I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away...
-- Hughes Mearns, "Antigonish" --
Yep, it was me.
Or was it?
Patton Boggs, a 600-lawyer lobbying firm headquartered in Washington, has signed numerous contracts with Latin American nations: Argentina, Belize, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. If the latter nation comes as a surprise, it shouldn´t: In 2004, when Hugo Chávez was president, Venezuela paid out $1.2 million to Patton Boggs for image improvement in the United States. I do not know if the contract is still alive.
I do know another contract is dead.
Ecuador severed its tie with Patton Boggs in July 2013. Loss to Patton Boggs: $780,000 per year. The contract, which began in 2009, was to help Ecuador "improve its reputational image and bilateral relations with the United States."
Patton Boggs´ explanation of the $780,000 hit:
On June 27, 2013, Ecuador announced it was voluntarily leaving the Andean Trade Preference Act (Atpdea), which gave Ecuador preferential tariff treatment on certain exports to the U.S. (For a full discussion of Atpdea and Ecuador, click here). Now, why did Ecuador quit Atpdea?
Ecuador said the U.S. was using the trade preferences to "blackmail" Ecuador over its consideration of granting asylum to Ed Snowden.
Keeping Ecuador in Atpdea had been a key goal of Patton Boggs lobbying efforts, according to the firm's latest semiannual report on foreign lobbying. No Atpdea, no contract. A simple business deal, then. Case closed. Clear, clean, simple -- no?
On July 16, Ecuador announced it had signed an agreement with the lobbying firm of Van Scoyoc Associates (VSA) for $300,000 for 6 months. "Security and commercial matters," Ecuador says, are VSA¨s functions.
In an article in thehill.com, Patton Boggs gives the impression it ended its relations with Ecuador, not vice-versa, the day after Ecuador announced it was quitting Atpdea. The same article gives, however, the version of the Ecuadorian embassy, in which the diplomats did what they are paid to do: be diplomatic. They said the Patton Boggs contract simply expired and Ecuador did not renew it.
If the Ecuadorian embassy version is accepted, then, the end of the contract came because... the end of the contract came. We are left to conclude that the fact the expiration coincided with Ecuador´s withdrawal from Atpdea was exactly that: a coincidence.
Obviously, we are facing conflicting explanations. Only one thing is completely clear: the real reason for the contract´s demise is completely unclear.
* * *
Patton Boggs got religion* -- or whatever -- and said no to $780,000?
Sorry, gentlemen, but your spin on why your contract with Ecuador died makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine.
(1) Suppose that you, Dear Reader, are a contractor working on a project. Simply because the project ends is insufficient reason to dump you when more lobbying work is needed in other related areas. And for Ecuador, there is obviously more lobbying needed: VSA is doing it.
(2) On March 19, 2012, the Ecuadorian government made public a report on the Washington lobbyists it hired 2007-2011, how much it paid them and for what purpose. Ecuador´s Atpdea lobbyist is clearly identified as DTB Associates -- not Patton Boggs. The latter received $664,669.06 for "public relations." Tack on $65,000 per month for “Legal advice and representation of Ecuador in meetings with functionaries of the Executive branch and congress of the United States.”
(3) June 20, 2012 was a pivotal day. Julian Assange sought asylum in Ecuador´s embassy in London. Ecuador refused to turn him over to British authorities and their allies.
Back in 2009, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa committed an impardonable sin in Washington´s eyes: he made America leave its military base in Manta, Ecuador. Ever since, relations have spiraled downward.
Asylum for Assange literally added insult to injury. It was the ultimate defiance of American power. After the Assange Affair, anybody who believes that the U.S. was going to renew its trade preferences for Ecuador (due to expire on July 31, 2013) needs to be interned in a hospital for the perpetually perplexed.
Ecuador´s voluntary renunciation in June of Atpdea, then, simply recognized a fait accompli. Quito beat Washington to the punch.
It follows that if Atpdea lobbying was truly the reason for hiring Patton Boggs, the $780,000 contract would have been cancelled a year ago, when asylum for Assange was granted and a lame duck became a dead duck -- not last month.
We ask again: why did Ecuador tell Patton Boggs to hit the road?
* * *
Working for years with a governor taught me that there is seldom a single reason behind decisions involving contracts. Until clarifications about Ecuador/Patton Boggs are made, we can only speculate. To wit:
I have a question for you, Patton Boggs. If you are such a Washington powerhouse, why did you utterly fail to derail the scurrilous, anti-Ecuador campaign launched in the American press in early 2012? (See this blog´s post of February 2, 2012, "One-Eyed Jacks Versus Rafael Correa"). The campaign was unleashed by The Washington Post, perennial shameless mouthpiece of the White House (see our post of March 2, 2012, "Alchemy of The Word").
The unofficial-official censor role played by The Post is all-determinent; it allows itself to be manipulated by the White House even to The Post´s own financial detriment. (The newspaper´s operating income has fallen 40% since 2008. In the past decade, circulation plummeted from 768,000 to 457,000 copies). So, why couldn´t Patton Boggs get Obama to make a quick phone call to the newsroom?
Sidebar: The Washington Post will be even more compliant and malleable once its surprise sale to Amazon com´s Jeff Bezos is consummated. Bezos is a walking, breathing mixed metaphor; only a mixed metaphor can describe him. In 2000, he was caught with his pants in the cookie jar: Amazon was rewarding its loyal customers by charging them more than newcomers. An oligarch who yearns to be an aristocrat: for the price of an occasional baked potato at the palace, he´s yours.
A second plausible reason for Ecuador to call it quits with Patton Boggs:
Patton Boggs has been accused of a conflict of interest regarding Chevron with whom Ecuador is embroiled in a decades-long, nasty lawsuit over environmental damages. In 2010, Patton Boggs bought a law practice, Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which had lobbied for Chevron. Thus, Ecuador may have decided that Patton Boggs was too messy to mess with.
We come to the third and final reason.
* * *
This blog´s post of April 23, 2012 "Patton Boggs And Torture," received numerous visitors, notably from Quito, Guayaquil and Washington D.C. suburbs.
The substance of that post:
We watched a Fox Network video on YouTube, “How Did U.S. Get Information for Pakistan Raid?” The broadcast was made on May 3, 2011, a few days after bin Laden was killed. Regarding its contents, you will see written below the video: “Patton Boggs partner Scott Louis Weber discusses the role of enhanced interrogation techniques in Osama bin Laden raid.”
Watch the video.
Patton Boggsman Weber insists over and over that torture is necessary. His premise: because terrorists are psychopaths and psychotics who don`t respond to normal stimuli, extraordinary stimuli -- torture – are necessary. Indeed, something extra-terrestial may be involved: “We´re not dealing with angels," he asserts: "We´re dealing with the exact opposite.”
We came to Boggsman´s working assumption: counterterrorism would not be ugly, i.e., use torture, if terrorists were not "ugly psychotic people." Thus, it is their fault if torture is used. If only terrorists would respond to normal stimuli, waterboards and such would not be needed.
Our April-2012 post presented, among other things, a CIA psychiatric study which concluded that, in general, terrorists are neither psychopaths nor psychotics -- in fact, they are "surprisingly normal" in mental health terms. Rather, terrorists are driven by an ideology analyzed in depth in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. It is an ideology about which Washington lobbyists and officials know nothing.
Somme toute: Patton Boggs, your extraordinary-stimuli argument in support of torture is nonsense.
Our summation began with a quote from Boggsman Weber:
"´We need to get out fingers deep, we need to get down in the mud. That´s how you get the intelligence that you need to be able to go and find Osama bin Laden.´
I was surprised by that direct, naked, no-holds-barred, let-´er-rip statement. No lawyer weasel words, no fudge factor anywhere. Torture, pure and simple -- that´s how you get information you need: period."
Our post concluded with this challenge:
"An error acknowledged is an error abolished. Torture degrades America, but it degrades even more those who perform and advocate it. We call upon Patton Boggs to repudiate categorically (1) torture in general and (2) waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques in particular. We also (3) call upon Scott Lewis Weber to retract his offensive and inaccurate statements in support of torture made on the Fox Network.
We will be pleased to print the repudiation and retraction here."
Over a year has passed since our challenge was issued. To date, Patton Boggs has made no repudiation and retraction. That omission may have opened a door...
During the interim period, did somebody in the administration of Ecuador´s President Rafael Correa read our post or otherwise discover the Fox video, and decide to end the $780,000 contract? President Correa has denounced torture on numerous occasions; for Ecuador to continue hiring a pro-torture lobbyist in the U.S. would have constituted a gigantic, politically foolish and morally unconscionable contradiction.
Instead of reporting on Michelle Obama´s toned arms, the U.S. media could ask President Correa pointblank if he was aware of the Fox video** and, if so, if it influenced his decision to jettison Patton Boggs.
* * *
I take zero personal satisfaction in Patton Boggs´ $780.0000 hit. The reason: I have zero interest in depriving Patton Boggs of clients. I have 300% interest, however, in having Patton Boggs renounce its pro-torture politics.
This blog is read all over the world, from Caracas to Quito, Cambodia to Canada, India to Italy, Bangkok to Brazil. Patton Boggs, I am sure your middle class rebel hacker buddies at the NSA will be not-so-happy to confirm that statement for you. Since you seem to be politically tone-deaf, we will state the crux of the matter in plain English: until you renounce your support of torture, you risk losing millions of dollars in contracts. In that regard, tiny Ecuador may prove to be the world leader.
I never waste time raising moral concerns with lobbyists. Elementary economic self-interest should dictate that Patton Boggs move quickly, smoothly, to change course. If the entire state of California can apologize for its treatment of Chinese immigrants, Robert McNamara for the Vietnam War, and Bill Clinton for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Patton Boggs can apologize for its unabridged, unabashed endorsement of torture. Or can it?
By way of conclusion, a reader with a laconic sense of humor sent me a link to Elvis Presley´s "I Was The One."
Patton Boggs, there is a curious thing about that song:
Its flip side is "Heartbreak Hotel."
*Patton Boggs appears to be trying to give the impression to its Pentagon/CIA/FBI/NSA/Secret Service chronies that it ended its relationship with Ecuador because, well, gosh, as everybody knows, Ecuador is going communist. Being flag-waving, fire-breathing, give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death loyal Amercans, after trying its best to make President Correa see the light but failing, Patton Boggs called it quits.
Sorry, Patton Boggs: your patriotism card is a joker. Note, again, Dear Reader, the Patton Boggs contract with Venezuela´s Hugo Chávez.
**The Fox video is not the only connection of Patton Boggs to torture. For its participation in the infamous School of The Americas, click here. A year ago, President Correa prohibited Ecuador´s soldiers and police from attending the School, citing its history of civil rights abuses, specifically torture.