Sorry about the prolonged interruption. Work demands-notably testimony in a couple of cases-intervened. One of the cases, believe it or not, stems from the California electricity crisis of the summer of 2000. The wheels of justice do grind slowly. We’ll see how fine. On Tuesday, I testified at a FERC hearing/trial relating to refunds demanded by electricity buyers in California.
The interruptions may recur going forward. I appreciate your patience, and the inquiries of those who wondered about my absence.
A few quick comments on things that caught my eye in the past couple of weeks.
- My last post was on the administration’s sole commitment to transparency, i.e., it’s chattiness on sensitive intelligence matters, in an information operation designed to make Obama look like a synthesis of Rambo and Thomas Aquinas. In the weeks following, this issue has caught fire to some degree, at least in DC (though popular opinion has been somewhat muted). There have been numerous calls for official investigations. These are not purely partisan. Diane Feinstein and Carl Levin have also expressed dismay at the leaks. And in the latest episode of the inversion of transparency, Obama has asserted executive privilege in the Fast & Furious matter. His assertion is either facially baseless and contrary to established precedent-or implicates him in a coverup.
- Hillary botched the Russian helo to Syria story. By suggesting that Russia was sending new equipment to Syria, Hillary gave the Russians the opportunity to make outraged denials. On the subject generally, here’s a question that I think is important, but which hasn’t been asked. Where is Syria getting the spare parts and support services for its Russian/Soviet weapons? Especially at the increased operational tempo, Syria would need a steady supply of spares to keep its forces in the field. And likely also some repair and support services. Arab armies are notoriously-notoriously-bad at this. (It’s something that has driven American trainers assigned to Arab armies, such as Egypt’s, absolutely crazy over the years.) I wish someone would ask, investigate, etc.
- Obama met with Putin in Cabo. Obama came out of the meeting looking like he would have preferred 32 root canals sans anesthesia. He got nothing from Putin. Well nothing substantive, that is. But I am sure that Putin gave him plenty of disdain. Obama later said that China and Russia were not on board regarding Syria. No sh*t. What was his first clue?
- Putin looks bad in the photos from Cabo BTW. His face looks puffy and waxy. I’m guessing steroids.
- It has been reported that Putin will attend the Olympics in London after all. Not the opening ceremonies, as is traditional, but the judo competition. You know, to see the next generation of Russian billionaires.
- Putin jetted from Cabo to St. Petersburg, for the Annual Economic Forum. He was in fine form, and in some ways, a flashback to 2008. That is not a compliment. In 2008, Putin famously asserted that Russia was an island of stability in the world economic storm. That was right before the country suffered the biggest decline of any major economy. Putin also lashed out at the west generally and the US in particular for causing the world crisis. He repeated both themes yesterday, in a somewhat schizophrenic performance. First, he stated that Russia is a strong country capable of withstanding another global economic crisis. This despite the fact that Russia is even more dependent on energy/oil now than in 2008, and that the link between economic crisis and oil prices is as strong today as it was four years ago. In other words, Russia is more dependent on oil than ever but Putin believes it is perfectly positioned to withstand another crisis. Or something. And speaking of oil, Brent is trading with an $89 handle, down 4 percent on the day and over 20 percent over the last several weeks, and Urals with an $88 handle (a $1.60 discount to Brent). Recall that Russia’s budget balances at Urals=$117. This may explain the vituperativeness of Putin’s attack on the US and the west. The more nervous he gets about economic conditions, the more he directs his salvos westward. This reflects, IMO, his rage at the fact that Russia is hostage to the west, via the commodities price channel. It is an inevitable consequence of the marriage of comparative advantage and the natural statism of Putinism. And it drives him nuts.
- Putin also channeled his inner Barney Frank and said that the west needed more effective regulation of derivatives markets. (Bad mental image, I know.) The man is an expert on everything.
That’s all for now, folks. Will post as circumstances permit.