The Teapot Dumb Scandal

Ex-KGB'er and chief suspect Andrei Lugovoi.

One current scandal glows brighter than the rest, but only because it simply glows brighter: the story of how renegade Russian Alexander Litvinenko was fatally poisoned by highly radioactive polonium-210 last November.

The supposed poisoning of a supposed spy took place over tea at London's Pine Bar, where fictional spies Sean Connery and George Lazenby used to lunch with 007 producer Cubby Broccoli. Beneath the cinematic tea-time episode at the Pine Bar is the tangled dance of George W. Bush and Vlad "The Paler" Putin. Even further beneath is a mixture of international oil politics. From Teapot Dome to Teapot Dumb, things haven't changed much.

Before the 9/11 deaths gave the Bush regime a reason to live, Bush himself called to mind Warren G. Harding, a president who sat on his porch swing while his oil-patch buddies plundered the Treasury, most famously in the Teapot Dome scandal. Bush's performance still brings Harding to mind.

Now, however, things are more complex. More on that later. The Litvinenko poisoning is colorful enough. It's laid out in a recent interview of head barman Norberto Andrade by Richard Gray in the Telegraph (U.K.):

An assassin sprayed a deadly poison into Alexander Litvinenko's tea, the man who served the victim and his killer has revealed.

In the first eyewitness account of the moment the former Russian spy was consigned to death, Norberto Andrade describes how, as he tried to serve drinks to Mr Litvinenko and the former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, he was deliberately distracted in order, he claims, to allow the killer to add radioactive polonium to a pot of green tea.

Litvinenko later died of what was said to be a dose of polonium-210 that was 200 times the amount considered lethal. Traces of polonium were found all around the area where Litvinenko had been sitting. That naturally freaked out Andrade:

Shortly after the three men left the bar, Mr Andrade cleared the table. It was then that he noticed the contents of the teapot had turned a "funny colour".

"When I poured the remains of the teapot into the sink, the tea looked more yellow than usual and was thicker — it looked gooey," he recalled. "I scooped it out of the sink and threw it into the bin. I was so lucky I didn't put my fingers into my mouth, or scratch my eye as I could have got this poison inside me.

"For nearly three weeks, we were working in a contaminated area. The dishwasher, the bar and the sink were contaminated. In the weeks after what happened, I was feeling hot and had a throat infection.

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Britain — now under Tony Blair's successor, Gordon Brown — has angrily demanded the extradition from Russia of accused poisoner Andrei Lugovoi and has expelled Russian diplomats for Putin's refusal to do so.

Conservative anti-war drumbeater Justin Raimondo pooh-poohs the whole affair, saying oil politics are behind it all. He notes that Russia has shut out British oil giant BP from oil deals and he casts doubt on the whole poisoning episode:

As usual, it's all about money. The Russians are locking British Petroleum out of the lucrative Siberian oil fields, and London is outraged. Add to this the rise of London as the world headquarters for shady Russian millionaires-in-exile — bidding up the prices of London real estate, and no doubt greasing the palms of the politicians — and we have all the ingredients of a new crusade by the West — to "liberate" some oil from its oppressive masters.

bushputin180.jpgIt's always about the money and natural resources unnaturally extracted. Brown's anger at the Russians is matched by Bush's friendliness with ex-KGB chief Putin. Bush and Putin not only have a personal connection; they also have a business link. As Mark Baard wrote in a January 2004 Voice story about Bush's touting of a "hydrogen economy":

The clean-energy future that many environmentalists have dreamed of has been turned over to the coal industry and a notoriously dirty Siberian mining company run by Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin. A deal personally smoothed over by Bush has given Norilsk Nickel, one of the world's worst polluters, a toehold on American soil — and a major stake in the hydrogen economy.

Yes, Bush and Putin personally struck a business deal in 2002 that gave Russia control over a key U.S. mining company:

Stillwater, the only U.S. producer of palladium and platinum, was taken over by Norilsk Nickel, the world's biggest producer of PGMs (metals used to produce hydrogen). Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed the deal in a meeting in 2002, and Norilsk hired Baker Botts, a law firm run by former secretary of state and Bush family friend James Baker, to ensure regulatory approval.

As part of the deal, Norilsk got to name five new directors to Stillwater's board. But they're not Russians; they're heavy-hitting Americans, including a Bush pal or two.

Why was Bush touting hydrogen so much in the early days of his regime? Maybe it also had to do with the fact that when Bush tapped Jerry Bremer to run Iraq, Bremer was a board member of Air Products, a huge producer not only of hydrogen but of a plan to install hydrogen-fueling stations throughout the planet.

Hydrogen, platinum, nickel — these aren't radioactive. But the scandal of Bush's buddies making a mint off war and natural resources will cast a glow long after the polonium scandal dims to a flicker.

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