Hard to drain the swamp by hiring swamp creatures

The 45th US President won the election, in part, because of his commitment to drain the swamp in Washington. It should have given us pause when he hired more wealthy people than ever before to be members of his cabinet. As we continue to witness, it is hard to drain the swamp when you hire swamp creatures.

A few weeks ago, Scott Pruitt, the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned. Pruiit was under significant scrutiny over a series of unehtical and extremely poor leadership decisions around spending, travel, favoritism, and influence. Staff who tried to cry foul were let go or reassigned.

Last year, we saw Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services leave. A report came out last week that detailed his significant use of charter flights at taxpayer expense. A similar criticism over questionable trips and sporting tickets led to the resignation of David Shulkin, the Director of Veteran Affairs.

Now, Wilbur Ross, the Secretary of Commerce, is under fire for not divesting himself from several investments in companies. This astute business owner and investor claims these were oversights. But, documented reporting reveals he has numerous meetings on his calendar with CEOs of companies with whom he remained invested. That does not sound like an oversight to me.

Then, there is Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law who has no real title and only recently was fully vetted by the FBI for security clearance. It has been reported other global leaders speak openly about how they could use Kushner since he was soliciting money to pay off a $1.2 billion debt payment next year. He did get his funding, but my guess is that this is being investigated.

This should not be a total surprise as organizations take on the personality of its leader. With a leader who did not adequately divest or shelter his businesses from his ability to benefit, who does benefit from investment, hotel stays, etc. as patrons try to court influence, who significantly travels at taxpayer expense, it is not a stretch to witness his cabinet’s desire for perquisites and questionable practices in their favor.

To be frank, President Obama was vilified by conservative news outlet for his vacations to golf. Yet, these same news outlets condone with their silence the current incumbent’s conflicts of interests and sojourns. His travels far exceed that of other Presidents at this point.

It seems pretty swampy to me. Maybe more swamp creatures need to leave the lagoon.

Stating the obvious

The last week and three days have been a whirlwind for our country and the US President. I am both incredulous and stunned at how the events and verbiage spilled out. Let me state the obvious.

The US reputation around the world is in tatters, with many allied leaders saying and thinking they can no longer trust the word of the US President. Some have said we must prepare to move forward without the US. It should be noted the EU and Japan just inked a trade deal yesterday. And, Germany is increasing its business relationship in China.

This has been happening for some time, but the President’s sojourn included the following lowlights:

– He belittled the German chancellor and country once again, this time for doing business with Russia. This is ironic as Trump wants to do more business with Russia.
– He bullied NATO and questioned its veracity. How about seventy years of no major European conflict Mr. President? Even when he has a point, his overbearing manner is both offputting and insulting.
– He insulted his host in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May, in a recorded interview. Then, when questioned, he did not accept accountability saying it was fake news. The news organization stood by its story.
– He then met with the Russia President after an indictment was issued by Robert Mueller’s team for twelve Russians for meddling in our election. To make matters worse, he not only sided with the Russians on Putin’s defiance, he said Americans were to blame, in particular Democrats and the media. He threw his intelligence folks under the bus and like most bullies, he appeared weak in the heat of the moment.
– He then returned home and faced heat from his own party and a cadre of Fox News presenters for denying his intelligence people’s findings. He tried to weasel out of the mess, by saying he misspoke focusing on one line. But, he did not correct several other sentences where he sided with the Russians and even threw in that others also may be culpable, which also differs from the intelligence community’s findings.

Overall, this was as shameful a performance by a President that I have ever witnessed. It was worse than I expected. Specific to the Putin press conference, Senator John McCain called it disgraceful. Other Republican legislators chimed in with varying degrees of criticism.

I do walk away convinced of three major points. I have no doubt that Trump is guilty of more than obstruction of justice with respect to the Russian meddling. I believe he is a compromised asset as he is aiding and abetting Putin’s long term strategy of diminishing NATO and the US relationship with our allies.

I also am convinced that global leaders clearly see this man for his lying, bullying and lack of accountability. My guess is they talk among themselves and to other leaders in the US about working around this man.

Finally, I am convinced that most of his staff believe what Rex Tillerson was reported to say about this man last year. My guess is more departures will occur, as he is not listening to their advice and they have to cover for the scorched earth he leaves in his wake.

Straight talk on immigration from a Republican statesman

In Senator John McCain’s book “The Restless Wave,” he devotes some time to the subject of immigration. Rather than use my words, I will borrow from his straight talk.

“There are politicians today who would have Americans believe that illegal immigration is one of the worst scourges afflicting the country. Some who espouse that nonsense believe it to be true. Their opinions were formed in restricted information loops as they communicate mostly or exclusively with people who believe the same….Decent, hardworking people who mean no harm are blamed for crime, unemployment, failing schools, and various other ills, and become in the eyes of many the objects of hate and  fear.”

McCain goes on to debunk four claims, from a vantage point of a state that has a significant level of immigrant population. Per McCain, “Here’s is a little straight talk:”

“First, there are eleven to twelve million immigrants, give or take, residing in this country without permission. Most of them are never going to leave, and there really isn’t much we can do about it or should we want to do about it….Two-thirds of the adult unauthorized immigrants have been here for at least a decade. They’re integrated into the fabric of our communities…

Second, the great majority of unauthorized immigrants came here to find work and raise their families, like most immigrants have throughout our history. They are not rapists, killers, and drug dealers of fevered imaginations on the Right….They’re decent people working hard to make better lives….

Third, since 2007 most immigrants who come here without permission simply outstay their visas. They don’t cross the border illegally. And since the Great Recession, net illegal immigration has been flat or negative as more immigrants voluntarily returned to their native countries as jobs were scarce. A wall along the southern border isn’t going to solve the problem….

Fourth, unauthorized immigrants aren’t depriving millions of native-born Americans of employment. Most jobs taken by immigrants are low-paying, and have the hardest conditions. Their employers have trouble filling payrolls. Many jobs are seasonal or otherwise irregular employment. Unauthorized immigrants are not sucking up all the blue-collar jobs in the country as their most hyperbolic antagonists insist.”

I wanted to share with you McCain’s words as they directly contradict those espoused by the President and those who have gone along with that argument. This argument is based on fear and one of the talents of the President is he knows what sells. Yet, that does not make it right.

We need thoughtful discussion around our immigration issues. We need to remember our ideals. We also need to use data and analysis. One data point is immigration is accretive (additive) to our economy. Another data point is our nation is one of immigrants. Yet, another data point is our country has off and on turned the spigot slower on immigration and then opened it up again. Often the nozzle was closed with fear as a selling tool.

McCain cited a speech from President Ronald Reagan. Paraphrasing it, when people immigrate to another country, they do not become nationalists of that country, although they become citizens. Yet, when they come to America, they become Americans. We are the melting pot of the world. These words are found on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Fear may sell, but it does not solve problems very well. Why? Because fear is often based in large part on a lie. In my view, we should heed the words of a statesman like Senator John McCain, who is a hero in my book. Whether one agrees with McCain or not, I find he speaks plainly and from his heart.

The Buck stops wherever he places it

Harry Truman has been lauded as one of America’s best Presidents. He is famous for a line that exemplifies his accountability saying “the buck stops here.” Truman was a man of quiet, but steely determination.

When I hear how supporters of the current US President define him as tough, I do not see that. I see a man who talks tough with a large sense of false bravado. It is akin to an ape beating on his chest before a fight.

What I also see is a lack of accountability. When the President has made a bad decision where push back occurs, he rarely, if ever says it is his fault. He is not accountable. He places the blame on others or he says he did not do what he is accused of. Yesterday’s press conference with Theresa May is a prime example where he denied saying things that he was recorded saying.

My favorite example occurred before he was President. After several years of promoting the “birther” issue saying Obama has not proven he was born here, Trump held a press conference just before the election to come clean. Rather than say he is wrong, he blamed it on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. Clinton is not a perfect person, but she did not go on TV like Trump did for years saying Obams was not born here.

Sadly, this lack of accountability continues to this day. I think the above example reveals his lack of character through his lying and not saying he was wrong. A man who does not accept his culpability is not my definition of tough. To me, it means he is acting like a weasel.

Let me close with there is an accountable and responsible man leading an important effort in the US. He does not beat on his chest and served as a US Marine and a public servant to several Presidents. He is also a Republican. His name is Robert Mueller.

So, like Truman and Mueller, be aware of the quiet, tough guy. A man who has to tell you how tough he is does not exhibit toughness. It is false bravado.

Follow process on justice nominee

Any time legislators or the executive branch do not follow normal processes, take it to the bank, it is political. Currently Senate Democrats are debating whether to fight the nominee for the Supreme Court. My advice is to conduct due diligence as you are supposed to without preconceived notions. If the nominee does not meet your approval, do not vote for him. But, also look down the finalist list and know none of the nominees will be perfectly meet your needs. So, the Democrats need to come to grips with one of the candidates.

Scrolling back two years to Obama’s final year, I also find fault with what the Senate Republicans did by refusing to have a vote on the President’s nominee This was highly inappropriate and violated normal process. All the rationalization in the world does not detract that normal process was not followed and this was an injustice.

I also think going from a need for 60 votes to a simple majority last year on judicial nominees was a poor move. It prevents a more reasonable candidate being offered. Now, a majority party can push through a more strident nominee. I can assure you the GOP will complain when a Democrat majority does the same. At the end of the day, I want thoughtful jurisprudence sans political viewpoints.

But, it is not just judicial nominees. One of the more egregious violations occurred earlier this year when the House Intelligence Committee did not allow the customary annual briefing from the intelligence agencies as did the Senate counterpart. Congressman Devin Nunes, the chair, has made this Committee hyperpartisan to support the President in his claims of a witchhunt. His unethical leadership of the Committee has been so egregious, Republican Senator Richard Burr, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, broached his concerns with Speaker Paul Ryan.

It should be noted the Senate report on Russian meddling agreed with the findings of the Intelligence leaders that Russia did attempt to influence the election in an effort to abet the current President. The hyperpartisan House produced two separate reports, which again is not normal process.

So, normal process is important to guard against partisan politics. Both sides have been partisan and violated this covenant. As an American citizen, I find fault with either party when they do not do what they are supposed to do. It harms our democracy.

Media – focus more on the problems needing solving and less on who wins

The main stream media is doing a better job on focusing on the issues, but they still have a bias toward conflict. Who wins and loses based on the airing of an issue or problem is covered way too much for my taste. The end result is problems and their many causes do not get addressed or are oversimplified, so they go unsolved.

The dilemma is we citizens lose. The focus must be on the issues rather than who benefits from whatever hits a news cycle. Substance matters more than image. Here are a few examples to digest.

We have a poverty problem in the US. It is not just a declining middle class. Too many are living beneath paycheck to paycheck or are one paycheck away from being in trouble. The United Nations just released a report that confirms the US has a poverty problem citing numerous examples and numbers. Instead of asking lawmakers what are we doing about it, the media focused on the Trump administration admonishing the UN for the report. The problem exists whether or not it makes Trump look bad, as it took decades to decline to this point. Addressing poverty is more important.

We have a significant and growing debt problem that has been made worse by the Tax law passed in December. The economy was already doing pretty good with a long growth period. Yet, rather than address our debt, we borrowed more from our future. This malfeasance must be highlighted. Yet, most of the focus is on the economy doing well and its impact on the midterm election. Note the economy would have done well without the tax change, but we have a day of reckoning coming that will require more revenue and less spending. What are we going to do about it now, especially with a good economy?

The Affordable Care Act has needed improvements and stabilization for some time. The American public favors this as do lawmakers from both parties. Yet, the media focuses too much on the political  impact of an ACA that could be doing better. Not only has the party in power not helped the ACA, they have sabotaged it making premiums go up even more. As I see it, the President and GOP own the ACA. Letting premiums go up hurts Americans. If the ACA fails, our poverty problem will get even worse and the economy will suffer.

Issues like immigration, climate change, water shortages, tariffs, exiting international agreements, eg, all need to be focused on. We need to drill down on what makes sense in a data driven and reasonable manner. Attempting to resolve issues based on optics of winning or losing won’t solve anything. And, that is what our President and legislators seem to be more interested in.

So, media please start asking our leaders what they plan on doing about these problems and asking them to explain why certain measures don’t seem to be helpful.  And, leaders stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job.

Daytripping sans chemicals

If you are a fan of the Beatles, you know one of their earlier songs was “Daytripper.” Its meaning is quite different from mine which requires no chemicals.

With my single sister living nearby with some recent medical needs, our ability to travel for lengthy periods of time has been compromised. Instead, my wife and I are doing weekly day trips to towns near our city.

The key to all of this is a destination date for us. It usually entails seeing a memorable site or restaurant and just strolling the town or a beautiful park. The trips usually amount to three or four hours of time, but it is just nice to get away and see something different. Plus, many of these small towns have undergone a metamorphosis to restore old buildings or lost business.

In Rock Hill, we went to eat at a cafe where one of the first African-American counter sit-ins occurred. While there, we checked out a beautiful 11 acre park while holding hands along the walking paths.

The next week we visited Black Mountain meeting two of our children for breakfast and a walk about. The following week, we checked out a restaurant that a popular band bought for their mother in Belmont The food was excellent, plus it allowed us to shop at an unusual specialty shop and drop in on a photo museum which was quite interesting as we got a guided tour.

And, this past week, we ventured to the town of Shelby where we visited the Earl Scruggs museum. The interactive museum focused on the innovative banjo player, but also devoted time to other musicians from North Carolina. The subject matter and interactive nature actually exceeded our expectations. After an obligatory diner lunch, we visited the Don Gibson Theater, which was reopened about seven years ago to regional and national acts.

Along the way, we have met extremely gracious and helpful people. A police officer strolling the streets of Belmont was extremely kind and pointed out some places. The manager of the theater gave us a neat your behind the stage.

We are looking forward to our next daytrip. If you have not done these kinds of trips, give them a try. If you have, please share some of your surprising and wonderful visits.

From whose perspective?

A mentor of mine had a very common question he would ask of colleagues. A colleague (including this one) would be recounting that a client meeting went well. The mentor would simply ask “From whose perspective?”

Let this question sink in. I mention it today as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the past few days with his North Korean counterparts. At the same time he was recounting how much progress was made, the North Koreans were sharing their view. What we saw as progress, they referred to it as the US’ one sided “gangster-like” demands.

Further, there is footage of the North Korean officials asking Pompeo if he slept well on the second day of meetings. After he said he did, they said you should not have after the previous day’s meeting results. This statement is pretty telling that perspectives vary.

I am all for dialogue between countries that have issues. That is far better than the alternative. The Presidents of the US and South Korea deserve credit for rhe discussions with Kim Jong Un. But, it has been clear from the get go, the expectation levels are vastly different. Also, the preparation levels were and are very different. The North Koreans have studied this issue far more than the US leader’s team. For example, the key question we failed to understand is “why would North Korea cede a nuclear arsenal that they built to get people to respect and fear them?”

Perspective matters. This same mentor advised to “put yourself on the other side of the table.” In other words, do your best to understand what the other side wants and would accept. It applies to more than these discussions.

Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.

A speech in my dreams

With everyday life seeming more nightmarish with a divisive leader of the world’s current largest economy, I must retreat to a daytime reverie to find a speech I would dream to hear. It would go something like this:

“My fellow Americans, I have come to the realization my Presidency is a lightning rod for division. I have no one else to blame, as President Truman said so well, the buck stops here.

While I did not create division, I used it to get elected. I decided to accentuate a we/ they environment which worked too well. Unfortunately and to my chagrin, I continued to use this approach to govern. Now, we are more divided.

That stops now. We cannot condone people acting on their bigotry toward other people. We are all protected under our constitution with equal rights. We all must have the opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

From this day forward, I will become a better President. I will endeavor to tell the truth at all times. I will treat all Americans and our allies with respect. I will do my best to make Americans proud and be a role model in the world.

I realize I am my biggest enemy. My lying and demeaning behavior has made me less trustworthy. The sad truth is our country is now less trusted as a result. I must change and be the leader you deserve.

But, I need all of you to treat others like you want to be treated. Listen to each other to understand, not just respond. I will do my best to change, but hold me accountable. If I do not change, please ask Congress to admonish me. It is that important.

We have a great country, but I need to live up to our ideals. I have not done so thus far. For that I am sorry. ”

President Donald J. Trump

A person can wish can’t they?