Thursday, October 23, 2008

Svetlana Bakhmina

С Днём Рождения, Светлана Бахмина! from dmitryhorse on Vimeo.

Svetlana Bakhmina is a lawyer who's main crime is defending an out of favor oligarch, Mikhail Khodorovski as well as being held on trumped up embezzlement charges.The interesting thing here is the existence of a "normal" Russian Society. Mikhail Gorbachev, who is the Russian equivalent of Jimmy Carter, is also behind this:

"Gorbachev Seeks Yukos Lawyer's Release
17 October 2008Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday called on President Dmitry Medvedev to pardon jailed Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, who was denied early release last month despite having served half her sentence and being seven months pregnant.

In an interview published Thursday on the web site, Gorbachev said Bakhmina should be pardoned because she has already served most of her sentence and because she is pregnant and has two young children to care for.

"Why keep her behind bars?" Gorbachev told the web site. "I think Russian President Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev in this case can make use of his right to pardon. I would welcome that."

An online petition asking Medvedev to pardon Bakhmina on the web site had gathered more than 33,000 signatures as of Thursday evening.

Seven members of the Public Chamber on Wednesday signed a letter addressed to Medvedev calling for Bakhmina's release.

"We ask you to carry out an act of mercy and pardon Svetlana Bakhmina," they said in the letter, which was published on the chamber's web site.

"She has already served half her sentence (four years), and that means she has the right to be paroled."

The letter was signed by television journalist Nikolai Svanidze, lawyer Genri Reznik and pediatrician Leonid Roshal, among others. The Public Chamber has 126 members.

Bakhmina's supporters held a protest Monday and gathered signatures for the petition to Medvedev near Chistiye Prudy metro station in central Moscow.

Bakhmina is serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in Mordovia for embezzlement and tax evasion.

She was refused parole in September on the grounds that she had not reformed and had violated prison rules four times early in her sentence."

My point is that Russia is not your Commie Empire anymore. More like France or England pursuing it's own interests.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"I Feel Strongly About This Particular Point Because Of A Picture I Saw In A Magazine"

Not a big fan of Colin Powell, nonetheless, who can't be moved.

Collision of Religion for McCain

This video suggests that the McCain-Palin supporters are a conflicted, quite frankly fucked -up bunch.They deserve our pity if anything, though I admit the collision of fundamentalist faiths with so much in common as they try to grapple with their mutual exclusivity is very interesting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cuba Has Oil? Invasion Imminent

This article points out the uncertainty of petroleum estimates however the implications are quite obvious, if you got hydrocarbons U.S. Marines may be visiting soon.The meat of the news:

"From BBC News- Cuba's oil estimates have doubled following the inclusion of offshore fields ripe for drilling. Cubapetroleo's exploration manager Rafael Tenreyro Perez said that drilling would start in the middle of 2009.

Cubapetroleo's estimates are derived from the data extracted from geographically similar oil reserves found off the coasts of the US and Mexico.

According to the company, Cuba's undersea geology is "very similar" to the vast Mexican Cantarell and Poza Rica oil fields.

Recent estimates by the US Geological Survey indicate that only 9 billion barrels of oil lie within Cuba's portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tenreyro, however, believes his company has a better knowledge of Cuba's offshore geology.

At a news conference in the capital Havana, he said: "I'm almost certain that if [USGS officials] ask for all the data we have, their estimate is going to grow considerably."

If the estimates prove true, Cuban oil reserves will rival that of the US (with 21 billion barrels) and will be double that of Mexico's 11.7 billion barrels.

Cuba currently produces 60,000 barrels of oil a day."

As if the U.S. needs another simplistic excuse to deal with it's energy crisis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Alaska, Gazprom, and Palin

As reported here last June, Gazprom has been showing interest in developing Alaskan energy projects. Further proof continues to emerge with the report of Gazprom executives reported to be in talks with Alaskan officials as well as other multinationals with interests in the area. The International Herald Tribune reports that even while Sarah Palin continues her ill-informed ramblings about Russia and Putin talks are going on:

"MOSCOW: Gazprom, the biggest Russian energy company, offered to help Alaska increase natural gas supplies to the U.S. mainland, even after Governor Sarah Palin warned against Russian resurgence while campaigning for vice president.

The Russian state-run natural gas company sent eight senior executives to Anchorage for talks Monday with officials from the state Department of Natural Resources and with the ConocoPhillips chief executive, Jim Mulva, state and company officials said.

Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of the natural gas used by Europe, is seeking to increase its reach with projects around the world, including in North America. The courtship of Alaska comes less than a month after Palin criticized Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for "rearing his head" regarding the Russian maritime border with her state.

"The timing is as interesting as the visit itself," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib Financial in Moscow. "Gazprom's entire senior management goes into Sarah Palin's backyard during a contentious election. There's a message there."

The Gazprom chief executive, Aleksei Miller, was accompanied by his deputies Valery Golubev, who served alongside Putin in the KGB, and Alexander Medvedev, who oversees Russian exports of natural gas. Gazprom said its executives had held a working breakfast with Walter Hickel, a former governor of Alaska and a supporter of Palin....Miller said in June that Gazprom had approached ConocoPhillips and BP on joining their Denali pipeline project, designed to deliver Alaskan natural gas to the Continental United States. At the same time, Gazprom expressed interest in a rival pipeline project backed by TransCanada.

Gazprom did not specifically discuss pipeline projects during the meeting with Alaskan officials, said Marty Rutherford, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources.

"They were talking very generically," she said. "They would love to partner with us and other firms."

Talks with Conoco, which is based in Houston, focused on "broad-based business opportunities," a company spokesman, Charlie Rowton, said."

The fact that this may actually be serious is supported by the involvement of Eni, an Italian energy firm with close connections to Gazprom as evidenced by developments reported in the Petroleum News and other places:

"Eni and Gazprom have agreed to sign a new binding document by the end of October 2008 relating to the development of the Artic Gas assets that Eni acquired in 2007.

In particular the agreement will relate to the development plan as well as the offtake and transportation of the gas from Artic Gas.

The agreement to be signed will enable Gazprom to enter the Libian upstream. Eni and Gazprom also reviewed the progress made on South Stream."

"Eni Petroleum recently secured its first drilling permits for the Nikaitchuq offshore unit in the Beaufort Sea. The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued permits for a development well and service well, both located at Oliktok Point.

The Italian major sanctioned the $1.45 billion project this past January, laying out a plan for drilling around 80 wells from a combination of onshore and offshore pads. The company also plans to build independent processing facilities to support the unit."

You do have to wonder if Govenor Palin even has a clue about any of these goings ons even as she's touted as an energy expert.Suspect the truth may lie a little closer to these observations made at MSNBC:

"The Alaska governor, whom McCain cited as probably knowing more about energy than anyone in this country, "seemed to have problems Thursday explaining whether the government bans oil exports -- especially from her state's North Slope fields…. No Alaska oil has been exported since 2004, and little if any since 2000, according to the Energy Information Administration and the Congressional Research Service. And Congress has never imposed outright bans on oil exports. Congress prohibited exports of Alaska oil in 1973 when the Alaska oil pipeline was built. But that ban was lifted in 1996 when there were large volumes of Alaska oil coming down from the North Slope and U.S. demand was soft. The Alaska ban has never been reinstated."

The Washington Post delves into Palin's calendar as governor for the last two years, and it finds that this last 12 months, she was a lot busier boosting her own PR than in the first 12 months. "During her first months in office, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin kept a relatively light schedule on her workdays in Juneau, making ceremonial appearances at sports events and funerals, meeting with state lawmakers, and conducting interviews with Alaska magazines, radio stations and newspapers.”

“But this spring, Palin's official calendar chronicles an extraordinary rise to national prominence. A fresh face in Republican politics, she was discovered by the national news media at least in part because of a determined effort by a state agency to position her as an oil and gas expert who could tout Alaska's determined effort to construct a natural gas pipeline. An outside public relations expert hired under a $31,000 contract with the state Department of Natural Resources pitched the ‘upstart governor’ as a crusader against Big Oil, a story line that Palin has adopted in her campaign as Sen. John McCain's running mate. The contract was the only time the Palin administration hired an outside consultant to set up media interviews, a function performed in many states by government employees."

Out of touch and out of the loop and in a worst case scenario our next President?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Icelandic-Russian Bailout

You may not have noticed but Iceland, a NATO member, had it's economic system collapse last week. Iceland has a population of approximately 350,000 and a per capita income of $35,000 (U.S. 41,000). It is now looking at a 5.4 billion dollar rescue from Russia.The implications are interesting to say the least. Jim Kunstler in Clusterfuck Nation sums it up nicely:

"Iceland is the poster-child du jour for this. The little island nation of about 320,000 souls (roughly half of Vermont's population) lately grew a banking sector that thrived on something-for-nothing finance. In little more than a month, its banks have imploded like mini death stars, leaving Iceland with a pariah currency. Since it has to import just about everything, and it suddenly finds itself unable to pay for imports, the people are stripping the grocery markets of whatever remains there now. You wonder what they will do in two weeks. Ten years from now there may be 32,000 of them left, subsisting on blubber sandwiches."

While the Russian stock market has taken even bigger hits than the U.S. the damage has been relatively contained as opposed to the melt down of the Russian economy under Yeltsin in 1998. The other aspects of new found Russian wealth are explored inthe "Moscow Times":

"The government is sitting on a giant pile of cash that it plans to invest in foreign assets. It began to flex its economic muscle this week, when the prime minister of Iceland announced that Russia may lend it 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to shore up its teetering financial system. Who would have thought that, given the chaotic Russia of the 1990s, a mere 10 years later it would be in the position to bail out a developed country and NATO member? Even more surprising is the fact that this helping hand for Iceland comes at a time when the domestic stock market is in a free fall and trading on the Moscow stock exchange is routinely halted.

The Kremlin thinks that now is the time to buy assets cheaply, using the current financial crisis to emerge as a powerful global economic player. As Prime Minister Vladimir Putin remarked at a recent meeting with the CEO of state-owned bank VTB, "Perhaps we should buy something [abroad]? Something that is up for grabs?" According to Arkady Dvorkovich, an economic aide to President Dmitry Medvedev, the government will support -- both diplomatically and financially -- the expansion of Russian companies abroad.

Following the Russian-Georgian war, the West is scared that the Kremlin will use its cash not just for economic purposes, but as an aggressive foreign policy tool as well. Should the West really consider blocking Russian investments abroad as a way to influence Russia?

Trying to erect an Iron Curtain around Russian funds and businesses will prove counterproductive. Indeed, a large-scale "invasion" of Russian business would be a positive development, because it would foster economic interdependence. This is true even if the economic expansion is led by state-owned companies and by Russian wealth funds. By investing in U.S. and European assets, Russia's government and business elites are buying a stake in the global economy. This should bring better mutual understanding and a more rational and accountable foreign policy.

Paradoxically, despite recent hits to the country's stock market, Russia remains awash in cash. The government just rolled out a $130 billion bailout plan for the country's ailing banking system. As a percentage of gross domestic product, this would be equivalent to about $1.3 trillion in the United States -- almost double the plan designed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. Yet, even this package has not significantly eaten into Russia's wealth funds and the world's third-largest currency reserves.

The government's Reserve Fund, created to cushion the economy from a fall in oil prices, stands at $140 billion, and the National Welfare Fund, intended to invest in high-return vehicles, holds another $30 billion. Although the National Welfare Fund is not officially a "sovereign wealth fund," it is already among the 10 largest such funds, rivaling the Brunei Investment Agency.

The Reserve Fund and the National Welfare Fund combined rival Singapore's Temasek Holdings, currently sixth in the world, and lag just behind the China Investment Corporation. By design, this money is intended to be invested outside Russia. As today's financial crisis has made many Western assets cheap, they are now within reach of the country's government and leading companies.

Russian private and state-owned companies have already invested abroad extensively, often buying stakes in large foreign companies. Overall, the top 25 Russian companies hold $59 billion in foreign assets and are the third-largest investors in emerging economies, following Hong Kong and Brazil. Even though the financial crisis has wiped out the Russian stock market, some of the best-run companies have endured a softer blow than their Western counterparts and will therefore be shopping in the global market next year.

Russian corporations' foreign investments have already generated a heated debate in both the United States and Europe -- even when investment was made by a private company. The largest controversy surrounded a merger that Russian steel giant Severstal sought with Luxemburg-based Arcelor. Severstal was rejected in favor of Mittal Steel, with some commentators claiming that the decision was made on political grounds. But no investment by a private Russian company has, so far, been vetoed by Western governments."

If Russians were to buy the GM plant in Janesville WI I suspect the inhabitants would be glad to have an economic bailout of their locality. Unfortunately for them this will probably not happen.The question for many Americans is to look around at what is grown and eaten in your neighborhood and buy that up. It is what you will have in the long run.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Debatable Debates

While I am an Obama supporter by default I must admit that last night's so-called debate was enough to make me turn off the sound at one point and watch video on the laptop from the Real News.Between Brokaw's incessant interruptions about the time limits and McCain's pre-senile ramblings there really wasn't much happenning. After last week's much anticipated VP debate I guess I wasn't surprised at the lack of content.I will say that Sarah Palin's robotic performance was enough to produce psychic vomit dripping from the ceiling. My favorite commentary comes from Michelle Goldberg of the Guardian:

" Palin, however, has single-handedly so lowered the standards both for female candidates and American political discourse that, with her newfound ability to speak in more-or-less full sentences, she is now deemed to have performed acceptably last night.

By any normal standard, including the ones applied to male presidential candidates of either party, she did not. Early on, she made the astonishing announcement that she had no intentions of actually answering the queries put to her. "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I'm going to talk straight to the American people and let them know my track record also," she said.

And so she preceded, with an almost surreal disregard for the subjects she was supposed to be discussing, to unleash fusillades of scripted attack lines, platitudes, lies, gibberish and grating references to her own pseudo-folksy authenticity.

It was an appalling display. The only reason it was not widely described as such is that too many American pundits don't even try to judge the truth, wisdom or reasonableness of the political rhetoric they are paid to pronounce upon. Instead, they imagine themselves as interpreters of a mythical mass of "average Americans" who they both venerate and despise.

In pronouncing upon a debate, they don't try and determine whether a candidate's responses correspond to existing reality, or whether he or she is capable of talking about subjects such as the deregulation of the financial markets or the devolution of the war in Afghanistan. The criteria are far more vaporous. In this case, it was whether Palin could avoid utterly humiliating herself for 90 minutes, and whether urbane commentators would believe that she had connected to a public that they see as ignorant and sentimental. For the Alaska governor, mission accomplished.

There is indeed something mesmerising about Palin, with her manic beaming and fulsome confidence in her own charm. The force of her personality managed to slightly obscure the insulting emptiness of her answers last night. It's worth reading the transcript of the encounter, where it becomes clearer how bizarre much of what she said was. Here, for example, is how she responded to Biden's comments about how the middle class has been short-changed during the Bush administration, and how McCain will continue Bush's policies:

Say it ain't so, Joe, there you go again pointing backwards again. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to do for them in the future. You mentioned education, and I'm glad you did. I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years, and god bless her. Her reward is in heaven, right? ... My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year, and here's a shout-out to all those third graders at Gladys Wood Elementary School, you get extra credit for watching the debate.

Evidently, Palin's pre-debate handlers judged her incapable of speaking on a fairly wide range of subjects, and so instructed to her to simply disregard questions that did not invite memorised talking points or cutesy filibustering. They probably told her to play up her spunky average-ness, which she did to the point of shtick - and dishonesty. Asked what her achilles heel is - a question she either didn't understand or chose to ignore - she started in on how McCain chose her because of her "connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?"

None of Palin's children, it should be noted, is heading off to college. Her son is on the way to Iraq, and her pregnant 17-year-old daughter is engaged to be married to a high-school dropout and self-described "fuckin' redneck". Palin is a woman who can't even tell the truth about the most quotidian and public details of her own life, never mind about matters of major public import. In her only vice-presidential debate, she was shallow, mendacious and phoney. What kind of maverick, after all, keeps harping on what a maverick she is? That her performance was considered anything but a farce doesn't show how high Palin has risen, but how low we all have sunk."

Why is American political discourse so dissconnected from the realities of empire collapse and meglomanic militarism? Part of the problem resides in the duopoly of the two-party system which has been a bi-partisan effort to bring us to the abyss we are currently peering into.No one questions the 600 billion plus military budget that supports the empire of bases that has characterized the national security state that most Americans call protecting the "freeworld".
An intergral part is Commission on Presidential Debates which since 1985 has constricted political discourse in the U.S. As reported by Fairness and Accuracy In Media:

"The origins of the Commission on Presidential Debates can be traced to 1985 discussions between the national chairs of the Democratic and Republican parties, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, which led to an agreement to cooperate in the production of "nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties…. It is our conclusion that future joint appearances should be principally and jointly sponsored and conducted by the Republican and Democratic Committees." (Joint Memorandum of Agreement on Presidential Candidate Joint Appearances, 11/26/85)

For an example of a real debate I would cite this recent exchange in the upcoming Canadian elections where there were actually five parties represented:

"Stephen Harper admitted Thursday that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a mistake - one that Canadian troops would have been plunged into had he been prime minister in 2003.

The grudging admission came during the second televised leaders debate as the five leaders discussed the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe needled Harper about the embarrassing revelation that whole sections of a speech about the Iraq war, delivered by Harper as opposition leader in 2003, were lifted almost word for word from a speech delivered two days earlier by Australia's prime minister at the time, John Howard.

A Conservative speechwriter resigned Tuesday after taking the blame for plagiarizing Howard's speech.

Duceppe said the Afghan mission has proved longer and more dangerous than anticipated because U.S. President George W. Bush diverted American troops to Iraq.

"If the situation is so tough in Afghanistan, certainly a large part of that is because of the error made by George Bush by going in Iraq," he said to Harper.

"Do you realize today that you were making a huge error by supporting Bush and Australia ... and would you make the same decision today as you were proposing Canada to do in 2003?"

The prime minister initially tried to dodge the question.

"I've made it very clear Canada is not going to Iraq. Obviously you know the answer to that question," he said.

But Duceppe continued to badger him as Harper tried to steer the discussion back to Afghanistan: "This is not the question I asked. . . I want to hear it. Do you admit it was an error of George Bush and you made the same error?"

Harper finally answered: "It was absolutely an error. It's obviously clear the evaluation of weapons of mass destruction proved not to be correct. That's absolutely true and that's why we're not sending anybody to Iraq."

Green Leader Elizabeth May shot back: "We're only not sending anyone to Iraq because you weren't prime minister at the time."

Harper's admission was in stark contrast to the speech he gave in the House of Commons - much of it cribbed from Howard - on the first full day of the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

"Alliances are a two-way process," he said at the time.

"We should not leave it to the United States to do all the heavy lifting just because it is the world's only superpower."

Harper urged Canada to join Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, relying heavily on American assertions that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

"As the possession of weapons of mass destruction spreads, the danger of such weapons coming into the hands of terrorist groups will multiply, particularly given in this case the shameless association of Iraq with rogue non-state organizations," he argued.

"That is the ultimate nightmare which the world must take decisive and effective steps to prevent. Possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists would constitute a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to the world, including to Canada and its people."

Harper was not so verbose on Thursday.

He had little to say beyond his admission that he and Bush were mistaken. Asked about it after the debate, Harper immediately changed the subject."

One can only imagine what a presidential debate including Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney might add to the real debate which is curiously missing in this campaign. I would encourage interested readers to Open Debates which addresses the Debate debate.