Good faith dealings

The passing of former President George H.W. Bush has highlighted the many positive attributes of the imperfect 41st President. Of course, we are all “fixer uppers,” and our willingness to know this about ourselves keeps us humble and in a constant state of self-improvement.

Many positive things have been highlighted about the elder Bush this past week, with many of us nostalgic to how we all should conduct ourselves, especially our leaders. Here are a few things I took away:

– a communication advisor to an early campaign noted he made a big mistake from which he could not hide. Thinking he would be fired, he recalled Bush telling him “I know you will knock the next opportunity out of the park.”

– a friend noted he played golf often with Bush when he was President. He noted the clubs Bush played would invariably try to “comp” his green and cart fees. Bush insisted that he pay for his and his friends fees. He noted it would not be right for a golf club to not expect him to pay.

– a Democrat Senator noted that it was not unusual for Bush to invite a handful of Senators or Congressional representatives to the White House on late Friday afternoons for martinis, which Bush made. He would also give them a tour of the White House, if any had not seen it before.

– many noted that Bush was a voracious note writer and they took pride in words of encouragement, support, sympathy or thanks; these notes were received by media, foreign and domestic leaders, public servants, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

– after he retired, the son of one of his secret service guards was struggling with Leukemia and losing in his hair due to the Chemotherapy. Bush shaved his head in solidarity with the son to lift his spirits,

– many leaders and public servants noted that Bush had many relationships around the world and here in the states, which benefited him and our country in troubling or challenging times. His ability to tap these resources to build coalitions to do things is paramount to several successful endeavors.

– relationships matter at home too, with a lovely marriage to Barbara for 73 years and a beautiful family of children and grandchildren. Marriage is hard work – this speaks volumes about the Bushes.

– Finally, in today’s times it is hard to convince some that perception is not reality. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time polishing our own apple or thinking those that do it well rate more highly as a result. One magazine defined Bush as a wimp when he ran for President, primarily because he was an obsequious Vice-President. Here was a man who flew 58 combat missions in WWII and was shot down. He was not raised to brag on himself. It would not have been false bravado for him to do so. False bravado seems to be mistaken for actually bravery these days. But, the reason he was called a wimp due to being obsequious is while he offered criticism to  President Reagan in private, it would have been detrimental to call him out in public.

Each of us could be better people. Our leaders should be among our better angels. Character matters. Dealing with people in a good faith manner matters. Telling the truth to the media, colleagues and the American people matter. Being accountable matters. Real courage is usual quietly borne and not bragged about. We should remember these truths. We should do our best to emulate them.

 

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Saving ourselves from the whimsy of a mercurial man

I don’t agree with some of what conservative columnist Ramesh Ponnuru writes about, but I found myself in agreement with his latest editorial, “Keeping the US Economy safe from Trump’s feelings.” The key theme is the President’s whimsical tweets and statements regarding various policy statements can be harmful to the economy. In my view, it goes even further than the economy factoring into global relationships, climate change inaction, civil rights abuses, etc., but let’s start there.

Ponnuru notes that the President cannot say he was not forewarned by GM about the impact of his tariffs, as the company said in June the tariffs “could lead to fewer jobs, lower wages for our employees” and risked “undermining GM’s competitiveness against foreign auto producers.” He notes the reasons for the downsizings are more than just the tariffs, as demand for sedans is much lower than anticipated and interest rates are picking up. But, GM is not the only company to forewarn the President about his tariffs.

Yet, he notes the President is trying to convince GM to keep plants open using power he does not have. He cannot take away subsidies for electric cars, only Congress can do that. He cannot keep plants open as promised during the campaign, as market forces dictate that and publicly traded companies must respond to shareholders. Plus, he should not be commenting on the actions of any specific company, nor threatening one who do something that he does not like.

It should be noted that the two Senators in Ohio noted in the spring that the government should find ways to help GM retool and update their plants to do SUVs and electric cars rather than gas-powered sedans. This request for action before things got worse was not heeded. That would have been the time to step up to help. Now, his comments are just staging.

Ponnuru used a phrase that is on point to define the President’s actions. He said, “Trump tends to make policy decisions spasmodically.” He further notes the“President keeps adding to his reputation for making idle threats, and even self-canceling ones.”  The White House staff and various departments have been trying to manage the mercurial President’s whimsy. The resulting turnover has been pronounced. Decisions either have no substance because they are beyond the purview of the Presidency or they are unwound because of the next whimsical decision. Or, the staff may hope he forgets one of his inane pronouncements.

The best example of this is from Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” On a totally different subject related to Trump’s attempted ban of transgenders in the military, he was set to meet with more than a dozen members of his staff including his Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject. Great pains were taken to develop four ideas, noting how constitutional each was, and other pros and cons for the President’s consideration. As they waited that morning for the President, he noted he would join them soon. In the interim, the President sent out two tweets making his decision, noting that everyone was in agreement, which was not a true statement. He also picked the least constitutional action and a court has held up the change.

The key point of this story is not the subject matter. It is the lack of good-faith dealings with others. He said your opinion does not matter and then lied about them being in agreement. The other key is this type of decision-making is not an isolated occurrence. Using Ponnuru’s term it is “spasmodic.” Another conservative writer, David Brooks’ refers to the White House as “equal measures of chaos and incompetence.” I would add that it shows a lack of respect for his subordinates and is not the actions a true leader would take.

As we have painfully learned, the mercurial man is not prone to change. Saving ourselves is another story. Fortunately, the courts help as more than a few things Trump does are not constitutional. The other is to pressure Congress to remember their oaths. The Senate is quite concerned by the President’s blowing off the human rights issues surrounding the MSB’s knowledge of the murder of a journalist and Saudi Arabia’s atrocities on the Yemeni people. Another is to read and watch better news outlets. The media is not the enemy of the people, but many so-called news organizations are not unbiased.

We should also pay heed to conservative voices who have been critical and disowned by Trump’s followers. Ponnuru is not alone, but is less critical of the President than other conservative voices – Brooks, Gerson, Erickson, Will, Douthat, to name a few. These voices are important to echo as the President has done a tremendous sales job on his followers noting it is the media and Democrats who just don’t like him. When I am accused of this, I reiterate my independent status, but when that fails, I say what I dislike is people lying to me and then making decisions off the lies.

Sunday sermonettes redux

Good Sunday morning everyone. It is a rainy morning here. Here are a few little sermonettes on this Sunday morning.

A favorite mantra of mine is “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” This weekend, the embodiment of that mantra passed away, former President George H.W. Bush. A key lesson for many today, toughness is not correlated with a false bravado. If someone has to tell you how tough or how smart he is, my advice would be to look under the hood.

With the G20 conference now ended, what stood out to me is the giddy handshake/ hug between MSB and Putin. To me it was due to them both being in on a joke. They have gotten away with doing their own thing and having something on the current US President. Both know that the US President has business ties in each country with a goal to leverage his candidacy and presidency to do even more. So, they both feel a level of impunity. Note to all, when leaders squash human rights or look the other way when violated, that is when Jesus crires. If you are not religious, that is when our parents cry.

Yesterday, I watched the terrific movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen and Freddie Mercury’s rise to fame and impact. It is very entertaining and even emotional. A key premise is how Mercury defined the group to a record producer, ironically played by Michael Myers. He said we are a family of misfits playing to the misfits in the final row. I like this. This group’s family chemistry is a key thread to the movie, which I won’t spoil here. Do go see even if it is just for the music.

So, to wrap up these sermonettes, kindness is important, human rights are important and family in whatever form is important.

 

 

 

Plausible sensationalism creates the illusion

In follow-up to a satire post inspired by The Onion, back and forth comments with Linda and Jill noted a sad truth. There is so much fake news created by, for and passed along by this President, it may be putting The Onion’s satire on the back burner. What used to play as satire is being covered by pseudo-news/ entertainers on various shows as news or plausible speculation. And, some pseudo-news outlets have a mission of putting forth conspiracy theories or false stories.

Democracy requires an informed electorate. On NPR, I heard a news reporter who has been victimized in a cruel way by fake news, state that in Europe, they are used to Russian propaganda. One of the top rated shows on Sunday night in one of the Baltic States is to highlight fake news that has been planted by Russian agents that week. Whereas we watch some faux-reality show here in the US, they are debunking myths presented as news. In the US, it has been proven we will believe just about anything.

The key is for the fake story to have “plausible sensationalism.” To create a saleable illusion it has to be sensational. Yet, it cannot be off the boards crazy, as it will not be believed. It has to have some grounding or plausibility. The plausibility could be a person who is painted as untrustworthy or it could be related to a fact. The news reporter speaking on NPR noted the Russians under Putin have done this for years and often will surround a fake story with three or four true ones. So, the reader or watcher will be fooled in believing each story is true.

InfoWars does this quite often, which is a reason they offend and are often sued. The lead storyteller, Alex Jones, will say the mass shooting at Sandy Hook was staged, for example. Or, he may claim that Hillary Clinton is raising money by running a child pornography ring from a pizza parlor in Washington. The first story relies on the NRA and their avid members to make the story plausible. The second one relies on the built-over-time mistrust of Clinton coupled with a pizza parlor for plausibility.

Recently, we had Geraldo Rivera and others on Fox claim the story of the bombs being sent to fourteen Democrats was a “false flag” operation. Per these pseudo-news/ entertainers, the bombs were not real and being sent by a Democrat plant. The purpose of the operation is to influence the election. The false story got so much airplay and social media use, it had to be debunked by the US Justice Department.

The same goes with the President who is the biggest purveyor of fake news in America. He watches these shows or hears of the stories and passes them along. Then they get reported on Fox or mainstream news, and then he repeats them saying “people are saying.” All they have done is repeated the lie the President said. It is akin to validating your own rumor when it circles back to you. The President will often say things without proof or make up parts of conversations as he did with the Finnish President when he said they rake the forests to prevent forest fires in Finland.

Whether he is saying there our middle eastern terrorists among a slow-moving caravan of many women and children which justify the cost of sending troops to our border or claiming rampant voter or election fraud, there is enough plausible sensationalism to make people believe his BS. On the first one, why would terrorists spend months in a caravan to infiltrate the US, when they have such a good track record of recruiting people online? On the latter one, his party has been claiming greater voter fraud than exists to pass voter suppression laws.

So, what do we do about this? Please check your sources. If you are getting your news from InfoWars, Breitbart, Donald Trump, the MSNBC or Fox pseudo-news shows after their real news efforts go off the air, please stop or take it with a huge grain of salt. If you quote Alex Jones or Sean Hannity to someone, then be prepared for pushback that you should get. If you cite the President, be similarly prepared as he is more untruthful than he is not, as measured by Politifacts and judged by people who know him well.

A final rule of thumb. Sensational stories are not necessarily false, but be skeptical and ask questions. There are two well-known sensational ones underway right under our noses. Did Mohammed bin Salmon order the execution of the Khashoggi? The Keystone Kops storytelling by the Saudis imply something is amiss and our own CIA said he did. The other is the inadvertent or planned collusion with Russia to influence our 2016 election. The fact the Russians did is pretty much accepted, even begrudgingly by the President. But, we must get to the bottom of the bigger question.

Should we be skeptical? Of course, but consider the sources and nature of those involved. And, consider the degree and magnitude of changing stories that has gone with each. One thing for certain in my book – neither one is a witch hunt.

Imperfections

We humans are an imperfect lot. We do our best to hide our imperfections, but we all have them. No race has any more or less than others. Yet, one of our imperfections is as old as time. Jesus warned us against this with the Golden Rule. The imperfection is to think we are better than another group of people that may look, worship, vote, or love differently than we do. Too often, we feel a group or person is beneath us and should not be given the same rights.

The US Constitution and its various amendments has also tried to provide a set of rules that say we are all created equal. Quite simply, my rights are no important than that of another. The converse is also true. Like Jesus’ words, it is an ideal that we should strive for. And, when we fail, we should feel remorse and do better. Our leaders must represent our better angels. When they don’t, we lose the benefit of their example.

Unfortunately, examples can work in the opposite direction. Bigotry has to be carefully taught. And, when leaders look the other way or grease the skids on bigotry, it festers and becomes more pervasive. Under the guise of populism, we are seeing a greater degree and more pervasive bigotry in the US, Hungary, Poland, Germany to name a few countries. At the heart of this populism is a bigotry that betrays the Golden Rule.

With the current US President, America can no longer claim to be a beacon of democracy. The traits of lying, bullying, demeaning the media and allies, and thinking me first are not conducive to leadership. The current US President occupies the seat of leadership, but I would not use that term to define what he does. A leader unites. A leader accepts responsibility. A leader is accountable. This President could do better in each of these areas.

We must hold him accountable. When he lies, we must say that is unacceptable. When he demeans, we need to let him know children our watching. We are all imperfect, but imperfect people should not throw stones. Jesus said something about that as well. I hope and pray he will do better. We need him to. The same goes for other leaders. And, for us.

 

It is time to govern

Now that the elections are over, it is time to put away the rhetoric and focus on governance. This used to be how it was done, until we segmented the news into various markets. The past twenty years or so, we seem to govern off the campaign rhetoric rather than facts and collaboration has become a dirty word.

As an Independent voter, who has been a member of both parties, the governing off rhetoric and lack of collaboration need to stop. Neither side owns all the good ideas and both sides have some bad ones. And, we need to focus on the underlying truths and facts rather than tweets and who wins a public relations battle over an issue. Process matters – when politicians deviate from process, it is for political reasons.

In this spirit, here are the issues that this voter thinks we should focus on. Many voters have voiced agreement on some of these, but some issues just don’t get due attention.

– we should stabilize and shore up the ACA which most Americans favor: funding commitments to insurers will stabilize premiums, as will expanding Medicaid and considering the expansion of Medicare down to age 55, 60 or 62.

– we should ditch the harmful tariffs and work with our allies and the WTO to pressure China to stop the intellectual capital theft. Tariffs hurt consumers and producers, especially our farmers.

– we should address infrastructure needs which are many, doing so as we have done in the past with a blend of business, venture capital and federal, state and local government funding.

– we should recognize that the two biggest threats to our planet per the World Economic Forum are our water crisis and climate change, which exacerbates the first issue: strides have been made, but we need to reassume our global leadership role on climate change and focus on measures to address both.

– we should add more governance around gun control issues: Gun-owners and non-gun owners have voiced agreement on measures that would help. It should be noted most gun-owners do not belong to the NRA, so the NRA’s political activism against reasonable change should be noted, but not over-emphasized.

– The deficit and debt are building to a point of huge reckoning. It has been eight years since the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Resuction Committee report was shelved. It was shelved because it recommended $2 in expense cuts to every $1 in revenue increases. It was shelved because neither party had the political courage to roll up their sleeves and make tough decisions – we cannot get there with only expense cuts or revenue increases, needing both.

– We should stop the lack of civil discourse and beating up on the media. The media’s role is vital to our democracy. Pay attention to where your news comes from. Be wary of opinion disguised as news. Tweets are not long enough to show context or subtlety and are an easy way to misinform, as a result. To this end, it is vital for our democracy to return to appropriate Congressional oversight. We are not a kingdom.

If anything, we must have our politicians work together. The crime bill the President is pushing and that passed the House is not perfect, but is a bipartisan effort. It makes steps forward. Let’s make needed improvements and get something done. And, that is what Americans want most from our politicians – stop the grandstanding and get stuff done.

 

 

Accidently saying the wrong thing

Watching an interview of Michelle Obama with Gayle King of CBS, her mother Ms. Robinson joined in. As many know, Ms. Robinson moved to the White House to be there for her grandchildren as their parents traveled and did their jobs.

During the interview, King asked her why she was only on television once. Robinson said the reason was “I did not want to accidentally say the wrong thing.” I greatly admire her self-reflection. This comment struck me as we have a man in the White House who consistently says or tweets the wrong thing.

If the current incumbent would recognize that he is his worst enemy, he may be less inclined to opine on things where he does know the facts. He also would refrain from being hyper-critical of folks who dare criticize him or say things he does not care for. This attacking style toward anyone is wearisome and reflects poorly on the office of President.

Just this week, the US Presideny took criticism of Emmanuel Macron too far indicting the whole country of France. It is similar to when couples argue and they say something cruel in the heat of argument, which they regret. In the case of the President, he makes these cruel remarks on almost a daily basis.

This morning I read yet again a letter from a Trump fan who says the US President is just being “politically incorrect,” making it acceptable behavior. What this man does is well-beyond politically incorrect. He is being an untruthful bully. As I have said many times for several years, people can be politically incorrect without being an asshole.