Boys with Toys

In the James Bond movie “Goldeneye,” Polish born actress Izabella Scorupca played my favorite Bond female character Natalya Simonova. She gave Bond the devil for his penchant for using violence with any weapon or machinery around. “What is it with you boys with toys,” she admonished him.

I think of this line as two separate countries are led by a man-child who are both acting like “boys with toys.” The scary part is the toys include nuclear weapons and both are beating on their chest like apes ready to do battle.

I have written a parable about the younger of the two leaders called “A Monkey with a Hand Grenade.” Since the hand grenade is a substitute for a nuclear weapon, we must be careful, judicious and diligent in our actions and words. Just a few days ago, our Secretary of State said the right things about “not advocating for regime change” while being stern, serious and sober. This tone reminds us that President Eisenhower became reassuringly calmer as the USSR’s Khrushchev became more blustery in the 1950s.

However, our monkey with a hand grenade did not follow the Eisenhower calm and started beating on his chest. Our man-child bragged about his deployment of an arsenal that would bring “fire and fury” the likes of which the world has not seen. He basically said to ignore what the Secretary of State said.

Two supposedly grown men are acting like the men-children they are. Boys with toys. Let’s hope the adults surrounding them will seek an intervention and tell them to stop acting like children. We need them to. At least the older man should emulate Eisenhower. The world will rest a little easier as a result.

 

Edwin Starr’s plea for peace

Almost fifty years ago, Edwin Starr belted out an anthem simply called “War.” Written by Barret Strong and Norman Whitfield, Starr’s disdain for war and its aftermath comes through in his powerful rendition.

As I thought of this song, I mentally included it with two others – John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” he sang with CCR and Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers gone,” sung so well by Peter, Paul and Mary. These three songs come at this topic with sadness, skepticism and disdain.

But, for now, here are the lyrics to “War.”

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again, why’all
War, huh, good god
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
Oh, war, I despise
‘Cause it means destruction of innocent lives
War means tears to thousands of mothers eyes
When their sons go to fight
And lose their lives
I said, war, huh good god, why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
War, whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing, listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart-breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Oh, war it’s an enemy to all mankind
The point of war blows my mind
War has caused unrest
Within the younger generation
Induction then destruction
Who wants to die, ah, war-huh, good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it, say it, say it
War, huh
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) it’s got one friend that’s the undertaker
Oh, war, has shattered many a young mans dreams
Made him disabled, bitter and mean
Life is much to short and precious
To spend fighting wars these days
War can’t give life
It can only take it away
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing say it again
whoa, lord
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing listen to me
it ain’t nothing but a heart breaker
(War) friend only to the undertaker
Peace, love and understanding
Tell me, is there no place for them today
They say we must fight to keep our freedom
But lord knows there’s got to be a better way
Oh, war, huh good god why’all
What is it good for you tell me
Say it, say it, say it, say it
huh good god why’all
What is it good for
Stand up and shout it nothing

Truly, what is it good for? Starr asks an excellent question, one we must ask before we send our young men and women into harm’s way.

Let’s Honor our Vets – Avoid Unnecessary Fights

On this Memorial Day, we honor our veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who are no longer with us. And, we should. But, we must honor their sacrifices more by doing every thing in our power to avoid conflict in the first place and fight with purpose and planning when we cannot.

Many soldiers lost their lives in Vietnam, a war which fell out of favor as its purpose could not overcome the loss of life witnessed on the nightly news. And, in what may have been his worse abuse of power, which says a lot given Watergate, President-elect Richard Nixon purposefully and clandestinely derailed the peace process, so it could be accomplished on his watch. Many more Americans died as a result.

Later, we did not learn the lessons of fighting a war without clear mission and follow-up, by invading Iraq under false pretenses. We fudged questionable intelligence to invade and overthrow Saddam Hussein. A former Vietnam veteran and Congressman made an impassioned speech that if we invade, we need to be prepared to stay for 30 years.

We are now 14 years in and it looks like we will remain a while longer. We did not understand what success looked like, trusted the wrong advisors, did not understand the differences between Shia, Sunni and Kurds, and went in with too few troops and inferior equipment. General Shinseki resigned because of his disapproval of these last two reasons and our troops commonly referred to our efforts as a “clusterf••k.”

To honor our troops, we need to avoid fighting battles whenever possible. But, when we do send our troops in harm’s way, let’s make darn sure we have a clear cut plan, sufficient support and follow-up after the battles are won. Allowing the new Iraqi government to fire the police force from the Hussein days and to maltreat the minority Sunnis helped create ISIS.

We owe it to our troops to avoid risk whenever possible and to minimize their use of the term “clusterf••k” to define our modus operandi when we must fight needed battles. As General James Mattis said, if we lessen funding of diplomacy, we will need even greater funding of the military.

Yet another set of mid-week musings

A week has passed since my last potpourri of musings. I don’t know about you, but I feel the world is a much less safer place since our President was inaugurated.

While I don’t feel the bombing of the Syrian airstrip was a bad move, I do feel it might have been in haste and comes on the heels of a variable strategy towards Syria and Bashar al-Assad. Without clear strategy and with the wheel in the hands of a loose cannon, I worry about next steps.

Then there is the petulant boy in a man’s body who is leading North Korea. His ego and penchant toward chaos rival our own leader. I just hope our cooler headed generals play a more active role, since they each have a keener sense of history and diplomacy, much moreso than our President or his Press Secretary.

With the world a tempestuous place, we should not have to worry about the verbal fumbles of the White House Press Agent. Trump is bad enough, but Sean Spicer cannot get out of his own way, which is not a good quality for a PR person. He is apologizing profusely for saying Hitler did not resort to chemical gassing like al-Assad does. This was more than a mild offense to those who died during the Holocaust.

While I have not checked, there must be oddsmakers taking bets on the next Trump advisor to fall. Will it be the aforementioned Mr. Spicer or will it be Steve Bannon? As an attorney who worked for Trump liked to say, if you are on his good side, you won’t be there for long. It is possible both may not see the summer in the White House.

I could ramble on, but let’s leave it at these few musings for today.

A few mid-week musings

Since we are at mid-week, let me offer a few miscellaneous musings, mostly good with a few bad. Let me start with some good news:

A Federal appeals court in the Chicago area ruled that the LGBT community is protected under the 1964 Civil Rights amendment even though they were not specifically listed. The court case was around a community college professor who contended she was fired for being a Lesbian. The ruling was 8 to 3, but will of course be appealed to the district court in Indiana.

On what appears to be good news, but falls way short, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a repeal to the discriminatory HB2 law, yet left the most important piece of discrimination therein. They rolled back the change on the transgender bathroom issue, yet left in place the exclusion of the LGBT community from protected status for discrimination. Reviewing the above ruling in Chicago, it is apparent that feature is unconstitutional.

The electric car maker Tesla blew past expected deliveries this past week for their first quarter with over 25,400 cars. Tesla is on pace to deliver the high-end of their 45,000 to 50,000 first half of the year estimate. What is interesting the stock market is valuing the future for this company and its current market capitalization value is $48 Billion which is now higher than Ford at just under $45 Billion. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk who is leveraging his battery technology to aid in solar and wind energy storage, working on a key project to help Australia with an outage problem.

Reuters reported today that utility companies are not being influenced by our President’s fight to end the war on coal. With the exception of one of 31 companies, a two-thirds majority said it would not impact their plans to move to cheaper and cleaner natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewable energy sources. The other companies were silent. In a piece I read last year, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and it was postulated about utilities why would they invest in an expensive coal-fired plant that will be obsolete before it is completed?

On the bad side, I am increasingly concerned by Bashar al-Assad and his willingness to gas people. This man has a history of doing this and then lying to reporters and other leaders about it. It would be great to see the UN powers come together and say, we will help end this war in your country, but you must step down now or face charges of war crimes. While our former President did many good things, his handling of Syria was not one of them. He and Congress let the world down by not spanking this SOB for his last gassing of civilians. I am a peaceful person, but there are times when you must stand up to evil.

Then, there is North Korea who remains a threat as it is run by a petulant tyrant. China must join with the rest of the world in helping put a lid on this man’s chest beating. Otherwise, we leave it in the hands of our own mess maker. While I trust some of his military advisors in doing the right thing, I have little confidence in our leader solving this problem without some diplomatic help. What at least should scare North Korea is our President is a loose cannon, as it scares me.

Well, that is all for now. Have a great rest of your week.

 

Genghis Khan – Beyond his Brutality

My oldest son and I attended a traveling Genghis Khan museum exhibit on Sunday which is on our city for a few months. He is fascinated by Khan and his legacy that brought his Mongols to the doorsteps of Europe and conquered most of Asia, including China. He listens to a podcast with an avid and knowledgeable historian about Khan.

Khan first consolidated the nomadic tribes of Mongolia who tended to fight amongst themselves. He then turned his sights on other lands and was quite brutal in his quest. Yet, the story that cements his rule is he was a great leader that understood merit hiring over nepotism and allowed certain freedoms. More on this later.

The Mongols were a formidable fighting force for three principal reasons. They were superior horsemen where the entire battalion would attack on horseback overwhelming superior numbers. And, what amazed me is each rider would travel with two to three horses. Their army could move 75 miles in contrast to an opponent’s ten.

They were prolific archers with self-made and unusually shaped bows, which could shoot as far as 350 yards, much longer than other bows. And, they could shoot them accurately off horseback, even backwards. Often, the Mongols would pretend to retreat to lure their foes out and then reverse course and attack.

Finally, Khan organized them into a fighting force in numbers of ten. Each battalion had multiple groups of ten, who picked their own leader. And, the group of ten would be punished as a group for the failures of the one. These tens would be multiplied to a battalion of a thousand or ten thousand, which would be a potent and organized force.

Once a group was conquered, after certain leaders would be killed, the subordinate troops would swear allegiance and fight with the Mongols. They would not rule as harshly as they conquered, as they wanted the civilians to support the conquering enemy and new leadership. Plus, there were several governing principles that last to this day.

  • Religious freedom was provided where people would worship their religion of choice. Several religions were readily available even in the capitol city.
  • Civil service officials came from a wide swath of people based on merit. So, civil service officials were more proficient than if they were hired on relationships..
  • Diplomatic immunity was afforded any envoy traveling from another kingdom to visit. Kings do not kill envoys was a stated rule.
  • People could move around with some limits as a passport system offered organized travel. One passport we saw had three languages on it.
  • Environmental mandates were given for communities to protect their water sources.
  • Taxation was often lowered on the conquered lands and exemptions afforded teachers and religious figures.
  • Communication and organization were key. Some say Khan brought an organized purpose to previous rivals to fight together. The same held true in his governance.

These principles can be found in many societies today. The empire lasted for several hundred years, but what caused its retrenchment, in my view, are the vast distances to govern, but also the infighting of the Khan siblings and offspring. HIs grandson Kublai Khan was the last of the great Khan leaders, so after his demise, the empire started a slow wane.

If this exhibit comes to your city, I would encourage you to go see it. I am certain their are people more knowledgeable than me who can offer more specifics about the Mongolian empire, its rise, its governance and its decline. I would welcome any and all comments, especially if I am off base.

 

Foolish Friday

After an interesting few weeks of the election season and legislative comments, I feel obligated to note some foolish behavior that we need to highlight and cease.

– I recognize that one of the Presidential candidates is quick with demeaning remarks and labels for people who dare criticize him or are good foils, but that does not mean others should do the same with him. Howard Dean said Trump’s sniffles at the debate may have been caused by his being on Cocaine. We do not need that Mr. Dean. I read an entertaining post where commenters used every bad word to describe Trump. That gets us in the mud with him. Set aside all of his remarks and focus on two things – his history and his economic plan for our country. The former tells you all you need to know about how he will operate. The latter is rated by several groups to place us in a malaise or recession, with Clinton’s being rated as neutral to positive.

– President Obama experienced the first override to a veto when Congress overwhelming decided to do so. The law which is now passed allows 9/11 victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia, which may or may not had any fault. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Obama pleaded not to do this, at it will endanger Americans and our military abroad. Now, Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan want to amend the new law as they said the President should have told us all of this. He did and vetoed your law. Trying to blame someone else for your failure is highly annoying to me.

– Not to be out done, now that North Carolina has gotten huge push back on its discriminatory HB2 law, with the business lost and the NBA All Star game, NCAA basketball tournament games and ACC tournament games being pulled, Republican legislators continue to blame the City of Charlotte for its transgender bathroom law which the state law changed and went further to take rights away from all LGBT people. But, one state legislator noted that we did not know our law would have such a negative reaction. Please note the law was rushed through in twelve hours in a special session. You did not know as you did not take the time to know.

Accountability and responsibility are important. We must be accountable for our decisions and responsible for their impact. When we name call or label, that means our arguments are lessened. Focus on the issues and acts. And, we need to stop the blame game, especially when the finger pointers have more culpability than the one pointed at.

Truth be told, it would be amazing to see results if we worked together more and discussed our real problems with real information. In this election, we have let one candidate define our country as in pitiful shape, but it is not. Yes, we have problems, but our economy is on its 4th longest economic growth period in its history, we have net new jobs under this President of 11 million, an unemployment rate of under 5% (and not 42% per the candidate) and we have a doubled stock market since the President came in office. And, more cars were sold in the US in 2015 than ever before.

We do have problems, though. Let’s work together and not against each other. Otherwise, Pogo would be correct – I have met the enemy and he is us.