Thursday, February 2, 2017

NATO Update

My Zimbio  The Wall Street Journal reported on February 2, 2017, that "NATO Scraps Ukraine Security Meeting." Although Russia and Russian-backed separatists are escalating violence from Donbass, Ukraine, President Trump suggests dropping sanctions on Russia while Europe (from the NATO alliance) has cancelled talks with Ukraine about including it under a missile-defense system.

Recent shelling has killed a dozen Ukrainian Soldiers, wounding many more and damaging water, electricity and heating for 17,000 people in Avdiivka.  Europe is reluctant to help in spite of "The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine" report that fighting is severe as any that it has observed in Donetsk, Ukraine (WSJ, p.A8). 

Several weeks later Secretary of Defense Mattis had supportive words for NATO.

The same week Secretary of State Tillerson also strongly supported the Minsk Accords, the ceasefire in Ukraine.


That's progress.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Innovation Letter

My Zimbio  In "an open letter from Tech Sector Leaders," one hundred forty five Silicon Valley big shots expressed concern before the election that Donald Trump will invite disaster for innovation.  They thought his policies would undermine key dynamics that help the US retain a global innovation lead.  Oops!  The Donald recently met with these folks (minus one or two) to insure communication channels are open.

You may recall "the Valley" leaders were calling for 1) progressive immigration policy; 2) free and open exchange of ideas and unfettered internet architecture; and 3) continued government investment in infrastructure, education and scientific research.

While this letter certainly preaches "motherhood and apple pie" values on the surface and inspires us to examine Trump's policy suggestions more carefully, it comes from people who don't care a shred about the majority of people gravitating to Trump.  Another letter I read before the election comes to mind: a Walt Disney IT professional wrote to share his career predicament when he, like hundreds of colleagues, was displaced by a crew from India.  If this man wanted any severance at all, he (and the other Disney employees who were being fired) would train the new comers how to do his/her job and "go quietly into the night."

People voting for Trump want help, need help, against people like these Silicon Valley "silver spooners."  These Valley people don't just want innovation, they want exclusive right to drive capital to their projects and innovations that profit them.  They want the ability to hire indiscriminately in a negotiation against hi cost employees (in many cases).  They also want to control how investments in infrastructure, education and research are made, so they may forward their progressive political agenda.  Trump may not "do things their way."  Indeed, he surely won't "do things their way."

We might be well advised to attack legal and financial impediments to innovation (such as Sarbanes Oxley and Obamacare legislation) rather than adopting self serving proscriptions against Trump.  How can we work together to improve our business climate  and national competitiveness?  Will Trump get it right?  We shall see...


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Books

My Zimbio Three years ago, based on advice from James Altucher, I published my first book.  Two years ago I set out to write my next book, based on concerns about Russian adventurism in Ukraine.  On Monday, my third book (a novel) will "go live" on Kindle (you can buy a paperback today on Amazon).

Amazon has pretty good support for authors, including the opportunity to post a very functional author page.  Blog support doesn't work smoothly with Google's "blogger" but you have found this anyway,  haven't you?

I've produced web sites to support the Navies, Petrol and Chocolate and Citizen's Guide to Marksmanship titles.  Am also considering partnerships with Sabaton, the Swedish heavy metal band (with Poltava song) and the Royal Stockholm Opera Chorus (or Neeme Jarvi's version here), which has produced Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa opera, both supporting Navies, Petrol and Chocolate.

Thanks for reading. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Rex Tillerson

My Zimbio  Should Donald Trump appoint the CEO of Exxon to be the next Secretary of State?  An engineer by training, Rex Tillerson may not have the formal  history and foreign policy training we might expect for a Secretary of State.  However, his roles  in Russia and Yemen for Exxon, and other roles including the most senior at that company, mean that Tillerson has a practitioner's perspective in parts of the globe where most people are (at best) tourists.

Those concerned that Rex might not have the human rights and environmental perspectives needed from a US  secretary of state may have valid concerns.  Presumably confirmation hearings will flesh out the man's perspectives in these areas, and we expect his responses to questioning will not be cavalier.

All the top cabinet picks Trump has revealed thus far are white men.   What about Carly Fiorini?  Ben Carson?  Other highly qualified people (Republicans?) who might communicate Trump's intent to make things better for all of us?  Stay tuned...

I have spent a great deal of time parsing the dynamic in  Ukraine this past year (see my book, Navies, Petrol and Chocolate, available on Amazon), and suspect Tillerson's  substantial  experience in the  energy sector will help put Ukraine in a  better situation, if  he  chooses to  include that agenda among his top priorities.  I also suspect his  relationships  with Putin  and  Sechin will help us keep Russia in line without sparking World War III.  Certainly, his career at Exxon show he doesn't "sell out" the organization he works for/leads, so  I suspect his relationships with Russians will  mostly help make Europe safer and drive a strong, well informed, United States foreign policy.

I understood Exxon negotiations with Russia that spooked Putin (described in my book) were conducted by Lee Raymond, the previous Exxon CEO.  Tillerson's negotiating success doing arctic drilling in Russian waters was perhaps a consolation prize awarded the company after Putin blocked the acquisition/merger with Yukos a few years before.  In any event, confirmation hearings should be entertaining!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Mideast Update

My Zimbio  Five thousand US troops are assisting a broader coalition to push Daesh fighters from Mosul.  This is primarily an Iraqi fight, with Kurd, Turkish and Syrian forces more or less involved.

Meanwhile, Secretary Kerry is meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Lausanne, Switzerland, to talk about Syria.  A few thoughts for Secretary Kerry (or perhaps, suggested words for his conversation with Secretary Lavrov):  "You can have Syria.  Do stop the violence and stay out of Iraq.  By the way: we're putting a division and some aircraft in Ukraine to keep the peace there.  Stop the war mongering!  We want peace..."




For more about Ukraine, see www.ukrainematters.org

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chocolate

My Zimbio  In February of 2016, Aivaras Abromavicius resigned from his post as Economic Development Minister in Ukraine, because he claimed various officials, including Petro Poroshenko, the country's president, were attempting inappropriate influence.  Poroshenko isn't the only official so accused:  "Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, for example, stepped down on Poroshenko’s advice in February, after accusations from anti-corruption organizations, MPs and protesters that he was at best ineffective at combating corruption and at worst corrupt himself." (Kateryna Kruk, "Kiev's Leaders Have Let Us Down," Newsweek, 3/8/2016).

Kruk writes about Ukraine's Maidan revolution:  "We wanted a free society built on universal values.  We wanted a just state based on rule of law.  We held our ground in the square at the heart of Kiev not because we wanted another rotation of political elites but because we needed to see systemic changes in the way our country was run."  She also concedes, "The ideals of Maidan were so comprehensive and ambitious that we should use them as a roadmap for change in Ukraine in a much longer narrative."  What was Maidan about?  How does the country's chocolate magnate end up running things, anyway?  Where does the country go from here?


In 2013, crowds around Ukraine began taking to the streets, calling for closer ties to the European Union and measures to fight corruption within Ukraine.  Russian ties to Ukraine's government at the time, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, reinforced the government with loans and armed henchmen to put down the protests.  In response to this, Ukraine's parliament, the historic Verkhovna Rada, voted to impeach Yanukovych, and installed its speaker, Oleksandr Turchenov, as interim president until elections could be held in May.



Petro Poroshenko isn't your ordinary chocolate magnate.  His father was a plant manager and young Petro (like Vladimir Putin) received some early renown as a practitioner of Sambo and Judo.  Poroshenko received a degree in economics from Kiev State University, where he met and befriended the future president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakasvili.  Poroshenko continued his involvement with the university for some years, having also started a legal advisory firm that ultimately supplied cocoa beans to the Soviet chocolate industry.

In 1993, Poroshenko teamed with his father and several other businessmen to found UkrPromInvest Ukrainian Industry and Investment Company, then successfully ran for parliament in 1998.  In the years leading to his parliamentary run, UkrPromInvest acquired control over several state-owned confectionery enterprises, which were combined into a single company called "Roshen."  UkrPromInvest has interests in various types of firms (not only confectionery), while Poroshenko also receives some notoriety for his ownership of the 5 Kanal television channel.

Poroshenko first gained election as a member of Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (the party of the second president of the country), but broke off to form his own "Solidarity" party, ultimately heading Viktor Yuschenko's campaign for president.  Viktor won the presidency of Ukraine in 2005.  Poroshenko was appointed to various posts in Yuschenko's government, but was also tainted in various scandals in those years.  He was reelected to Parliament in 2006, but wasn't successful in leadership bids there and opted not to run for another term in 2007.

According to Forbes, Poroshenko attained billionaire status in the early 2000's but has suffered some financial set-backs in recent years due to general Ukraine economic malaise and specific Russian actions against Roshen, Poroshenko's chocolate company.  

Yuschenko rehabilitated Poroshenko in 2009, appointing him Foreign Minister and then to the National Security and Defense Council, where Poroshenko pushed for Ukraine membership of NATO.  In 2012 Poroshenko again ran for Parliament, this time as an independent candidate (district number 12), winning election with 70% of the vote.  

Poroshenko actively supported the Euromaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014, and stated in an interview, "From the beginning, I was one of the organizers of the Maidan. My television channel — Channel 5 — played a tremendously important role.... At that time, Channel 5 started to broadcast, there were just 2,000 people on the Maidan. But during the night, people went by foot — seven, eight, nine, 10 kilometers — understanding this is a fight for Ukrainian freedom and democracy. In four hours, almost 30,000 people were there." ("Interview with Ukrainian Presidential Candidate," Washington Post, 4/25/2014).  

Given this involvement, Poroshenko's success as a candidate for the presidency is not surprising.  Although he has initiated various reforms as president (including significant changes to police organizations in Kiev, for example), it remains to be seen whether Petro Poroshenko will be able to maintain the credibility necessary to win the presidency when elections recur in 2019.  Ukraine hasn't given up on better government or a better environment for business (and life in general).  Poroshenko will have to demonstrate he can take the country to a new place, if he expects to run and win again.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Human Rights

My Zimbio  What, exactly, are rights?  Someone's idea of entitlements... a contract with your government, that basically says, "this is what I am expecting you to do for me... this is why I allow you to collect taxes from me, this is why I engage in otherwise socially acceptable behavior."

Typically, if you live in a region under a government, the list of rights in said government's constitution is what you get: take it or leave it.  Of course, in many places (certainly the US) there are all kinds of arguments about what our rights mean, whether the government is truly enforcing them and (if not) what to do about that.

Why ask?  Well... turns out the Orlando shooter was a security guard.  I don't know much about G4S, Mateen's most recent employer, but I do know there are plenty of "security firms" where people such as Mr Mateen are hired, trained to use firearms and placed to protect people and property.  Presumably beyond "a well-regulated militia," G4S wouldn't have allowed Mateen to just walk out of a place of employment with a firearm, even if he had parted ways favorably with his employer.  Which he did not.

But I am inclined to assert that, as a member of the security guard industry, Mateen was going to get a firearm.  It's silly to debate firearm regulation with him as justification, because (unless you are arguing that US police and security personnel shouldn't be allowed to carry firearms) Mateen was going to get what he wanted.

Side observation:  if Mateen was well trained (frankly, I have no idea whether he was or not), he would have been able to inflict the casualties he inflicted with a bolt action rifle.  He didn't need a semi-automatic in that environment and certainly didn't need an automatic.  I daresay Miyamoto Musashi would have easily been able to achieve the same (or more complete) result in less time with two samurai swords.

Then there is the question: did Mateen deserve to be separated from G4S?

Most employers in the US offer "at will employment."  There are contracts out there (I'm always fascinated to see these...), but just about everyone works under an "at will agreement."  You can leave, your employer can ask you to leave.  It's a "no fault" situation:  you can quit without cause and your employer can ask you to leave without cause.  Hopefully, you or I can easily move to a new situation.

In high school, little girls are marketing themselves against rivals (I know this because I recently transported some HS girls to an amusement park and got to listen in).  Personal brand rivalries exist everywhere:  in schools, professions, even churches.  Some employers do NOT want an employee to leave, because it "harms the brand."  Yes, there are employers who will fire you if they think you are interviewing... Vicious marketing is happening between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, at the moment.  Welcome to America (or perhaps I should say, welcome to the human race).

When I was in business school,  some employers (all?) would "war game" who would accept an offer and engage in the "offer dance" because they didn't want any offer going unanswered.

Why is this important?  Because in the "personal and professional brand marketing game" there are winners and losers.  People get paid more if they are winning.  Companies are more profitable if they are winning.  And the truth of the matter:  marketing is a spin game.  Lies, or at least half truths, are being told, implied... in some cases viciously propagated.

If you lose that game, you lose friends, income... the list goes on and on.  Somehow Mateen lost that game.  He was religious, so his religion became his excuse for aligning himself to ISIS... but ISIS hadn't hired him (although after the fact, was willing to accept credits).

Someone hired the guy and trained him.  And, perhaps if he was still working, that terrible tragedy may not have happened.  There are malcontents and criminals:  we need security guards to protect against those.  Was Mateen a dysfunctional criminal?  Should someone have picked up on that, and left him unemployed from the "git go?"  He wouldn't have done the damage he did... but what a conclusion.

What is the key here?  What is the due process, that if the FBI, or a psychologist, or someone's wife/husband deems you a threat, that you can be prevented from owning a firearm?  These are details we need to sort out... we have substantial gun legislation in place that should have stopped many of the mass shootings that occurred, BUT... if a person violates a fundamental prerequisite for his or her right to bear arms, an observer needs evidence/justification for taking action and a robust process for moving forward (read: placing someone on a "don't buy list").

So, of course we have to ask:  the FBI interviewed the man and concluded he wasn't a threat.  Why is that?  Apparently Mateen was a devout Muslim and even traveled to the Mideast for religious reasons (all Muslims are required to do this, by the way:  a Haj is a requirement for everyone before death).  Most of the people I know who most vigorously campaign for anti-gun legislation also accuse Mr Trump of being racist (actually, Muslim isn't a race, but whatever), and I'm of the opinion that a devout Muslim, who is an American, does have a right to bear and keep firearms (but not if he or she loudly proclaims he/she is going to shoot innocents with said firearms).

At this point, "not my circus, not my monkeys."  Talk your state legislator.  In a few years, maybe I will run...