Russia’s Billionaires May Demand Putin Call in his Chips

Russia’s billionaires lost trillions when Muammar Gaddafi fell in Libya.  Putin failed to protect their interest, but maintained his power, and hence his own status as the wealthiest man in the world, by promising it wouldn’t happen again.

To this end, Putin has backed Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where Russians have invested fortunes and extended credit at even greater rates than they ever did in Libya.  Putin has stayed true to his backers’ economic interests, even though the simplest rationale would have told him to cut bait and run long ago.

By manipulating the US election, Putin’s backers feel their oates and were especially excited to see their pal, Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State stand up for their interests. 

Six days ago, Tillerson came through for Putin.  He not only finally uttered something to the media, but when he did, he equivocated on the longstanding U.S. position that Bashar al-Assad must go.   He stated that it would be the US position henceforth that it would be up the Syrian people to decide whether Assad stays or goes.  In other words, the US would have no problem if he were to stay.

Assad again miscalculated.  He somehow figured that because he had used chemical weapons on his own people before, Tillerson’s comment gave him carte blanche to do it again.  (Barack Obama’s ineffectiveness allowed him to do this with impunity in 2013).

While the President may be in Putin’s debt, Trump is also apparently under the influence of strong women, like Nikki Haley and Ivanka herself.  These women, and now Trump, may not be so prepared to let the latest violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Times of War (the 4th Geneva Convention) without punishment.

Bashar al-Assad is a broken man and doesn’t seem to care whether he stays or goes.  Russia’s oligarchs aren’t broken.  They want Putin to keep America in line. 

Who In His or Her Right Mind ...

When you stop and realize what a terrible job it really is, you have to think deeply about why anyone would want it.  If you think for a minute about the huge weight of the office, the incessant attention to anything and everything you say, the boring, agenda laden people around you, the supplicant donors, the media who would sit with you in the bathroom if allowed, the constant visits by heads of state, all the daily ceremonies celebrating anything and everything, one has to have a super sized ego or a deep down and massive inferiority complex to do this to him or herself.

And, really, the job of President is largely working with members of Congress who are as dumb as coal and interested in little more than padding their own pockets.  They too made a deal with the devil for riches and status.

And, still worse, you have the responsibility of the world and all of the fast moving trauma and dangers associated with whims by other world leaders and actions by terrorists groups.  In fact, you literally have singular responsibility, in the best case scenario, for solving or keeping the world from stupid but devastating wars and, even more, protecting the country and the world from nuclear catastrophe.

And, in the 21st Century, it is worse and more scary than ever before.  Now, we have to live with the possibilities, however frightening, of the President of the US setting off a cascading set of disasters leading to the end of civilization as we know it.

It’s really more than any sane person would want or do.  And, as such, it is unfair to complain about anyone who is stupid enough to go for it. 

Hillary was driven by a blind desire to bask in the power of it all, too stupid to realize how much things had changed, even since Bill.  And, the only Republican left standing was equally driven by a fierce inner drive to be on top, and equally unaware of the huge dangers and inhuman responsibilities of the office.

Being President of the United States today is far different from what it was in years gone by.  It is a job like no other, and not a very attractive one at that.  

Let Them Eat Cake

Around 1789, Marie-Antoinette, bride of France’s King Louis XVI, is believed to have said “let them eat cake,” when she was told that her French subjects had no bread to eat.   Soon after, the French Revolution felled the Monarchy and Marie-Antoinette literally lost her head.

I doubt a revolution is in our future, but our national government today is top heavy with people, mostly men, who are as far from understanding the needs of the vast majority of Americans as the French Monarchy was in 1789. 

The Trump Cabinet (not to mention Trump himself) is filled with billionaires and multi-billionaires.  A few are lowly multi millionaires.  But, as the New York Times has discovered, the vast majority of White House staff are themselves multi-millionaires.  In fact, politicians in and out of Congress and on both sides of the aisle, are far more wealthy than most realize.  Before Trump, and the emergence of the billionaire class in the executive branch, politicians have found increasing opportunities to fill their pockets, to become millionaires and more, while doing the people’s business.

But 7 in 10 Americans don’t have a $1,000 in savings.  One half of one percent of our citizenry have 10 million or more dollars in savings, and many senior members of our government have resources that place them in the tiniest imaginable percentage of citizens.

America is now, more than ever before, in the hands of an extremely wealthy elite.  The irony, of course, is that Trump and Republicans came to power because America’s working class rejected Hillary Clinton (and her husband) primarily because they felt she and Bill had hugely enriched themselves as a result of and during their roles in politics. 

But, today – irony or not, those in power are furthest away than ever before from understanding the needs of most Americans.  The replacement health care bill that went down just a bit ago is a case in point.  But, that bill is just the beginning or a period ahead when the most wealthy are going to try to serve the population at large.

Given that history has shown time and time again that it is virtually impossible for most people of enormous wealth to understand and serve those with infinitely less, there is little reason to expect much from the men now in power.  In fact, I would not be surprised to hear “let them eat cake” in today’s corridors of power. 

Eating Alone with A Woman!

The New York Times has discovered that Vice President Pence will not eat alone with any woman other than his wife!

And, he is Vice President of the United States!

And, it’s 2017 in America!

And, last I looked, the vast majority of women, by choice, do not spend most if not all of their time in the kitchen and at home.

And, last I looked too, women are at least equal if not superior to men in every human endeavor.

So, what on earth is he afraid of?  Does he worry that a woman might accost him over lunch?  Or he her? 

What internal daemons is he fighting?

Does this mean that Pence could not have lunch alone, or, heavens forgive, dinner with a senior woman in the Trump Administration or the Congress?

I am not sure how many decades one needs to go back to place this behavior, or which extreme religious sects one has to identify, but this is surely not universally accepted and expected, 21st Century American behavior.  It is, in fact, amazingly sexist and sends a terrible message to young and older women throughout the country – the Vice President of the United States will not eat alone with a person of the opposite sex.

It just blows the mind and is one more indication of the striking and abnormal behavior of yet another senior member of the new Administration.

Whistling In the Dark

There is much talk about the return to the manufacturing world of the twentieth century.  Lots of promises being made to out-of-work people that old plants will come to life again and new, greatly increased numbers of manufacturing jobs will be the hallmark of America in the first quarter of the 21st Century.

America may become more of an island again, buying less from abroad and producing more goods at home.  America may see a renaissance of “Made in America” products.  But, it is far less certain, even in the most rosy of scenarios, that we will see much if any net gain in blue collar (or even white collar) jobs as a result. 

All one has to do is look at manufacturing today in the U.S. and abroad.  Robotics has transformed manufacturing in industrial countries.  The result of this, of course, has been a net reduction in numbers of jobs for humans.  And, as robots become ever more omnipresent and ever more sophisticated, jobs for humans will become ever more scarce and require ever greater skill levels. 

In an article in the New York Times of March 29, 2017, a study by economists at Boston University and MIT found significant evidence of the negative effects of robots on jobs in manufacturing in America.  The article noted that data clearly show that robots are to blame for hundreds of thousands of lost manufacturing jobs over the last decade or so and that the number of industrial robots will increase many fold again in short order. 

It is clear that automation is here to stay and ever more an essential and central factor in manufacturing in this country and abroad.  To assume, as politicians may suggest, that manufacturing jobs will increase by bringing them “home” is as naïve as to assume that robotics is just an academic pursuit and that Robots will not continue their inexorable takeover of almost every element of manufacturing in the developed world, whether in the United States or wherever.  Robots are well rooted now and humans have already lost the race for American jobs.  Very simply, there will be increasingly fewer and fewer skilled and unskilled manufacturing workers as this decade advances no matter how many more plants in America expand or are opened. 

I Think I'll Join Mar-A-Lago

Mar-A-Logo membership recently went up from $100,000 to $200,000.  The doubling in price has a lot of people crying foul, for the owners seem to have doubled the cost of membership within days of their father being sworn in.

But, I am thinking about this as a consumer.  $200,000 is still just about the best deal possible.  I don’t particularly enjoy Florida at all.   I don’t play golf or hang out with people who have nothing better to do that to show their adulation for a rich man.   And, even if it is the Winter White House after all, I wouldn’t particularly be excited about spending more than a few minutes there.  Having been in other Trump-branded properties, I know I would find the décor over the top.

But, the access that I would get for my $200,000 is quite extraordinary.  I just need to whisper into the ear of the Secretary of Energy, the Attorney General or even the President himself and I can probably get almost anything done  After a couple of minutes with the right audience, this could all instantly pay for itself.

I think I’ll join.