Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bad Juju From Arkansas, Putin Scaring Away Foreign Investment, Joe Miller The Loser

Dave Barry
Elizabeth Warren

"Let’s put things into perspective: 2010 was not the worst year ever. There have been MUCH worse years. For example, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, the Earth was struck by an asteroid that wiped out 75 percent of all the species on the planet. Can we honestly say that we had a worse year than those species did? Yes we can, because they were not exposed to Jersey Shore." - Dave Barry

The New Year begins with strange portents. About 1000 black birds fell from the sky over a small Arkansas town, beginning on New Year's Eve: "The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said Saturday that it began receiving reports about the dead birds about 11:30 p.m. the previous night. The birds fell over a 1-mile area of Beebe, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area.

Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe said the he birds showed physical trauma..." and here the speculation begins. Maybe they were frightened by fireworks, which made them dart into the sky, and then maybe they were traumatized by hail or lightening... The spokesperson conveniently did not provide the weather conditions over that fateful town.

We, who live closer to the San Luis Valley, know better. The San Luis is the largest alpine valley in the US and is home to a lot of strange behavior, most infamously being cattle mutilations beginning from the 1970's onward. Is it a coincidence that our Secretary of Agriculture is one of the largest landowners in the San Luis Valley, where there are constant sightings of UFO lights, a Bigfoot creature, and a local devil named Old Scratch? All I'm saying is that the Arkansas blackbirds may be a serious message to Mick Huckabee - Do Not Run For President In 2012 -

Talking Points Memo has an article on the 5 best political catch-phrases of 2010, although it includes Sarah Palin's English gaffe "refudiate." I don't believe we should encourage her to mangle the English language, even if Twitter loves it and is happy if everyone adopted writing in abbreviations...

They are:

"Man Up!"
"I Am Not A Witch."
"Hell No You Can't!"
"Held Hostage."

Extra points came to the reader who used them all:

Q: Can't we all just man up and refudiate the hostages?
A: Hell no we can't, cause we are not a witch!       - publishermike

Joe Nocera's business column in yesterday's NY Times asked the most obvious questions concerning Russia's trial and sentencing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the subsequent repercussions it will have on foreign investments: "Is the problem that Kremlin officials can’t see the connection between its investment climate and their sordid prosecution of Mr. Khodorkovsky? Or is it that they don’t care?

Mr. Khodorkovsky had built and presided over Yukos, the biggest and best-run company in the country... Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, has compared Mr. Khodorkovsky to Bernard L. Madoff in an effort to make the charges sound more credible. But no one was fooled... Embezzlement? Give me a break. The defendants were accused of stealing every drop of oil Yukos produced from 1998 to 2001 for their personal gain — implausible on its face. Yukos, by far the most transparent company in Russia, was audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, using Western accounting standards. Needing PwC to disown those audits, Russian prosecutors brought “unrelated” tax charges against the firm — and opened criminal investigations against several PwC executives — until the accounting firm caved. Then — how convenient! — the investigations went away... In addition to tossing Mr. Khodorkovsky in jail on trumped-up charges, the Russian authorities also brought bogus tax claims against Yukos itself, shoving it into bankruptcy. Then the government created a dummy corporation to take over its assets, which it sold off, for far less than they were worth, to state-run oil and gas companies, primarily Rosneft, a poorly run company that is now the biggest oil producer in Russia."

The obvious lesson here is to never cross Vladimir Putin and have him as an enemy. But what Mr Putin is also trying to do is to use the same tactics that were used to strip the Russian state of it's most profitable businesses and put them in private hands, mostly the private hands of mafiya groups, and to bring those profits back into the state's fold. Two small problems: one, is the fact that Mr Putin also is a major shareholder in those state businesses and he stands to make way too much money from them, and two,  that the same ugly, ham-handed tactics used on Russians have also been used on foreign owned companies, like Royal Dutch Shell and BP. "... Corrupt Russian politicians and businessmen have routinely used arbitrary laws and regulations to grab assets that didn’t belong to them. Royal Dutch Shell was the majority partner in a group that included the state-owned monopoly Gazprom to develop a giant oil and natural gas field. Suddenly, in 2006, it ran into severe environmental and regulatory problems — problems that disappeared as soon as Shell ceded majority ownership to Gazprom.

A few years ago, BP was the controlling partner in a huge joint venture, amounting to 25 percent of its reserves, with a Russian company called TNK. TNK wanted to control the venture — so, naturally, BP suddenly had visa and other problems. Its business began to be disrupted. Robert Dudley, an American who was running the venture — and is now the chief executive of BP — had to flee the country and go into hiding for a time. Needless to say, the joint venture arrangements were rewritten."

With coverage by international newspapers, Russia can ill afford to continue with its cycle of election frauds, dishonest government officials intimidating the public to cover up their crimes, and a judicial system that puts a rubber stamp on this behavior, even when it is so blatant and obvious... And why, even though we negotiate treaties with the Russian state, we don't really trust them at their word, and need provisions to verify, verify, and verify.

Of course, Mikhail Khodorkovsky's verdict came in time to also announce that the Russian - Chinese oil pipeline has just been completed, enabling Russia to double the amount of oil it can send and sell to China, the world's largest consumer...

And, it's finally over for Joe Miller. The tea party candidate for Senator, who was endorsed by Sarah Palin and ran as the official Republican, officially conceded that he lost the election to Lisa Murkowski. Lisa waged a write-in candidacy and made history by winning. Mr Miller, always ill-humored and down-right vicious in his attacks on Ms Murkowski, filed court brief after court brief, trying to get at least 10,000 votes thrown out. He is best known for hand-cuffing a local reporter during a campaign event, and traveling with a paramilitary escort around the tundra...

He wanted a recount, it wasn't in his favor. He wanted the ones who were bad spellers thrown out, and was surprised to learn that 98% of the write in ballots all got her name correctly. He took his case to the Alaskan Supreme Court, which declined to hear his case. He tried to file with the Federal Court, which dismissed his case as frivolous, so he only had one option left - to concede last Thursday that his opponent had won the election, though I doubt if he wished her well...

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