Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seasonal Changes: Tensions Between Russia & Ukraine Thaw As Temperatures Dip

With October coming to a chilly close on a Halloween Friday and temperatures set to start dipping down into the 30's for the next few days here in New Jersey, my thoughts are lingering on the seasonal changes.

I'm a sentimental type, so I love the fall with the approach to Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

While the clocks going back an hour on Sunday does give us the pleasure an extra hour's sleep, that adjustment to darkness at 5pm takes some time to get used to.

But it is a time of seasonal change both weatherwise and otherwise.

With November but two days away, I'm cautiously encouraged by the news today that Russia and Ukraine reached a deal on the resumption of natural gas supplies from Russia just in time for the arrival of colder winter weather.  

The deal was brokered by the European Union and hinges on Ukraine making upfront payments for gas supplies prior to delivery via pipeline, and Europe guaranteeing those payments will be met.

It's a win-win for Europe, Russia, Ukraine and the rest of the globe as well. Russia makes money and millions of people across Europe and Ukraine will sleep more soundly knowing they'll stay warm without the lingering threat of gas shutoffs in the middle of winter.

But just take a look below at those grim expressions etched on the stern faces of Alexi Miller (left), the head of Russian natural gas behemoth Gazprom, and Adriy Kobolev (right), the head of the Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz, in a Reuters photo posted on the BBC News Website.

Their stiff handshake obviously masks lengthy and tense negotiations between two nations with traditional ties that have to be growing weary of the armed conflict that's been in the headlines for months.

Ukraine knows it has to get it's economic act together to spur foreign investment. And Russia certainly has to be feeling the pressure of US and European sanctions on the banking and currency transactions of Russian companies; and let's be honest.

Russia clearly takes pride in projecting an image of a tough global player to the world, but their public image has taken a serious beating lately and the glow of the Sochi Winter Olympics has long since worn off.

As reported yesterday, during a 24-hour period there were 19 different instances of Russian military aircraft making highly unusual flights over NATO territory in Europe.

Recently hackers contracted by Russia are alleged to be behind a cyber attack on an unclassified White House computer network used by White House staff. Harmless shenanigans or muscle-flexing?

Perhaps a little of both.

But the DOW and S&P 500 both soared today, partly in response to news of increased stability between Russia and Ukraine and a steady supply of energy for the winter months; so let's hope the natural gas agreement is a sign of thawing tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking of thawing tensions, like many Americans I'm tired of all the political commercials and unsolicited robo-calls and anxious to see the outcome of next week's November elections. With some Senate races too close to call there's a very real possibility that the nation won't actually know which party will control the Senate until January.

Polls show an increased frustration on the part of Americans tired of a dysfunctional hyper-partisan Congress with so many people not feeling the benefits of the economic recovery.

Major initiatives that cut across party lines like badly-needed increases in educational spending (shouldn't all kids have music and arts classes?) and so many different major infrastructure projects across the nation just waiting for spending authorization from Congress.

Speaking of Halloween, NJ Governor Chris Christie's decision last month to nix authorization for state funds to begin construction on the long-awaited and desperately needed project to boost commuter rail capacity (and safety) between New Jersey and New York could come back to haunt him; or his legacy.

His chickenshit "pass the buck down the line" decision caused $3 billion in Federal funding to be left on the table that would have helped to offset the costs of the estimated $8.7 billion project. Christie wouldn't dare take back the disastrous tax cuts that went to the wealthiest NJ residents; he'd rather goose step in line with the failed GOP economic model based on long-disproved trickle-down economics theory.

Just ask Kansas Governor Sam Brownback how his failed Tea Party fantasy experiment worked for the people of Kansas. Funny how both Kansas and NJ lag amongst states in new job creation yet the wealthy got a huge tax cut.

But I digress. A real leader taking responsibility for a once-in-a lifetime project like that takes vision and guts; all Christie has is a voracious appetite to slavishly appease a Republican voter base that's been brainwashed to blindly believe any government spending is evil so he can win the nod as the GOP presidential candidate in 2016.

Besides, commuter safety is way down on Christie's list. He flies around in a helicopter or chauffeured SUV paid for by NJ tax payers, or private planes paid for by GOP fundraisers - what the Hell does he know about sitting on the fucking tracks for fifteen minutes on a Friday night on a New Jersey Transit train between Seacaucus and the entrance of the Hudson Tunnel because only one track is operating in the tunnel for the ongoing repair projects to keep the dangerously old tunnels safe?

There's a sense that languishing projects like that, and the nation as a whole is in a kind of political limbo because we won't know how power will flow in Washington until the make up of the Senate is decided. President Obama is enduring the same trials that face any 2nd term President; though I don't think it's exactly fair to call a man of his charisma, accomplishments, intelligence and vision a "lame duck".

None of the major presidential candidates (including Hillary) has actually declared their candidacy yet, even though they're stuffing our email in-boxes, collecting money and playing coy.

As a political junkie, I guess I'm just stuck feeling like a kid waiting for Halloween tomorrow; except I just want November 4th to hurry up and get here so we can see what the coming year will bring; Trick? Or Treat?

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