Chaos and Incompetence

Conservative columnist David Brooks appears weekly on PBS Newshour as well as NPR to recount the week. Last Friday on PBS, he and Mark Shields discussed their concerns over our new President’s decision-making, unforced errors and fights that he has picked in his first eight days.

Yet, what caught my attention most was Brooks reference to how our President has conducted his Presidency. He said he has exhibited equal parts “chaos and incompetence.” I could not agree more. While I support the President since his success is tied to ours, I have a very low bar of expectations, which he has not met. And, I am not too optimistic at this point, given his difficulty in admitting any fault.

Management has not been his strength. He is a great salesman and merchandiser, yes, but manager, not so much. His executive order to block entry to people coming from seven countries has been total chaos and coupled with his torture comment makes America out to be a pariah in the eyes of others. Issuing an order should allow time to execute and include some instruction to make it effective as well as being vetted by various agencies. And, per Senator John McCain, it makes us less safer providing fuel to the ISIS fire.

Chaos and incompetence. Remember these words. Add them to the words lying and thin-skin. And, let’s pray that our President begins to learn a few lessons before he does even greater damage to our country and its reputation.

It’s Elementary

My daughter is a keen judge of what she likes and dislikes. She will not follow the crowd for its own sake, which we love. She will surprise us with an astute observation that shares her reasoning of such opinions.

An example of this is she adores the show about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes called “Elementary.” But, she does not like the Benedict Cumberbatch version on the BBC, nor the old black and white series with Basil Rathbone.

The reason is she thinks the character Sherlock Holmes is too much of a jerk and need not be. In her view, he can still be adroit, but treat others better. She likes the “Elementary” version because the character has a drug problem and is more human. Holmes’ flaws in this version make him more approachable and permit Watson to help him not just with crime solving.

Jonny Lee Miller plays the more flawed Holmes and does the role justice. My daughter likes that Watson is played by Lucy Liu, giving the show more context and a female character to commensurate with. Plus, Aidan Quinn adds some context in his detective role as benefactor of Holmes and Watson’s crime solving help.

What I find interesting is my daughter also loves Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Christie novels. Poirot is unusual in his traits, but can be a tad rude on occasion. His quirkiness is similar to the Elementary version of Holmes in that he is flawed, but colorful.

I agree that Sherlock can be a jerk and could sand around the edges a little more. But, the older I have gotten, I have witnessed highly intelligent people who exhibit hints of some traits of Asperger’s Syndrome where they focus on minute details, but less on social cues. So, maybe I am willing to give Holmes the benefit of the doubt on occasion. Yet, I can still get perturbed when he is showing his hind end. It’s elementary.

Who’s got the monkey?

My blogging friend Persia inspired a revisit to an old topic with her recent quote courtesy of Henry Ford, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.” It reminded me of an article I read about fifteen years ago called “Who’s got the monkey?” penned by William Oncken, Jr. and Donald Wass.

In essence, the article is designed to help managers budget their time. The authors called the delegation of an assignment – the monkey. The manager has passed along the oversight of this task to a member of his or her team. Yet, what often happens, is the team member will get stumped and bring the problem back and place the monkey on the manager’s shoulders.

The only result of this process is the manager becomes a bottleneck and nothing gets done, as the manager lacks the time. The manager also gets frustrated and stressed. The key theme of this article is for the manager to not accept the monkey back, unless one condition has been met. The monkey comes back with a couple of ideas to solve the impasse. Rather than bringing an unsolved problem back, the subordinate brings a solvable problem that just needs an OK.

So, if a team member just hands the problem back, the manager should not accept the monkey and ask that he or she work through a couple of paths forward. So, Persia’s Henry Ford quote is very relevant, in my view.  The article can be linked to below.

https://hbr.org/1999/11/management-time-whos-got-the-monkey

You can’t talk to anyone

One of the unfortunate traits of a narcissistic or abusive spouse is to control the victim. It is not uncommon for the abuser to get angry when the victim talks with anyone and attempt to limit those discussions.

I find it telling that our new President is muzzling several of his agencies. This is denied by his press secretary, but there is evidence that pressure is occurring to not release information in press releases and social media.  The one I am most concerned with is his ordering people at the EPA not to speak or release any information for an indefinite time.

The presumed rationale is they may continue to follow science and try to educate, govern and help and not be in keeping with his fossil fuel focus. It is not different from President George W. Bush and Governors Scott Walker and Rick Scott from trying to hamstring discussion or papers dealing with climate change.

I fear this is a continuation of his desire to control the messages. It is a key part of disinformation campaigns. To combat this, we need to demand the truth from this President. We need to demand that scientists not be hamstrung for political reasons.

To be frank, if he wants his Presidency to be legitimized, he can start by telling the truth. He can also encourage the free flow of discussion. Limiting it is prima facie evidence that his own arguments should be questioned more.

This is the dawning of the age of disinformation

For fans of the 5th Dimension, I recognize my use of the word “disinformation” has one more syllable than “Aquarius,” but it is better than “alternate facts.” This is the new term being spoonfed to us before being lied to by the new White House. Our new President, who has a history of treating the truth as a commodity, has hired two spokespeople that now lie to cover up their boss’ lies.

Kellyanne Conway said they were presenting “alternate facts,” which is an oxymoron that begs the input of George Carlin who was famous for oxymoron questions. As Carlin famously asked about jumbo shrimp, are they big shrimp or little jumbos? Are alternate facts untruthful facts or factual variations?

The sad part of this new era is how easily these alternate facts can be shown to be untrue. Yet, these spin doctors, which is a nice way of saying paid liars, are lying about inconsequential stuff. The size of the crowd and size of the TV audience are not worth losing goodwill over. Yet, if they will lie about something of no consequence, what will happen on bigger issues.

On inauguration day, there were two additional stories worth reporting that went unannounced. First, Sean Spicer made no mention that our new President signed an executive order in his first hours that reversed a planned mortgage premium rate reduction scheduled to go into effect at month end. This would have saved over one million middle class homeowners money. Weren’t these the people our President swore to look after?

Second, while speaking of build in America and buy American, his followers were wearing caps to “Make America Great Again” made in China, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Not only is this hypocrisy, but it shows what a poor planner the President is, as being a good manager has been a shortcoming. Why would you risk such discovery?

Finally, he has decided to continue his war on the media. Yet, what he fails to realize is the media is far-reaching and credible media is now presenting his office’s comments side by side with fact checks. When you are known for lying throughout your career, it is good journalism to show where statements made by our President or one if his surrogates is untrue. I wish they did this during the campaign, as he was the most prodigious liar since 2007 when such fact checking began.

Let me be candid. I did not vote for this man and advocated against his candidacy. This was a key reason. Yet, he is our President, so we must hope he does some good things and protest when he goes down a bad path. What will wear my patience quite thin is for blatant lying, especially on nonsense.

So, here is what I am going to do throughout his Presidency and I encourage others to do the same until shown otherwise. I am not going to believe a word Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer say. A betting person would say the same, based on their track record. They have to earn any trust I will give them. They have failed to do so and deserve this treatment. The ball is in their court.

 

Donnie Darko

We have a new President, so we wish for him the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. Yet, we may need to wish for some of Ronald Reagan’s optimism.

I say this as his inaugural address painted a very dark picture of America. I have been saying for more than the last two years, what country are you talking about?

The one I live in has an unemployment rate of less than 5%, the fourth longest economic growth period in its history and record high stock market. The one I live in has over 20 million more insured than before the ACA. The one I live in has moved forward in renewable energy as a world leader.

Of course, we have problems, but we are not as desperate as portrayed in this dark speech. I would add that retrenching into a jingoistic nationalism is counter to the economic expansion of global trade. Reducing trade makes us less prosperous and secure.

Words are important. It would have been more Presidential to lead from in front in a hopeful and visionary manner. I hope he will learn a lesson from this. We need him to.

Hidden Figures make America great

My family had the opportunity to see the movie “Hidden Figures” recently. It may be one of the finest movies I have seen in the past few years. From the online movie summary, it is about the “incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit….The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

The movie stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, with a key role for Kevin Costner. These three mathematicians helped plot a course into space, so that our astronauts could return safely. And, when computers were destined to replace them, one taught other African-American women in the computing department how to program in Fortran to save their jobs and supply capable talent to the NASA space effort, since so few folks knew Fortran.

We must value diversity for its own sake, but also from economic and development standpoints. If we limit where ideas can come from, we limit ideas. It gets no simpler than that math equation. As Johnson notes, math does not care what color you are. The other key point is the math to launch, orbit and return safely was breaking new ground, so innovative thinking was key. Johnson offered that kind of innovation, which married some old school math to solve the new problems.

Throughout history, ideas have come from those who understand and are in proximity to the problem. A gay man named Alan Turing saved over a million lives in World War II and shortened the war by two years per General Dwight Eisenhower by solving the Nazi Enigma communication code. Yet, he had to hide his homosexuality and was later imprisoned for it when discovered. This WWII hero died in jail. The 2014 movie “The Imitation Game” is about Turing’s efforts.

A black man named Vivien Thomas helped solve the Blue Baby death problem by restoring the full flow of blood from the heart through groundbreaking open heart surgery on a baby. Yet, like the NASA mathematicians, he had to battle racism which would not allow him in the operating room, at first. His story is told in the 2004 movie, “Something the Lord Made.”

Jesus said we should treat each other like we want to be treated. It is the right thing to do, but it is also the wise thing to do. Please remember this quote from an economist who advised Presidents Reagan and Clinton, “Innovation is portable.” And, where it occurs is where the jobs start. So, we need to let innovative ideas flourish regardless of their source.

The enemy is incivility

We are about to inaugurate a President who is the most unpopular President-elect in over forty years per more than one survey. Yet, he is our future President and our fortunes as a country are tied to this man.

I hope he is successful where he can truly help America and the planet. And, when he is headed down a perilous path, it is our right to take issue with his actions or lack of decorum.

But, it is our duty to raise issues with civility and a focus on the issues or the actions. The enemy is not our fellow neighbors who may passionately disagree with our position. We should treat each other with civility and expect the same in return. I welcome feedback that focuses on the issues and not me personally. Name calling and labeling are the tools of a lazy arguer or a child. When I see or hear labels, I am less impressed with the argument.

Earlier this week, we celebrated a true American hero for all races, Martin Luther King. He advocated for civil disobedience, when some of his proponents argued for more forceful action. He was heavily influenced by Gandhi, who practiced the same kind of discourse in both South Africa and India to successfully improve the rights of dark-skinned people in those countries.

It is more than OK to disagree with our leaders and each other. But, we must treat each other with dignity and respect. And, quoting an old boss, we have two ears and one mouth – we should use them in that proportion. Listening will significantly improve civil discourse.

A big culprit in the housing crisis is punished

After living through the housing crisis and reading and watching news, books and movies, I read with interest that one of the biggest culprits has been punished – the rating agency Moody’s. In my view and the view of others, Moody’s failed in its job to forewarn investors of the true risks of packaged together mortgage loans. They fell into a “pay to play” modus operandi.

What is pay to play? Per an article in Reuters, “Moody’s ratings were ‘directly influenced by the demands of the powerful investment banking clients who issued the securities and paid Moody’s to rate them,’ Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said in a statement on Friday.” This would be akin to you paying off the inspector of the house you just built and want to sell. The buyer would not know the inspector was gaming the system against him or her.

So, individual investors, pension funds, 401(k) funds, states, and countries all fell prey to this pay to play ratings approach. Iceland had to declare bankruptcy, e.g. As a result of their actions, Moody’s was fined $864 million which will be distributed to twenty-one states and the federal government, who were part of the lawsuit.

We should not lose sight of an industry who became enamored with riskier investments and did not ask enough questions. Executives did not fully understand the risk they were taking on and it brought them down, along with the housing market, stock market and economy. An excellent movie to watch is called “The Big Short,” based on Michael Lewis’ book, which takes a complex topic and explains it with the dialogue, but also with clever sidebars which use laymen’s terms to define what things mean.

In essence, mortgage loans were given out to anyone who could fog a mirror, then these lesser risks were packaged together to spread risk and sold to investors. The problem is packaging bad risks does not make the risk less, it makes it concentrated bad risk. The law of large numbers to mitigate risk is only effective if good risks are mixed with some bad risks. Moody’s stamped these packaged loan investments with much higher ratings than they deserved. And, investors who trusted Moody’s and the seller bought them in good faith.

We rely on Moody’s and other rating agencies to take their job with seriousness of purpose and ethics. If they cannot shoot straight with us, they will let us down. And, that is precisely what they did. In my view, that fine may not be enough for the damage they helped perpetuate.

This man makes me weary

This man is not even President and I am already tired of him. His inability to be consistently truthful has worn me out. His need to share his thoughts on any topic reveals a lack of substance. And, his ego has to be stroked as he reacts very negatively to criticism.

None of this is a surprise, but I was hopeful the man might show a little more gravitas to such an important position. I want him to be successful where it helps the country. Yet, I have a very low bar of expectations. He has not even lived up to those.

So, I am weary of the man. I am also tired of his two PR people who are running out of perfume and lipstick on defending his piggish remarks or tweets. The world is already a less safer place and he has not taken the oath of office.

With the recent release of highly verifiable Russian involvement in our campaign, we have an interesting set of circumstances behind his victory. With the release of unverified information on his dossier built by the Russians, there is a need to confirm if any of this might be true. Then, there is the verified story of frequent conversation between a key cabinet nominee and the Russian ambassador’s office the day of sanctions announcement, which begs further scrutiny.

To be frank, nothing surprises me about this man. I do feel these stories are worthy of investigation. Whether there is fire under this smoke needs to be determined. And, call me crazy, but I would not be surprised if Mike Pence is President at this time next year. I don’t agree much with Pence, but I don’t think he will make me as weary.