Brexit, Trump and Putin

A US Senate Intelligence report released Monday notes Russian meddling in the 2016 election is far worse than imagined and continues to this day. This is not news, as this conclusion has been obvious for some time. Yet, seeing an official report gives it more gravitas.

But, it goes much further than influencing a division in American politics. Putin wants to divide and conquer all western democracies. Why? A de-unified western world is far easier for Russia to take advantage of. This is what Putin has done for most of his career dating back to when he first started with the KGB.

Which brings us to Brexit. Trump benefitted from Russian efforts, being involved far more than he lets on, but is it as far as what I believe to be true that he is a compromised asset?  I also believe Putin had a hand in a disinformation campaign leading up to a favorable Brexit vote.

To be frank, just as Trump was involved to some extent with Russian meddling, I would not be surprised if Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson had some level of involvement with such a campaign on behalf of Brexit. I feel both men stirred up the Brexit pot and then bailed when the difficult work began. My guess is they want to ride in white horses to save the day, when things look so bleak.

This a key reason, I believe another Brexit vote is warranted. The British people were just as misled as the US people. I recognize fully linking Russian meddling with Johnsoh (he has been critical of Russia on the spy poisoning) and Farage is a less than reasonable claim. Yet, claiming Russia hard a hand in things, like they have done so in every important European vote, is not.

So, Prime Minister call for another Brexit vote and this time make sure it uses real data. It is that important.

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Sunday summaries

I hope your weekend is going well. Several topics have toyed with me writing a full post, so I will resort to a brief summary of a few. In no particular order:

The royal family of Saudi Arabia has done a pretty inept job of lying to the world about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It is so unartful that even the US President, who is not known for truth and wants just to do transactions, is being forced to admit they must be lying. I applaud other world leaders and even more than a few US Senators for stepping up to cry foul. My guess is this will eventually lead to the fall of Crown Prince MSB as he is embarrassing the family and country and this is adds to a growing list of notorious screw-ups.

Heading north to Great Britain, there were an estimated 750,000 British folks that protested in the streets of London yesterday asking for a new Brexit vote with actual facts being disseminated. While I fully understand the rationale of those who want Brexit, from the outset, Brexit will be harmful financially to Great Britain. Many financial companies and EU headquarters have either moved or are planning to move to an EU site. Plus, Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to talk openly of votes to leave Great Britain should it occur. If that is not enough, it is believed that Vladimir Putin has had a hand in the disinformation as he did with the 2016 and current 2018 elections in the US.

Returning to the US, candidates of my old Republican Party are taking a lot of heat over their positions on healthcare over the years. They should. Not only has this party not tried to improve and stabilize the Affordable Care Act, they have sabotaged and made it worse. It should be noted politicians don’t seem to understand a lot about healthcare. Here is a letter I sent to my newspaper that will give you a sense of what has transpired.

It seems healthcare is a key issue this election. Surveys the last eighteen months have indicated the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act stabilized and improved. Yet, the GOP leadership has tried to repeal it and actually has sabotaged its success making premiums higher than they otherwise would have been. The Senate’s defunding by 89% of adverse selection payments to insurers, the President’s defunding of payments to insurers to help people in need with co-pays and deductibles and the fight in states like NC to not expand Medicaid have increased exchange premiums and driven more carriers out of markets. This retired actuary, benefits consultant and benefits manager believe these measures have harmed Americans and people should know this.

Finally, a story that should get even more airplay than it is relates to the voter suppression attempts by the Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp in his role as State Secretary. Whereas an ethical person would recuse himself from overseeing elections, Kemp has been pretty blatant in his efforts to make it harder to vote. I do not like the voter ID laws, gerrymandering districts and aggressive voter suppression tactics being done in my own and other GOP led states. These are Jim Crow-like. Yes, Democrats have done similar tactics, but what is being done the last eight years has been an orchestrated effort by a group called ALEC, funded by the Koch Brothers.

I am pretty tired of this the “ends justifies the means” rhetoric. I see what can happen when people cheat. They cheat to get elected and cheat once they are there. The US President is not only enriching people who donated to his efforts, he is enriching himself by using his position to make more money. This self-dealing is actually illegal. And, when people cheat, it devalues our country and state governance.

 

 

 

A call out

In an effort to be diplomatic, but brutally frank, let me call out a few items.

– There have been five advisors to Donald Trump who have been found guilty of crimes and not one of them is a witch. From what I gather, there is more to come and the ones bandied about don’t seem like witches either.

– I have seen Bob Woodward, one of the most credible reporters in the world, interviewed three times about his book “Fear,” which is s best seller here and in Europe. The stories and anecdotes about the Trump White House are detailed, consistent and believable.

– An underreported story is Russia and China doing a joint military exercise, including the involvement of Putin and Xi making Russian pancakes for the participants. A reason cited for this effort is the anxiety over the tensions from the US President. The actions of this President have aided an ascendant China and allowed Russia to cheat others.

– It has been reported that both Scotland and Ireland are continuing to find anguish over a forthcoming Brexit. This is not new, but it has resurfaced as a concern. Given this knowledge, you would think a new Brexit vote might be in order. Just yesterday, the London mayor asked for a new Brexit referendum.

– Russia has now been accused of sending an electronic ear worm that debilitated US and Canadian embassy people in Cuba. I also learned yesterday that the Russians have been able to successfully jam communications of US soldiers in Syria. And, yet our leadership is pretty silent about this. The new war does not seem to be physical, it is cyber-warfare and through social media.

There is so much more to mention, but this is enough to call out for now.

Saturday in the park salutations

Happy weekend. Saturday in the park is an idea worth considering. I will need to check with my better half regarding her thoughts for the day. Below are a few rambling thoughts to salute the news of the week.

Pakistan has selected a new leader, a very charismatic former cricket star named Imran Khan. He has promised to end corruption and offer better governance. I wish him well, but a reporter once said on NPR, the corruption is ingrained and corrupts the best of intentions. It should be noted his rivals are crying foul and want a new election.

Speaking of the best of intentions, Theresa May is trying to take Great Britain out of the EU with some semblance of a plan. It is surprising it has gotten this late in the game without more planning achieved. I still hold out hopes that the Brits will realize they screwed up and remain in the EU. Voters were not told of all the facts and I fault people like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin for their roles in deceiving folks. Decisions based on pride tend to lack prudence.

The now annual severe wildfires out west continue and are alarming. On the other end of the spectrum, stalled or slow moving weather patterns in the east are flooding various areas. In the middle of the country, severe heat is causing major concerns to drought areas. In 2011, a report put together by the largest pension trust managers in the world noted their financial concerns over not addressing climate change. They noted the increase in wildfires, concerns over severe droughts and stalled weather patterns as huge financial concerns. All of the above are a concern, but the fire and drought issues also shine a spotlight on our global water crisis, where certain areas around the world are in danger of diminishing access to fresh water. Yet, the leaders of our federal government are doing their best to avoid recognition or discussion of climate change action.

Another CEO, Les Moonves of CBS, has been accused of past sexual misconduct. It seems that men who lead (or are stars in) entertainment businesses that hire and promote attractive people cannot keep their hands and other body parts to themselves. Fox, NBC, Weinstein, and CBS have each had bad apples. But, as women know, this is a universal problem where men with power can impose their will on women in less senior roles. This is why the video of the waitress throwing the man, who felt up her fanny,  to the ground is so inspiring. He was held and charged with sexual battery.

Finally, the stand your ground law in Florida has caused yet one more death. A white man, who has taken it upon himself to accost people who park in handicap spaces, was shoved to the ground by a black man who took offense at his remarks. From the ground, the man is seen shooting (and killing) the shover. The man was not charged due to this law, which has caused a split on public opinion. Two questions – would opinion change if the races of the men were reversed?  Would a man be dead if a gun was not present?

Other news abounds, but I wanted to focus away from news that seems to suck all the oxygen out of the room.

 

 

A few more Sunday sermonettes

Happy Sunday. No, I won’t be preaching this morning, but I will be trying my best to speak a few truths.

It easy to blame someone else or some other entity for your troubles. The European Union is not perfect, but has helped many countries through hard times. When they are helpful, country leaders pat themselves on the back. When times are tough, it is nice to have a scapegoat. Relationships are hard work, but countries need to think hard if they want a divorce from the EU before they have the “what do we do now moment?”

Speaking of relationships, the man in the White House tends to have transactional ones. A pundit said he counts few friends saying he touts a “me against the world” mindset. If he keeps on ticking off our allies, this description will be very apt. Unfortunately he will drag the US down with him.

Two of the worst terms in America are RINO and DINO. They mean Republican (or Democrat) in Name Only. They are used by tribal party members as an insult to someone who is not towing the party line. As an unaffiliated voter who has been a member of both parties, I find these labels offensive. We pledge allegiance to the country, not some party. If someone uses this term, do yourself a favor and pay attention to what the target of their labeling is saying. It likely has more veracity than the claimant’s argument.

The United Nations came out with a report Friday defining how Trump’s policies are detrimental to the poor in America. America has a poverty problem that predates Trump. Too many are living paycheck to paycheck and some are even beneath that. This President and Congress’ solution is to give a huge tax break to wealthy people and companies. And, if the repeal of the Affordable Care Act went through, it would have been even worse. America has fallen in the global ranks on upward socio-economic mobility. It matters more to whom you were born than merit in getting ahead.

On a positive note, Costco raised its minimum wage from $13 to $14 an hour and Walmart increased theirs from $9 to $11 an hour. And more states and cities are making planned and new increases. These are steps in the right direction. It would have been nice for Congress to have increased the minimum wage along with the tax decrease which impacts corporations annually. It would have helped pay for some of the lost tax revenue if companies had to increase pay for those in greatest need, plus this money would be spent as they need it more than the 1% group.

Thanks for letting me preach. Any Amens or rebuttals? Other truisms?

A little bit of this and that

It is a rainy Sunday, so it is a great day to drink coffee and read. Since I am struggling for a longer post subject, here is a little bit of this and that for your reflection and thoughts. In no particular order:

There are many people who will tell you what is wrong with the Middle East, but I don’t believe it is a solvable problem. There are too many passionate religious and tribal differences that cross borders. Unless like minded people had control over their situation, did not need to rely on others and could respect the rights of others, peace is simply not achievable. In my simple view, the best anyone can achieve is to place lids on simmering pots on a stove.

The global economy is expected to grow by 3.9% each of the next two years, up from slightly lower results in 2016 and 2017. Yet, Christine LaGarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, cautioned at Davos last week over concerns of socio-economic inequity and the rising debt in the US. Not everyone is benefitting from the growth which will cause greater uncertainty and unrest.

In a very interesting and not unexpected development, Canada and other nations completed the TPP, which is the Asia-Pacific trade agreement the US exited, When the US tried to negotiate a bilateral agreement with Japan, the Japanese trade leaders suggested the US reconsider the TPP instead. The US finds itself on the outside looking in. I find it interesting that the US President said in an interview which will air tonight that he would reconsider the pullout from Paris. It is hard to have a relationship when you are not in the room with others.

On a related subject, if Brexit follows through with the commitment to leave the EU, other cities will continue to benefit from EU headquarters migration from London. Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt are each benefitting from conpanies moving EU headquarters. A softer Brexit will help reduce the migration, but it will continue.

I guess if there is a theme to all of these subjects it is working together across country borders and regions within is more productive than going it alone. Yet, one thing remains true – collaboration is hard work. It requires give and take. If one party gets everything it wants, then the others will not, so detente is harder. So, when I hear someone who likes to win say an agreement is a disaster, I don’t put as much credence in those comments. Lifting all boats makes more money for everyone. A man won a Nobel prize for this concept. So, let’s work hard together for peace and prosperity for all. It beats the hell out of the alternatives.

 

Let’s speak plainly

After watching a few newscasts with politicians using words that sound nice, but lack substance, I am in the need of some plain spoken comments. Here are a few to start the conversation. Please let me hear some of yours.

The US President and Congress are speaking of Tax Reform, but what I am hearing are tax cuts. We have a debt of $20 Trillion and an annual budget deficit. There is no way in hell to reduce either with lower tax revenue. We need spending cuts and tax increases, but no politician has the stomach to do what is needed.

Steve Bannon is the latest White House departure to say the President likes for his direct reports to compete for his attention and favor. People say this is how he likes to run his businesses. Two comments. First, I have witnessed this model as an employee, manager and consultant and it is a highly unproductive model. Second, biographers and financial reporters have all said Trump’s business record is spotty. He is a great salesman, but the word great is rarely used to describe his management style. It shows in the level of chaos and incompetence in the White House. General Kelly has helped, but it is a tall hill to climb.

While I understand the reasons for Brexit, I have been very concerned by the consideration and vote to exit the EU. From the outset, financial experts forewarned of the British leaving the EU. They spoke of EU headquarter movement, less investment, and less collaboration. This is already occurring in plans of the exit. I understand Former PM Tony Blair has an idea to govern immigration better without leaving – my strong suggestion is to hear him out.

Along these lines, those who want to retrench from global markets need to know a truism – it is very hard to shrink to greatness. I understand middle income workers in flourishing economies feel the brunt of globalization, but a large part of that is due to and will continue to result from technology gains. Retraining is a must. Shoring up wages is a must. But, we need to be careful about retrenching from global markets, that also add jobs here.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with these comments? If you do not, let me know why?