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There’s still money to be made in Russia
Mar 22, 2022
Episode 625

There’s still money to be made in Russia

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And you might be surprised at who's making it.

Potato chips. Razors. Air fresheners. These are just a few of the items some of the world’s biggest brands are still selling in Russia after they said they’d suspend sales of nonessential products. But what’s classified as “essential” seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and some of the companies say they’re sticking around to support their employees.

On an abbreviated show today (scheduling snafus happen to the best of us), we talk over the decision some companies have made to keep doing business in Russia even though pressure to cut ties has been mounting since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Plus, are Democrats really considering moving on from Iowa?

Help us keep independent journalism going strong! We’re $28,000 away from our $100,000 goal, and our deadline is Wednesday! Give today to support Make Me Smart. And thank you!

Later, listeners call in with their hot takes on plug-in hybrid minivans and “The NeverEnding Story.” And, we end the show with a musical answer to the Make Me Smart question.

Here’s everything we talked about on the show today:

Make Me Smart March 22, 2022 transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams: But we’re gonna do it anyway. I’m Kimberly Adams. Hello everyone and welcome to Make Me Smart, where none of us is as smart as all of us.

Kai Ryssdal: I’m Kai Ryssdal, it is a Tuesday, which of course means we’re gonna do a wait, no, we’re not because we had to change things up because of people’s schedules. It’s just gonna be me and Kimberly, today, we’re gonna do a little news, we’re gonna do a little mailbag, and then we’re gonna get out of your hair. Because you know, people get busy, and they can’t make appointments. And we totally understand that. But the thing we were going to talk about today is really good and important. And we’re going to do it at a future date. Trust me when I tell you that. So very important, very important. So we’ll get to the news. Why don’t you go first?

Kimberly Adams: I’m gonna do half of mine first, because they relates to yours. And then I’ll come back with my other one about that. So the first of my news fixes is an opinion piece, an opinion piece in The Washington Post by Josh Rogan. Now, caveat, I’m not thrilled with this headline, but bear with me. So the headline is, “Putin has been a war criminal for years. Nobody cared until now.” Now that nobody is doing a little bit of a lot there. Because I think there were certain people who always cared. But the whole premise of the piece is that the things Putin is doing in Ukraine, that people are calling war crimes and saying he’s a war criminal for doing targeting civilians, targeting humanitarian corridors, potentially using chemical weapons on civilians. It’s literally the exact same playbook that he used in Syria. And this has been going on for more than I mean, since 2015, roughly, and there was a really interesting quote, from let’s see, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Yes. From Representative Brendan Boyle, Democrat from Pennsylvania, who says that Putin is using the Aleppo playbook. Like that’s how similar it is. And the quote there that really struck me was, “I firmly believe that if the world had reacted to Syria as they are now, there would have never been a Ukrainian invasion to begin with.”

Kai Ryssdal: Look, it’s tough. I mean…

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And, and I know I mentioned, like in terms of, of the refugee crisis early on, that it was very stark, how differently this was being treated than the conflict in Syria. And this is yet another way that the consequences of sort of picking and choosing what we care about can have knock on consequences. Now, there’s a whole other geopolitical argument to make about why the Ukraine conflict maybe has greater relevance to us at this particular junction in time than the Syrian conflict did now. And I’ll leave that to folks smarter in that area than me. But it’s a very thoughtful piece, and I gained a lot from it.

Kai Ryssdal: Mm hmm. Yeah, should read it. We’ll put it obviously on the show page. Am I jumping in here and then we’re gonna come back to you? Okay, a couple of stories today of a theme, and that theme is sanctions and embargoes are not what you think they are. Story today in The Wall Street Journal. Talking about companies still selling in Russia, for example, you can still get Lay’s potato chips in Russia, you can still get Gillette razors and Air Wick home fragrances made by Procter and Gamble and Pepsi and many other big consumer goods manufacturers who have said they’re pulling out and will only sell essential items into the Russian market food, baby food, those kinds of essentials, but really it’s sort of in the eye of the beholder and it’s a really interesting window into hmm business or principles? And look, I I understand the challenges but maybe there are some times to take a stand. Item number two story number two Renault the French carmaker which is owned by the way in the majority by the French government is gonna resume making its branded Soviet-era branded cars the lot and and the like, over there. Another instance where there are some pressures to to make some money. You know, and I think I said this on this program the other day about, about oh, no, I didn’t it was on Marketplace about distressed assets and how Russian bonds are still trading quite actively, thank you very much in the secondary market, because there is money to be made. And I think we’re gonna see more of this, the longer this goes on. I do. I do.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah. And I wonder how much consumer pressure, there’s going to be when – we keep going back to that Washington Post survey about how much consumers were willing to feel, to support the Ukrainians in this. And I wonder how long the consumer pressure on companies to take a stand is going to last when they’re also feeling the pain of inflation. And, you know, the other knock on effects of sort of knocking rush out of the global economy,

Kai Ryssdal: Right. This is it’s the worst macroeconomically speaking, forgetting for a second, although we can’t forget it. The humanitarian catastrophe that’s happening just on a macroeconomic scale, worst possible time, worst possible time. Yeah. Which makes me sound like a jerk but I’m not a jerk.

Kimberly Adams: You’re not a jerk.

Kai Ryssdal: Okay. All right.

Kimberly Adams: And we can sit with lots of different things at the same time.

Kai Ryssdal: That’s true, fair point.

Kimberly Adams: Going in a completely different direction. There was yet another Washington Post piece. Reporters this time about Democratic Party officials circulating plans, like not like a plan, we are going to do this but a draft for discussion, laying out some options for how the party will decide where the early states are, which which states are going to be able to vote early in the primary process. Why is this important? Because much has been made in recent years, that the early voting states tend to be not representative of a the United States demographically, but in particular, the Democratic Party. That is to say, Iowa is a lot whiter, a lot more rural, and a lot more conservative than a lot of the Democratic Party in the rest of the country. And this was not to mention that last go round, Iowa had a lot of problems with its caucuses and counting votes, and it was a disaster. And so the Democratic Party reviewing this now in the lead up to the next presidential elections, is something very interesting to watch. Because states really want to go first, they really want to go first, because it allows their Democrats or their Republicans to give the boost to the candidate that they like the most. And then they’ve got the wind in their sails heading into the next round of primaries or caucuses, not to mention the unbelievable amount of money it dumps into a state for campaigning. I mean, you have candidates that ignore the vast majority of the country to just fully dump money into Iowa early on, just so they can get over that initial hump. So watching how that plays out. Republicans seem to not want to change their model. But watching how this plays out for the Democratic Party is going to be really interesting.

Kai Ryssdal: And let’s just observe here as I look up the monitor and the hearings for Kentanji Brown Jackson are going on on CNN that several members of that committee Republican members are already making the schlep to Iowa, New Hampshire. I mean, you know, it’s already started, peeps, it’s already started.

Kimberly Adams: You know, fundraising has certainly started.

Kai Ryssdal: Totally has. All right, we’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back in this little you know, amended Tuesday shift.

Kimberly Adams: Welcome back. Let’s do the mailbag.

Kai Ryssdal: Let’s.

Kimberly Adams: Yeah.

Kai Ryssdal: Sting. Loving it. Anyway, last week, I talked about how much it’s costing me to fill up my minivan right now at the gas station around the corner where it’s 5.69 gas on the average by the way in Los Angeles County is above six bucks now. Anyway, I was complaining and got this from a fellow minivan driver.

Devin: Good morning K squared, this is Devin in Sacramento a fellow proud minivan dad, my super dad mobile. A Chrysler Pacifica plug in hybrid, it’s awesome. So comfortable, functional and super high tech. I run into a little problem though. And let’s say I take a long distance trip I can often go more than three months on a single tank of gas. And then the van starts complaining. I’m not joking. It actually complains that the gas is too old. Buying it last summer was a huge pain but it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

Kai Ryssdal: Little known fact gas does age. Look, I think the deal is that we’re not going to go for another minivan in my house just because the kids are older and we don’t actually need one. But those are the options right? I mean, it’s plug in hybrid or electric that’s there’s there’s nothing else on the horizon for me buying new cars and hopefully most other people too, honestly.

Kimberly Adams:  So you’re never going to be an SUV guy.

Kai Ryssdal: No, I’m never gonna be an SUV guy. We’re gonna get something with a little room in the back for you know, like the dogs and stuff. But we don’t I don’t I don’t need a what is it? 1234567 – 8 passenger minivan I don’t need that anymore.

Kimberly Adams: You know. I also love the K squared.

Kai Ryssdal: Yeah, that was great. Right? Also, he was very high energy. Could I just say he was very high energy.

Kimberly Adams: I would like whatever caffeinated beverage he is having. Alright, our next voice memo comes from Jen in Pennsylvania.

Sarah: Hi, Kai. After decades of my husband telling me I had to see the Neverending Story, which I had somehow managed to miss. Although the song has been stuck in my head so many times. I finally saw it and it was awful. Stick to your guns, don’t get your hopes up. I love the show. Congrats to Kimberly on her new permanent role.

Kai Ryssdal: Boom!  Yes, congrats to Kimberly. But boom if I had a mic, I would drop it. I do have a mic but they’d yell at me if I dropped it.

Kimberly Adams: She must have seen the Neverending Story Part Two, because that was garbage. But the first one was amazing. And like I love the compliment wrapped in it. Thanks. Like you have terrible taste but welcome.

Kai Ryssdal: Before we go, we’re gonna leave you with this week’s answer to the Make Me Smart question. Pandemic edition again, you guys are sending a bunch of them and it’s great. What is something you thought you knew about this pandemic but you later found out you were wrong about?

Kimberly Adams: This week’s answer comes from Sarah in Silver Spring, Maryland, just up the road from me.

Sarah: I’m a composer, but my day job is as a church musician. I’ve always felt a little self indulgent getting to work at a job that I assumed most people would see as pretty superfluous. But over the last two years, I’ve seen just how much music connects people. This weekend is our first time letting the congregation sing again since the pandemic started. And even though it’s a solemn season in the church, there’s definitely a party-like anticipation. I guess maybe we’re a bit more necessary than I realized.

Kai Ryssdal: That’s cool.

Kimberly Adams: That’s beautiful. Um, yeah, I just love that. That’s really sweet. And thanks for that little musical interlude.

Kai Ryssdal: We should say it comes to us from the Sunday service at St. Luke’s Episcopal in Bethesda. Do us a  favorite would you, keep sending us your answers pandemic-related or not to the make me smart question voice memo to our email at makemesmart@marketplace.org.Leave us a message 508-827-6278. 508-UB-SMART is how to get to us.

Kimberly Adams: Make Me Smart is directed and produced by Marissa Cabrera. Our team also includes producer Marque Greene and Ellen Rolfes writes our newsletter. Our intern is Tiffany Bui.

Kai Ryssdal: Juan Carlos Torrado engineered today. Brian Allison gonna mix it down later. Ben Tolliday and Daniel Ramirez composed our theme music the senior producer is Bridget Bodnar. Donna Tam is director of On Demand. Marketplace’s vice president and general manager is Neal Scarbrough.

Kimberly Adams: My uncle was a church musician for a long time too. Could like play all the instruments.

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