Comparing Putin’s vs Michelle Obama’s China Trips: 40+ Business Deals vs. What?

According to RT, President Putin’s visit to Shanghai has netted Russia more than 40 business contracts with China – ranging from a $400 billion gas contract to a railroad bridge across the Amur River to deals in finance, investment, aircraft and automobiles. In sharp contrast, the total cost of Michelle Obama’s junket to China with her mother and the kids remains shrouded in mystery – along with what, if anything, that trip accomplished.

And while most of the mainstream media seems fixated on talking about Putin’s palaces right now e.g. Exclusive: Russian state project helped fund ‘Putin’s palace’, what we do know about how much Michelle Obama’s trip to China could have cost taxpayers comes from various alternative media sources (Ironically, we seem to have a clearer picture of what Mr. Putin’s bathroom looks like than how much all of the Obama trips are costing us).

The Cost of Michelle Obama’s Trip to China

From the Daily Mail (Michelle Obama plans pricey trip to China as the First Family is criticized for spending hundreds of millions of dollars traveling on the taxpayer’s dime):

  • For two vacations the Obamas took in 2013 – one to Hawaii and one to Martha’s Vineyard – records show that it cost taxpayers a whopping $7,396,531 in flight expenses alone.
  • During an August trip to California, during which Obama attended a party held by Democratic fundraiser Jeffrey Katzenberg and again appeared on the Tonight Show, taxpayers paid more than $2 million in travel expenses for the president and his security detail.
  • According to Judicial Watch, it cost more than $11 million for the president and his wife to travel to Africa to attend Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December of last year. According to the New York Daily News, the Obamas were only in Africa for ‘less than 13 hours.’
  • But that trip was nothing compared to a 2013 visit the Obamas made to the Dark Continent, which reportedly cost tax payer more than $100 million. On the 2013 trip, some of the reported expenditures include the stationing of a Navy aircraft carrier off the coast of Africa equipped with a fully staffed medical trauma center, military cargo planes to fly a fleet of 56 support vehicles to transport the Obamas – complete with 14 limousines and three trucks carrying bulletproof glass to cover the windows of the hotels where the Obamas were to stay – and fighter jets that flew in shifts to provide coverage over the president’s airspace for the entire trip.
  • In June, the first lady went to Ireland for a two-day trip. The cost to taxpayers: $5 million. Michelle Obama reportedly stayed at a $3,300-per-night hotel in Dublin, and needed to book 30 rooms at the posh Shelbourne Hotel for her staff and security detail.
From the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire (White House Mystery: How Much Did China Trip Cost?):
  • Mr. Clinton’s weeklong trek in China cost $18 million; his 12-day trip across Africa cost $43 million and his five-day sojourn in Chile cost $10.5 million.
  • More than 500 personnel from the departments of Defense, State and Treasury helped support the trip to China.
  • For each trip, officials from a variety of agencies travel to the country three times before the president arrives to deal with logistics and map out security plans.
  • The bulk of the costs from the trips are for aircraft, such as Air Force One and other military support planes/helicopters.
  • The total costs don’t include the expenses of the U.S. Secret Service. Their costs are classified, which means the actual cost of the trip is likely higher since they’re the main force protecting the president.
  • In 2010, the public-interest group Judicial Watch caused a stir when it reported that Mrs. Obama’s vacation to Spain cost taxpayers about $450,000. Judicial Watch got the numbers after filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the Air Force and U.S. Secret Service. About half the costs were related to travel  expenses and the first lady (and president and vice president) don’t get to choose how they travel, the Secret Service does. That means if the first lady or president goes somewhere, even if on vacation, they take military aircraft instead of jumping on civilian aircraft. That helps explain why the costs are generally high. Among the more trivial costs listed in the documents: $57.68 for four bottles of maple syrup and a package of pancake mix purchased by the flight crew.
  • Michelle Obama wrapped up her March visit to China with a stop in Chengdu, arriving on March 25 and departing for the United States on the following day. But that one leg of the trip alone required about 900 room nights, ranging from 21 rooms beginning on March 13 for the advance team to a peak of 144 rooms when the first lady herself was at the hotel.The documents prepared in support of the stay estimated the cost at around 1,393,500 yuan (RMB), or $222,000 at current exchange rates.

From the Weekly Standard (Cost of First Lady’s Beijing Hotel Was Deemed ‘Prohibitive’ for Biden):

  • Mrs. Obama and her entourage, which numbers seventy according to the Washington Times (including her two daughters and her mother), booked the Westin Chaoyang Hotel close to the U.S. embassy in Beijing for their first stop. According to USA Today, the presidential suite at the hotel is listed as $8,400 per night. But when Vice President Joe Biden visited China in December 2013, he and his team stayed at the St. Regis Hotel after the contracting officer responsible for booking rooms determined that the Westin Chaoyang hotel “price was prohibitive when compared with St. Regis.”

From the Daily Mail (Beijing hotel workers already ‘fed up’ with Obama entourage in 3400-square-foot, $8,350-per-night suite inconveniencing ‘pretty much everyone’ – and the first lady’s mother is ‘barking at the staff’):

  • Mrs. Robinson has been ‘barking at the staff since she arrived,’ a hotel staffer said, adding that ‘we can’t wait for this to be over’
  • Secret Service agents are monopolizing elevators and booting high-paying guests from their rooms to occupy a block of space near the first lady
  • The sumptuous pad at the Westin Beijing Chaoyang hotel – its website calls the room ‘an oasis of comfort – is a 3,400-square-foot masterpiece including a private steam room, ‘corner sofas with silk pillows,’ and in-room dining for six.

From the Independent Journal Review (5 Facts You May Not Know About How Much Obama’s Travel Costs You):

  1. With 31 trips for a total of 119 days abroad, President Obama has now traveled more than any other president, although Bush 43 and Clinton also set records before him.
  2. Air Force One Costs over $228,000 per hour to fly.
  3. The President sometimes travels with a 900-person, 45-car, 2 Air-Force Ones, 3-cargo plane entourage
  4. The 13-hour visit in South Africa for Mandela’s funeral cost an estimated $11 million (including 127 hotel rooms and not including the flight).
  5. Annual costs for supporting the White House exceed $1.4 billion.

By way of comparison, travel expenses for the royal family of Great Britain was less than $9 million in 2012 and the cost to maintain them for the year was $55 million.  Bonus: The properties owned by the royals generate north of $200 million in rent, so when you include that figure, England actually makes money on the Queen.

President Vladimir Putin’s Profitable Trip to China

In sharp contrast with Michele Obama’s China trip, here are just some of the achievements from Putin’s trip to China according to RT:

1. Russia’s Gazprom and China’s CNPC signed a historic gas deal worth $400 billion, which will provide the world’s fastest growing economy with the natural gas it needs to expand over the next 30 years.

2. The Russian United Aircraft Corporation and China’s Commercial Aircraft Corporation COMAC have confirmed plans to build a 400-seat, wide-body, long-range passenger aircraft, a potential rival to Boeing of the US, and Europe’s Airbus. The new program aims to become one of the biggest large-scale international cooperation projects in both aviation and high-tech.

3. Russia’s biggest independent natural gas company NOVATEK signed a deal to supply China’s CNPC with 3 million tons of liquefied natural gas annually for 20 years from their joint Yamal LNG project in the Russian north. The plans for the Yamal LNG project involve building a plant that can produce 16.5 million tons of LNG annually by 2020. It is slated to start production in 2017 with an initial output of 5.5 million tons of LNG per year.

4. Russia’s second biggest financial institution, VTB, signed a deal with Bank of China to bypass the dollar and pay each other in domestic currencies.

5. SIBUR, a leading Russian gas processing and petrochemicals company, signed a contract with China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation or Sinopec to establish a joint venture for the construction of a nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) plant to produce 50,000 tonnes a year. Sinopec’s share in the joint venture will be 74.9 percent and SIBUR’s will be 25.1 percent.

6. Chinese auto maker Great Wall Motor Co. said it is planning to build a car plant in Russia’s Tula region, investing up to $521 million in the project capable of producing up to 150,000 vehicles a year.

7. Russia and China agreed to build the first cross-border rail bridge over the Amur River by 2016. The bridge will cut transportation times and increase trade.

8. Russia’s Eurocement signed a number of contracts with companies within the Sinoma, CNBM and Sinomach Groups for the supply of equipment to new cement plants in six different regions of Russia (Leningrad, Ryazan, Bryansk, Arkhangelsk Ulyanovsk and Samara Region). The contracts are valued at more than $500 million.

9. Russia-China Investment Fund (RCIF) and Vcanland, a leading Chinese tourism developer, have agreed to invest $800 million in the development of tourism and social projects. The geographical focus will be on destinations such as Hainan Island, Lake Baikal, and the cities of Vladivostok and Sochi.

That should pay for a few new palaces or yachts but short of inviting Mr. Putin over to be our President, what can we do about all of this?

My Solution: The Putin Rule

In light of the decidedly different outcomes from the Vladimir Putin verses Michelle Obama trips to China, I would like to propose the following rule:

The Putin Rule

Under the Putin Rule, no American President, First Lady, First Mother-In-Law, First Child, Vice President, Secretary of State, Arizona Senator etc can go on an expensive taxpayer funded junket abroad without coming back with a business deal that will generate enough trade in goods and/or services for American companies to, in turn, generate enough tax revenue to offset the total cost of the trip.

In that way, our leaders and their families can still have their expensive junkets abroad BUT they must at least bring back American taxpayers a small bone to chew on…


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