Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A steal at $1 trillion

Given the US' precarious debt situation, so terrible that taking food from the mouths pf poor children seems the only solution, WaPo editorialist Steven Pearlstein makes thae argument for a better solution, sell Alaska back to the Russians.

I know, it seems a bit extreme, but hr does have some good bottom line arguments that should appeal to the corporate megalords actually running this country:

The deal could be structured as a leveraged buyout with some seller mezzanine financing, to give us some upside if commodity prices continue to climb. And if you figure a price of $1 trillion, the investment banking fees alone should be enough to add several points to U.S. gross domestic product. And the profit we make off Seward's original $7.2 million investment would put even the Carlyle Group to shame.

With Alaska free from the political grip of environmentalists in Washington and Marin County, Alaskans would be able to drill and fish and clear-cut to their heart's content, unlocking value that could never be realized as long as they are in the United States. And politics here will finally be free of the endless fights over Tongass and ANWR, sea lions and caribou.

In terms of cash flow, there's no question that the deal would, to use Wall Street-speak, be immediately accretive. The Tax Foundation calculates that in 2003, Alaska got $1.89 back in federal contracts, subsidies and income support for every dollar its residents and companies pay to the U.S. Treasury. That's the second-best deal in the union, after New Mexico's $1.99.

But even better than the dollars, Alaska's reunion with Russia just makes good old-fashioned horse-sense:
And that's what I like most about the idea of selling Alaska back to the Russians -- the cultural fit, so important in any acquisition. Let's face it: Although it's been American territory for nearly 140 years, Alaska has more in common with post-Soviet Russia, where government remains at the center of the economy and political power is in the hands of a small, shadowy group of oligarchs, who use it to enrich friends and family. It's a milieu in which Alaska's reigning oligarch, Ted Stevens, should feel very much at home.

Here in Washington, Stevens has worked his magic behind closed doors. But occasionally the public gets a chance to connect the dots -- such as when Stevens slipped in an appropriation for the Air Force to overpay for land owned by a longtime supporter, or when he turned a $50,000 investment into a million-dollar payday by investing in a project with a developer who just happened to have benefited from another Air Force construction contract that had Stevens's fingerprints all over it.

Lately, attention has turned to Stevens's son Ben, who was appointed to an open seat in the Alaskan state Senate in 2001 after a truly stellar career as a fisherman and minor Washington lobbyist cashing in on his father's connections. The next year, Ben was reelected without opposition, paving the way for his election this year as Senate president.

Ben is a busy man. Besides his Senate duties, he's managed to earn a million dollars in corporate consulting fees over the past four years and serve as chairman of federally funded Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board, another example of his father's legislative handiwork. Now he is embroiled in a legal battle in which it was revealed that he stands to make more than a million dollars from a special fishing-rights allotment that his father inserted into federal legislation. Dad said he was unaware of his son's business involvement.

Lately, all the attention brought on by his son's activities and the "bridges to nowhere" has generated unflattering coverage for the elder Stevens, prompting outbursts and threats to resign from the Senate. But I'm sure that once Alaska is reunited with the Russian empire and Commissar Stevens has settled into his new office at the Kremlin, those problems will magically disappear.

And once that's settled I can think of a nice fixer-upper along the Rio Grande that Mexico might want to take a look at.

No comments: