May I ask why?

On the final day of May, it seemed like a good time to ask some why questions. In no particular order:

May I ask why US leaders believe North Korea would give up all of their nuclear weapons after taking so much time, effort and money to build them? I am happy dialogue is occurring, but we need to manage our expectations.

May I ask why people would trust leaders who make sure their most viable opponents are not permitted to run against them? Call me crazy, but this is prima facie evidence that the leader’s story cannot stand up to scrutiny (think Putin, Maduro, el Sissi to name a few).

May I ask why legislators at the state and federal levels are trying to avoid normal process to pass legislation? Take it to the bank, when legislators avoid normal process, the issue is political and the people end up losing.

May I ask why someone who harps daily on his innocence, cries that everyone is against him, declares routinely that it is a witch hunt and often changes his story, should be believed? Using the scientific concept of Occam’s Razor, it is easier to believe that there is not this vast conspiracy against the man and far easier to believe this untruthful man is lying.

May I ask why many of us are forgetting what Jesus and other religious leaders told us and treating others so poorly? We need to walk the talk more, as to be frank, words are cheap. And, we need to hold our leaders accountable to be our better angels, even when they don’t hold themselves into account.

May I ask you offer comments, reactions and questions in response?

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Relationships with countries are vital

There are no perfect people, so we cannot expect perfect leaders. There are also no perfect countries, so we cannot expect perfect agreements among countries. To respond to these short-comings, we must do our best to value relationships.

This works for people as it does for countries. An ambassador noted America’s strengths are its military might and its relationships with other countries. Our relationships predate the existing leadership team, so it is imperative to nurture them. This will help us resolve problems as they arise.

This is not just a US problem where its current front man acts rashly and chaotically, breaks commitments and agreements and lies more than he does not. He has made America less trustworthy and other countries are finding a need to seek better agreements with others that do not include the US.

The imperfect European Union is experiencing significant tension with the pending Brexit, the current difficulties in Italy and the growing nationalistic movements in EU countries. This is made worse by targeted social media efforts by countries that would benefit from a dysfunctional EU and US. Russia is one of those countries and they have been accused of such targeting.

A key part of these relationships is a financial one. The global economy is larger than it otherwise would be due to these relationships. If each country only tried to maximize its own profits in a zero-sum effort, the total pie is smaller and we all lose. This concept is called the Nash Equilibrium, which won John Nash a Nobel Prize in Economics.

Yet, it is more than that. These relationships make the world more secure and safe. The nationalists argue the opposite, but the more commerce is intertwined, leaders work harder to nourish those relationships. A strong EU makes Europe safer and prosperous. A strong relationship with the US and other countries does the same.

Yet, these agreements are imperfect. Not every citizen within a country may benefit equally from a global economy. There is a graph called the “Elephant Curve,” which is a silhouette of an elephant with its trunk raised. The body forms the rampant growth in income of the poorest workers around the world, while the trunk represents the even more significant growth in the highest income earners. The trough inbetween represents the middle income earners who are seeing stagnant incomes, who are in more flourishing economies. This trough has led to populist politicians who over-simplify the problems and come to short-sighted solutions.

Their needs must be addressed, but first we must understand the causes are more than the global economy. The larger threat is techonology advancements. Through our relationships we must invest together on addressing these issues. If we do not, we will create zero-sum contrasts, that will cause even more tension. The rise of fascism in Germany evolved out of dire economic circumstances after WWI.

This last example should inform us of why working collectively is so important. We must value our relationships and make them as beneficial as possible. Going it alone may seem like a good idea to some, but we need to think through the benefit of trade and mutual investment in each other.

If this concept sounds theoretical, let me explain it better by BMW, Mercedes, Hyundai, Toyota and Nissan making cars in America, with GM and Ford making cars around the world. And, Chrysler is owned by Fiat, an Italian company. Jobs are created as we invest in each other’s countries. This is true for other industries and suppliers. And, we may be less inclined to create war, when so much is invested in each other.

Keep these trends in the back of your mind

It is easy to get distracted with today’s news, where “he said what about that” gets way too much press. Here are few other trends that we should keep in the back of our minds. Some are more pressing than others:

  • Drug companies make money by inventing a recurring need and marketing a drug you need to take the rest of your life. Mind you, there are plenty of good reasons to invent new drugs to help, but there are a series of runaway trains being advertised daily. One trend I noticed is the “add-on” drug. What I mean by this is you may be taking a recurring drug for a condition that works just fine. But, the company or even another company comes up with a supplemental drug that makes that drug a little better. Or, in the case of opioids causing constipation, there is a drug to help you with that. Suggestion: Speak with your doctor and do some research.
  • Your data will never be fully protected and safe online. We should do everything in our power to limit what is out there, but hackers are way too sophisticated and diligent. I applaud the security folks greatly, as they are tasked with a hard job. And, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, some apps like Facebook make money selling access to your information. Unless they change that model, your data will be exposed. Suggestion: Know what data you have out there and decide if you want to limit any of it. Do not use wi-fi in public places to do sensitive financial transactions (banking, credit cards, etc.). A security person said using a hotel’s wi-fi is like picking up a croissant off the floor and eating it. Change your passwords every so often, but make sure you can remember them.
  • Bottled water is a threat to our environment and your wallet. There are floating islands of plastic in the ocean as big as some states. If you must buy water, then recycle. Then there is that cost thing. Much cheaper is buying a filtered water pitcher and keeping it filled in the refrigerator. Some major named water sellers simple use purified tap water with additives. So, why not cut out the middle man. Suggestion: Check out how much you spend on bottled water or even soft drinks each month. Filtered refrigerated water (either from your door or pitcher) will save you money and the environment. Plus, if you reduce the number of soft drinks by drinking water, it will do the above, plus improve your health.
  • An authoritarian type leader tends to use a lot of false bravado. It is my view that the amount of bravado is highly correlated with the amount of lying. Think Trump, al Assad, Putin, Kim, Duterte, Maduro, etc. Suggestion:  Take everything said by these people with a grain of salt. I assume their comments are untrue and work back from there. Plus, do your homework and don’t be made out to be a fool. As Mark Twain said, “It is easier to fool someone than to convince them he has been fooled.”
  • Speaking of correlation, larger family sizes are highly correlated with a propensity toward poverty (this one is not just my impression). I read again this morning the solution to poverty is smaller family sizes, yet the source also denies the need for family planning funding. Another variation is there are too many single parent families. Again, family planning helps, but also marriage counseling with 1/2 of marriages ending in divorce. Suggestion: We need to avoid stating obvious problems as if that statement will solve them. We must do something about the problems. Data reveals states that have robust family planning funding have fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer healthcare costs, fewer STDs and less poverty.

What are some trends you are seeing? Please offer a suggestion as well.

When people pull the Nazi card, they better have a good reason

Republican Congressman Peter King of New York has pulled the Nazi card. He said NFL football players who choose not to stand for the national anthem are being Nazis. The President said during one of his ramblings that maybe these NFL protesters don’t belong in our country.

Really? Exercising one’s 1st Amendment rights of free speech is being a Nazi and worthy of deporting? Do you guys know what the Bill of Rights says? I remember the country group The Dixie Chicks” being vilified for questioning the US invasion into Iraq. Not only did they have that right, but they were right to question it. Senator Jim Webb said on the floor of the Senate, if we invade Iraq, be prepared to stay for thirty years. And, Senator John McCain recently lamented invading Iraq was a mistake,

We have every right to civilly protest in our country, even against the actions and lies of our thin-skinned President or any of his predecessors. That is the way this Democracy works. That document it is attached to makes an important reference to “We the people.”

But, I have never been a fan of people pulling the Nazi card. It is a lazy argument meant to paint something they don’t like with an evil color. Unless you are talking about the genocide of millions of people, squelching dissension and invading other countries, pulling the Nazi card is an asinine label. In fact, Nazis were forced to salute allegiance to a murderous regime or be sent away with the intellectuals, Jews, gays, gypsies, etc. This makes King’s argument even more off base.

To be frank, both King and Trump owe these protesters an apology. They are exhibiting a courage that neither man seems to possess. These players are risking their jobs to say being Black should not deny people opportunity and safety in our country. Like The Dixie Chicks, these NFL players have every right to protest and are also right.

As for King and Trump, they may want reread that 1st amendment. It is the one that precedes the 2nd one, which they should read as well. By the way, there is a real life Nazi Party in the US, as permitted by our Constitution. It would be interesting to see who most of this party voted for in 2016?

Saturday is alright for fighting

One of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s earlier songs is indicated in the title above. It is a true rock and roll song which is very much in tune with its lyrics. It is about being young and foolish combining too much time and alcohol with too little judgment.

I was thinking of this song as footage was aired this morning of a fight which occurred on an airplane. The fight started when an off-duty police officer intervened after the steward decided not to serve an unruly and drunk passenger any more beer. Fighting on a plane is not the best venue for fisticuffs or subduing an unruly passenger, so others just got in the way.

The song also is a metaphor for the lying, combative and vindictive President and his sidekick Rudy who are fighting back as much as they can, truth be damned. They are fighting against an ongoing investigation that might reveal the President is guilty of everything he is charged with and more. We knew it would get uglier as the spotlight got hotter. Sadly, the President’s sycophants in Congress and pseudo-news outlets are not letting the truth get in the way of defending the Dishonorable Donald.

The questions one might ask is if the FBI was so against this man, how did he wind up getting elected when even he did not expect it? The sad truth is his followers believe these deep state accusations. This lying man is scorching the press, the FBI and Justice Department for making up all of these things about him. This vindictive man wants to close down papers that are critical of him and use the arms of government to punish people.

It is troubling this schtick seems to work with his followers. This man does not give a goddamn about his followers. He just wants them to think he does with some window dressing changes. As an energy expert said a few months ago, “Donald Trump is not for coal workers, he is for coal owners.” He openly revealed his true colors during the campaign insulting his followers. “I could stand on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and they would still follow me,” he said. Just think about that – my interpretation is he is saying my followers are so stupid, I could commit murder and it would not matter.

The truth is not as exciting as the story this man portrays. Fiction sells. The real story is this is a man with a fragile and insatiable ego who will do anything to keep feeding it. And, that is why he fights.

 

A lesson that continues to evade someone

A certain man in a global leadership position continues to avoid learning an important lesson. Not only does it hurt his efforts, but it is harmful to this country’s relationships around the globe and within its leadership ranks. The lesson is his failure to vet decisions and communications of such with key people before a broader announcement.

Yesterday, this man decided to walk away from a summit with North Korea without giving advance notice to a key ally in South Korea. As a result, the US relationship with South Korea is strained. Now, he may be whipsawing them again as he has done all week saying the summit may still be on.

But, this is not the first time he has done this. After pleas from our European allies, he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal.  The echoes of that change continue to strain relationships with our allies to the point an EU leader said “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

His first major change was so horribly vetted and communicated, it was pulled after two days. He failed to discuss with Congressional leaders in his own party that he was instituting a travel ban. He also failed to gain input and buy-in from affected agencies who had to implement the change. It was as he likes to say a “disaster,” but this one was on his shoulders. Soldiers often refer to poor decisions like this with a word beginning with “cluster.”

But, there are many more examples. What may turn out to be his Waterloo is he fired James Comey without telling him. Comey found out from a TV news report. Further, he failed to give advance warning to his communication team, leaving them to make plans in the White House bushes while the reporters waited. That may be the best metaphor for his Presidency.

Yet, for a man who used to have a faux-reality show where he fired people, he has a hard time doing this face to face. He fired Rex Tillerson without telling him. He had Andrew McCabe fired as he cleaned out his desk to retire, an especially vindictive move. Not telling people they are fired beforehand is extremely poor management. And, for someone who likes to talk tough, it reveals those words are part of a false bravado.

His followers like to say what a great businessman he is, but while he is accused of being a great merchandiser, he is rarely accused of being a good manager. Managing a multi-organization business or government is complicated. It requires diligence, input, time, communication, planning and a dose of compassion. For someone who makes decisions on the fly and bullies people, he is at odds with the tools for successful implementations or relationships.

But, as the man once said. “I, alone, can solve this.” With all due respect, no you cannot, but you sure can screw it up.

Messers. Trump and Pruitt – it is the Environmental Protection Agency

Almost one year ago, the President of the United States announced a plan to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Accord making the US a very isolated country on the world stage. That announcement both betrays and galvanizes further the significant efforts and science behind America’s push toward renewable energy and conservation.

Yet, that is only part of the attack by this administration on our home planet. Under the tutelage of Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency, has decided to have an all out war on science and the environment. The orchestrated removal of climate change science data accessible by the EPA website and the repositioning, demotion or firing of some scientists, is indicative of a parent wanting to mask the fact they do drugs from their kids.

Pruitt has also tried successfully and unsuccessfully to let companies pollute waterways and the environment with fewer repercussions. The fact we have a global water shortage is irrelevant. He has also championed the ability for industry to question the EPA’s data. That may sound good, but industry has challenged data for years and, as a country, we do not adhere to the Precautionary Principle.

This principle states that if it is believed an industry is polluting the environment, then they must prove they are not before going further. In the US, industry has to be proven they wronged people many years after the fact. The reason Erin Brockovich is so famous is it is rare to win against industry. The sad part is people have died or been made ill by then. The Pruitt change is to let industry cherry pick data more easily. I should note the flame retardant industry used a study that had nothing to do with that issue to show the retardants were safe – it was proven they cause cancer in firefighters, toddlers and mothers.

Last week, a new report came out that noted the Outer Banks of North Carolina will be the hardest hit region by rising tides by the end of the century. Yet, the report eliminated any reference to man’s influence of climate change. It should be noted a few years earlier, the NC General Assembly refused to accept a similar finding, but paid for a report that used the past 100 years sea level increase as a guide for the future showing an increase of 8 inches versus 39 inches per the scientists. Apparently, that report has been proven faulty.

Finally, a report by the United Nations has estimated the failure to address climate change will cost the world $100 trillion in US dollars. Some have cried foul over this number, but I would add a study sanctioned by the world’s largest pension scheme (plan) investors in 2010 estimated the cost of repairing climate change problems in the $10 trillion to $20 trillion range. The key word in both is trillion.

We should recognize these numbers are guesses backed by science and some rationale. I would quibble less if the numbers are toward either end and focus on the observation that doing nothing will cost money and a lot of it. Hurricanes are more severe now when they hit shore from elevated sea levels. The costs to fix the damage run in the tens to hundreds of billions range. When you multiple just the hurricanes by these cost fixes, then one can see how the numbers can rise.

If that does not scare, there is a new term that should called “sunny day flooding.” These are days when high tides flood the streets of coastal cities when no storm is present. These days are increasing significantly in places like Miami, Hampton Roads, Charleston, New Orleans, etc. In the next fifteen to twenty years, some of these cities may have fewer non-flooding days than flooding ones.

So, Messers. Trump and Pruitt, you can choose to play ostrich all you want, but the people that care about our home need to move forward. It would be nice if you were an enabler rather than a blocker.