Where's Waldo?

There are two ways to find one's bearings in the maze of allegations over Russian collusion in the West. The first is to evaluate each piece of breaking news with respect to the tangled skeins of conspiracy that both sides and hundreds of pundits tirelessly launch. The second approach is to understand Russia's objectives from first principles, and from them evaluate each piece of information in relation to the Kremlin's interests.

Unless there's some easy way to find Waldo it's easy to become a victim of disinformation. The quickest way to identify the character is to become familiar with his signature. The unfailing signature of a Putin stooge is he promotes the Kremlin's interests. What are those interests?

Common sense suggests Russia's three most immediate priorities are a) keeping its energy industry profitable; b) maintaining a military posture of intimidation in Europe; and c) keeping Assad in Syrian power and evicting the U.S., in cooperation with Iran, from the region. It will be readily apparent that achieving these goals will serve the interests of Putin. Conversely, their defeat or frustration is necessarily a setback for him. Find the man or men who back those goals and you've got Waldo.

It may be useful to examine the prospects of each of these Russian goals at the present time.

The future of Russian oil isn't very bright under current trends. As CNBC noted in March 2018: "[T]he United States will dominate the oil industry for the next 5 years, International Energy Agency forecasts." If this continues it will beggar Putin, or at least straiten his circumstances. He would certainly welcome a reduction in American oil production.

Current American military increases must dampen Russia's military prospects in the European theater. In the words of the Los Angeles Times in February 2018: "Trump Proposes Huge Increase in Military Spending." This can hardly be welcome to Putin:

The budget blueprint, combined with a defense boost that Congress approved last week, would increase Pentagon accounts for weapons, troops, training and for nuclear arms programs run by the Energy Department by more than $74 billion, a 10% increase over current spending levels.

Trump's budget plan was released weeks after the Pentagon issued a national security strategy that called for a shift away from battling terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, and retooling the military to deter and, if necessary, fight nuclear-armed adversaries such as Russia, China or North Korea.

Russia's position in Syria was recently threatened by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who "called for further U.S. action against Russia as punishment for crimes in Syria, in a fiery address at an event marking the seventh year of the Syrian Civil War." Only a few days ago, UN ambassador Nikki Haley warned of action unless Russia, Syria and Iran honored a ceasefire in Syria. While some skepticism has been expressed over whether the U.S. can effectively checkmate Russia in Syria, the Washington Post reports the administration lobbying the Saudis in just such an endeavor.

But current policies are not a given. There may be political pressure from the Saudis to cut back on U.S. oil production. Developments in Syria may push the administration into withdrawing before Iran and Russia. Whatever the justification, if this ever happens at least there will be an objective yardstick against which to measure Trump's direction of movement, some frame of reference against which to base the suspicion of collusion or the opposite thereof. Given the tangle of theories swirling around the Russia probe, it may ultimately be simpler and more accurate to evaluate actions in the light of the following question: does the development empower Russia's strategic goals? Or does it hinder them?

Applying this test is more difficult than it seems because both sides of the current political divide claim to be opposed to Russian aggression. Both sides will darkly hint at conflicts of interest, at payments received from Russia through foundations or business partnerships or through relatives. Stories will endlessly cite associations, meetings and correspondence as proof of collusion. All this should be taken into consideration.

But at the end of the day, ugly is as ugly does. Collusion must either manifest itself in objectively pro-Kremlin policy or it is nothing. The three clearest indicators to watch are actions which reduce U.S. oil output, cripple American military readiness and retreat before Putin in Syria.

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Books:

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. This book reveals the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty but also experience wrenching change. Professions of all kinds - from lawyers to truck drivers - will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar. Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, MIT's Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and a new path to prosperity.

Open Curtains: What if Privacy were Property not only a Right, by George Spix and Richard Fernandez. This book is a proposal for bringing privacy to the internet by assigning monetary value to data. The image of "open curtains" is meant to suggest a system that allows different degrees of privacy, controlled by the owner. The "curtains" may be open, shut, or open to various degrees depending on which piece of data is being dealt with. Ultimately, what is at stake is governance. We are en route to control of society by and for the few rather than by and for the many, because currently the handful of mega tech companies are siphoning up everyone's data, for nothing, and selling it. Under the open curtains proposal, government would also pay for its surveillance in the form of tax rebates, providing at least some incentive for government to minimize its intrusions ... (from a review by E. Greenwood).

Skin in the Game, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In his new work, Taleb uses the phrase "skin in the game" to introduce a complex worldview that applies to literally all aspects of our lives. "Never trust anyone who doesn't have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will profit and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them," he says. In his inimitable style, he pulls on everything from Antaeus the Giant to Hammurabi to Donald Trump to Seneca to the ethics of disagreement to create a jaw-dropping tapestry for understanding our world in a brand new way.

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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