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 to exert 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...

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Ukraine in June 2016

My Zimbio    Two years ago this past March, the Russian Federation seized control of Crimea, home of Russia's historic warm water port and only (short of Syrian) naval base in the Black Sea area. Russia had responded to a resoundingly supportive referendum in Crimea regarding Russian leadership (a referendum that has since been condemned by the international community, including the European Union).

Although Crimea is at peace (under Russian control), well over 6,000 have been killed while 3,000 ethnic Tatars have been forced to leave. Russian forces still occupy Donbass also (where admittedly most of the above cited fatalities occurred), but violence continues there in spite of a Minsk cease-fire treaty.

Petro Poroshenko remains president of the country, although a new Prime Minister, Vlodymyr Groysman, was elected in April 2016. Typically, in a parliamentary form of government, the Prime Minister is elected from the legislature and serves head of state. Ukraine's parliament is called the Verkhovna Rada, which (according to Wikipedia) originated in Kievan Rus in 800AD until the invasion of the Mongols some 300 years later. The Rada also existed during the time of the Dnieper Cossacks (17th and 18th centuries) for the meetings where major decisions were made.

The Ukrainian Rada was reinstituted after the overthrow of the Russian Tsar, until the Soviet communists seized control of Ukraine, ultimately reorganizing Ukraine's government under the Central Executive Committee of the Ukrainian SSR in 1938. The Rada was again formed in Ukraine after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

Poroshenko was elected president after a Euromaiden protest in May 2014 (which Russia calls an armed coup). Poroshenko's predecessor, Victor Yankovich, had a close relationship with Russia and President Putin. Russia continues to claim that Ukraine forces are committing war crimes in prosecution of the conflict in the Donbass and loudly publicizes Ukrainian government corruption (a consensus issue for the country).

For seven of the past ten years, Ukraine's new Prime Minister served as mayor of Vinnytsia and was elected into parliament on the party lists of the pro-presidential Petro Poroshenko Bloc. Vlodymyr Groysman has indicated he will fight corruption and build closer ties with the European Union.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Radical Muslim

My Zimbio    For almost a year I have unabashedly decried US focus on radical Muslim terrorists.  I have also advocated for the 2d Amendment of the United States Constitution.  Two days ago Omar Mateen, a domestic radical Muslim, (who has travelled to Saudi Arabia on several occasions) massacred almost 50 members of the LGBT community in an Orlando club, with over 50 others wounded.

Mateen's travels to Saudi Arabia were for religious reasons, not for terrorist training.  The man received his weapons training in connection with employment as a security officer.  The FBI interviewed him in 2013 due to hateful statements predicting violence, assessing he wasn't a threat.

On the day of the rampage, Omar Mateen declared allegiance to ISIS and praised the Boston Marathon bombers, highlighting that guns aren't the only weapons available to inflict substantial casualties upon an unsuspecting crowd.  But the Sig Saur MCX, firing 5.56mm projectiles, is hard to justify.    We don't know whether he shot everyone (about a third of the people in the club) with the MCX, or whether he used the Glock pistol he carried (purchased, like the MCX, several days before the shooting) for some of the shootings.

Omar's second wife apparently drove him to reconnoiter the club and was aware that he was planning a rampage.

Every time an incident like this happens, one side cries for disarming the population, while the other side calls for action against radical (even all) Muslims.  Even though these domestic attackers show more similarity to unstable mass murderers than Hamas or ISIS terrorists, and do not have legitimate ties to such terror groups, the connection is used to justify US investment in combating terrorist "safe havens" over seas.

Presumably, if weapons were harder to acquire in the US, these self appointed terrorists would need to build actual ties to sources of weapons.  They might have an easier time targeting us, but I won't spend a lot of time arguing that point.

Feeling too much sadness at the moment to make any arguments.  God help us... and those mourning, and those healing.

Monday, May 9, 2016

An American

My Zimbio   I am an American.  I am also a Republican.  This is primarily a business blog, but the deluge of political tripe online at the moment has inspired a response.

I became a Republican when I registered to vote.  At the time, my mother was a registered independent and my father was Republican.  Both have since joined the Democratic party, but I can probably credit my initial choice to their influence (that's usually the way it goes: any examination of voter statistics will tell you the same).

Have you voted in every election since you were eligible?  I have in maybe every... most certainly every Congressional and certainly every Presidential election, in spite of living and/or serving overseas where forethought and an absentee ballot were required.   I have been extremely frustrated with the main party candidates in many cases and (admittedly) clueless about one or two candidates in the decades I've been voting (come on: admit it.  You didn't recognize one or two names either).

I am definitely NOT quitting the Republican party because Donald Trump is presumptive (soon to be actual) nominee for President.  He has made a few comments that ordinary people can't get away with, but that doesn't mean he is Adolf Hitler or an idiot or anything else.  His political experience is... umm... he is the presumptive Republican nominee for President.  Actually, that is a big deal.  Most of the standard "qualified" Republicans will never pull that off and no one was able to beat "the Donald" this season.

Hillary is like the Britney Spears or latest boy band of American politics.  The machine has gotten behind her.  She says what they tell her to say.  People think its good if a woman has been President (maybe after Hillary has, and that's behind us, we will go back to focussing on issues instead of race or gender).  Heck... it's possible "the machine" has selected the Donald because "it" really wants Hillary.

Which is why I'm going to defend the Donald right up to the election.  He is a smart guy.  He apparently has more regard for the Constitution than Hilary does.  I hope he doesn't self destruct like Ross Perot or Mitt Romney (yes, Mitt, that 50% comment was a penultimate "self-destruct"), but either way,  I'm going to defend him.

Proud to be an American...That doesn't mean I'm a brainless robot.  It does mean I understand that the United States has a two party system, and this election won't be the second in US history to kill off one major party, replacing it with another (Abraham Lincoln and crew killed the Whigs and ushered in a new Republican party).   Donald Trump is our Republican nominee and I won't capitulate to the cheap name calling and groundless accusations any time soon.