It’s All About Good Friends!

It was a clear and sunny Friday morning last week, as our car was pointed westward — away from the hustle-and-bustle of daily life in Phoenix — towards the ever-beautiful Western Coast.  We both smiled at the thought of filling our eyes with a view of the Pacific Ocean.

The next day, we joined a family wedding reception to congratulate a wonderful young couple as they began their married life — congratulations, Monica and J!  Your party was just wonderful.

The following day we stopped by Tower 23 at Pacific Beach (or PB as they call it there!) for an outdoor lunch, listening to the waves melodically crashing against the beach.  We smiled again as we felt the cool breeze coming off the ocean and filled our lungs with the fresh scent of the salt air.  We clinked our Bloody Mary and Mohito glasses in celebration.

We watched as “Slomo” glided by on the sidewalk.  For those of you not familiar with him, he has been cruising the sidewalk at PB for many years, headphones on, inline skates strapped on, and arms out to his side as if he were flying, while maintaining a perfect arabesque position.  People who recognize him reach out and slap his hand as he glides by.  The back story on him is hardly what anyone would guess – a retired neurosurgeon who also happens to have had psychiatric training, as well, living a life that he describes as being very fulfilling and extremely spiritual.  Yes, we smiled, as we watched him glide by.  Nothing’s changed in PB!

That evening, we were invited to our special  friends’ home for dinner.  Meet Steve and Maggie:

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Two of the most interesting and charming folks on the planet! We sat on the Plaza level of their high rise condominium and shared a sunset cocktail, catching up on what was new, while Steve finished up grilling some mouth-watering chicken on the barbeque.

Later, as we sat down for dinner, we enjoyed not only the superb company, but the most awesome view ever!  Take a look at this …..

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Oh, yeah …. a truly OMG view!!!  Magnificent!  We thank you, Steve and Maggie, for the most wonderful and memorable evening!  You’re the best!  It will be our turn to be the host next time, but I’m pretty sure we can’t top your view!

And, all too soon, the car was again pointed eastward as we wound our way through the mountains and down onto the desert floor heading back towards Phoenix.

It was truly one of our best trips ever to San Diego and we thank Steve and Maggie for that.

After all, it’s all about good friends …..

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Winds of Change

Since the death of King Abdullah last January, and the ascension of King Salman, Saudi Arabia has repositioned itself in a strategic sense, both economically and politically.

King Salman has shuffled his cabinet twice and has named his son as second-in-line to the throne — an ambitious agenda indeed — considering the nine short months that have passed.

But more interesting things have transpired.

Both Russia and Saudi Arabia have long exported oil to China, but last May, the Russian supply surpassed that of the Saudis.  That event, along with China’s devaluation, inspired the Saudis to reassess their priorities.  Having received competitive pressure from the U.S., Russia, Iran and Nigeria (just to name a few), the decision was made to squeeze the market in the hope of knocking out its competitors.  Saudi Arabia adopted what is known as the “pump-and-dump” strategy by refusing to cut oil production, thus driving the cost down from $100 per barrel then — to where it stands today — $47.00 per barrel.  That’s a big hit when you consider 80% of their government’s economy is generated from their oil industry.

In addition to that, their military budget has increased 17% from last year, clearly a reflection of its involvement in Yemen and recent airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has burned through US $68 billion (or 9%) of its war chest in the last six months  — interestingly beginning three months after the death of King Abdullah.  Fund managers, too, have been asked to unload $70 billion in assets by the Saudi government while new infrastructure projects are being curtailed.   It is obvious that it’s a country tightening its belt while it waits out its pump-and-dump strategy.  But it isn’t standing still.

It recently reached out to Poland with deeply discounted oil prices, beating out Russia who had been Poland’s long-time supplier.  This has not gone unnoticed by Vladimir Putin.

His Middle Eastern strategy is that Russia’s alliance with Syria will produce a more profitable partnership between the countries — perhaps with pipelines running through Syria. It is important to Putin that the Saudis do not gain export routes in the region and that Russian strategy prevails (Bloomberg.com).

At the same time, King Salman is lending support to its allies in order to keep a strong foothold in an area whose future is seeing threats from many directions, while tightening its belt and slowing gaining market share around the world.

Last week, I asked the question of what was in it for Russia as it pertains to Syria.  It would appear that it is more important than ever for Putin to resolve the Syrian conflict on his terms, given what is at stake.

Perhaps this is a deeper and more introspective answer to that question.

 

Domination – Putin-Style

Ever wonder what Putin’s objective is in Syria?  What’s there to gain?  Why does it feel like a sleeping giant has been awoken?

Russia has in many ways remained in the background for the last decade as it grappled with the world recession and as it simultaneously realized that it could no longer control the information its constituencies were fed.  Armed with this now-available information, a great deal of the Russian people were leaning towards democracy — something that surely made the walls of the draconian Kremlin crack in sheer despair.

Some may remember the Old Russia — like a time in the fall of 1960 when Nikita Krushchev unceremoniously took off his shoe during a session of NATO and banged the heel of it on the table before him during an angry and threatening tirade.

Or you may remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 when the U.S. and Russia played a deadly game of cat-and-mouse that left the world teetering on the edge of a full-out nuclear war.  Who doesn’t get a shiver down their spine just thinking about that?

But that was the old, black, dark, cloak-and-dagger Russia.

Today, we have the face of Vladimir Putin that represents Russia and its interests.  He’s a risk-taker of the highest proportions.  He’s in it for anything and everything.

So, back to Syria.  What’s in it for Putin?

It’s not that he wishes to fight a conventional war, although he is enjoying his display of what he most assuredly feels is Russian air superiority over Syria.  For a conventional war, Russia would need deep pockets, something that it just does not have.  In fact, experts on Russian economics project that at the rate the country is using its reserves, it could run out as early as 2017.

It’s about oil — crude oil.

And so, now you see that it’s about economics, too.  If Assad’s current regime stays in control through Putin’s backing, it is likely that they will repay the favor to Russia in lower crude oil prices in the future.  And if the by-product of Putin’s stand shows the leaders in the Middle East that Russia can be a strong ally, all the better for Putin and Russia’s future.

And then there  is the second war he is waging.  One of deception, fraud, broken promises and lies to world leaders.  This is a concerted effort on his part, not something that inadvertently lingers in his wake.  Because he’s a risk-taker, his objectives are to make the U.S. and its Western allies look hesitant and indecisive which, from some people’s perspective, he did with challenging the U.S. not to interfere in Syrian air space.  Interestingly, the U.S. chose instead to show restraint.  After all, not every war is our war.

So, Putin — desperate to show Russia as a force to be reckoned with — will stop at nothing, it seems — even showboating.  He attempts to show himself as a virile male — like recent rumors conveniently leaked to the world press that his “disappearance” several months ago was to be at the birth of his child and by the side of his mistress.  Or, by the carefully orchestrated video of him at 63 riding a horse shirtless.  Seriously?

So, don’t listen to Putin; instead, watch his actions.  Listen for his disinformation.  Hear his broken promises.  They all speak louder than words.