The demise in influence has already begun

I believe historians will look back at this period of time, unless it is reversed, as the time when the US ceded its leadership role in the world. They will also speak of how China easily transitioned into that role.

On the first show of the new season, John Oliver highlighted what is happening on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight.” Although it is a comedy show, the news covered is envied for its depth and veracity. I have seen topics covered here that other sources will later pick up.

On this show, Oliver repeated a Pew survey result that has shown trust in the US leader has fallen from 48% to 30% since the leadership reins have changed. Looking past the ridicule the President is getting from comedians and even leaders around the globe, Oliver discussed two concerning news items.

First, we do not have ambassadors in many countries under this President, including important countries like South Korea, Turkey and Saudi Arabia per Oliver. General Mattis said in 2013 before the Senate Intelligence committee that we need funding for diplomacy because if we don’t then he has to buy more bullets. The current President said in an interview that he is the only diplomat that matters. That is scary to me as he does not know what he does not know. Nor does he want to do the necessary homework.

Second, an equally scary concern is because of our retrenchment, the US is sending only a a couple people to global meetings, while China sends two dozen. The Chinese officials cover all of the meetings to build relationships, where it is difficult for the Amercans to do the same. It should not be lost on people that Xi Jingping has twice now followed Donald Trump at global forums in Davos and Hanoi giving the speech that the US President usually gives. Xi speaks of global trade, whereas Trump speaks of bilateral agreements.

When I hear Trump’s strident fans say what a great job he is doing, I think of his reducing our influence around the globe. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is just one example. We must have relationships with our allies to build consensus. The sad truth is this is supposed to be Trump’s strength. Instead we are shooting ourselves in the foot.


I will not be surprised

I will not be surprised if the Mueller investigation finds that the President of the United States has been compromised by Russia. There is too much lying, ignoring and self-preserving going on by the man in the White House. In fact, if it turns out he is not, that will surprise me. At the very least he is an unwitting agent of Russia. Just ask yourself why he did not impose sanctions on Russia nor has he shown alarm over the Mueller findings that Russia has attacked the US and is still doing so?

I will not be surprised if Congress does not do a damn thing about better gun governance. I am so proud of the young people calling for a march begging for action. Yet, Congress and the President don’t have the backbone to do the right thing and do what a significant majority of Americans have asked for – background checks and elongated waiting periods. These actions should be no brainers, but the NRA dictates subservience to Republicans and some Democrats.

I will not be surprised if Congress cannot reach compromise on the immigration bills, especially with the ever-changing President putting his fingerprints on discord. He upset the proceedings on Friday, a few weeks after he stabbed Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin in the back and asked Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue to lie for him. What all legislators have discovered is the famous self-proclaimed negotiator is not trust worthy. If you do so, it is at your own peril.

I will not be surprised if we have more school shootings in the near future. I will not be surprised if the British parliament decides against Brexit. And, I will sadly not be surprised if one of the leader of Norh Korea and United States does something too provocative. On the school shootings and North Korea issue, I hope I am dead wrong. On the former, with our gun laws, it is very hard to stop a dedicated individual shooter. On the latter, I am not confident that judgment can temper ego with respect to these two leaders.


Watergate was bad, but that was not Nixon’s greatest crime

I have been watching Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s excellent documentary on The Vietnam War. While tough to watch at times, the ten part series has been very informative, as it takes us through a variety of perspectives on this tragic war – American soldiers, Viet Cong soldiers, North Vietnamese soldiers, South Vietnamese soldiers and citizens, American parents and relatives of soldiers, draft dodgers, protestors, Presidents, military leaders, experts, etc.

What has been frustrating, JFK, LBJ and Nixon all were not very forthcoming with the American people or press on the Vietnam issues. They knew early on this was an unwinnable war and that we had partnered with a corrupt leadership in South Vietnam. And, as many American soldiers attested, we were fighting a very effective opponent in guerilla warfare. These leaders also led on the American people to believe we were winning the war, when that was not the case.

The two Presidents that frustrate me the most on these issues are LBJ and Nixon. For all the good LBJ did domestically, he went down a poor path that said we must stave off communism at all costs. As a result, he escalated the war. But, Nixon did something that was unforgivable that is actually worse than what he did with the Watergate break-in and cover-up that led to his resignation and jailing of over twenty of his staff members.

If it were not for Watergate, the Nixon Presidency would have been mostly remembered for its positives – opening up China, establishing better relationships with the Soviet Union and enacting the Environmental Protection Agency, balanced by the negatives of his widening of the Vietnam War and his iron thumb on protestors. So, what was worse than Watergate?

Richard Nixon committed treason and twenty thousand more Americans died and even more were injured. Nixon called the President of South Vietnam five days before the 1968 election against Hubert Humphrey to ask him to hold off on going to Paris peace talks that had been progressing and he would his influence on North Vietnam to get better terms. The encouraging news of the peace talks had brought Humphrey closer to Nixon in the election polls and Nixon felt the need to derail the peace talks for his benefit.

How do we know this? The CIA bugged the South Vietnamese President and recorded the conversation between him and Nixon (see below link). LBJ listened to the recording and called the most senior Republican Senator and a friend and they both spoke of Nixon’s treason, repeatedly using that term. LBJ decided not to act (does this sound familiar), but did get a call from Nixon where he noted to LBJ he had heard these rumors and they were not true. That was a lie, but LBJ did not call him on it. Maybe LBJ felt it would lead to his own lies on how well the war was going or maybe he felt like Obama did last year that it would look politically motivated.

The result of this treasonous act is the peace talks stalled and the war went on for four more years. Many more Americans died needlessly. To be frank, American deaths which occurred before then were needless as well, as we knew we could not win. Some folks may contend I am making this up or using inflammatory language. But, the word “treason” was used by the President of the United States and the lead Republican Senator to define what Nixon did. Intervening with a foreign entity to override our policy is far more than poor form. It is criminal. And, American people died or were injured.

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.

Monday, Monday

With a shout out to the Mamas and the Papas, I borrow their song title to share a few miscellaneous thoughts this Monday.

Kim and Trump scare me as they see who has the longest private part. I hope cooler and more rational heads prevail. I keep thinking neither man is that stupid to launch a nuclear warhead, but the probability is higher than it was a year ago.

Just to make sure the White House incumbent does not understand the risk climate change poses, even after Hurricane Harvey was made worse as a result, he appoints another climate change denier to head NASA. It is one thing to not having scientists in positions that should likely have them – Departments of Energy, EPA and NASA- but they should at least not pretend they know more than scientists do. Their arguments ring shallow.

The White House incumbent will be telling us this week what he plans to do with kids of undocumented parents who were brought here. These over 800,000 kids and young people have the backing of business leaders and Congressional leaders. Speaker Paul Ryan says leave this to Congress, but he fails to recall Obama acted because Congress would not, even after a bipartisan Senate bill was passed. The business leaders see this as an intellectual capital issue as well as a fairness issue. Trump has been all over the place on this issue, so who knows.

Thank goodness the waters are subsiding in Texas and Louisiana. It will be a long, arduous struggle to repair and rebuild. Someone mentioned earlier said it would be quick, which are just words. I hope our Congress can help in funding. And, I wish FEMA, HUD and the EPA well in helping these people.

Have a safe week. If you are religious, say a little prayer for wise actions by incumbent heads of state and helpful public servants for those in need.




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.