Category Archives: Uncategorized

Saying Goodbye to Otto Warmbier

Before I say anything else, allow me to state the obvious. Otto Warmbier did not deserve to die as the result of his incorceration in North Korea. That is obvious.

So how did it happen? From the record so far, it appears that Warmbier removed something from his hotel room to return it to the US as a souvenir. That is strictly forbidden in North Korea, and Warmbier was arrested at the airport where the artifact was discovered.

After that, Warmbier was incarcerated for 17 months. We have no idea what happened during that time. But we can make a conjecture based on what we know now. The young man, who had been healthy before his trip,  died very shortly thereafter being let go. In other words, he was brutalized and died from the trauma.

I am reminded of a stroy written by Somerset Maugham years ago called “Christmas Holiday”.  It is a good read. In this story, Maugham brings out a clash of mindsets — one from a comfortable and trusting setting and the other from a not so comfortable and not trusting one. Guess what happens? I call it a reality sandwich.

Young Otto had the false impression that he would be treated differently because he was American. Sadly, he did not understand that his being American would make his detention all the more dangerous.  He did not understand that reality is more complex and dangerous outside of the protection of home.

Executive Communication – The Basics

We just closed out our first day of training today on the question how to build negotiation skills.

The first question that we address is why negotiation is important. Or is it at all? Perhaps we are full of beans, and it is not?

There is a lot to say about this. Without getting into the detail, just consider the quality of communication that we experience these days in Trumpstan. Does Trumpistan generate creative ideas to build from? Or does it just drag us down?

And why has this become our focus anyway? Was the package of conflicts that Trump brought an inevitability?

Good questions. Onward!

Who Came First, Stone, Page, Manafort or Flynn?

There are a bunch of names connected to the Trump/Russia affair. Of these, the following four appear so far to have been the most prominent in his campaign.

  • Roger Stone – accused of having prior knowledge of the Clinton campaign hacks that he allegedly got from Russian sources
  • Carter Page – Identified in the dossier as a key link between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence
  • Michael Flynn – Paid by Russian sources to appear with Putin, and a paid foreign agent, illegally interfered with Obama foreign policy in at least one telephone call with the Russian ambassador to the US
  • Paul Manafort – a political advisor to pro-Putin president Yanukovich in Ukraine, allegedly paid illegally for those services, offered to influence US politics and media for the Kremlin and apparently was paid to do so

Was it a coincidence that these guys happened to be working for Trump? Or did Trump bring them in because of their affinity for things Russian? Or did one or more of them serve as a bridge between Trump and Russia, and bring in the others?

I have no idea. One tiny clue might be when they first became associated with Trump.

It appears that Stone came first by a long shot.  According to Wikipedia, he was a long-term lobbyist for Trump’s casino business. He was already connected to the Trump campaign in 2015, and allegedly “left” the campaign in August 2015. Everyone else apparently came later.

Stone was a principal in the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly. That firm was formed in 1980 and worked for the Reagan campaign. As co-principals in the Black firm, Stone and Manafort knew each other for many years.

Manafort’s name first appears in March 2016

In March 2016, he joined the presidential campaign of Donald Trump to lead Trump’s “delegate-corralling” efforts. In April 2016, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and promoted Manafort to the position. Manafort gained control of the daily operations of the campaign as well as an expanded $20 million budget, hiring decisions, advertising, and media strategy.

So it does not stretch credulity to think that when Trump needed a new campaign manager, Stone recommended Manafort. How important was any shared pro-Russia orientation? We cannot say. It is as likely that Manafort’s relationship to Stone was as important as anything else.  On the other hand, Trump could have found out all he wanted about Manafort through Stone.  And Manafort had a long history of connections to Russia.

Flynn surfaces as an advisor to the Trump campaign in February 2016

Flynn was asked in February 2016 to serve as an adviser to the Trump campaign.[53] In July 2016, it was reported he was being considered as Trump’s running mate;

It appears that Flynn connects via a “star search” for potential political allies with foreign policy chops.In other words, Trump probably saw something in Flynn that he liked. Attitude? Pro-Russia stuff? Both?  Perhaps. Whatever it was, Trump apparently liked what he saw in Flynn enough to shortlist him for the VP job. And he would eventually appoint Flynn to the top national security post. This suggests a strong link.

BTW, Flynn had already demonstrated his foreign links (attending the Russian gala in December 2015 in Moscow, sitting next to Putin). Trump must have been aware of Flynn’s orientation when he brought him to the campaign.From this, you get a sense of why Trump was reluctant to fire Flynn in 2017, even after he was warned about Flynn’s doings. Trump was ok with Flynn. as he was from the beginning.

Carter Page appears in March 2016

Page was one of five people named by Donald Trump as his foreign policy advisors when he responded to a question in a March 2016 interview with the editors of the Washington Post.[21] Despite this statement by Trump, members of his campaign staff claimed in September 2016 that Page had never met or briefed Trump.

One day you’re in, the next you’re out! And where did Carter Page come from?

Page is much younger than the other folks above, getting his MBA in 2000. But even before then, he was known in the US for strongly pro-Russian views on foreign policy. He worked for Merill Lynch for 8 years and part of that time in Moscow. He founded his own energy firm “Global Energy Capital” in 2008 with  “former mid-level Gazprom executive, Sergei Yatsenko”. BTW, I could find no information googling Yatsenko’s name. And the firm has no known transactions to its account.

This comment about Page by Julia Joffe  is relevant

I have been a Russia wonk for most of my adult life, I spent years living and reporting from Moscow, still go there regularly for reporting trips, and am in touch with lots of friends there. And yet, despite the tightly knit nature of the expat business community in Russia, no one I spoke to had ever heard of Carter Page.

Hmmm … and there is more

… while Page might not be helping Trump, Trump has been a significant help to Page. Since being named by Trump as an adviser, Page, who has spent his career trying to put together energy deals in Russia and the former Soviet Union, has finally begun to be noticed in the region. He is being treated in Russia as a person with potentially important ties in America.

So Page appears to be a nobody wanting very much to become a player in the big leagues. Like Flynn, his pro-Russia orientation was clear long before we hear Trump says he was a key advisor.

My rather humble conclusion — Trump either knew or could easily have found out about the pro-Russia orientation of Manafort, Flynn, and Page. It was most clearly the selling point to bring in Page, who had nothing else to recommend him. It does not appear, therefore, that Trump was unaware or duped into letting these guys loose during the campaign.

Why is this important? If investigations close in on these guys, don’t be surprised if Trump distances himself from them. Don’t be surprised if he says “I had no idea!” Or “How could I have known? I was so busy becoming president!” The above chronology makes this less than credible.

Stay tuned.

Ipad as desktop computer

Over the last year, I have been slowly — you might say, ever so slowly — upgrading my house. The problem was that the second floor had never really been renovated from the time that I bought the place back in 1997. It still had lots of Soviet era fixtures and problems. In short, it was a mess.

During renovations, I moved my office to the dining room and posted from there. Well, the work is finally nearing completion. Hooray! And it is time to move my office into new space on the second floor. For the time being, this means using my IPad as my desk computer, connected through a Bluetooth keyboard.

I thought I would write this quick post just to check it out. So far, so good!




Happy Earth Day!

I am all confused. My smartphone reminded me to celebrate earth day today. But I looked on my paper calendar and say that it was the 25th. Huh? Ooops! The page was showing the month of February.

So, great! I can celebrate earth day! I hope that you will too!

Image result for celebrating earth day

After all, we are on earth and we are not likely to leave the planet. Why not celebrate our home? And if you need some help seeing the earth in perspective, how about this? A view from Cassini, orbittingSaturn. 

earth moon saturn rings nasa jpl cassini 7656_MAIN_PIA21445_figA labeled

I will be taking an earth day walk. How about you?

Children of Survivors Tell of a Secret Escape Tunnel

Some situations are just too cruel to bear. This is one of them.  The Smithsonian website starts the story this way

Shortly after dawn one January day in 1944, a German military truck departed the center of Vilnius, in what is today Lithuania, and rattled southwest toward the fog-laced towns that ringed the city. Near the village of Ponar, the vehicle came to a halt, and a pale 18-year-old named Motke Zeidel, chained at the ankles, was led from the cargo hold.
Zeidel had heard the stories of what happened in the forest. It was a killing ground. He was sure that his time had come and that he would be shot as well. But he was not. He was to be part of

… the Ponar Burning Brigade, a group of 80 Jewish prisoners forced by the SS to dig up tens of thousands of bodies of their loved ones (murdered by Nazis and Lithuanian militia between 1941 and 1944), stack them in alternating layers with logs, pour gasoline on them and burn them to cinders.

The Nazis wanted to trace left of the massacre. But a few of the prisoners built a secret tunnel and escaped. And that escape tunnel has just been found.

NOVA has the story. And it is one to watch! You might be able to see it at the above link to “The History Blog”. Go for it!