Two Western Leaders came to Washington

Last week, the two leaders of the western world met with the US President, who has ceded the US role in the world. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany visited with Donald Trump.

Of course, the US has the most powerful military in the world. We’d better as we spend far more than other countries. Yet, with our pulling back on diplomacy and the number of diplomats, with our imposition of tariffs on even our allies, with our retrenching from global agreements and with an unprecedented level of untruthfulness, we have ceded our global leadership role to China, overall, and Germany and France in the western world. And, while the UK remains important and formidable, I am sad to say Brexit will precipitate its decline from these ranks.

Macron and Merkel beseeched the US President to remain in the Iran Nuclear deal signed by seven parties (including the four countries above). As with other issues, Trump does a lot of chest beating without the benefit of being factually accurate. John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” does a nice job of defining the terms of the agreement and noting three untruthful things the US President says about it.

And, at least Macron openly requested the US to remain in the Paris Climate Change accord. We know this as Macron was allowed to speak with Congress and did so with an eye to the future and a statesman like flair. Yet, Merkel did not get such an opportunity. It puzzles me why Trump does not like her as his contempt easily shows.

He dotes on Macron, but he looks like he would rather be elsewhere when he is with Merkel. Is he jealous because Putin will actually listen to her? Is he superficial to not like her because she does not have a model’s shape or looks? Or is it her policies of openness to refugees? Or, it may be she is a student of understanding issues and he is not?

Nonetheless, she sees the future in the appropriate light as does Macron. “Narrow-minded nationalism” is something we must guard against Macron said to the US Congress. Global trade and relationships make the world safer.

I firmly believe if Trump remains in office for four years (and God forbid eight years), history will judge this period as when the US gave up its leadership role in the world. And, this happened with others not firing one shot, just a well-orchestrated influence campaign by the Russians who want a weaker west. But, don’t trust my judgement. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow has penned a book called “War on Peace” that notes the same premise with definitive examples. The decline in diplomacy is a huge mistake – we sent two people to a global issues meeting, while China sent twenty. They worked the rooms.

This is a sad state of affairs. We have listened to a populist President who does not care to know historical context and is not beholden to the truth. He has listened to people who want us to retrench. And, there is one thing for certain, we cannot shrink to greatness. It matters not what the ball caps say at Trump rallies.

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A few quotes tell a consistent narrative

The following are a few quotes that have a consistent theme in defining the current incumbent US President. I had many to choose from, but I felt these frame the sentiment from a variety of perspectives within and outside of the US.

Former FBI DIrector James Comey as quoted in The Guardian article entitled “Comey book likens Trump to a mafia boss ” – “This president is unethical  and untethered to the truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Japanese Finance Director Taro Aso as quoted in Reuters article “US will only rejoin Pacific Trade pact if terms improved”“Trump is a person who could change temperamentally, so he may say something different the next day.”

Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Ralph Peters  in his resignation email to Fox News “In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts–who have never served our country in any capacity–dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller–all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations– I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

Chief Executive Gustavo Grobocupatel of an Argentine Agricultural Group quoted in a Reuters article entitled “US seeks to outshine China at Latam summit without Trump”“Trump’s plan seems to be to ensure the US is no longer the world’s leader.”

Four Star General (Ret.) Barry McCaffrey as quoted in an article in The Daily Mail – “Donald Trump is a ‘serious threat to U.S. national security’ due to Russian inaction.”

Conservative columnist, author and pundit David Brooks during a speech made in Charlotte in April, 2018“Donald Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

Editor-in-chief of Red State, a conservative webcast, Erick Erickson quoting on his show an anonymous Republican Congressman he bumped into at a grocery store“Here’s what the US Congressman said: ‘It’s like Forrest Gump won the presidency, but an evil, really f*cking stupid Forrest Gump.’ He went on to explain that if the president tries to fire the Special Counsel Mr. Mueller, he and his fellow Republicans were ready to impeach him over it, for the sake of trying to save the GOP from going down with him.”

Thomas Wells who penned the article in The Huffington Post in July, 2016 entitled “Donald Trump Hired Me As An Attorney. Please Don’t Support Him For President” – “It is a special and unique form of arrogance to think you could even consider being literally the leader of the free world without doing the work to deeply understand the job.” He also noted Donald Trump “lies all of the time.”

I will leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. With the exception of the two foreign leaders, these people swore an oath to the Constitution and/ or are Conservatives.

Draining the swamp is hard with so many Yertle the Turtles

One of Dr. Seuss’ popular children books has a lesson for us all and a few have called it an important business book. Briefly, “Yertle the Turtle” is about a leader named Yertle who stands on the backs of his servant turtles to see his realm. Yet, as the stack grows, he continues to ignore the complaints of Mack the turtle on the very bottom. Of course, the stack falls and Yertle comes tumbling down. The moral to the story is not hard to decipher.

I mention this swamp example because the President was elected, in part, because he was going to drain the swamp. Setting aside why people believed an imperial man would deign to do basic things for the masses, what he has done is appoint people to be his Department secretaries whom are also used to nice things. He hired a bunch of Yertles making it hard to drain the swamp standing on the backs of others.

At least five of his cabinet members have come under fire for lavish expenditures on the taxpayers’ dime. HHS Secretary Tom Price resigned over his frequent desire to travel with charter flights. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is still on the job, but took seven military flights costing $800,000, one of which was coincidental to a city in the path of the recent solar eclipse (a certain Carly Simon song lyric comes to mind in “You’re so vain.”)

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been the quietest of appointees until it was learned he was installing palatial furniture totalling $165,000 in his office. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is also traveling well being $200,000 over budget robbing from emergency funds to pay for it.

Not to be outdone, EPA Director Scott Pruiit also likes to travel well and goes with  an entourage. Part of that is due to security reasons as he does not care for people reminding him his role is to protect the environment, not business. But, he is getting flak for his devious way to provide lucrative raises to two key staffers (and then deny it) and renting a luxury condo from a fossil fuel lobbyist at a very favorable rate. It should be noted that several Mack the turtles were reassigned when they complained of ethical concerns in the EPA.

These Yertles have always liked nice things, but so does their boss. His predecessor took a huge amount of grief for his travels and golfing. Yet, that has been dwarfed by the biggest Yertle in the White House who does not spend much time there as it is actually a step down in luxury to him. That speaks volumes.

It is hard to drain the swamp when you have so many Yertles doing the draining. And, this is without even considering the measures taking by these men to grease the skids for business reducing regulations, selling off rights to public lands and providing a huge tax cut. The friends of the Yertles are Yertles as well. Unfortunately, the Macks of the world only matter as props in this value enhancement for the Yertles. Not much is trickling down, just the opportunity for the Macks to stick their nose in the mud.

 

 

 

Good words, now let’s walk the talk

I have now seen South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Congressman Trey Gowdy interviewed twice on their book released this week called “Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Country.” Scott who is Black and Gowdy who is White speak openly of their friendship.

I think it is excellent the two legislators are speaking of their relationship. I am delighted they are getting along well and feel their relationship can serve as a guide to better discussions. Yet, when asked if the same guide could help Congress, Gowdy spoke of the desire to win and the other side lose getting in the way of better relationships.

Frankly, I don’t buy that. I think they need to walk the talk in Congress. When anyone on their team is being uncivil, untruthful or callous, they need to call them out. I actually called each leaving a message with one and speaking with a staffer on the other.

I complimented their efforts and wished them well with their book. But, I said Americans want members of Congress to work together to solve problems. It matters not who wins or loses – it matters if we the people benefit. And, when someone denigrates another, which happens too often from the White House, they need to act like their fellow SC legislator Lindsey Graham did when he called the President on the carpet for his infamous remark about sh**hole countries.

Gowdy is retiring from office as still a young man saying he is tired of this zero-sum game of politics. To be frank, he played that game to the hilt, even as late as January with his role in the Congressman Devin Nunes’ memo which was highly political and sloppy work. On the flip side, while he does not believe the Presidenf colluded (see previous reference to political and sloppy work), he did say if the President is innocent, he should act like he is. Then there is his role in the endless Benghazi hearings, which was referred to by fellow Republicans Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell as a “witch hunt.”

So, seeing his name with this book was a little surprising. Yet, I will treat his intentions as a sincere effort and applaud both of their mission. They just have to be more than words. Words are cheap – we must walk the talk. We need them and their fellow legislators to walk the talk, as well.

 

 

 

Over-politicized and under-moralized

I had the pleasure of hearing columnist and author David Brooks speak the other night. He was invited to my city by a church known for being inclusive. While his speech and following Q/A was filled with poignant quotes and observations, his caution that “we are over-politicized and under-moralized” resonated with me.

His speech was far more focused on America’s changes over time than it was political. He noted we were much more community oriented before 1968, but still had many faults around racIsm, bigotry and gender inequality. He noted the gains made post-1968, but we tore down institutional cache and became more individual minded, even more narcissistic in nature, as he explained with a few key  statistics. He thoughtfully spoke of how we have come to the current tribalism. He noted tribalism is based more on fear and hatred of others than it is love for your tribe.

This was occurring long before Trump and he said he frankly did not think Trump would win. He said people are disenfranchised and want to be heard. To Trump’s credit he reached out to these folks, yet he sold a message of fear and isolationism. An example of one of Brooks’ quotes is “Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.”

From his travels, reading and teaching, he noted people are thirsty for moral direction. We desire a moral compass. We want to do the right thing, but we have become so lonely and alienated (he again accentuated with statistics) we have limited avenues to a community mindset. We are not talking to one another and have looked less to institutions and more to movements.

Early on he defined we are consumed by both a “desiring heart” and “yearning soul.” We want to love someone and belong. We want to find contentment for our soul nurturing it. This is why we long for a sense of community or family. He noted an answer to a previous time in the 1890s when we became so disenfranchised, we saw community movements that led to better working conditions, the suffragette movement, the temperance movement, environmental protection, etc.

That is likely the answer we need to diminish this tribalism. We need to seek community oriented solutions. He said our places of faith can be more helpful, but need to focus on our being better people and picking each other up. He noted an example of a man in Shreveport who helped identify a community house in each area of the city. The house would be a place where BBQs, community events, parties et al could happen.

When someone asked what is a key takeaway, he laughed and said that is your job as I just throw out ideas. Then, he eloquently noted a story about a psychologist who was captured by the Nazis and placed in a detention camp. The question no longer was what should I do with my life? The question was now what does life have in store for me? He said that may be the better question we should ask ourselves.

As he left the stage, I witnessed a humble man who seemed to be saying through his body language, why are you clapping for me? He deserved the adoration. Even the minister of the church noted Brooks’ message had a strong sense of a Judeo-Christian ethic. We need more voices like him. We need more discussions like these.

Water – the real crisis facing us

While Americans are distracted and consumed by the routine chaos out of the White House, we are letting huge problems go unaddressed. One of the major problems is the current and growing global water crisis. For several years, the World Economic Forum has voted the global water crisis as the greatest risk facing our planet over the longer term, defined as ten years. But, this is not just a future problem, the city of Cape Town in South Africa is in severe water crisis and continues to ration pushing forward their Day Zero as long as they can

Per The Guardian in an article this week, the United Nations warns that water shortages “could affect 5 billion people by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water. The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.

The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.

‘For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,’ says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. ‘In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.’

Humans use about 4,600 cubic km of water every year, of which 70% goes to agriculture, 20% to industry and 10% to households, says the report, which was launched at the start of the triennial World Water Forum. Global demand has increased sixfold over the past 100 years and continues to grow at the rate of 1% each year.

This is already creating strains that will grow by 2050, when the world population is forecast to reach between 9.4 billion and 10.2 billion (up from 7.7 billion today), with two in every three people living in cities.

Demand for water is projected to rise fastest in developing countries. Meanwhile, climate change will put an added stress on supplies because it will make wet regions wetter and dry regions drier.

Drought and soil degradation are already the biggest risk of natural disaster, say the authors, and this trend is likely to worsen. ‘Droughts are arguably the greatest single threat from climate change,’ it notes. The challenge has been most apparent this year in Cape Town, where residents face severe restrictions as the result of a once-in-384-year drought. In Brasília, the host of the forum, close to 2m people have their taps turned off once in every five days due to a unusually protracted dry period.”

Here in the states, we exacerbate our drought and other water problems with bad piping and fracking, which waste or use huge amounts of water. But, with our vast agriculture, we need water to produce our and much of the world’s crops. We must manage it better. Two books are very illuminating. “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization” by Steven Solomon is a terrific look back and ahead. He is the coiner of the phrase “water is the new oil.” The other book is called “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn that details the struggles of these professions and two others with climate change and its impact on water and other things they do.

Folks, this is a major problem. We must address it now before we all have our own Day Zeroes. If this is not enough to raise concern, one of the financial experts who forewarned us of the pending financial crisis, has a new concern – water.

 

Stepford Wives, Blade Runner and Ex Machina are here

I have seen snippets about this, but my wife turned over to a Dr. Oz show today whose subject was about “sexbots.” If you have not seen these, they exist, look somewhat real, and have artificial intelligence. Yikes. Dr. Oz first interviewed psychologists, one who was alarmed, while the other who felt it was OK. The former noted those who would be missing out on real intimacy plus some who may have a tendency to act out more violent fantasies, while the latter noted that people need companionship even if electronic.

Then, he interviewed one of the inventors, who dutifully said it is like owners talking with pets, with the robot being more of a companion. The robots were programmed with favorite movies, books, etc. that could be espoused, if asked. He noted if the owner tried to treat the robot violently (sexual assault, rape), it would shut down. He added with such a high cost (about US$10,000), it would be bad for the owner to treat the robot poorly.

And, if that was not a bridge too far, he said some have made the robot look like a former wife who had passed away. The thought of “Stepford Wives” came to mind. As for the companionship, I was recalling the recent “Blade Runner 2049” movie which updated the earlier version made in the early 1980s. In both, the “replicants” included some that were built to be consorts to men (and I presume women), where few of the opposite sex were present. In the latter, one of the replicants had a holographic live-in girlfriend who offered the companionship. The theme of “Ex Machina” is about a talented AI programmer being asked to test a lifelike, attractive companion.

So, what about this? In the category of “to each his (or her) own,” I guess if this is what floats your boat and provides a solution to loneliness, so be it. I guess we each have fantasy lovers that we can dream about, so is this a natural evolution? Yet, it still gives me the willies. Plus, most movies about robots usually do not end well for humans. So, maybe this could lead to our extinction or replacement. Maybe it will lead to test tube babies as in “Brave New World.” Or, maybe we will become cyborgs like the group in “Star Trek Next Generation” called “The Borg” a collective intelligence embodied in former humanoids.

Tell me what you think? Is this a good thing or a horrible path to follow? I did think of a humorous use for women if they had their own sexbot. The robot would have to be adept at foreplay and cuddling, but would also take out the trash and do the dishes without being asked and could fix a clogged drain or install a dimmer switch. And, if it needed to ask directions, it would do so. But, that internal GPS would forego the need.