Thursday, at Shell Oil’s annual Results Conference in London, Shell CEO Peter Voser delivered a prepared address on the company’s global performance during 2012. It included little information about the energy giant’s 2012 Alaska Arctic drilling season fiascos we don’t already know:
“Despite making some progress we have run into problems in the last few months. Our rigs will need more work if they are going to be ready for the 2013 drilling season. One, the Noble Discoverer needs a series of upgrades, and the other, the Kulluk, ran aground in a heavy storm on New Year’s Eve and has been damaged.”
After the address, though, Vosser answered questions from the press. His answers provided some new information. Questioned on whether or not Shell had decided to move the rigs when they did to avoid paying millions in Alaska taxes, Vosser tried to wriggle out from under previous statements and information available through Shell officials in Alaska:
Tim Webb, the energy editor at The Times in London, asked Voser if Shell was moving the rig from Unalaska to Seattle in order to evade Alaska’s oil and gas property tax.
“Assuming you say that’s true, because I think that came from Shell, would you say that’s an example of Shell not managing risks correctly, or making a poor decision in terms of managing risk in Alaska?”
In response, Voser denied that the decision to move the rig had anything to do with taxes, saying that the $5-6 million they would have had to pay is nothing in the grand scheme of things.
“There was a statement made by a Shell person, but in a completely different context, in a completely different meeting. That was then taken out of that context and then someone made a story out it. Just to be very clear on this one.”
The original story was written by Dutch Harbor Fisherman reporter Jim Paulin. In it, he quoted an email from Shell spokesperson Curtis Smith that was sent before the grounding. Paulin says he stands by his reporting.
“And I don’t think Shell would be backing away from that comment had it not gone aground. I think they would have been sending lobbyists to Juneau to try to repeal that tax. And I think that would be, in my opinion, the motivation for making that comment that it influenced their decision to move it.”
Reporter Paulin’s statement about Shell lobbyists in Juneau is, if anything, understatement. During the same day Shell CEO Vosser was delivering his annual report, in Juneau, the oil industry was flexing its muscle as it only can in Alaska.
The 2012 election brought an end to a Senate bipartisan coalition that dated back to shortly after the FBI busted a number of Alaska legislators for taking bribes from the major oil field service company in Alaska, Veco. Although it was understood at the time that Veco’s bribers were working on behalf of oil giant ConocoPhillips, no employees from the latter were ever indicted by the Justice Department. The crooked legislators smugly called themselves “The Corrupt Bastards Club,” and even had baseball caps made with the term plastered across them.
Replacing the bipartisan Senate coalition is a new GOP-run super majority that is intent on ramming through Senate Bill 21, which will repeal the most important element of Alaska’s taxation of oil fields here, and strip billions of dollars per year from state coffers and give it to immensely wealthy oil companies, like ConocoPhillips, British Petroleum and Exxon-Mobil.
Tuesday through Thursday, the Senate Special Committee on TAPS [Trans-Alaska Pipeline System] Throughput held telephonic hearings across the state on SB 21. About 90% of the testimony was in favor of not implementing SB 21, or of even tweaking our tax rate on the oil industry, which is at the bottom of the middle of the pack worldwide. Read the rest of this entry →
According to Hopfinger, Miller’s security team pushed him and he pushed back because he felt his personal space was being invaded. He says guards detained him and accused him of trespassing, although the town hall was a public event held at a public building.
Miller security guard William Fulton said in a statement Sunday that he was responding to Hopfinger’s actions.
“The Dispatch reporter repeatedly pushed a camera into the face of Mr. Miller,” Fulton said. “He continued to aggressively pursue him. I told the reporter several times that he needed to stop and that he was trespassing, he ignored me. He then proceeded to stalk Mr. Miller and even shoved an individual into a locker. Based upon this trespass and his assault, we detained him and escorted him from the premises.”
Hopfinger says he waited for about half an hour in handcuffs for police to show up. No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed.
Last Monday, under increasing pressure from the Alaska press to release more details of why his employment as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) ended in controversy, Miller scheduled, canceled, then rescheduled a press conference(2). At that event, Miller closed, stating:
We’ve drawn a line in the sand. You can ask me about background, you can ask about personal issues — I’m not going to answer. I’m not.
During this past week, press hostility toward Miller understandably grew. As a result of Miller’s refusal to sign a release allowing the FNSB to release his employment records, the former mayor of Fairbanks, Republican Jim Whitaker made a public statement(3) on Miller’s job performance there:
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller was nearly fired from his job as a borough attorney in 2008 after using borough computers in an attempt to oust the chairman of the Republican Party of Alaska, former borough Mayor Jim Whitaker said Wednesday.
Whitaker said Miller’s actions violated the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s ethics policy but did not result in a termination because the borough needed Miller to continue working on its lawsuit about how much to tax the trans-Alaska pipeline system.
Miller eventually resigned from borough employment on Sept. 1, 2009. “I’m speaking now because this occurred on my watch as mayor, because I know the truth, and because I have an obligation to tell the truth,” Whitaker said in an interview with the Daily News-Miner.
He said that, as a former mayor, he would prefer not to be involved in “the political melee.” “I also felt it was appropriate to give Mr. Miller enough time to come forward himself,” Whitaker said. “It’s clear with his statements of the other day, he’s not going to do that.
That was Wednesday. Alaska legal blogger, Wickersham’s Conscience made a case that Whitaker’s information indicates Miller engaged in criminal activity in his abuse of co-workers’ computers:
So Miller was allegedly was using other folks’ computers, without their permission or knowledge, so he could pretend to be sending votes by someone else in the contest for Republican Party State Chair. He is alleged to have been stuffing the electronic ballot box, using Borough computers. Alaska’s criminal laws have something to say about this.
WC goes on to list the felony statutes Miller appeared to have violated. The Miller campaign was quick to deny that Miller had done anything wrong. On Late Thursday, Miller’s dad, Rex, sent out an email that leaked out through the Tea Party Express grapevine by Friday. In it, Rex Miller asserted that what his son told him he had done with the computers was different from what former mayor Whitaker had described:
One noon hour, on his own time at the borough, Joe participated in an online poll voting against Randy,” Rostad wrote in the e-mail, recounting the Thursday morning conversation he said he had with Rex Miller. “He used four office computers in the office to do it, thinking this was his chance to boost numbers to get rid of Randy. He emptied the cache files on the computers so the users wouldn’t know what he had done.
Here’s WC‘s response to Rex:
WC is glad that Miller committed his felonies on his lunch hour and not on the Borough clock. However, it’s irrelevant to the real issue. Note that Joe Miller wiped the computers’ cache files afterwards. That’s the one of the places where a computer user leaves “digital fingerprints” of what he or she has done. (Not the only one, Joe.) And that’s very good evidence that Miller knew what he was doing was wrong. He was attempting to conceal the fact a crime had taken place. He was trying to wipe the fingerprints off of the crime scene. That’s certainly evidence he knew he’d done something criminal. Oh,and that’s a separate crime, by the way. Tampering with Evidence, AS 11.56.610, and possibly Tampering with a Public Record, AS 11.56.820.
Polls are being taken over the weekend. I was polled yesterday, and two friends relate that they were polled yesterday and today by firms that asked different questions from those I was asked. The late week Rasmussen Poll, showing Miller at 35%, Lisa Murkowski at 34% and Democrat Scott McAdams at 27% (plus or minus 4.5%) shows a very close race, with McAdams making his biggest jump since the race has been polled.
This race will continue to tighten. Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Ethan Berkowitz, in a statement issued as I’m writing, has asked Gov. Sean Parnell to look more closely at Miller:
Ethan Berkowitz had a strong reaction upon hearing the news that Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was detained and handcuffed by a private security force hired by Senate candidate Joe Miller.
Berkowitz said, "In this country, journalists have a job to do, which includes exercising their rights and responsibilities under the First Amendment. A free press means that journalists must work without fear of muscle or muzzle.
"The fact that this was a private security guard hired by a U.S. Senate candidate in the heat of a political campaign makes this story even more outrageous. The actions of Mr. Miller’s agents against Mr. Hopfinger must be investigated and prosecuted by the State for violation of criminal statutes."
Berkowitz continued, "Even though Sean Parnell continues to stand behind Joe Miller, I call on him to follow my lead and condemn the Miller campaign for its chilling attack on a free press. That behavior has no place in Alaska, or in any free, representative democracy."
Berkowitz has been pounding Parnell on many issues and that race is tightening up quickly too. Late Friday, Republican Republican Bill Walker, who lost to Parnell in the GOP primary endorsed Berkowitz. Walker has many fierce advocates from the center and from the faction of the GOP that never liked Sarah Palin. Sean Parnell is derisively called "SP version two point zero" by many Republicans, mimicking GOP Rep. Don Young’s categorization of Parnell, for his blandness, as "Captain Zero." In the primary, here’s the way the votes broke down:
Sean Parnell (R) ————– 54,125
Bill Walker (R) ————— 35,734
Ethan Berkowitz (D) ——— 22,607
Hollis French (D) ————- 18,018
Both Walker and French have endorsed Berkowitz, and only polling conducted this coming week will reflect whether Walker’s embrace of Berkowitz will help significantly.
Update: The first video has emerged. It doesn’t show much, but Miller’s assertion that Hopfinger was violent doesn’t appear to hold any water:
(1) See also "Miller town hall in Anchorage Sunday," http://community.adn.com/node/153735
(2) See also "Miller Refuses to Answer Any More Personal Questions," http://aprn.org/2010/10/11/alaska-news-nightly-october-11-2010/
(3) See also "Former mayor: Miller ‘not truthful’ about borough employment," http://www.ktva.com/topalaskanews/ci_16330640
At a news conference, held in front of the windows in her home that look exactly like some of the windows in the Wasilla Sports Complex (Palin’s most dubious achievement as Wasilla mayor), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced she will be resigning her duties in two weeks. Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, the man who put the "lack" in "lackluster," will assume her duties at that time.
Strangely proclaiming that she knows "when to pass the ball for victory," she stated in the conference that she will hand over the reins at the conclusion of the Alaska Governor’s Picnic, later this month.
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