Archive for April, 2012

Queequeg’s Qoffin

April 24, 2012

What are the sinews and souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish, whereof possession is the whole of the law?

Lunghu sorta hopes that someone is checking early April data from hydrophones in the North Pacific.  Any interesting traffic eastbound from the Northeast Group in Vilyuchinsk?

Because rounding up the usual suspects may not suffice in this case …

However, the more important question is: whose stupidity provoked this crude reaction?  Something that might seem as though it can be written off as an insignificant incident in a remote corner of the world is always very significant to the families and friends of those unfortunate enough to get in the way. Not everyone just gets mad.  Some folks get even.

 

 

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Ransom Is As Ransom Does

April 13, 2012

When Lunghu heard last week that VTB Bank executives were coming to Manhattan for a meeting with prospective investors hosted by Citibank, his second thought was: “Well, it looks like the ransom negotiations for Viktor Bout are finally underway in earnest!”  [In case you were wondering, Lunghu’s first thought was: “What imperialist-capitalist in his right mind would invest in VTB?”  After all, its shares are currently worth about 7 kopecks each, and its core business seems to consist of laundering assets for Comrade Bear and his kleptocrat cronies.]

This week, there have been further signs that Putin, Sechin, et al. are ready to open up the treasure chest in order to repatriate their faithful(?) retainer, Comrade Bout.  What does Russia have that the US wants?  The usual.  Oil.

There will be no export duties for new hydrocarbon development projects on the Russian continental shelf, President-elect Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.  “There should be a special stimulating taxation system for shelf projects scheduled for implementation. We have made a decision to fully lift the export duty for new shelf projects,” Putin said at a government meeting.
“We also suggest lifting property tax and value-added tax on unique imported equipment which Russia does not manufacture, for all new [energy development] projects regardless of the complexity level,” the prime minister added.

 

“We expect the world’s largest corporations will partner with our Russian companies on the shelf,” said Putin without naming any specific Western firms.  All private companies — both Russian and foreign — currently have to team up with either Rosneft or Gazprom and allow the state firms to control at least 50 percent of any offshore deal.  Rosneft last year signed a deal to develop three Kara Sea oil fields with the US supermajor ExxonMobil, [which] has since lobbied for cuts in export duties that could help justify the enormous expense of developing the fields.

When Exxon talks, presidents listen.

Oh. While you’re at it, just one other thing …

Russia supports the US pick to lead the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Friday.  “Taking into account professional qualities, experience and the competencies of Mr Kim, Russia will support the candidacy of Jim Yong Kim in the vote of the World Bank’s board,” Siluanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency after meeting the US candidate.

 

And … since things are going so well, how about a quiet, private chat next month?

The United States wants to hold a separate summit with Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight meeting at Camp David in May, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday.
“The Americans want a separate, independent Russian-American summit,” Lavrov was quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency as saying after returning from a G8 foreign minister meeting in Washington.
Putin will receive an official briefing on the US proposal after he is inaugurated on May 7 for a third term as Russian president.     “We will report to the president when he assumes his powers,” Lavrov said.
“We are disposed to have continuity in relations, to continue to seek further spheres of shared interests — of which there are many —  and where interests coincide, to agree on moving forward,” he said.

By all means, where interests coincide, agree on moving forward.  Progress always comes at a price.

 

Down in Egyptland

April 11, 2012

Lunghu thought he was just joking around when he casually remarked last month that Israel wouldn’t be satisfied with bombing Iran –they’d want Jonathan Pollard released from federal prison, too.  Some literalist in Tel Aviv must have thought that sounded like a good idea …

Israeli President Shimon Peres has dispatched a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard.  The Pollard issue took on new life this week after his wife, Esther, said he had been hospitalized in extreme pain.  Pollard has been hospitalized at a prison medical center in Butner, NC, since April 4, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Monday.  

What’s the medical diagnosis?  Let’s ask a couple of defense attorneys:

Pollard’s lawyer, Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, said he suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney stones.  Pollard attorney Eliot Lauer says his client’s medical problems have included loss of balance, fainting, repeated falls, extreme dizziness, severe nausea and excruciating abdominal pain in the area of the gall bladder and pancreas.

Sounds like pancreatitis.  Inmate Pollard needs a low-fat diet, but from his photo, it doesn’t look as though he’s been keeping kosher.

would you buy a lightly-used classified document from this man?

In an emotional meeting with President Peres, Esther Pollard  said she did not want to become a widow.  Peres responded by appealing to Obama to release Pollard as a humanitarian gesture. The Israeli president’s office refused to release the letter [to the press], but officials said it noted the dramatic deterioration in Pollard’s health, Peres’ belief that Pollard does not pose a security threat at this point and the strong ties between Israel and the United States. 

The Associated Press has been doing its part to earn its AIPAC stipend by issuing three articles on this topic in the past three days.  Despite the fact that:

The White House issued a statement Tuesday saying American policy on the issue hasn’t changed and that the president has no intention to release Pollard.  Pollard delivered hordes of documents to his [Israeli] handlers, and the full extent of what was betrayed has never been revealed.  American officials [have told Israeli diplomats] they were convinced Pollard had an accomplice [and once] offered to release Pollard in exchange for the name of the other spy. … Much of the American military and intelligence community remains opposed to releasing Pollard.

South of the Border

Israelis are also showing themselves to be tone-deaf on another international relations issue: the Egyptian presidential elections.

Israeli legislator Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says former Mubarak spy chief Omar Suleiman would be the best president for Egypt in terms of Israeli interests, saying that Suleiman views relations with Israel as a strategic “cornerstone”.  Ben-Eliezer is a longtime friend of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Somehow Lunghu thinks that an endorsement from an Israeli politician is exactly what any Egyptian presidential candidate in  –or out of–  his right mind would desperately want to avoid.  Mr. Ben-Eliezer should instead have adopted the Brer Rabbit strategy of endorsing Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, on the grounds that his American mother is secretly a friend of Israel.  What, too subtle?

Wholly Thursday

April 6, 2012

Judge Shira has spoken, and Viktor Bout has been sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.  The fact that this is the minimum sentence mandated by law ought to tell you something about what the judge thinks of the federal government’s case.  In her remarks at sentencing, Judge Scheindlin came just about as close to calling it outright entrapment as judicial ethics will permit:

 “But for the approach made through this determined sting operation, there is no reason to believe Bout would ever have committed the charged crimes,” Scheindlin said.  The judge also ordered a $15 million forfeiture.

It’s not clear where Bout is expected to come up with that kind of money, especially since those “FARC operatives” never did buy any of his cargo planes.   Perhaps the SDNY prosecutors’ sentencing memo explicitly identified the location and magnitude of Bout’s overseas assets in order to justify forfeiture.   Lunghu kinda doubts it:  the sources and methods by which such information would be obtained are considered more valuable than the paltry $15 million nobody will ever collect.   Perhaps Rosboronexport will just have to build that cost into the price of those Hind helicopters that Afghanistan is buying with U.S. aid money.

Where do we go from here?  Bout’s attorney —Albert Dayanwill appeal the conviction.   The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will choose a new, semi-permanent home for Viktor Bout (probably after the Easter weekend, unless the U.S. Marshals are looking for an overtime detail).  And sometime later in the month, we’ll know from the BOP Inmate Locator service where Viktor is housed.  Just a reminder:  Lunghu is rooting for Fairton FCI.

In the meantime, certain people will undoubtedly encourage Comrade Bout to be more talkative and forthcoming.  There will be plenty of time to reflect and reminisce, to chat beside the steaming samovar and recall times gone by.  It’s always the little things that count.