Friday follies, post-Groundhog Day edition

TGIF. Of course, when you’re retired, Friday’s do not hold the same meaning. But, let’s celebrate anyway. Here are a few follies for this Friday.

I read today Donald Trump was a huge Brexit proponent but is now blaming Brexit for his Scottish golf courses losing money to the tune of 3.7 million pounds. He should have realized this beforehand as the EU facilitated easy travel to play his courses. But, that would have required more rational thinking as a business person. Someone should have explained it to him. Of course, the banks tried to tell all Britons about the dilutive impact of Brexit, but too few believed them. This is not a surprise, except to Boris, Nigel, Donald and crowd.

Speaking of making it difficult to transact commerce, when said golf course owner placed tariffs on everyone as US president, he failed to understand history that tariffs don’t work, as they punish the wrong people – the customers and those who serve them. When it costs more money to buy something or replenish inventory to sell, buyers find a different path forward. For example, when the US made it difficult to do business with our buyers and sellers, people went elsewhere. So, it disrupted markets that had taken years to build. As an example, tractor sales in the US declined, while they increased in Brazil. Why? China was getting more food harvest from Brazil than before due to retaliatory tariffs.

One thing that Republican House leadership should have realized when they put some of their extreme members on Committees, is they elevated the platform of these folks. A key thing the House leaders failed to learn about Trump and are failing to realize now, is the past inane comments are only part of what they need to worry about. The future inane comments or the undiscovered past ones are the ones that should keep them up at night. But, the known past ones are fair game, as well. AOC noted in response to GOP criticism of Democrats about Jews that it is hard to take that comment seriously when the GOP put a woman on a committee who has commented on Jewish space lasers as a source of problems.

What troubles me about these committee assignments of the more extreme members of the House is it is one thing to have a gerrymandered district being represented by someone unqualified to do so given their bent toward inane and denigrating comments, but when they are placed on committees, they are representing us all. That is harmful to our country. Whether it is the Republican or Democrat party, they must police their own, otherwise it harms the party and country. Republicans like to pick on AOC, Ihlan Omar Nancy Pelosi, eg, but they are not on the same level like some of the extreme folks representing the Republican party. I can disagree with AOC, Pelosi and Omar and still respect their opinions. I cannot say the same for more than a few extreme folks in the House.

The sad part about these follies is they all are true. We are the ones who have to suffer the fools and foolish behavior. We need to stop following fools’ errands. We deserve better governance than we are getting. We deserve civil and truthful discourse.

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I encourage you to reach out to your elected officials

This may not do as much good as it needs to or we would hope it would, but we need to let elected officials know we are paying attention. A couple of key themes:

  • we need you to more consistently tell us the truth and value those who do, not those who don’t – sadly, the names of those who don’t are well known;
  • we need you to make more fact-based decisions rather than what funders, spin doctors and opinion hosts may tell you and others – it is hard enough to govern when you use facts, but nigh impossible when you don’t;
  • we need you to recognize both major parties do not have all the good ideas and both have some bad ones – one party has a bag of ideas with too many holes in it and the bad ideas are rushing out, a key reason they are letting more extreme opinions drive the bus;
  • we need you to work toward solving real problems not ones spin doctors said will cause wedge issues and garner votes;
  • we need you to work together in a civil manner using that Jesus message whenever possible that was so important it was called golden;
  • we need you to recognize winning and losing an argument is secondary to getting the best solution; and
  • we need you to recognize you work for us, the citizens of the country, state, county or city – use your time wisely toward that end and be accountable.

As parents, we learned long ago that who your kids play and associate with matter. It is a key reason we always wanted their friends to be welcome at our house. We got to meet them. So, elected officials need to know who they value and spend time with matter. Do you want to be known for hanging around someone who acts like a bully, denigrates people and is untruthful, or do you want to be known for hanging around someone who is a truthteller and seeks to hold people accountable? It is your choice, but we are watching.

I bruise you, you bruise me, we both bruise too easily (an encore post)

The following is an encore of an earlier post that still remains relevant.

After breaking up with Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel sang a beautiful song written by Jimmy Webb, who wrote several of Glen Campbell’s hits (“Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”), The 5th Dimension’s “Beautiful Balloon,” and “MacArthur Park,” which was a huge hit in the 1970s as sung by the actor Richard Harris (who was the first Dumbledore for Harry Potter fans).

The song is called “All I Know.” The first stanza is as follows:

I bruise you, you bruise me

We both bruise too easily

Too easily to let it show

I love you and that is all I know

This song is intended as a love song between two people who often fight and have hurt feelings as a result. But, I would like to use this stanza as a metaphor for relationships between all of us in civil society that have gone awry.

We are too easily bruising each others’ feelings. We are also taking offense too easily, when we should not or should listen to hear rather listen to react. I was highly disappointed with the tenor of the most recently concluded political convention, when hateful remarks were the norm and not the exception. I am hoping that the one next week will be the antithesis.

As an independent voter, I don’t care if someone is conservative on a viewpoint or liberal. What I found is many people have a mixture of opinions. To this point, Ivanka Trump told the GOP audience she is an independent voter. And, she like me joins many unaffiliated Americans.

Yet, what I do not like is the lack of civil discourse and use of information which is not steeped in facts. This is modus operandi for too many politicians and opinion hosts and it is quite obvious to me who they are. The latter is a key reason I religiously check the two fact checking organizations summaries. But, let me set that aside for now and get back to the civil discourse.

I do not agree with everything the politicians or parties support. My disagreement may be material or it may be in emphasis. For example, President Obama has done a commendable job, but I am disappointed that he did not move forward on the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee’s report, he tends to like the use of drones where we need more governance, while he has moved the ball forward on climate change he is too fond of fracking, and he did not collaborate more with a highly uncollaborative and obstinate Congress, e.g.

What I can tell you is neither party has all of the solutions and sometimes are not asking the right questions. Neither party should be smug that their way is the only way or even the right way, especially with funding that fuels their opinions. Again, I don’t mind a conservative or liberal view, but let’s work off the right data and do so civilly, respecting each other’s opinions. And, let’s work with real solutions and not what easily fits on a bumper sticker. Bumper stickers are not policy, they are advertisements.

The debt is a huge problem. Climate change is a huge problem. Water resources are a huge problem. Poor gun governance is a huge problem. Poverty is a huge problem as is the declining middle class. Civil rights for all citizens, especially those most disenfranchised, are lacking in too many places. Infrastructure needs are paramount and fixing them will create jobs. Terrorism is important, but combatting it must be holistic and involve all of us.

Building actual and proverbial walls are not the answers. We must reach out to each other and solve these problems as the diverse Americans we are. No American is more American than the next. And, no less, either. So, let’s civilly discuss the issues in fact-based manner and demand our politicians do the same. If they cannot, then they should step down. I am really tired of those who feel they must name-call and shout opposition down.

Fishing for better news this Friday

Why do Catholics tend to eat a lot of fish on Friday? What is also interesting the grade schools seemed to copycat this serving fish as well even if they are not Catholic schools. Maybe it is due to the famous loaves and fishes story where Jesus fed a huge crowd with the bread and fish in boy’s basket. Using this theme, I am hoping Jesus can pull out some better news this Friday for that proverbial basket.

The future of America may be many things, but one thing is for sure, we will continue to live in a country where daily gun shootings are the norm and the mass shootings become more frequent than weekly. And, while some watered-down gun governance legislation was finally passed this past summer, we still live in a wild-west environment. The sad fact is the significant majority of Americans want some commonsense changes, including gun owners. Let’s start there. If the gun industry does not like, so be it. They truly have had their chance to offer reasonable changes, yet decided fighting any change was the better tactic.

This same example could be used with the fossil-fuel industry. A recent study revealed an old story that needs more airplay. Companies like Exxon have scientific data and reports in their files dating back about forty plus years defining climate change as a major problem. Another study revealed the industry has done more window dressing change than actually make change to address climate change. Like the gun industry, instead of offering reasonable and knowledgeable changes, they hired PR people to naysay climate change. They determined that blocking change was a better tactic than helping make thoughtful change.

We should have remembered the lesson we finally learned after thirty plus years about tobacco. For over thirty years, the industry has known nicotine was addictive which is why they used it in their products. Just before a whistleblower let the cat out of the bag, I watched eight tobacco CEOs sitting at a table facing a Congressional committee. When asked directly if nicotine was addictive, in a row, all eight said “no.” They all lied. And, they all knew. Within a few years, the industry was penalized with huge fine in the neighborhood of a billion dollars for their cover-up, which was not near enough. They deserved the fine.

And, what I find interesting is the PR firm that helped the tobacco industry lie and cover-up was hired by the fossil fuel industry to help them naysay climate change. My guess is they were trying to buy more time to make huge profits.

So, Jesus, you may need a bigger basket of truth and good stories to overcome these folks. There is a lot of money to be made in dangerous habits. We need someone to point that out. Of course, the PR people will paint You in a poor light as a defense tactic, but You are likely used to it.

I remember when (an update of an older post)

As I dressed for a long walk this morning, I was reminded of an old dressing habit. This prompted a reflective post (you can hum Nat King Cole’s “I remember you” as you read with me):

I remember when we used to cut the tops off athletic socks to make footies, as they did not make those when I was growing up, at least for boys and men.

I remember when phones were dialed and not keyed; if you did not complete the dial, the phone might call the wrong number.

I remember when there were three serious US news anchors whose words were gospel; Nixon once said when he lost Walter Cronkite, he lost the country.

I remember a time when we lived in blissful ignorance that all priests, pastors and evangelists were above board and not participating in criminal behavior.

I remember when both parties cared that the US President was exactly what he said he was not; Nixon said “I am not a crook,” but that was a lie.

I remember when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assasinated, but was too young to remember JFK’s.

I remember when a country trio named the Dixie Chicks were condemned for sharing their concerns about the false pretenses of the US invasion of Iraq. The fact they had a right to do so is lost on many, but the fact they were dead-on accurate in their concerns, as determined by a British commission years later (which noted George Bush and British PM Tony Blair misled the British people), should not be set aside either.

I remember the moon landing and Neil Armstrong’s words of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Sadly, I remember the Challenger blowing up with citizen astronauts aboard. It showed how difficult it is to leave and return to our planet.

I remember when a president was vilified for not wearing a flag pin and yet, some of those same people think it was alright for a later president to openly lie to the American people and invite and incite insurrectionists to storm the Capitol building because he could not face the music that he lost the election. But, the insurrectionist at least like to hug the flag.

I remember when the US celebrated its bicentennial and when we prepared for computers programmed in Cobol to recognize the new millennium.

On this last comment, my wife and I hosted a New Millennium Eve party. We got so interested in shooting fireworks with the kids, we forgot to put the lamb in the oven. That was the only time we cooked lamb, and almost did not then. We were eating at midnight when the year 2000 rolled in.

I hope I spawned some memories. Please share a few of yours. I remember when…

Tuesday miscellany

Reading Martin Luther King’s views on hate are instructive. The energy it takes to keep up a hatred is debilitating. In essence, it is more destructive to the hater than the intended target of the hate.

Just think about it. There are people who truly despise some politicians, but it does not bother the politicians as much. It is just one more person. However, it bothers the hater more. The only thing that bothers the politician is public humiliation. That, and being voted out of office.

We have entered an age where politicians don’t pay much attention to voters. They pay attention to funders and what PR people tell them to pay attention to. The number of town halls has declined. When you email a concern, you check off on a subject from a list and you get a pre-worded response. I have gotten a number of the identical emails based on the box checked, even though the actual issue may be different.

It reminds me from a line from the movie “Hunt for Red October” where a commander said the other submarines were not listening to the response of their sonar “pings” as they were moving too fast. The commander said they could go right over my daughter’s stereo and would not hear it. That is how I feel about the elected officials. They are not listening.

So, we have to make them pay attention. We have to use every means of communication to say to these politicians the truth matters and we are not hearing enough of it from you. We also need to say we need you to work together and stop the tribal BS as that is precisely what it is. Truth be told, we have too many elected officials who may have won, but they exhibit time and again they do not belong there. They consistently make inane and mean-spirited remarks.

There is an old line I like which applies to any group of people. If someone acts like a jerk most of the time, they better be good at what they do, as most people will not tolerate their BS if they are not. Sadly, we have folks who do both. They have made their voices irrelevant and ignorable.

I know we are supposed to pay attention what politicians say, but for too many it is a waste of time. When I see the picture of these folks on an article, I pass it by. My reaction is this person either said one more dumb thing, denigrated one more person or group, or both. I will let you figure out who I am speaking of as they may match up with what you feel.

So, when one of those people use as means of defense, “they just don’t like me,” that trivializes the argument. In truth, I don’t like being lied to, especially when I know the person is lying. And, I certainly don’t like people acting like a jerk when they do. I have little time for such verbiage and action. If politicians want to be taken seriously, they should act in a serious-minded way. Otherwise, just stop talking or tweeting.

Martin Luther King – thoughts against the use of violence still resonates

On this holiday, we should remember the words of its namesake. Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. To many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

*

http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/

**

http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Tax fraud and IRS defunding

The same week the US House passed a bill to cut funding to the IRS that had been agreed to last year, an interesting tax fraud case was settled. This bill is dead in the water, but we should also remember the previous president gutted some funding and staffing to the IRS. Please note, no one likes the IRS, but they perform a needed function to help fund our government. And, for those who complain the loudest, that includes those tanks and fighter jets as defense spending is our biggest spend.

The tax fraud involves the previous president. In short, the Trump Organization was penalized $1.6 million for tax fraud yesterday. While its CFO, Allen Weisselberg was sentenced earlier this week, the former president may be put on trial. The person whose name is on the banner, and seemingly everything he owns, claims he did not know about the fraud. Really? Your name is on the buildings you own or lease and you continuously brag about how much you know about taxes, saying “I know more about taxes than anyone in the history of taxes.”

Ironically, $1.6 million is the same number a New York judge told Trump he had to repay the Trump Foundation a few years ago for using its funds for personal use. This was before the Foundation was ordered terminated and all monies distributed to charity. It should be noted the judge also forbade anyone named Trump from overseeing the distribution process. That was tax fraud as well.

Later this year, it is likely the State of Georgia will bring charges against Trump and others for trying to influence election results. The Grand Jury is looking over all the testimony to determine such. And, it is also likely, the US Department of Justice will bring charges against the former president and others for seditious actions and obstruction of justice involving the January 6 insurrection. That is the recommendation of the House Select Committee.

And, he may face charges for hiding classified documents and not being very forthcoming with their return. Joe Biden is being looked at as well for something similar, but it is my understanding the Biden folks brought this to the attention of the Justice department.

I started with the IRS defunding bill as with our deficit and debt in the US, we need to be finding more revenue as well as making spending cuts. That was the conclusion of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committe and remains the standing of the nonpartisan Committee on a Responsible Federal Budget. There is a push on reducing the deficit and debt, but it needs to look at both revenue and spending. It should be noted the IRS bill, if passed, would have increased the deficit by $114 billion. Why? Tax fraud would go more unchecked.

These things should matter folks

As an old fart who tries to do the right thing, there are things occurring in the land of politics that should not sit well with any of us, regardless of party or country. I am writing this as some constituents of the resume padding Representative-elect George Santos from New York are not too troubled by his overt lying.

In short, they should be bothered. If he lied about his resume, he will lie about anything. Plus, when you lie about your credentials, you expose yourself to blackmail to coerce action on the behalf of the extortionist. Santos should be at the very least censured by the Congressional ethics committee. Yet, since he lied to get in, I would not seat him and ask the district to hold another vote. It matters not whether he is a member of the Republican, Democrat, Green, Blue of Chartreuse party. We deserve better.

It reminds me of retired Senator John Kyl, who when caught by a reporter in another lie, he said something like it is your fault for taking what I said as the truth. In other words, it is your fault I am lying. As my non-cursing, pious administrative assistant used to say when she was really upset, “Bad word, bad word.”

We deserve the truth. It was not always this way. Representative Charles Rangel, a long time Democrat politician was censured by the House in 2010 for some financial games playing. Even Senator and future presidential candidate, John McCain was censured by the Senate for getting too involved with shady Savings and Loan executive who was part of the S&L crisis in the late 1980s. Both Rangel and McCain deserved the censures, but it should be added that both had long and productive careers in the Capitol, overcoming the censures.

And, in one of the most brazen failures of trust, former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, once one of the country’s most powerful politicians and at the time a lobbyist, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for a financial crime related to sexual abuse of high school wrestlers he coached decades ago.

Nowadays, politics is so tribal, fellow members of the tribe rally around the accused shouting a slew of “what-about” retorts. This is the only way to explain the continuous support of the one of most prolific untruthful people ever to serve in the White House. As I was reading yesterday about people having been sentenced, being sentenced, scheduled to be sentenced and likely to be charged for their role in the insurrection, it reminded me that these folks believed the Big Lie spoon fed by the former president about his bogus election fraud claims. But, if they looked at history, they would have seen a trail of people who harmed their reputations chasing a fool’s errand off of one of Trump’s lies.

Richard Nixon lied to us on multiple occasions, not just with Watergate, which was his Waterloo. He and three preceding presidents, LBJ, JFK and Dwight Eisenhower, misled Americans about the war in Vietnam, knowing full well it was not winnable. They each continued the war and more Americans and Vietnamese had to die to save face. This is what the Supreme Court case about the Pentagon Papers was all about. Sadly, none were ever punished for this as the first three were dead by the time it was revealed in the press. Nixon would go onto lie about running a burglary ring from the White House and resigning before he was removed from office. The Watergate Hearings were American governance at its finest, holding a president accountable for his crimes.

Let me repeat, the truth matters. If a politician cannot tell the truth, they need to rethink the oath they swore allegiance to. And, if they still cannot tell the truth, they need to resign. Governing is hard enough with facts and truth, but nigh impossible without it. And, as noted with the Pentagon Papers, sometimes people die because of not telling the truth. Or, as with following Nixon or Trump, some people may end up in jail.

Saturday in the Park – a few musings for a walk

With all due respect to the band Chicago, one of their most popular songs is the theme for today’s potpourri of topics – Saturday in the Park. So, put on some good walking shoes, add a pair of sunglasses and let’s go for a stroll in the park. A jacket might be required.

After a seemingly endless number of votes, the US Congress has a new Speaker of the House. Sadly, to get elected he chose to make concessions to the most strident group of elected officials, rather than work with the Democrats who will be needed to get the people’s work done.

Unfortunately, this independent and former Republican voter does not hold the new Speaker in high regard as he has missed so many opportunities to be a leader. As one example, he made a great speech laying the blame for the insurrection at the feet of the former president, but then proceeded to erase what he said when called to Mar-a-Lago. I am not a huge fan of Nancy Pelosi, but this is a noticeable step down and this concerns me as the focus over the next two years will not be on productive matters in my view per the stated goals of the caucus.

On a positive note, I was glad to see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Joe Biden make a joint appearance at a bridge in Kentucky that will be improved by the infrastructure legislation. We need more of this show of bipartisanship in our country. Kudos to both the infrastructure investment and collaboration.

I read where the outgoing president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro trashed their version of the White House on his way out. Given his expected temper tantrum over the election results, following the lead of the former US president’s, it was not a surprise to read what he did following the election.

Leaders need to live up to the role they have been elected to serve. In a democracy, they serve us. They need to tell us the truth and to work together to do serve our needs. Governance is hard enough when they do those things, but nigh impossible when they don’t.