Belmont Club

Suddenly it gets complicated

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

The arrest of 11 princes, four current ministers and tens of former ministers in Saudi Arabia is already being linked by innuendo to political events in the United States. Fueling the speculation is the fact that one of the most prominent of the arrested billionaire princes was a foe of Donald Trump. The New York Times writes:

Prince Alwaleed … has also recently sparred publicly with President Donald J. Trump. The prince was part of a group of investors who bought control of the Plaza Hotel in New York from Mr. Trump, and he also bought an expensive yacht from him as well. But in a twitter message in 2015 the prince called Mr. Trump “a disgrace not only to the GOP but to all America.” …

As president, Mr. Trump has developed a warm, mutually supportive relationship with the ascendant crown prince, who has rocketed from near obscurity in recent years to taking control of the country’s most important functions. …

At least three senior White House officials, including the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were reportedly in Saudi Arabia last month for meetings that were undisclosed at the time.

Alawaleed was also a supporter of Hillary Clinton with all that implies. Lee Stranahan noted the connection in 2016, “Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch is partnered in multiple media ventures with Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaweed Bin Talal, including an Arabic religious TV network with a direct tie to Hillary Clinton’s top aide Huma Abedin.”

Conspiracy theorizing?  Alas things are so interconnected that events in Saudi Arabia can’t help but naturally resound in Washington.  As Medea Benjamin pointed out in the Huffington Post more than a year ago, the Kingdom was a political presence. “If I told you that Democratic Party lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose brother John Podesta chairs Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is a registered foreign agent on the Saudi government’s payroll, you’d probably think I was a Trump-thumping, conspiratorial nutcase. But it’s true,” she said.

Nevertheless only recently did the public realize to what extent “we are the world” was literally true.  New York Times noted signs that Hillary’s international experience was telling against her in the last presidential campaign. “For years the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation thrived largely on the generosity of foreign donors and individuals who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the global charity,” the NYT wrote. “But now, as Mrs. Clinton seeks the White House, the funding of the sprawling philanthropy has become an Achilles’ heel for her campaign and, if she is victorious, potentially her administration as well.”

She boasted of being an internationalist. Now perhaps that is not such a good thing to be.  The danger is that the connection to Washington will begin to unravel in the very place it cannot be managed; from the Saudi end as the billionaire princes are netted in the “anti-corruption” campaign.  The downside of interconnectedness is that pulling on one thread can unravel another part of the political fabric .

Democrats pushing the Trump collusion investigation learned to their dismay that they too had a Russia problem. “NBC reports that Tony Podesta (the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta) and his firm are the subjects of a criminal investigation by the special prosecutor. … The Podesta probe concerns suggestions he failed to fully disclose spending (a felony) while lobbying for a pro-Russian Ukrainian group.”

This was unforeseen.  Nor did they realize that none the compartments of the great global world were watertight. Within days of being berated by Senator Diane Feinstein for not doing enough to stop Putin’s meddling in elections Silicon Valley had a Russia problem too.  The New York Times today reported that Putin secretly bought a large stake in the social media companies through a dummy.  Leaked documents from a Bermuda law firm reveal “that a state-controlled bank in Moscow helped to fuel Yuri Milner’s ascent in Silicon Valley, where the Russia investigation has put tech companies under scrutiny”.

Behind Mr. Milner’s investments in Facebook and Twitter were hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kremlin. Obscured by a maze of offshore shell companies, the Twitter investment was backed by VTB, a Russian state-controlled bank often used for politically strategic deals. And a big investor in Mr. Milner’s Facebook deal received financing from Gazprom Investholding, another government-controlled financial institution, according to the documents. … Ultimately, Mr. Milner’s companies came to own more than 8 percent of Facebook and 5 percent of Twitter, helping earn him a place on various lists of the world’s most powerful business people.

That will mortify those who hoped Silicon Valley would guard against fake news.  They should now ask themselves: who guards the Silicon Valley?  To answer “the president” puts the problem right back where it started.

Besides exposing the Kremlin’s stake in social media the Bermuda documents also illuminate the financial interconnectedness of global elite. “The world’s biggest businesses, heads of state and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport who have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being revealed,” the Guardian wrote.  It turns out that Western politicians, tycoons, celebrities, Middle Eastern potentates and Communist dictators may have far more in common with each other than the gum-chewing, vodka-guzzling, beater-driving Deplorables over whom they rule with such contempt.  This creates a conflict of interest, a client-agent problem to which there is no obvious solution.

It was good while it lasted but the trouble is the globally networked, complex paradise the elites have built is morphing into something they can’t control. The Saudi arrests, the Russia investigations, the Bermuda and Panama papers, etc are classic signs of a complex system taking on a life of its own. The fatal human overconfidence in the ability to control complex systems was the subject of the late Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park.  In the novel dinosaurs were Crichton’s equivalent of Frankenstein’s monster, albeit several tons heavier and with sharper teeth.  At the start of the 21st century the global park seemed manageable, simple.  But … what’s that heavy tread?

simple systems can produce complex behavior. For example, pool balls. … In theory, that’s a fairly simple system, almost a Newtonian system. … In theory, you could predict the behavior of the ball far into the future, as it keeps bouncing from side to side. You could predict where it will end up three hours from now, in theory.

But in fact, it turns out you can’t predict more than a few seconds into the future. Because almost immediately very small effects-imperfections in the surface of the ball, tiny indentations in the wood of the table-start to make a difference. And it doesn’t take long before they overpower your careful calculations. So it turns out that this simple system of a pool ball on a table has unpredictable behavior.

What if that heavy step means something is on the loose? The pool hall calculations of the globalists have clearly gone awry as the princes languishing in a gilded Saudi prison learned to their cost. There seems little anyone can do to stop the runaway train nor any telling where it will stop. One option is to let history, like a forest fire, burn the situation down to a manageable simplicity which will be tough on those who have to pay the price. The other is to hope current political upheavals driven by voter intuition will result in a controlled burn — with “control” being the hardest  and least certain part.

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Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan, by Sean Parnell and John Bruning.  This book is Lieutenant Parnell’s personal account of the legendary U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division’s heroic stand in the mountains of Afghanistan. Acclaimed for its vivid, poignant, and honest recreation of sixteen brutal months of nearly continuous battle in the deadly Hindu Kesh, it is an action-packed, highly emotional true story of enormous sacrifice and bravery.

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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
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