Four disasters this week

Between the horrible earthquake outside of Mexico City and Hurricane Maria, two disasters are harming people. This is on top of the two terrible hurricanes that hit Texas (Harvey) and Florida and the Caribbean Islands (Irma) in the past three weeks. We need to help those impacted and who may still be impacted as Maria continues onward. At last count, 245 people in Mexico City and the area have died from the earthquake and Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, etc. have been decimated by Maria.

While it is highly likely man-influenced climate change has made the hurricanes more powerful, two other disasters are clearly man-made and harmful to people. For one, we have to travel to Myanmar and Bangladesh as the government of Myanmar is doing an ethnic cleansing of a minority group of Muslims called Rohingyas. Over 400,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in Bangladesh to escape the raping, killing, beating and burning of their homes. Sadly, the leader of Myanmar is Aung San Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Prize for standing up to the military rulers she has replaced, has stood silent.

The other disaster was embodied in the US President who did his best impersonation of former USSR Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During the Cold War, Khrushchev beat on his table with his shoe and announced to the United Nations crowd that if you don’t watch out “We will bury you.” This is beyond the pale of decorum and tact and painted the Soviet Leader as a pariah, rightfully so.

Scrolling forward fifty plus years to this week, the current White House incumbent spoke to other world leaders at the United Nations in a bombastic manner that could not be confused with civil discourse or diplomacy. Compared to low expectations, Trump had some presentable parts of his speech, yet he falls way short when compared to his predecessors. Beating on his chest, he told the world he would have no problem in killing tens of millions of North Koreans wiping the country from the face of the earth.

While a few more controlling leaders are OK with Trump’s bombast, many leaders have been critical of the Nikita-like speech. I have witnessed in interviews the UN Leader, the President of France, the Leader of the International Monetary Fund, the current Mayor of New Orleans and the former Mayor of New York each show their dismay over Trump’s words and bombast. There are others. Watching the body language of General Kelly, Trump’s Chief of Staff, during the speech was very telling.

Long before this, Trump has shown to other leaders, he is not trustworthy or knowledgeable about global affairs. A Republican global advisor to Mitt Romney even used the word “ignoramus” to define the President’s foreign policy. Trudy Rubin, one of the best writers on global affairs, said Trump “Does not care to learn what he does not know.”

But, Trump has done even more, as evidenced by his speech. He has made America out to be a pariah in the world. That is highly frustrating to this American. I clearly recognize North Korea is a dilemma. I also fear the man who will make our decisions on this as he has little understanding of the situation and will likely stir up matters where cooler heads are needed.

When boys with toys start comparing egos and name calling, it makes military action a higher probability. We should not confuse being tough or having seriousness of purpose with sounding tough – the White House incumbent does not understand this. And, one thing Americans, the majority of whom support military action, need to think about is the other side will shoot back and millions will die in South Korea, Japan and maybe in the US. We only need to watch the documentary series on The Vietnam War to understand what happens when we think we are invincible and don’t tell the truth to the American people. Let’s seek diplomatic solutions.

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When Leaders Hide the Truth

I have been watching the excellent documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick called “The Vietnam War.” After just two episodes, a key conclusion can be made. When leaders hide the truth, people suffer.

American leaders, both military and in the White House, did not shoot straight with Americans and people died. There were numerous opportunities to realize what we should have known going in, that we were abetting a war effort that could not be won.

We backed a leader that was corrupt and who hired corrupt leaders all down the line. We were battling an enemy who was winning the hearts and minds of the rural people, who detested the corruption and Americans who supported it. We told Americans at home, things were going better than they were and tried to cover up the bad news.

As evidence, there was one battle after which the leaders in Saigon declared victory, but the leader in the field said it was a debacle. It was so bad, the Viet Cong was galvanized around their victory and no longer feared the Americans.

Leaders must not hide the truth. An American soldier said we were the first troops to realize we could not trust our leadership to tell us the truth.This battle was early in the Kennedy Presidency, so we could have saved many American lives had we been more honest with ourselves and the American people. What became apparent, we remained and expanded our efforts only to prevent the spread of communism as this was in the middle of the Cold War.

The sad truth is we do not learn lessons from history and are destined to repeat mistakes. Everything we needed to know, we could have gleaned from the French failure in Vietnam. Later, we went into Iraq and Afghanistan without full understanding of the issues and people involved. We should have known about Afghanistan as we aided the tribes to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s. We sided with the less than scrutable leadership in Iraq.

What frustrates me is people die when we don’t think things through and are not truthful. And, as John Fogerty sang, it is not the senators’ sons who are dying. This is what bothers me most about our current President who has a very hard time with the truth. Coupling that weakness with his lack of desire to learn what he does not know exacerbates his ineffectiveness. I just hope people won’t die due his limitations and behaviors.

Let’s speak plainly

After watching a few newscasts with politicians using words that sound nice, but lack substance, I am in the need of some plain spoken comments. Here are a few to start the conversation. Please let me hear some of yours.

The US President and Congress are speaking of Tax Reform, but what I am hearing are tax cuts. We have a debt of $20 Trillion and an annual budget deficit. There is no way in hell to reduce either with lower tax revenue. We need spending cuts and tax increases, but no politician has the stomach to do what is needed.

Steve Bannon is the latest White House departure to say the President likes for his direct reports to compete for his attention and favor. People say this is how he likes to run his businesses. Two comments. First, I have witnessed this model as an employee, manager and consultant and it is a highly unproductive model. Second, biographers and financial reporters have all said Trump’s business record is spotty. He is a great salesman, but the word great is rarely used to describe his management style. It shows in the level of chaos and incompetence in the White House. General Kelly has helped, but it is a tall hill to climb.

While I understand the reasons for Brexit, I have been very concerned by the consideration and vote to exit the EU. From the outset, financial experts forewarned of the British leaving the EU. They spoke of EU headquarter movement, less investment, and less collaboration. This is already occurring in plans of the exit. I understand Former PM Tony Blair has an idea to govern immigration better without leaving – my strong suggestion is to hear him out.

Along these lines, those who want to retrench from global markets need to know a truism – it is very hard to shrink to greatness. I understand middle income workers in flourishing economies feel the brunt of globalization, but a large part of that is due to and will continue to result from technology gains. Retraining is a must. Shoring up wages is a must. But, we need to be careful about retrenching from global markets, that also add jobs here.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with these comments? If you do not, let me know why?

 

Interviewers – ask your question then be quiet

My friend Lisa, who is the pied piper of Ecuador as an involved and involving American expat, offered a comment specific to Fox News about interviewers talking over the answers of people being interviewed. While Fox is far from perfect, they are not alone in interviewers who trample over their guests’ answers. I was planning on writing a piece before I saw her comment, as I get so frustrated when I see this happen.

Two of the worst at this are Gayle King of “CBS Morning News” and Bill Maher of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” I like both of these folks and think Maher is one of the more informed interviewers around. Even though his show is a comedy show, he welcomes guests that have varying views to discuss the topics of the day. King also has a lot to offer, but in a format with two other capable interviewers, she sometimes overshadows the guest to hear herself talk.

What frustrates me more, is when they have a very knowledgeable, but less pushy guest, who is in the middle of making a well-thought out and experienced based point. What happens too often is the point remains incomplete and the guest has to go in a different direction in response to the interruption. My wife teases me when she hears me exclaim “Let the person talk!”

An equally troubling approach is fully deployed by “60 Minutes” interviewers. John Oliver on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight” does a piece which illustrates this approach – giving the answer to the person being interviewed who parrots what the interviewer just said. When Oliver shows about a dozen of these clips in sequence, it is hysterical.

So, interviewer do us all a favor. Ask your question, then be quiet. Let your interviewee finish the answer. Do not talk over the answer to show us how smart you think you are. I would prefer you do your homework beforehand and ask good questions. What ends up happening is the interview falls short of what it could have been. And, don’t give the person the answer – let them use their words.

Rule of Law is a weak anti-DACA Argument

I read a letter to the editor on Wednesday that spoke to me about the President’s decision on eliminating the Dreamer’s program referred to as DACA, short for Deferred Action for Children Arrivals. I won’t cite her name, as I don’t have permission, but the letter quite succinctly and forcefully addresses those who are saying DACA is not a law as it was passed by executive action and therefore must be eliminated.

“Slavery: rule of law. Women, blacks have no vote: rule of law. Married women can’t own property: rule of law. Japanese-internment camps: rule of law. Jim Crow: rule of law. Children as young as 6 can work 12 hour days: rule of law. No requirements for child restraints in cars: rule of law. Gays can’t marry: rule of law. Anti-DACA people: Find another excuse for your cruelty.”

For those not familiar with DACA, it was executed by President Obama when Congress failed to act. It allows children of undocumented immigrants to remain in the US legally. These approximate 800,000 children, who know not the country they came from, are now at risk.

Let me be frank. President Trump can talk all he wants about “loving dreamers,” but don’t pee on their head and tell them it is raining. These folks add value through intellectual capital and revenue to our country. They came forward to sign up as they love our country and embody the true spirit of America. I agree Congress should pass laws to take care of them, but screwing these kids as a lever is not the way to do that. This is on your shoulders Mr. President. You did this.

Opportunity missed

One of my favorite quotes about opportunity is “Opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” To me, this speaks volumes. Too many look for easy answers, when success comes from doing some heavy lifting.

Along these lines, in his book “Outliers,” two of Malcolm Gladwell’s four traits of successful people involve opportunity. I should mention the other two are being smart or talented enough and putting in 10,000 hours or more of practice. But, the two pertinent to this discussion are recognizing opportunity and seizing opportunity.

A quick example illustrates this point. By the time he was age 21, Bill Gates was one of the top programmers in the world. Why? He had the opportunity to work on the mainframe computer after 1 am at the University of Washington. As Gladwell points out, it was recognizing this opportunity and getting up or staying up to program while others slept or had fun. He was learning.

Gladwell points out that even the smartest of people sometimes overlook opportunity. In a genius grant project, money was given to watch these geniuses flourish, but many of them were not successful. The reason is they missed opportunity. The ones who were successful either saw opportunity or had someone who brokered opportunity for them.

Some very smart people fail to see that they are in competition for people’s time, interest and money. By waiting until something is perfected or their schedule frees, that opportunity may be gone.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this brief discussion. First, don’t be frightened of hard work. A man will never be shot while washing the dishes.

Second, keep your head up, network, ask questions and just be involved in your surroundings. Connect dots by looking for or asking about things you see in someone’s office or something you saw online.

Third, be prepared for these moments. Do your research on companies and people that you are meeting with. This will help in making those connections.

Fourth, seize opportunities. If you are driving and see an interesting shop – stop the car and pull in. This is a metaphor for business, volunteer or investment opportunities. Since the average person has had eleven jobs by the time they’re forty, take a chance on something that interests you. But, honor that interest and invest your time in it. These life experiences will build your wisdom.

Opportunities abound. Look for them. Seize them. Work them.

The first missed anniversary

In late August, the 66th anniversary of my parents wedding occurred. Yet, it was the first one that neither parent was alive. My mom passed away last Christmas morning. Being a religious woman, it is somehow fitting she left us that day.

My dad passed away just over eleven years ago. We still miss his laughter and love, but have gotten used to him being gone. They were married just shy of 55 years before he died having met at Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

Mom’s memory had been on the decline for several years, as she was diagnosed with a progressive memory disorder, most likely Alzheimer’s. On the phone, she knew I was her son, but in person she often mistook me for her husband as I look like my dad did when he was my age. She often thought my sister was her older sister Betty.

They were a loving couple that endured each one’s imperfections. Young folks are looking for the perfect match, but there is no such person. We are all fixer uppers. So, couples teach each other how to coalesce.

Both my parents were smart. My mom became a teacher working primarily with first or second graders. After she retired, she was a devoted bible study fellowship leader. My dad started in the grocery business, but migrated to a new profession called data processing. He used to take me to the elevated computer room which was quite cool. I remember the tape readers were as large as refrigerators.

My brother, sister and I were blessed to have such wonderful parents. They loved and supported us, even when we hated being pushed out of bed to attend Sunday school. Thanks for everything Mom and Dad.