Apple Air selling for $2,598.

    "These products really go after Apple and Sony. This is the MacBook Air killer," Bret Berg, the senior product manager for Samsung's U.S. computer division, said in an interview.

    The X360 weighs 2.8 pounds and has an ultra-thin, tapered wedge design with a magnesium allow chassis, an aluminum top and a "pebble"-style keyboard.

    Samsung's hard-drive version, the X460, starts at $1,899 for a 160-gigabyte hard drive, twice the capacity of Apple's existing MacBook Air model that is priced at $1,799 for an 80-gigabyte drive. The X460 weighs just under 4.2 pounds.

    NETBOOK

    Its premium netbook, the NC10, in white or metallic-blue colored cases, starts at $499 with a 10.2-inch display and 160 gigabyte hard drive. Netbooks are a smaller class of PCs that are lower priced than notebooks and can sell for $300 or less.

    Samsung is positioning its product between lower cost EEE PCs from Asustek and the smallest full-scale notebooks. Samsung's model bears a resemblance to an 11-inch notebook Sony sold earlier this decade that was popular with mobile business professionals but cost upward of $2,000 at that time.

    One cost advantage is that many of the components inside Samsung machines are made by its semiconductor and other finished product businesses. This includes Samsung's SuperBrite light-emitting diode, backlit liquid crystal displays.

    It estimates that 80 percent of the value of its PCs are from Samsung components -- everything but the microprocessor and graphics chips. As the world's biggest maker of memory chips, storage is Samsung's biggest weapon.

    The reentry into the U.S. highly competitive computer market will also be aided by Samsung's strong established ties with business resellers, distributors and consumer retailers through sales of everything from TVs to monitors to phones.

    In the first quarter of 2009, Samsung plans to rev up its sales distribution strategy, including corporate distributors such as CDW or Newegg and consumer retailers such as Best Buy, and regional U.S. store chains Fry's Electronics or The Wiz.

    Samsung's announcement, which has been in the works for more than a month, coincides with Apple's announcement later on Tuesday of upgraded notebook models. Analysts predict Apple may introduce a new line of notebooks for under $1,000.

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