Posts Tagged Russia
The Russian Economy is in a shambles. Too much of its budget has historically been used to upgrade its military technology, to the detriment of the needs of the Russian People. The Energy Sector accounts for 47.5% of its Economic Production, and it has failed to diversify much of the rest beyond banking and commodities.
The economic sanctions, which were increased by the West in early 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and began encouraging civil war in Eastern Ukraine, have surely hurt its trade activities. Slumping oil and gas prices during that period, by 35% and 22%, respectively, reduced the Russian access to Dollars. At the same time, the 87% decline of the Ruble, versus the Dollar, has made many imports cost-prohibitive.
Besides the inflation that the weak Ruble has caused, and the scarcity of consumer goods, unemployment has risen, wages have decreased, and there seems to be no relief in sight for the average Russian worker. Russians still make family outings to the malls, which were built during the oil boom; however, many stores are closed, and the shelves are quite empty in those that remain. It’s just something to do during those long Russian winters.
A friendly American President, who seems less inclined to cooperate with an apparently splintering European Union, might cause the sanctions to be eased—either nation by nation, or across-the-board. There has been talk about several European nations initiating more active trade with Russia. Such improved trade options might ease the Russian economy into a somewhat better situation.
Donald Trump, along with many of his Cabinet nominees, seems to be advocates of fossil fuels, and they claim that man-made climate change is a hoax. So far, Mr. Trump has not shown any interest in the Paris Accord. This scenario seems to suggest a reduced interest in alternative energy sources and, thus, an increased demand for gas, oil and coal.
Apparent Secretary of State-Designate Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon-Mobil, would certainly be Donald Trump’s go-to guy, with regard to Russia. His so-called personal relationship with Vladimir Putin has been a symbiotic one: Rex was selling and Vlad needed to buy! When the sanctions were increased in 2014, the transfer of vital technology, from Exxon-Mobil to Russia’s Rosneft Oil Company, was blocked. Such a transfer under a Trump Administration, might become more likely, and it would give Exxon-Mobil access to a sector in Russia’s Arctic Region.
We’ll never know, for sure, if Russia helped Donald Trump win the Election; but, Vladimir Putin surely needs Donald’s and Exxon-Mobil’s help now! Trust me!
WILL TRUMP’S NOMINATION OF REX TILLERSON, AS SECRETARY OF STATE, JUST BE THE FINAL NUDGE TO CAUSE THE ELECTORS TO ACT?
In his introduction of Tillerson, who has been the CEO and Chairman of Exxon-Mobil just since 2006, Donald Trump, in his normally ignorant flair for over-hype, boasted that Tillerson had “built a very large company”. As usual, facts just seem to escape Trump; because, Exxon (Esso, Standard Oil) has been around for more than a hundred years.
Mr. Tillerson has been touted by Trump for his Foreign Affairs experience. Well, yes, he did spend a significant portion of his career overseas, mostly in Russia and Yemen—two Petrodollar States. But, does Trump really believe that Putin and his Communist Cronies were: intent upon meeting the physical needs of the Russian people; maintaining democratic ideas, such as human rights and open media; having peaceful relations with neighboring countries; understanding the U. S. Laws, regarding the transfer of state-of-the-art technology to foreign governments; etc? Hell, Trump didn’t even know himself, until recently, that Russia had, in fact, invaded Ukraine—the Crimean Peninsula!
Mr. Tillerson, like any corporate executive, was primarily interested in generating revenue for Exxon-Mobil, and growing its market share overseas. Mr. Tillerson’s goal to rise through the ranks at Exxon, was based upon his meeting both personal and corporate goals. Besides, that’s what his paycheck, bonus and stock options were based upon! That’s just routine corporate goal-setting.
In fact, when the West increased the economic sanctions on Russia in 2014—after it had annexed Crimea and orchestrated the civil war in Eastern Ukraine—that hurt Mr. Tillerson, both personally and professionally. The increased sanctions blocked the planned transfer of advanced energy technology to Russia, as well as Exxon’s gaining access to key sections of the Russian Arctic for exploration. And so, Mr. Tillerson’s sole experience was as an Exxon-Man—not as someone who knew much more about Diplomacy than any other business traveller!
Rex Tillerson is just one more miscast nominee for key positions in the Trump Administration. Donald Trump has truly assembled a rogues’ gallery—of Goldman Sachs bankers, pro-Business/anti-Labor billionaires, and Beltway Insiders—rather than the types of people who would try to improve the lives of Working Class Americans—namely those who voted Trump into Office. In fact, just about every one of Trump’s nominees seems intent on working counter to the stated goals of the very departments which they are supposed to lead!
And that brings me to Donald Trump’s admiration for Russia, and its President, Vladimir Putin. In a prior blog post, I noted that the Pentagon, in its long-range National Defense planning–or “Third Offset Strategy”–lists Russia, far and away, as America’s most dangerous global adversary. But, why hasn’t any of this sunk-in for Donald Trump to process yet? The CIA’s Daily Intelligence Briefings, which he has declined, might have helped!
Trump’s oldest son, Donald, Jr., has boasted that the Trump Organization receives revenue from Russia on a regular basis. Shouldn’t we know, from whom and how much? And, when Donald hosted the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant, in Moscow, President Putin cancelled, but all of the Oligarchs—Putin’s closest friends—sat at Trump’s table.
Trump’s former Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort, had Viktor Yanukovych, the former President of Ukraine, as a client for his Kiev consulting business. Yanukovych, by the way, later fled to Moscow, when Ukraine shifted away from Russia, and toward the Western Alliance. And now, the CIA has reported that Russia, along with WikiLeaks, had conspired to block Secretary Hillary Clinton from winning the 2016 Election, while advancing Donald J. Jump toward the Presidency.
So, the question remains: why is Mr. Tillerson being nominated to become America’s Chief Diplomat, when he has no experience whatsoever in Foreign Relations? His primary, and perhaps only, credential appears to be his long relationship with Vladimir Putin? Granted, Rex Tillerson knows the Energy Business, inside-out. But, his close “personal” relationship with President Putin is presumably a symbiotic one—Russia has substantial oil and gas reserves; Energy is virtually Russia’s only source of Dollars; and Russia needs access to Exxon’s advanced technological engineering prowess. And, Exxon can help!
Initially, the early Nominations to Trump’s Inner Circle—Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon—were just ludicrous. And then, they shifted from ridiculous to highly-questionable. But now, Trump’s miscast team of Ideologues is beginning to look potentially dangerous—regardless of your political leanings.
Remember, the Electoral College, which votes on December 19, was devised by our Founding Fathers, specifically to serve as a check on the Presidential Election, in case the “Sense (Vote) of the People” might lead to Tumult and Disruption. If there ever were a case for the Electoral College to act: This is it!
THERE SHOULD BE A TRANS-PACIFIC SECURITY AND DEFENSE ORGANIZATION, PATTERNED ON NATO, BUT MODIFIED FOR THE REGION!
During World War II, the Axis Powers—Japan and Nazi Germany—rolled-over their neighbors in Asia and Europe, respectively. At first, America did not join the War, due to its Isolationist Policies. Afterward, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed—including Europe and North America—with a stated goal to: “…safeguard the freedom and security of the member nations, through political and military means.”
China and Russia—the two current powers in their respective regions—have each stepped-up their aggressive behavior against their neighbors. The Asia-Pacific Region does not have an equivalent security treaty, similar to NATO. At the same time, with the splintering of the European Union, and the uncertainty over what a Trump Presidency might bring, the Atlantic Alliance needs to be re-invigorated, as it is showing signs of diminishing strength.
Neither of the two Socialist Leaders—Xi Jinping, of China, or Vladimir Putin, of Russia—are particularly friendly toward one another. But given their common political philosophy, each seems to believer in the old military strategy: Divide and Conquer! That’s why both nations are either befriending or intimidating their neighbors, one-by-one, as each pursues it particular agenda.
Let’s look at NATO first. Once the United Kingdom signaled its intention to leave the European Union last June, heads began to turn, questioning which nation(s) would be next? And although the E. U. is primarily a trade union, its potentially diminishing membership might cause some–including Russia–to question Europe’s cohesiveness.
The Southeast Asian Treaty Organization was formed in the mid-1950s; however, it lacked wide regional participation, and it accomplished very little. And so, SEATO was disbanded in 1976. There still needs to be some form of security organization, however, in the Pacific Region. And similar to NATO, Canada and the U. S. should be included.
It’s still too early to consider how a Donald Trump Administration might change the U. S. participation in the various international organizations—UN, WHO, IMF, World Bank, NATO, etc. Hopefully, America will continue to participate, and to contribute according to our level of ability. Since the Republican Party seems to favor International Trade, such as the TPP: hopefully, they will convince Donald Trump to remain in NATO, and to help establish a counterpart organization in the Pacific.
NOTE: The linked article, from “Foreign Policy”, by James Stavridis, is provided because it makes a good case for our continued support for NATO. Admiral Stavridis is the Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and had served as the NATO Supreme Allied Commander. The article is linked as follows: http://fletcher.tufts.edu/News-and-Media/2016/11/10/Dean-Stavridis-Foreign-Policy-Audit-NATO.
Last March, Donald Trump had suggested that we should bring our troops back from Japan and South Korea if those countries don’t pay more for our presence there. Then, he went on to suggest that we should help those two nations develop nuclear weapons themselves. Now, does Trump have a clue as to what he is talking about? Probably not! The NY Times article, describing his comments, is linked, as follows: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/29/world/asia/donald-trump-arms-race.html?_r=0.
Consider the following: Japan and South Korea already help fund our Military Presence in their countries, to the tune of $2 billion and $885 million, respectively; it is vital to the U. S. Defense Strategy to have our forces in close proximity to potential global hot spots, like China and Russia; and nuclear arming of two more nations in East Asia is more Cold War Thinking than pursuant to our current Nonproliferation Strategy.
The Korean Peninsula juts out of China’s eastern land area, and North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom, which already has primitive nuclear weapons, is ruled by the lunatic Kim Jong-Un. So, arming Japan and/or South Korea would merely be providing the spark that could ignite the powder keg that already exists on the Peninsula. Additionally, neither of our two allies there want nukes, and Japan doesn’t even have a Military, just a Self-Defense Force. And, why would we want to provoke China in its backyard, while causing concerns among our many Asian allies?
Last Monday evening, at the First Presidential Debate, Donald Trump even displayed more of his ignorance about National Security, when he said: “China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.” The link, from a Washington Post article, is as follows: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/09/27/did-trump-really-just-suggest-that-china-should-invade-north-korea/?tid=hybrid_collaborative_1_na.
That brainstorm appears to have been conceived in a vacuum. Doesn’t Trump believe that past American Presidents, as well as China and other neighboring countries, have considered possible solutions before? Was Donald Trump really suggesting that two of the world’s nuclear-armed superpowers confront each other on the Korean Peninsula?
China prefers having North Korea serve as a buffer between it and a South Korea, which is backed by an American presence of some 28,000 troops. At the same time, China doesn’t want North Korea to implode; and thus, causing tens of thousands of starving Koreans to flood across its border. Perhaps, Donald Trump doesn’t understand this, because he doesn’t read—he just tweets.
Currently, the two Koreas go about their daily business, just separated by a de facto border—the Demilitarized Zone—which is just two and a half miles (four km.) wide. If China were to take over the North, the U. S. would then have to move its forces up to the DMZ, and reinforce them considerably. And, let’s not assume that Russian President Vladimir Putin wouldn’t accelerate his aggressive objectives in Europe while the U. S. is distracted in Asia.
NO, DONALD, YOU CERTAINLY ARE NOT PREPARED TO BE PRESIDENT!
In my last post, I wrote that Donald Trump seems to have hijacked the discussion surrounding the coming Presidential Election, preferring that the focus be on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s State Department Email and the Clinton Foundation. Now, I will describe some of the Trumpian baggage that, I believe, Donald prefers to keep hidden.
Consider these examples of where Trump reaches for his labor: Among the 250 postings for seasonal employees, at his posh Mar-a-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, Florida, he only hired four locally, and the rest from Eastern Europe; his retail “brand” items—shirts, ties, etc.—are all made overseas, such as in Bangladesh, China, Turkey, etc; and the Trump Model Agency has allegedly hired mostly women on travel visas, who are not legally permitted to work in the U. S. Perhaps hiring models who cannot legally work might have been a common industry practice.
There have been some suggested discrepancies regarding the period that Melania Knauss (the Germanized version of Melanija Knavs) worked for the Trump Modeling Agency. Recently, the question of whether the Slovenian-born (now) Mrs. Melania Trump worked legally when she first arrived, or not, is a concern which continues on.
It is well-known that Donald Trump tried to remove Gonzalo Curiel, the Ohio-born Federal Judge, on the case against Trump University, since he was of Mexican heritage. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman brought the case, against Donald Trump, Trump University, et al, for Fraud, in Federal Court. Judge Curiel remains on the case. Also, since AG Schneiderman brought it on RICO charges, triple damages might be awarded.
Relatedly, Florida AG Pam Bondi considered joining in that same fraud case, since there had been a number of complaints against Trump University, in Florida, as well. The Donald J. Trump Foundation, however, made a $25,000 contribution, in 2013, to Bondi’s campaign fund. It is illegal for charitable foundations to contribute to political campaigns. But interestingly, AG Pam Bondi dropped any consideration of joining the case against Trump University.
OK, now we might get to the really important point: What is Donald Trump hiding by not releasing his past Tax Returns. Tax experts have already diffused his smoke screen that he is under audit, and the IRS has confirmed that there is no requirement that returns under IRS Audit not be released. Historically, every Presidential and Vice Presidential Nominee has provided a number of years (say eight to ten), going back to the early 1970s. Between Bill and Hillary Clinton, some 25 years of back joint returns have already been released. Senator Tim Kaine, her running mate, has also released his Tax Returns.
Donald Trump has done business in Russia, to include holding a recent Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. President Vladimir Putin had to cancel, but most of the Oligarchs (Putin’s cronies) did attend. Also, it’s common knowledge that Trump has wanted to build a Trump Tower in Moscow for years.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former Campaign Manager, had a lobbying firm in Kiev, and did personal business with Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian former President of Ukraine, who fled to Moscow when he was ousted. Trump has already raised eyebrows over some comments that he has made publicly to, and about, Putin. So, does he truly have a relationship with Russia, and where else might he also have connections?
It is assumed that Donald Trump does not intend to release his Tax Returns for any or several of the following reasons: he pays little or no taxes, which is common for real estate moguls; he is not worth anywhere near the $10 billion that he claims; he has questionable business dealings—both domestically and globally–and perhaps it will reveal how he has taken tens of millions of dollars from businesses, like the four bankrupt casinos in Atlantic City, as they descended into bankruptcy; or might they show that he is just not the business genius that he claims to be?
Lastly, while Trump claims that the Clinton Foundation should be closed-down immediately, what about his multi-tentacled Trump Organization, LLC? Is he ready to shut that down immediately, and for good, as well? Having his adult children, who seem to be mesmerized by him, run the Trump Empire would not provide the features of a Blind Trust, which the Presidency should require. That would be fallacious—especially with Trump’s past history of breaking the rules!
At a press conference in Doral, Florida, last Wednesday, Donald Trump encouraged Russia to hack into U. S. State Department Emails, and said that it could profit handsomely by providing them to the American media. After his inability to shift the focus to the DNC Emails, when questioned later, Trump suggested that he was just using sarcasm. As a candidate for the U. S. Presidency, however, Trump should know that any form of humor, including sarcasm, is totally improper when discussing the theft of intelligence information by any foreign enemy—let alone our most dangerous one.
Donald Trump seems to exist in a parallel universe: one in which he is totally divorced from reality. He also seems to have a combination of personality disorders—compulsiveness, everything in excess, and his narcissism leaves little room for listening to reason. The GOP—House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Party Chairman Reince Priebus—seems to believe that it can control him. But Donald J. Trump cannot even control himself!
Trump’s actions last Wednesday border on both Treason and Sedition; but, I will leave that to the Government attorneys to pursue. Based on what he said last week, however, there are a number of Congressman—from both parties—who are concerned about the Daily Intelligence Briefings that he will now receive. Although it will contain classified information, both Secretary Clinton and Mister Trump will receive exactly the same briefing, and it will be a plain “Vanilla” version.
Personally, I am not so concerned about the actual information that he will receive as much as I am about what he might do with it. Based on lengthy interviews that I read about two men, who basically wrote books touted as only ghostwritten by them, I have my doubts. Each man said that Donald Trump only has the attention span of a small child, and each doubted that he had even read the books that he supposedly “wrote”.
Just think about a person having access to classified information and they perhaps might not understand what the raw data means, its importance if it were to fall into the wrong hands, or the potential danger that could be unleashed. Now, consider that that information were provided to someone who talks constantly, is always trying to impress everyone with his superior intellect, and is literally willing to shoot-from the-lip, so to speak, we do have a big problem. Legalities of last week’s comments aside, Donald J. Trump, with classified information, would be a time bomb just waiting to go off!
NOTE: To appease the GOP that he was indeed a serious candidate, a couple of months ago Donald J. Trump spent one hour with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Dr. Kissinger is arguably the foremost authority on Foreign Affairs alive today. I’m sure that Dr. Kissinger appreciated all that he learned from Donald Trump at their meeting.
MIGHT THERE EVENTUALLY BE SOME POST-BREXIT REMORSE, ON THE PART OF BOTH THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE UNITED KINGDOM, IN SOLVING THEIR MUTUAL PROBLEMS?
Two weeks ago, Britons voted, 52% to 48%, for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Since then, many Brits have realized that the “Leave” promises were hollow, while those presenting the economic reasons to “Remain,” were boring.
Global stock markets suffered devastating losses on the two (market) days following the vote, before rebounding roughly to where they had been before the Referendum. The real concern should be, however, the long-term effects of Brexit. Currently, the actual date on which the split will be finalized would be in early 2019.
In the interim, the British economy will weaken slowly as businesses, on both sides of the Channel, begin preparing for post-Brexit reality. New facilities will be built on the Continent, hiring will focus mostly on non-British citizens of the E. U. And in the long-run, imports from the Continent will be subject to tariffs. But, let’s consider the impact on National Security.
The two primary reasons behind an early version of the E. U, in the decade following World War II, were that the other major powers could reign-in Germany. The re-Unification of Germany, however, made it even stronger. Also, mutual trade was expected to facilitate the recovery from the devastation of war.
Russia, on the other hand, is still manipulating Ukraine, and it has been sending additional military troops to its border, across from the Balkans. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—along with Poland and Finland—are quite anxious, wondering if the Western Alliance will be able to protect them from Russia’s expansion preferences.
I use the term “Western Alliance” to include NATO and the European Union. There is considerable overlap between the two, while NATO also includes Canada and the U. S. While most military responsibilities fall to NATO, there are some that the E. U. takes on. Additionally, the entire Alliance is responsible for the Economic Sanctions, which have been assessed against Russia for its annexation of Crimea, and involvement in Ukraine.
When the U. K. leaves the E. U, it will still be a member of NATO. With the split from the Union: however, it will become more and more isolated within Europe as time goes by. Britain has the second largest Military in Europe, just marginally behind France. Germany also has a large military; however, it is limited to a domestic self-defense force. And, the U. K. has the second-largest economy in Europe, ranked by GDP, behind Germany.
So, losing the U. K. would reduce the European Union, both with regard to its collective economy, as well as its military might. And that brings us to Germany, which might be expected to assume more of a leadership role, along with France and Italy. Some of the other member nations are anxious about a potentially re-awakening of German Might. Such fears, ion my opinion. are base-less.
I believe that the solution, however, would be a greater diversification of the power base, and also a significant reduction in the E. U. bureaucracy. Additionally, the member nations should have more control over their own internal policies: while, only major decisions, of regional concern, should be made by the E. U. And don’t forget that a truly United Europe would stand a better chance of countering Vladimir Putin’s wondering eye!
The E. U. and U. K. should jointly try to put the Brexit-genie back into the bottle. Britain has already shown signs of buyers’ remorse, and its Parliament is not required to adhere to the result of a Referendum. Similarly, a failed Brexit might cause nationalistic factions in other E. U. nations to weaken.
Although immigration is often cited as the cause for the Brexit, the U. K. doesn’t have many Syrians. The people’s problem really is with Brussel’s overreach, and perhaps the domestic mismanagement—think “trickle down”—of the economy. The immigrant problem was just a trumped-up tool of the Leave faction’s appeal.
So European Union, maybe if you give Great Britain a shot at a “Do-Over, that might save both of your problems. French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have stated that the European Union will expand. Tell me: Wouldn’t the United Kingdom be the best fit?