Corruption may be the greatest threat we face

I have written before about the greatest long term risks facing our planet as noted by the World Economic Forum – the global water crisis and poorly reacting to climate change. I would add that population growth would pose further risks.

When I first wrote about this, a British missionary in Nigeria noted he would place corruption high on the list. Why? His reasoning is the leaders of countries throughout the world skim off the top and place friends and family in places of power to do the same. So, the majority of folks become disenfranchised as money and investment are compromised and go into the pockets of these leaders.

This disenfranchisement leads to terrorists being listened to until it is too late. It leads to leaders controlling the messaging often using people’s fears to control them. It leads to a breakdown in institutions to help people and guard against those controlling messaging.

After the missionary’s council and observing what has happened in the past few years, I agree that corruption is right up there with the more natural risks. A few examples might help illustrate why I fully agree with him.

South Korea is a flourishing economy with overt freedoms and investment. To the north, the North Korean people live hand-to-mouth and are the closest thing to the “1984” model we have on earth. Kim Jong Un controls everything from the messaging to the money and you dare not give the slightest hint of non-support.

Vladimir Putin is the most clever corrupt leader on the planet. He controls all messaging in Russia and actively wages cyber war adroitly using Social Media to sway pro-Russia sentiment. Some unknowing sycophants like our President praise him as a strong leader. He may be strong, but he and his oligarchy are quite wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

President Duterte of the Philippines is relatively new to the game, but his corruption leads directly to the genicide of anyone who has touched illicit drugs or openly disagree with him. The negative impact of this man on his country will continue to expose them to human rights concerns.

Corruption abounds with Erdogan in Turkey who used a failed coup (which he may have staged) to remove significant numbers of intellectuals, judges and government officials who shared opposing views. The corrupt leadership in Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell led to ostracized Sunnis allowing ISIS to take hold. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was removed from office with US$80 billion while the average Egyptian lived on US$2 a day. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe was just removed in a coup after years of corrupt leadership and before he passed the official baton to his younger wife to do more of the same.

But, we in the western world should not pat ourselves on the back too much. We hide it better through lobbyists and funders of politicians. Make no mistake, these folks give money to curry favor. In the US, we have billionnaire President with several billionnaires in his cabinet who rode a wave of a populist movement. This would be funny if it were not so sad. His followers need only look at the proposed Tax Reform bills that heavily help the rich in America at the expense of our future. He masks this subterfuge with bombast, lying and a sharply critical tone of dissent and the press.

The downside of all this corruption is the disenfranchised are impacted and have little voice. We are also selling out our future for the bottom lines of folks with more digits to the left of the decimal point. We must speak to corruption and not let it infiltrate further into our world and country. It impacts everything else we need to fix.

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A little bit of this and that – the sad and farcical

Political news is quite sordid these days in both a sad and farcical way. My purpose is to show how absurd politicians can be as they try to “unsay” things or just outright lie to distract from painful truths. This is not meant to diminish anyone’s pain caused by the underlying events. That is real and these politicians should be held accountable.

Here is “a little bit of this and that” to illustrate the farcical nature of various politicians’ statements. In no particular order:

– The US President said and tweeted many interesting things on his road trip. One of my favorites is his distaste for Kim Jong-Un calling him “an old lunatic.” Trump tweeted he did not like being called “old.” So, by omission, “lunatic” must not have been offensive to him. Trump said he would never call Kim something bad, yet he seems to forget he called Kim “Rocket Man.”

– A close second favorite set of comments by the President is when he said he believed Putin about not hacking one day (even calling our spy leaders “government hacks”) and then tried to explain all of that away the next day, after these so-called hacks stuck to their intelligence and said Putin is lying. Trump seems to not realize we heard him the day before. Call me crazy, but employees don’t like being called hacks by their boss.

– Ex-Judge and Senate candidate Roy Moore apparently had a period of time in his 30’s where he liked dating (and admitted to doing so) young women beneath the age of majority. He has been accused by two women for sexual assault on a minor and three others for his failure to understand that as an adult, he would have been guilty of statutory rape had he consummated these relationships. He said he did not know one woman, but she has his signature in her yearbook. Mr. Moore, you would do better by not talking. But, you will get more chances to consider what you say as more women come forward.

– A Trump staffer tried to show his indignation toward Moore saying there is a special place in hell for people who do what Moore has been alleged of doing. I find that interesting, especially when his big boss has been accused by eleven more women than Moore (so far) of sexual assault and has admitted on three separate occasions on tape that he liked to grope women because of his power and liked to walk in on undressed beauty pageant contestants because he sponsored the show and felt that gave him the right. It should be noted, that one of these pageants was Miss Teen USA. 16 women allege Trump sexually assaulted them. The other stories of admission come straight from the horse’s mouth.

– I do want to take the time to note that ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner is behind bars due to his propensity to woo women by sending a picture of his private parts via his IPhone. The women’s response were likely twofold. “Why would he think that would be a successful wooing strategy?” And, “Could he be that stupid to send this picture electronically where it could be traced?” Apparently, he failed to understand these points and he finds himself in jail.

Well, that is enough political entertainment news for now. Like the Trump accusations, this Moore thing is not funny, as this alleged pedophile could still win if too many Alabaman Republicans don’t remember where they put their conscience. My strong advice is to think of this issue as a parent or, in the case of the inane defenses I have heard from some men, as a father.

For those who say these women are being politically motivated, Moore told these teenage girls he was the DA and no one would believe them. They have come forward as this man is interviewing to become one of the 100 most important leaders in our country and they feel emboldened by the women accusing Harvey Weinstein. I believe them as their stories are quite detailed and painful.

 

 

Increasing the Debt is Malfeasance

If I may be permitted to be crass, let me offer a quote from an unknown source, “any dumb ass can get elected saying they will reduce taxes.” I will let you be the judge at how successful this campaign approach is.

In the United States, we have about $20.5 trillion in debt, which is roughly $63,000 per person and $170,000 per taxpayer. With an annual budget of about $4 trillion, we had a deficit in our most recent fiscal year ending September 30, of roughly $650 billion. The deficit is predicted to only go up, if we do nothing which will in turn increase the debt by an estimated $10 trillion.

With the President’s encouragement, Congress has proposed doing something. But, it is in the wrong direction. The Republican majority has passed a budget that will allow for net tax reductions in the Tax Bill being considered that will increase the debt by an additional $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Again, that is on top of an estimated $10 trillion increase. By my math, that puts us at $32 trillion of debt in ten years. There is no other way to say this. This is malfeasance. It certainly is not good stewardship.

The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee completed their findings and recommendations in the fall of 2010. That earnest and diligent effort recommended $2 worth of expense cuts for every $1 of tax increases. We simply cannot cut our way out of the problem. But, this well done report was shelved.

I have heard several members of Congress over the years tout a balanced budget, but that is not enough. We actually need more revenue than expenses. That must include tax increases along with spending cuts. It is that simple. We cannot make the math work otherwise.

If we continue to hide from this problem, like climate change, it will become a major obstacle. We must act now and we certainly do not need to cut taxes and revenue. People will not like this answer, but someone needs to shoot straight with our citizens. We all need to pitch in before it is too late and we leave ourselves, kids and grandkids a mountain of debt.

There are several groups that have been raising this alarm for some time now. “Fix the Debt” and “The Concord Coalition” are just two. Please check them out and let your Congress representative and senators know this is too important a problem to make worse. If they say the taxes will pay for themselves, tell them it does not work that way and they should know that. Let’s fix the debt, not make it worse.

What this independent voter believes

As an Independent voter who has been a member of both parties, I have been frustrated by the lack of civility, lack of truth and lack of due diligence shown by the President. I am also frustrated by the ongoing rationalization by his party for his behavior. When he was elected, I said let’s give him a chance as his success will be ours and that is how this works. I did have low expectations which he has failed to achieve. After I made the above statement of hope, within days he appointed Steve Bannon as a Senior Advisor. That made a huge statement to me meaning white supremacy and nationalism had a chair at the table.

The President consistently is more untruthful than he is not. His lying has been measured at 69% of the time, which is kind as it gives him credit for partial truths in the 31%. This is not news as Politifacts said he lied 70% of the time during the campaign and his five biographers and ghost writer for his biggest selling book all said Trump has a problem with the truth. Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked with Trump, wrote last June, 2016, that “Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence.” Other leaders in the US and abroad do not trust this man and why would they? So, I keep it simple and do not believe a word he says as the odds are in my favor.

Then there is the demonization of everyone who dares criticize him or did things he did not do. Everything Obama or Bush did is “horrible” and every thing he will do will be “beautiful” or “make you happy.” But, it is the transactional, zero-sum game he plays with critics that is so childish. He must crush critics to make it alright in his mind. He rarely criticizes on issues or policies as he is not steeped in details. He prefers a mud fight. This lack of civility to people who have lost loved ones, homes, livelihoods, civil rights, etc, is downright un-Presidential and un-Christian. It would not be confused with the right thing to do and to me is very telling.

If this were not bad enough, almost every decision is made off rhetoric, not data. Our problems are too complex to solve them without knowing what caused them. Or, trying to solve a problem that has been over-simplified or does not exist is more commonplace. Right now, the Department of Defense says not reacting to climate change is a threat to national security. If you take this one step further, then a President who ignores climate change, must also be a threat to national security. Thomas Friedman wrote an excellent piece this week about the holistic problems in Niger, which include the impact climate change has had on desertification. This has caused farmers to lose crops and to invite in ISIS to garner some level of income.This is what a President should consider in his decisions. (Gronda has written an excellent piece on this whose link is below.)

The sad part about the last issue is the President does not show any desire to learn things. We have woeful staff shortages and he has a limited attention span. This is severely crimping our diplomacy abroad, which is much needed. Without such, the President has already elevated the risk with North Korea. Michael Lewis has written about how Obama’s people made transition books and invited the Trump people in to meet. Department by department, very few took them up on this, so this learning curve baton was never passed.

We now need more Republican leaders to remember to whom they swore their oath – it is to the Constitution, not their party or this President. He needs to be censured and he may eventually need to be impeached, if what appears to be true about Russia, in fact is. That is what I believe.

Thomas L. Friedman Connects The Dots Between President Trump And Niger

One Black man influences KKK members to give up their robes

Our blogging friend Jill highlights weekly a few people who are shining lights in our world. Typically, these folks fly under the radar screen, as they do what they do to help people, not garner publicity. They are all about substance over optics.

Daryl Davis is one of those people. An African-American man, Davis has a mission to reach out and befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan. His goal is to change hearts and minds and he has successfully influenced over 200 members of the KKK to give up their robes, which he collects.

Davis grew up mostly outside the US as his father was in the diplomatic corps. He said his school classes included the children of other diplomats from around the world. So, he was gaining a very open-minded education interacting with others. He notes if grew up here, his education would have been either segregated or pigeonholed limiting interaction with diverse people.

Davis said he did not experience racism until his family moved back to the states. In fact, he did not believe his parents when he learned he was being maltreated because of the color of his skin. He was incredulous that people could be so cruel for such an inane reason.

Davis recognizes that bigotry has to be taught. No one is born hating or demeaning others because they are different from them. Their parents and other adults have to teach kids to be racist  or bigoted. So, he would seek to change those learnings by having open conversation. Per the link below, he says how can someone hate me without even knowing me?

He is an overtly friendly and approachable man. Having seen him laugh, I would say he is cherubic in a St. Nick like way. He does not insult, he asks questions and tells folks what he believes. When a KKK person said they burn the cross to light the way for Jesus, he would say you worship a different Jesus than I do. Jesus lights the way for you.

Through these matter-of-fact discussions, he gets people to think. He has studied the KKK and through reverse examples , he can illustrate the absurdity of certain claims. When he appeared on Bill Maher’s show, he astounded the other guests  into silence just to listen to what he had to say. For the longest while, even the host remained silent, which is rare for him.

Please check out the attached link to learn more about him. “Bigotry has to be carefully taught” says the famous Oscar Hammerstein song from “South Pacific.” The converse is also true. Let’s teach kids and speak with others about being open-minded. It begins with conversation. Thank you Daryl Davis for showing us how. You are to be commended.

http://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544861933/how-one-man-convinced-200-ku-klux-klan-members-to-give-up-their-robes

A few odds and ends

Happy Hump Day. May the rest of your week be enjoyable and productive. Here are a few odds and ends to ponder.

One of the flaws of the President is he defines everything transactionally, with winners and losers. Two comments. Winning does not make you right, it just means you won. He is telling folks to discount Senators Flake and Corker because they will retire next year because they were going to lose. Yet, one thing the President needs to realize is they are dead-on accurate in their concerns.

The President has a difficult time with multilateral agreements, preferring bilateral where one side can win and the other lose. But, if we are seeking long term relationships everyone must benefit. The Nobel Economics Prize winner John Nash developed what is now called the Nash Equilibrium for multilateral agreements – simply if each partner seeks the best gain for the whole, more economic gain will occur. This runs in direct contrast to Trump’s zero-sum game approach. It should be noted there is a business alliance of car makers and others telling him to not ditch NAFTA, a multilateral agreement.

Climate change continues to increase the magnitude of hurricanes, forest fires and droughts. The GAO noted the costs of catastrophic events are escalating as a result to the tune of $300 Billion, not counting the events of the last two months. These costs will likely get worse given the rising sea levels, temperatures and amounts of rain that melt away snow and expose the terrain to these intense forest fires.

On the positive side, renewables continue there double-digit per annum growth and are more affordable long term. The Mayor of Greensburg, Texas signed a twenty-five year contract for wind energy as the numbers were more compelling. Texas leads the country in wind energy with 16% of their energy portfolio and Iowa has almost a third of its energy by wind. It should be noted that irrespective of pulling the Clean Power Plan, America will blow past the requirements in carbon reductions based on the work of several states and market forces. Folks like Trump, Pruitt and Perry are less relevant in this conversation and need to stay out of the way.

That is all I have for now. Your thoughts are welcome.

That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.

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* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?