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Putin is Bust So Who Won the Pot?

If Putin is the world's puppet master he's not doing very well.  Russia's economy has been in crisis since 2014, with no end in sight.  The Kremlin has been in the doldrums for two reasons: the continued decline in oil prices and economic sanctions imposed on Moscow for its incursions into Ukraine.

Trends have worsened rather than gotten better.  Initial hopes the Trump administration would cut Russia some slack were dashed.  "Enormous amounts of money have flowed in and out of Russia over the past several months as oil prices and U.S. policies turned from favorable to seemingly unfavorable".

Markets began to doubt the certainty that Trump would shift policy on Russia and President Obama in January extended sanctions, set to expire in March, until March 2018. The European Council had already extended its economic sanctions against Russia until July 31.

In March, the oil rally also ended with a plunge to below $48 per barrel, near its lowest price since November, when OPEC struck a deal to reduce production. Driving the cutback was a 400,000 barrels per day increase in U.S. crude oil production since September and leftover excess from OPEC before their cutback agreement.

Putin has been forced to slash his defense budget by 25.5% for 2017. Jane's notes "the reduction represents the largest cut to military expenditure in the country since the early 1990s".   This comes as Donald Trump begins a military buildup.

President Trump’s first budget called Thursday for a dramatic shift from the “soft power” diplomacy of the Obama era to a “hard power” military buildup, cutting the State Department by 28 percent in a slashing of foreign aid, boosting Pentagon spending by 10 percent and budgeting more than $4 billion to start construction of a border wall with Mexico.  ...

Some of President Obama’s cherished programs, such as federal support for alternative energy and climate change initiatives, are on the chopping block. The EPA is slated for a cut of 31 percent.

Russia is facing a tough Nikki Haley in the UN, something that has left the New York Times baffled. " In recent weeks, Ms. Haley has condemned what she called Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, vowed to maintain sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, in her Senate confirmation hearing, went as far as saying that Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria."

Her comments on Russia have sometimes contradicted the more conciliatory language of Mr. Trump, who has made clear his desire to increase cooperation with Russia. Ms. Haley, by contrast, has often echoed the talking points of the previous administration, as well as the concerns of Republicans in Congress who distrust the Kremlin.

But the rhetoric is matched by actions on the ground. US troops arrived in Syria to support the impending assault on Raqqa. After an extended retreat before the Kremlin in the Middle East America is re-asserting itself again.

Worse the administration has been exhorting its European allies to spend more money on NATO.  Though Trump's urgings were mocked by politicians who point out the Euros spend on "UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism" it nevertheless amounts to a call to arm against Russia.

It is reasonable to suppose that puppetmaster Putin would prefer 1) less US oil production; 2) lower American defense spending; 3) a free hand in Syria; 4) lifting of sanctions but there is precious little evidence he is getting any of it. On the contrary Putin is doomed if current trends continue.

If Putin robbed the bank where's the money? The problem with the Russian hacking stories now roiling Washington is demonstrating how any of it worked to the Kremlin's advantage. A proper conspiracy theory involving a foreign power in the last election should at least consider China, not just Russia, as a suspect. The Chinese at least would have benefited from cheap oil.  Yet even here there are problems.

The U.S. China Business Council (USCBC) might be hard pressed to find friends in the Trump Administration. The DC lobbying firm representing American multinationals in the world's No. 2 economy released a report on Tuesday ahead of Trump's press conference, hoping, perhaps, to intercept the news flow with a more positive look at U.S.-China business relations.

The 20-page report serves as a talking points memo for big U.S. companies who rightfully fear their manufactured goods will be soaked with extra trade duties under president Donald Trump.

The golden rule in detecting conspiracies lies in observing what suspects did rather than focusing on what they are alleged to have said. Lobbying and influence peddling in Washington is a multi-billion dollar business. From the policy record there is no reason to think that Russia is the only, or even the major, source of corruption in the capital.  It's not hard to believe there's mischief afoot in DC.  The more interesting question is whether the Narrative is on the trail of the actual culprit or following a red herring.

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Books:

The Vegetarian Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity with Vegetables, Fruits, Grains, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds, and More, Based on the Wisdom of Leading American Chefs, by Karen Page. A comprehensive guide to maximizing flavor using vegetables based on insights from the chefs of such acclaimed restaurants as Crossroads and M.A.K.E. in Los Angeles; Cavendle 79, Dirt Candy, and Kajitsu in New York City; Green Zebra in Chicago; Greens and Millennium in San Francisco; Natural Selection and Portobello in Portland; Plum Bistro in Seattle; and Vedge in Philadelphia.

Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, In a grand narrative spanning 1,800 years of European history, distinguished political philosopher Larry Siedentop firmly rejects Western liberalism’s usual account of itself as emerging in opposition to religion in the early modern era. He argues instead that liberal thought is, in its underlying assumptions, the offspring of the Church.

The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity, by Peter Brown. Marking a departure in our understanding of Christian views of the afterlife from 250 to 650 CE, this much-acclaimed book explores a revolutionary shift in thinking about the fate of the soul that occurred around the time of the fall of Rome. Brown describes how this shift transformed the Church’s institutional relationship to money and set the stage for its domination of medieval society in the West. Some critics' notes: "beautifully written" and "prodigiously original".

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Volume Two of The Liberation Trilogy), by Rick Atkinson. In the second volume of his epic trilogy about the liberation of Europe in World War II, Atkinson tells the harrowing story of the campaigns in Sicily and Italy. He follows the strengthening American and British armies as they invade Sicily in July 1943 and then, mile by bloody mile, fight their way north toward Rome.

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.


Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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