Reading the Tea Leaves.

Once again, Richard Fernandez finds the essential point.

Russia isn’t governed well. But people don’t rise to power in Russia according to their skill at solving public policy issues. They climb a ladder by how well they can grip the rungs of guns, bribery and deceit. Putin’s “political socialization took place as vice mayor of St. Petersburg in the 1990s, where … one of his key roles was acting as a liaison between the political and criminal authorities. It was the Wild Wild East, a world where duplicity was the norm, rules are for sissies, and only might makes right. It was a world where informal networks ruled and you controlled people by corrupting them.”

Such jungles tend to evolve very capable predators.

Putin, in my opinion, has done a fairly good job with Russia given the serious problems they have as a nation.

Madison tried to warn us about the risk of corruption, or as he called it, “Faction.”

Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

We now are at serious risk of electing the corrupt member of a cabal of self interested manipulators of the public interest for private gain.

The paradox that Putin exemplifies is that while factions breed formidable conspirators, they also create poisonous leaders. They succeed in themselves but cause the society around them to fail. That is because they dispense a favoritism which is ultimately ruinous for the nation. The result is a self-vetoing enterprise. Marian Tupy observed that Chile began to succeed at the moment when its junta began to allow economic freedom while Venezuela started to fail by going the other way. But few ruling elites have the sense to get themselves out of the way. Usually they have to be shoved aside.

What we have is a serious candidate who is incompetent and who is at the same time favored by millions who don’t care.

[T]he American factional system operates in the worst possible way. The Clinton Foundation and private email scandal is a portrait of venality without competence. The peculiar characteristics of American factionalism have bred something singular; a phenomenon at once cunning yet stupid, both corrupt and inept. America is no longer exceptional, just another bum in the ring. Yet while Putin can often outwit Obama (and Hillary when she was in State), the Russian cannot seem to turn anything to lasting advantage. The outcome is a kind of impotence afflicting both sides.

Putin runs a country that has not recovered from a century of communism. Actually, the Soviet system was closer to Fascism in that insider groups ran the country for their own welfare. Fascism usually assumes nationalism and authoritarian rule. The Wiki definition is weak, but gets some of it right. Real Fascism did not arise on “the right” as it alleges. Mussolini was editor of a Socialist newspaper before politics.

This was the name given to political organizations in Italy known as fasci, groups similar to guilds or syndicates and at first applied mainly to organisations on the political Left.

At least they get that right in places. And then there is racial solidarity.

In the midst of a national financial catastrophe, Rep. Maxine Waters used her position as a senior member of Congress and member of the House Financial Services Committee to prevail upon Treasury officials to meet with OneUnited Bank. She never disclosed that her husband held stock in the bank.

Maxine Waters was an important figure in the 2008 financial collapse. If blacks prefer to deal with criminals, I can’t get too excited about it.

Fascism is almost getting trendy these days.

More from Richard Fernandez on what is going on under our noses.

Octavian Manea and Mark Galeotti in the Small Wars Journal (it’s a PDF) say Putin’s “hybrid war” just is another name for corruption in international politics. “In this context, war is a political instrument … of making the other side do what you want it to do.” The main tools of hybrid warfare are bribery, blackmail and disinformation.

Their [the Russians] concept of the West is one where you really can buy politics. If there is a handful of people that you need to convince, how are we going to convince them? It might be by invading a province of that country, or it might simply be by bribing them. … We live in an era of the insurgency of the mind.

Sound familiar ?

In the realm of bribery Beijing and the Kremlin are past masters of the art and it is the West which is amateur. Dispatches from the front of Hybrid Warfare do not consist of divisions moving but of cash being flown in mysterious airplanes in the dead of the night. Thus reports that the administration paid Iran $33.6 billion in cash and gold to settle disputes between 2014 and 2016 are in their way equivalent to reports that Marines have landed on a hostile beach. Something happened, perhaps someone was influencing the Iranians. Why not? After all they are trying to influence us.

Actually, I don’t think we have a chance of “influencing” the Iranians. Remember Obama was the presidential candidate who turned off credit card verification for donations in 2008.

If you are playing high stakes poker and, after a half hour, you have not figured out who the “Mark” is, it is you.

WC Fields once said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

9 thoughts on “Reading the Tea Leaves.”

  1. You are usually more focused. I would argue the west is the master of corruption, with the Chinese and the Russians being both fast learners.

    Putin has done a good job doing what he could to respond to the Ukraine putsch. A masterpiece of deception and pure chutzpah was met by deception and the roiling of the east which was already suspicious of the western Nazis. The Ukraine is one of the cradles of fascism. To finesse Crimea was a masterful move.

    This is why he has decided to stop, to the extent he can, the unilateral actions of the US. He was burned pretty bad. Syria is partly payback, although he does seem to have the fate of so many brutalized by a war, that was started to remove Assad, in mind. The US is pretty well done there now, and has been almost completely out maneuvered by Putin.

    I would argue as well that your depiction of tactics done well, as corruption, is to misunderstand the nature of war.

  2. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote something similar to Madison’s thoughts about factions in his “Tyranny of the Majority”. The danger of a democratic system is that individuals will lose their sense of significance and retreat from participating because their personal contributions aren’t meaningful when factions control power. Loss of individual power, dignity, and liberty leads to withdrawal from the corrupt system.

    Or, to use another quote about cheats, in the immortal words of Henry Gondorff, “no sense bein a grifter if it’s the same as bein a citizen.”

  3. “I question your understanding of “the nature of war.””

    Nice piece Mike, thanks. My observation was that the corruptions of misdirection, deceit and efficient murder are essential for anyone who wants to win at war.

  4. Isn’t the basis for a democratic and capitalist nation a strong respect for one’s self and for others’ integrity? Honesty, facing failure as well as reaping success and accepting that as minor to losing one’s integrity? A respect for an open marketplace where the good ideas win out because enough people are not invested emotionally, intellectually (As well as financially) in ideas that when given a chance don’t work.

    Isn’t it a lack of integrity that characterizes the Clinton’s rule? She has arrived where she is by choosing someone to hang on to for dear life, come hell or high water, to get at the goals she set out as an Alinsky convert in impressionable days. She has never thought about anything but money and power (as that was all that that political group thinks of at all – the 25 million Americans Ayers was glad to sacrifice for the country as he envisioned it). Nor has she thought about rising any other way. She’s a woman who got where she wanted because of who she slept with – that fact that it is hard to imagine her as sexy is of course not the point – the point was getting herself into a position where someone needed her, she could manipulate and work towards his success which would then be hers. Huma Abedin seems to have taken on a similar role of manipulation. (I’m not too crazy about Trump’s blowhard sense of self – one wrapped up – apparently – in appearance rather than essence, of course. I am still hoping at bottom he understands some value system that has to do with the real world – what builds a building.)

    Yes, sometimes I feel we are lost.

  5. Madison saw “factions” as any political effort or undertaking motivated by anything other than the public interest. He saw political parties, which he opposed, as factions. It’s easy to see: people vote for their party’s choice rather than their own personal choice.

  6. The point of my post, if I had one, was that we are losing because we do not understand the game.

    Putin does. Iran does.

    Both are playing weak hands pretty well. Putin has a nation in demographic collapse. Iran does, too. Read Spengler on Iran three years ago.

    Dying civilizations are the most dangerous, and Iran is dying. Its total fertility rate probably stands at just 1.6 children per female, the same level as Western Europe, a catastrophic decline from 7 children per female in the early 1980s. Iran’s present youth bulge will turn into an elderly dependent problem worse than Europe’s in the next generation and the country will collapse. That is why war is likely, if not entirely inevitable.

    China also has serious demographic problems aggravated by a geographic disconnect between the peasant interior and the prosperous coastal provinces.

    Stratfor made some predictions.

    The next decade will see Russia “seeking to secure itself” before economic decline hits, Stratfor warn as it continues to act aggressively in the region.
    Seeing itself under the gun, it will appear even more aggressive and territorial as it continues to exert its power internally and externally, but it will come at a cost.
    “Russia will also seek to reintegrate the former Soviet republics into some coherent entity in order to delay its demographic problems, expand its market and above all reabsorb some territorial buffers,” the forecast predicts.
    Such action will make its neighbours anxious both in terms of national security and rapidly shifting economic policies.
    Rising military cost, declining oil prices and internal issues will all weaken Russia further with its inability to control the federation creating a vacuum.

    I tend to follow Stratfor and agree with much of its predictions, but not all.

    China is at the end of its high-growth/low wage cycle and has entered a new stage known as “the new normal” which will in turn be followed by a period of much slower growth.
    “China will continue to be a major economic force but will not be the dynamic engine of global growth it once was,” the report reads.
    Instead a new group of 16 nations which includes most of South-East Asia, East Africa and part of Latin America will emerge in China’s place as an economic powerhouse.
    According to the report, China will also lose some of its military might as Japan becomes more dominant in the region.

    I personally think the risk of war with China is small but Obama has made weakness his foreign policy and that is exceedingly dangerous.

    To walk down a dark street in a bad neighborhood wearing all your jewels does not pass the common sense test.

    The US is a rich nation and weakness invites trouble.

  7. I made a comment about Russia and Syria, but it ended up in the spam folder, maybe because it included a link from a Russian website. Anyway it expands on your point about Russia having a weak hand. In addition to that, last month Russia had to make some serious concessions on energy projects between Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan without getting much of anything in return. Central Asian gas will soon be pumped to Europe which will cause the Russian economy to further fall into a tailspin.
    Putin is in retreat on many fronts, but Obama and Kerry are too stupid to do anything about it.

  8. LOL, Stratfor. I encourage you to believe these people, but you will find the world makes far less sense. That may be what you are looking for , I dunno. ;)

    It’s fairly simple and Ash Carter put it well a couple of days ago when he said Russia was playing by it’s own rules. Russia responded with, of course, yours are obviously not working.

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