Sully and Ben – right people at right time

Seeing a man in leadership who does not value or have the patience for studying issues highlights those who do and execute that knowledge in times of crisis. In recent memory, two heroic events bear witness to such people – Sully Sullenberger and Ben Bernanke.

Sullenberger is the more recognizable name as the pilot who safely landed a jet plane in the Hudson River. Dealing with a rare double bird strike shortly after take-off his calm, learned presence helped him evaluate options, then choose the best path, but still a dangerous one.

What is less known is Sully volunteered to study previous plane crashes to help all pilots and builders of planes. He took the time to know why planes crashed. In particular, he knew what had to be done to keep a plane landing in the water from flipping sideways when one wing touched the water and the other did not. He was the right pilot for the Hudson landing.

Bernanke is less known as the former Chair of the Federal Reserve. His tenure overlapped the housing recession and banking crisis in 2007- 09. Working with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen, they developed a plan to stabilize the banks and keep the economy going.

Like Sully. Bernanke studied why the US went into the Great Depression and how it came out. He studied helpful decisions and others that were not so helpful. He was the right person for the right time, a calming, analytical influence.

It should be noted being studious is not the only similarity between the two men. Their calm nature is also a key similarity. Their calmness is infectious and enables others to do their job and offer input. In times of crisis, those who lose their heads, are the ones not to follow.

From the books and news reports I have read or watched, neither of these two traits would be top of mind in describing the President. Aides lament his lack of interest to study and limited attention span. And, mercurial is a more common definition than calming.

I mention this as it seems far too many issues are contentious. A recent survey noted our nation is more stressed. And, this is without a real crisis, which worries me greatly. I have this looming sense the man will pick a fight for ratings.

So, kudos to Sully and Ben. May we learn from your lessons and example. The only thing I have learned from the President is how not to act.

 

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The hard work is essential

Watching the college basketball tournament during March Madness, it is the hard work that wins ballgames. As my high school coach often said, you can have a bad shooting game, but defense and rebounding can never take a day off.

This is also a metaphor for life. Hard work pays dividends, even if it does not get notoriety. In basketball, making it difficult for your opponent to score requires determination, focus and hustle. The same goes for rebounding. Holding your opponent to one shot and giving your team more than one by good rebounding, makes a huge difference.

In life, being prepared by doing your homework, anticipating questions, learning and maintaining machinery or software, planning your efforts and asking questions puts you and your team in position to succeed. As legendary golfer Gary Player once said, “I have found the more I practice, the luckier I get.”

In “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell, he notes four attributes of highly successful people or groups. They are talented or smart enough, they are given opportunity, and they recognize and seize such opportunity. The fourth one is they practice, a lot. He noted about 10,000 hours of practice as a key threshhold.

So, think of that last differentiator. Maybe your talent or smarts are average, but you can be much better if you practice. And, that takes effort and hard work. Maybe your opportunities are fewer, but I have found opportunities come to busy and capable people. If you are not busy, learn something, study and make yourself better.

Getting back to basketball, I was not the best shooter or big scorer on the team. If I led a team in scoring, we were not very good. So, I worked my fanny off on playing defense, boxing out and rebounding, and being a good passer to our better shooters. Being a good teammate and playing to your strengths are essential. In basketball, there are five people and only one ball. Play well together. The best five players don’t win; the team playing the best wins.

Work hard. Put the time in. Play to your strengths. And, be willing to pass the ball.

And now, a word from George Will

I have noted before the significant number of respected conservative pundits and editorialists who have shared concerns over the President. George Will, a long time conservative, is among those who see the damage being done by the man in the White House. Like other conservative critics, his voice should be one that is heeded by those conservatives who are not totally in lock-step with the President.

In his most recent column called “Trump’s misery is also country’s,” Will is hypercritical of both the policies and behavior of the current President. He is also not too keen on the current Senate leadership for not doing their job to govern, being too interested in acquiescing to the President’s commands.

As for policy, he cited several examples, but two jump out. He is critical of the Trump and the GOP leadership as he notes, “Except that after two years of unified government under the party that formerly claimed to care about fiscal facts and rectitude, the nation faces a $1 trillion deficit during brisk growth and full employment.”

Will also notes concern over the US getting out of a trade deal designed to compete with China. He said, “The President’s most consequential exercise of power has been the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opening the way for China to fill the void of US involvement.” It should be noted the agreement went forward without the US and has become effective for six countries at the beginning of this year, with five others coming online later this year.

But, Will leaves his harshest criticism for the President’s behavior which has been destabilizing. He writes “Still the ubiquity of his (Trump’s) outpourings in the media’s outpourings gives American life its current claustrophobic feel.”  Will goes on to note that “He (Trump) is an inexpressibly sad specimen…He seems to have as many friends as his self-centeredness allows, and as he has earned in an entirely transactional life.”

As a result of Trump, Will notes the “GOP needs an entirely new vocabulary. Pending that, the party is resorting to crybaby conservatism: We are being victimized by ‘elites, markets, Wall Street, foreigners, etc.'”  This is what unfolds when fear is used as the key selling point. Principles are thrown aside, as exaggerations, over-simplifications, misinformation and lies paint others as bogeymen and the reason for any problems you might have.

As noted earlier, Will does not stand alone among conservative writers. My friends in the GOP and who have more conservative leanings need to pay more attention to people like him, Erik Erickson, Steve Schmidt, David Brooks, Michael Gerson, Ross Douthat and others, and less to those who the President seems to hold in high cotton. These are not Democrats who are raising concerns. These are people whose opinion used to matter more to Republicans and conservatives. They still should.

A military term defines the White House – SNAFU

People who have served in the military have a unique language to define poor management of situations. Borrowing from their vernacular, they might define the modus operandi of the current White House as a SNAFU. The first three letters reference “Situation Normal All,” with the last two letters referencing a more colorful way of defining “screwed up.”

Last year, conservative columnist David Brooks defined the White House as “equal parts chaos and confusion.” It has gotten increasingly worse over time with rampant turnover and turmoil, but now it is in full meltdown mode. The last grown up has announced his resignation – General James Mattis.

To be frank, I have viewed the biggest threat to national security to be Donald J. Trump. Now, my concerns have heightened. The last of the defense filters will be leaving and we will be left with an even more unfettered, mercurial and uninformed man calling the shots.

I would encourage people to read “Fear” by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Bob Woodward. It is based on over 750 hours of taped interviews with White House personnel. It defines Trump as an unhinged man who does not have the patience or willingness to listen to others or know the details of any issue. Narcissists like to he told they are right, so sycophants who know this, get the President’s ear and he closes others out.

The first key takeaways from the book is Trump’s lack of good faith dealing with others regardless of rank. His word means nothing and he will demean anyone who openly disagrees with him. In business, this is a ominous management style. If you don’t want to know the truth, then any decision will prove problematic. Time and again, people went to great pains to brief him, only to have him ridicule them and the process.

The second is the recognition by everyone that the President is untruthful. There are several colorful ways that people defined this, but the cleanest version came from former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn who simply said Trump is a “professional liar.”

As the various investigations heat up further and get closer to Trump, he will become further unhinged. And, he will make more impulsive decisions to either appease his base or distract the media. Plus, many of his decisions are based on bumper-sticker assessments of problems and simplistic solutions. When this transactional view is combined with his lack of respect for allied relationships, we end up in a worse place.

The rashness of decisions will be less tempered without Mattis. The President does not understand or appreciate what it takes to execute decisions. The Syria withdrawal caught everyone by surprise and went against the advice of others. But, one thing is for certain, the echo effect has not been fully vetted. Just this morning, I heard the Kurds will have to release 3,000 ISIS prisoners as they have nowhere to keep them. Yet, this is just one example of not studying a problem and getting input from others (think travel ban fiasco that was pulled after two days).

As I shared with Senators by email, this will get worse as the noose tightens. The SNAFU descriptions may undersell the amount of chaos, confusion and imcompetence. This frightens me.

A Day in the Life of Trump

I am currently reading the excellent book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” by twice Pulitzer Prize winning author and Watergate reporter Bob Woodward. The book is excellent and very believable with its depth of reporting and consistency with known facts.

Many things jump out while you read, but I felt the following two abridged examples of a “day in the life” of the Trump White House are revealing of his modus operandi. I will reserve judgment until after the anecdotes.

First, is the infamous tweet Trump sent out which said the military would no longer accept or allow transgender people “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.” This is a blatant lie.

This tweet was sent at 8:55 am and followed up by two more tweets at 9:04 am and 9:08 am. These times are important as he agreed earlier in the morning to meet with his Generals and Defense Director at 10 am to discuss the pros and cons of four options Trump might want to consider. The options ranged from the more legally supportable to what Trump announced on his own before the meeting which was later ceased by four federal courts.

Trump not only surprised his Generals, he lied and said they agreed. The sad truth is there are numerous stories like this about how this man flies by the seat of his pants and drags others down with him.

Second, after grave concerns over Trump’s open disdain for NATO, the EU, trade agreements and our allied relationships that have kept us safe and prosperous, the Generals, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis et all invited Trump to a retreat at the Pentagon to go over why these are important. After listening for awhile, prodded by Steve Bannon, Trump went on one of his rants, as an attendee described in Woodward’s book.

“The president proceeded to lecture and insult the entire group about how they didn’t know anything when it came to defense or national security. It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisors, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views.”

This is the meeting where Tillerson uttered his famous criticism due to his frustration over how the Generals were treated. He said Trump is a “f**king moron.”

These two examples paint a picture of a dangerous loose cannon who bullies and lies. We are not safer with this man in charge. And, the sooner his sycophants listen to voices who know better and have the courage to act, the safer we will be.

A call out

In an effort to be diplomatic, but brutally frank, let me call out a few items.

– There have been five advisors to Donald Trump who have been found guilty of crimes and not one of them is a witch. From what I gather, there is more to come and the ones bandied about don’t seem like witches either.

– I have seen Bob Woodward, one of the most credible reporters in the world, interviewed three times about his book “Fear,” which is s best seller here and in Europe. The stories and anecdotes about the Trump White House are detailed, consistent and believable.

– An underreported story is Russia and China doing a joint military exercise, including the involvement of Putin and Xi making Russian pancakes for the participants. A reason cited for this effort is the anxiety over the tensions from the US President. The actions of this President have aided an ascendant China and allowed Russia to cheat others.

– It has been reported that both Scotland and Ireland are continuing to find anguish over a forthcoming Brexit. This is not new, but it has resurfaced as a concern. Given this knowledge, you would think a new Brexit vote might be in order. Just yesterday, the London mayor asked for a new Brexit referendum.

– Russia has now been accused of sending an electronic ear worm that debilitated US and Canadian embassy people in Cuba. I also learned yesterday that the Russians have been able to successfully jam communications of US soldiers in Syria. And, yet our leadership is pretty silent about this. The new war does not seem to be physical, it is cyber-warfare and through social media.

There is so much more to mention, but this is enough to call out for now.

Not so Freaky Fridays anymore

It seems that news people recapping the week are in a continual, almost weekly, loop saying the President had a difficult week. One week it was the appropriate backlash on his Helsinki acquiescence to Vladimir Putin. Another week was the conviction and confession of two of his cronies. Earlier it was the detention of migrant children away from their parents. And, there are many others.

This past week started last Saturday with the funeral of a true hero and honorable public servant, an event to which he was purposefully uninvited. Not being invited to the national mourning of Senator John McCain was bad enough, but his modus operandi was appropriately criticized without mentioning his name by more than a few speakers.

By itself, this event would warrant a bad week, but it was followed by the release of excerpts from highly credible reporter Bob Woodward’s book on the disruptive White House environment. For younger voters, Woodward was 1/2 of the team that broke the Watergate story. While nothing surprising about Trump was revealed, it was reassuring that the President’s people do their best to keep him between the white lines.

While the White House was in full damage control mode, an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times by an insider which echoes much of what Woodward’s book reveals. It should be noted that the both pieces echo some earlier books that were also denounced by the White House, as well as previous leaks and actual observations by reporters.

A few comments are in order:

– Many GOP legislators are painfully aware of these shortcomings of the President, but choose not to act. Right now, supporters are ignoring the consistent message and focusing on the messenger.
– A plausible reason the anonymous op-ed writer has not gone to Congress is it would likely not do any good given the willingness of too many GOP sycophants wanting to save their tribe and not do their job.
– The President’s boorish behavior is not a secret, except to his base, who water down the criticism. What is known by fewer folks is what conservative columnist David Brooks noted as early as last year regarding various mismanaged events when he said the “White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.”
– But, his offensive behavior and poor management predates his campaign and White House. Five biographers note Trump’s problems with the truth and financial reporters have lauded his sales skills, while being critical of his poor management skills. It is easy to see why he is deemed a poor manager given his ego, temper and lack of attention to detail.

What frustrates me as well, I have consistently reached out to Senators and members of Congress usually after various missteps or misstatements by the President. Two questions I often ask are “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?” and “what will it take for Congress to act?” Seeing us bully our allies and forego our global leadership role is highly frustrating. Seeing us make changes that favor corporations and wealthy is another. Seeing us ignore climate change and our building huge debt are yet more concerns. But, the lying, denigration, name-calling, admiration for autocrats and disdain for democratically elected leaders takes the cake.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned the Russian collusion issue or his historical sexual misconduct. More will come out on these issues, but I find it of interest the lone constant in both issues is the story changing by the President. This is a key reason he did so poorly on a mock deposition in preface to a possible real one with Robert Mueller. The contradictions abounded.

So, I leave you with the questions I asked the GOP legislators above. Apparently, this is the horse they are going to ride. My added question is where will he lead you? And, us?