Stable genius

A few quotes to ponder:

“I am a stable genius,” said Donald J. Trump on several occasions, most recently after he threw a tantrum to abruptly end a meeting to discuss infrastructure.

“You have been telling me you are a genius since you were seventeen. In all the time I have known you, I still don’t know what you mean,” sang Steely Dan in “Reeling in the Years.”

“We were out-prepared,” testified former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson under oath to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as he described a meeting between Putin and Trump.

More colorfully, Tillerson commented while Secretary of State after the President changed his mind again, “He is a f**king moron.”

Testifying under oath to a House Committee, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer said “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-man and a he is a cheat.”

“You will have to do a deal with the European Union,” said German Chancelor Angela Merkel eleven times in one sitting to Trump until it finally sank in he could not do a trade deal just with Germany.

“Donald Trump lies every day even about things of no consequence,” said former Trump attorney Thomas Wells.

Finally, former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn said after witnessing the President lie about what he said to the Australian Prime Minister, “He is a prodigious liar.”

Lastly, at 60 years-old, I am hard pressed to recall a very smart person bragging on how smart he or she is. These folks need not brag.

I could go on, but that will give you a sense. The title of this post depict two words that are not top of mind to me to define the US President – stable or genius.

Two Western Leaders came to Washington

Last week, the two leaders of the western world met with the US President, who has ceded the US role in the world. Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany visited with Donald Trump.

Of course, the US has the most powerful military in the world. We’d better as we spend far more than other countries. Yet, with our pulling back on diplomacy and the number of diplomats, with our imposition of tariffs on even our allies, with our retrenching from global agreements and with an unprecedented level of untruthfulness, we have ceded our global leadership role to China, overall, and Germany and France in the western world. And, while the UK remains important and formidable, I am sad to say Brexit will precipitate its decline from these ranks.

Macron and Merkel beseeched the US President to remain in the Iran Nuclear deal signed by seven parties (including the four countries above). As with other issues, Trump does a lot of chest beating without the benefit of being factually accurate. John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight,” does a nice job of defining the terms of the agreement and noting three untruthful things the US President says about it.

And, at least Macron openly requested the US to remain in the Paris Climate Change accord. We know this as Macron was allowed to speak with Congress and did so with an eye to the future and a statesman like flair. Yet, Merkel did not get such an opportunity. It puzzles me why Trump does not like her as his contempt easily shows.

He dotes on Macron, but he looks like he would rather be elsewhere when he is with Merkel. Is he jealous because Putin will actually listen to her? Is he superficial to not like her because she does not have a model’s shape or looks? Or is it her policies of openness to refugees? Or, it may be she is a student of understanding issues and he is not?

Nonetheless, she sees the future in the appropriate light as does Macron. “Narrow-minded nationalism” is something we must guard against Macron said to the US Congress. Global trade and relationships make the world safer.

I firmly believe if Trump remains in office for four years (and God forbid eight years), history will judge this period as when the US gave up its leadership role in the world. And, this happened with others not firing one shot, just a well-orchestrated influence campaign by the Russians who want a weaker west. But, don’t trust my judgement. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and former State Department official Ronan Farrow has penned a book called “War on Peace” that notes the same premise with definitive examples. The decline in diplomacy is a huge mistake – we sent two people to a global issues meeting, while China sent twenty. They worked the rooms.

This is a sad state of affairs. We have listened to a populist President who does not care to know historical context and is not beholden to the truth. He has listened to people who want us to retrench. And, there is one thing for certain, we cannot shrink to greatness. It matters not what the ball caps say at Trump rallies.

Thursday Thumbnails

Happy Thursday. With some rambling thoughts, I decided to throw down a few thumbnail comments below for your digestion.

While I am elated that a bipartisan compromise was reached in the US Senate to possibly end these budget kick-the-can exercises, I must confess concerns that it would increase the debt. Yet, it frustrates me just as much to see members of the Freedom Caucus appear high and mighty against the effort after many of them voted for a tax bill to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion. That is what we call hypocrisy. Nonetheless we are avoiding the looming problem as the debt and interest cost build.

I must confess being tickled at the US President for fussing at the stock market saying it is not reacting well to good news. It reminds of a toddler fussing at the tide for washing his sandcastle away. The stock market is reacting to concerns over inflation and rising interest rates, as well as pulling back on some of the euphoria that had been baked in. My guess is the tide will erode a little more of the sandcastle before settling at a lower level. Less funny was the President inviting a government shutdown if Congress does not fund his wall.

I am delighted Chancellor Angela Merkel has reached an agreement to form a government in Germany. A coalition between her Christian Democrstic Union and the Social Democrats would result. The negative is it would leave the Alternative for Germany as the opposition party giving more voice to their zealous nationalism. Her leadership is needed there, but even moreso around the globe with the United States retrenching from its role with its tempestuous leader at the helm. She and Emmanuel Macron will be the leaders of a more global construct.

If you have not seen “The Post,” with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, please do so. The story is about the consternation as to whether The Washington Post should publish articles about The Pentagon Papers after The New York Times was forbidden to do so after its first set of articles. But, the story goes deeper as it is about a female publisher, Kay Graham, who stood up to everyone (all men) telling her she would be a fool for publishing the articles as she took her company public. She supported her editor, Ben Bradlee and they won their Supreme Court case advocating the freedom of the press. The similarities between the demonizing words used by Nixon and Trump against the press are striking. An interesting sidebar is while this debate was going on, a little break-in at The Watergate Hotel occurred.

That is all for this Thursday. I hope our Congress reaches a deal and keeps the government open. Next up DACA.

The candidate scared of a woman with microphone

I find it amusing that a man running for President, who is touting how tough he will be with our enemies, is running scared. No, Donald Trump is not scared of terrorists, he is scared of Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

He has taken his sand toys out of the sand box and won’t be appearing on the next GOP Debate aired by Fox. The reason is Megyn Kelly who he feels is biased against him. She just might ask him a question he does not like as she did the last time. Or, as reported this morning, he doesn’t want his competition bringing up milestone statements from his history. His previous stances on issues like abortion or healthcare or his several bankruptcies and numerous litigations, might make him uncomfortable.

Truth be told, The Donald does not like anyone asking him questions. His candidacy is built on a foundation of attitude, platitudes and lies, so when someone asks him a legitimate question, he dodges it and then cries foul or calls him or her stupid, disabled, fat or loser. Like he did the other day with one reporter, he may even ask for an apology. Think about that for a second. Or, like he did with Chris Matthews the other evening, he may just continually not answer a specific question on his error of accusing the President of being born non-American.

Everything a voter needs to know about The Donald’s veracity as a candidate is in his history. Coupling that with his very-unpresidential discourse throughout the campaign demeaning most groups and individuals that get in his way, he does not present himself well as a candidate. Plus, he has even taken a shot at his own followers, in essence saying they are so blindly loyal, he could shoot someone and they would still vote for him. I do not care that he wraps himself in a blanket of political incorrectness, yet he has the thinnest of skins and is very litigious. Being political incorrect does not give you license to lie as evidence by a 76% untruthful record per non-partisan fact checkers.

But, back to the debate sand box. If he cannot stand up to questions from anyone, but in particular, a network female reporter who he also insulted for her earlier questions, how will he interact with leaders of other countries, both male and female? How will he react when Angela Merkel or Christine LaGarde disagree with his position? Will he make remarks about their times of the month like he did with Kelly, say how disgusting it is that they go to the bathroom like he did with Hillary Clinton or call them out on their looks like he did with Carly Fiorina.

People are going to vote for whom they see fit. But, this candidate needs to answer a lot more questions. His history and conduct warrant it.

 

Some hard truths and silver linings

Since we are in midst of a campaign season for the US presidential race, which has been going on forever and we have yet to even cross the halfway point, the real loser in the race has been the truth. In fact, the current leader in the polls on the Republican side has been untruthful 76% of the time (out of 77 adjudicated statements) per Politifacts, a non-partisan fact checking organization. If you are a betting person, the odds would be in your favor not to believe a word he says.

That does not mean the other candidates have not made exaggerations and told a few lies, but Politifacts said the GOP leader has lapped the field. In this crazy race where the attack on political correctness has permitted candidates to be more candid, it would be nice if the candor included more truths. A candid lie told with false bravado is still a lie. But, what do I know? Call me crazy, but I think the truth should be told, and when a falsehood is discovered, the teller should be accountable and correct the record.

A few hard truths for the candidates, supporters and voters:

  • There is little that we can do to stop a motivated terrorist who is willing to lose his or her life on our shores, given our freedoms and open access to weapons. All of us need to be vigilant to report something that looks out of the ordinary and our police need to react swiftly as they did in San Bernardino to locate the culprits to prevent more violence. Our police and intelligence are doing great work, but what scares them most is the under-the-radar extremists.
  • To this first point, the war is on intolerance and extremism, not religion or race. We must live up to our ideals and constitution. We must involve all Americans in this fight against terrorism and not denigrate groups of people. While being vigilant, we must not blow this out of proportion as being done in the presidential race where several have equated it to World War III. Really? These candidates are scaring people into voting for them, but these folks should listen carefully to what the candidates are saying, as they do seem to be making us less safer with less than thoughtful rhetoric.
  • On the good side, the US economy continues to percolate and 2016 is expected to be a good year. This is evidenced by one of the longest successful runs with 70 consecutive months of job growth, unemployment down to 5%, a more than doubled stock market capitalization since the recession and the Federal Reserve raising interest rates. We still need to work on wage growth and middle class, but these have been maligned since the early 1980s with outsourcing, offshoring, downsizing, and technology.
  • The world is making progress in the battle to limit the impact of climate change. The Paris deal is key, but only part of the story. We have reached a tipping point on renewable energy as the cost has fallen and the awareness of the need has risen. Innovation is creating new paths forward and the glut on oil and natural gas has caused those prices to fall which has halted further investment in more costly retrieval of fossil fuels. Plus, the droughts are showing the world that we have a water crisis that will only be made worse by climate change. So, the time to act in a larger way is now as waiting is no longer an option.
  • On the good side, we are working with other countries to try to solve challenges, such as the refugee crisis, terrorism, corruption (where we can), poverty and lack of women’s rights. Opening trade markets with Iran and Cuba are positives that will pay dividends. It is harder to fight someone you have commerce with. And, freer ideas can find their way in. I am actually delighted to see Russia working with us to address terrorism in the Middle East. Terrorism and corruption are the destabilizers there. We must deal with the former first, but not forget the latter. And, entrepreneurialism is helping more women build income in places around the world. Women hold up half the sky says the Chinese proverb, so investing in women will pay huge dividends for a region.

I am encouraged by the progress that is being made. I wrote a post last week about “Year-end Kudos,” but let me restate that the work Pope Francis is doing is immense. He is the greatest, most trusted leader on the planet and he is shining a light on where it needs to be shown. While Angela Merkel is very deserving of her Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, it is the Pope who has shown us our humanity. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will see they face of God,” I read somewhere. Happy holidays to all and have a wonderful new year.

 

Year-end Kudos

As we near the end of 2015, let me look back and offer kudos to select folks for their efforts. This is not meant to be a complete list, so please do share your kudos for those I may not have mentioned.

Angela Merkel deserves kudos for being the most effective global leader who sees the key role her country and Europe play in helping the many refugees in need or to share her concerns with Vladimir Putin for his transgressions in the Ukraine.

Pope Francis deserves kudos for taking his wonderful message of outreach to those in need to North and South America and Africa. He also deserves kudos for writing about the very real concerns of climate change and the need to act. He is the most respected leader on the planet.

Francois Hollande deserves huge credit for his handing of the terrorist attack in Paris and keeping France’s ideals and openness alive. He has shown how important it is to continue to live and exercise your freedoms, a lesson lost on too many here in the US.

Justin Trudeau deserves similar credit along these same lines by openly welcoming Syrian refugees into Canada. Seeing families reunited is a joy to see and he emphasized its importance by being there in person.

Barack Obama deserves credit for his continued stewardship of the US economy as evidenced by 70 consecutive months of job growth and decline in unemployment to 5%. Given where other global economies are at this point, he should be commended for providing the necessary tail winds over the past few years. He also deserves kudos for moving the ball forward in the US on addressing climate change.

John Boehner and Paul Ryan deserve kudos for navigating an unwieldy ship in the Republican led Congress to get some key agreements done. Boehner greased the skids for Ryan by getting the framework for the budget and debt ceiling increase passed and Ryan has been able to push through a long overdue transportation bill and education bill. It was good to see some bipartisan success and work accomplished.

Delegates to the Paris Climate Change Conference deserve kudos for accomplishing an agreement that was lacking from the last conference in Copenhagen. While no agreement is perfect, this one seems to have more in its favor than not and will help move the ball forward. The move down the path of renewable energy has passed the tipping point and this agreement with business leader backing will help us address our climate change challenge, but also help speak to our number one problem, a global water crisis.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos for the formulation of The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which may be the biggest news out of Paris. This coalition will match government funding to accomplish better technologies and renewable energy solutions to combat climate change. The government funding is supported by the US, France and 18 other countries through a joint effort called Mission Innovation.

Conservatives for Clean Energy is a group that shows the movement to renewable energy is not just a progressive movement. Their efforts show that the need to move more quickly is universal and renewable energy is a viable industry for future jobs. Their existence supports the ClearPath survey results that 75% of conservative voters believe we need to move further down the path of renewable energy.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy deserves kudos for doing what the US Senate failed to do and what terrorism consultants said could help to some degree. He performed an executive order to ban the sale of guns to people on the government no fly watch lists. This common sense change was voted down in the US Senate by party affiliation, including three presidential candidates, who have openly chastised the president for not doing more to combat terror. So, to his credit Malloy made it happen.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the Families of the Emanuel AME Church of Charleston for the courage, forgiveness, leadership and love in showing how a community can galvanize around a tragedy. Seeing these people of faith forgive the man who killed their nine loved ones was as great a testimony as I have ever witnessed. Haley and Riley deserve kudos for the huge role in bringing the community together and for Haley to deftly use the opportunity to finally bring down the sign of hate represented in the Confederate flag.

Former President Jimmy Carter deserves kudos to showing us all how to handle the news of his mortality with grace and the conviction of faith. Between Carter and the church members of the Emanuel Church in Charleston, we saw two beautiful acts of faith that are lessons for us all, regardless of religion. It should be noted that Carter recently received great news that his cancer is gone after some unique treatments. With his humanitarian efforts, maybe God still has a purpose here for him.

Again, please feel free to share your thoughts on who I may have missed or if you find fault with my choices. Happy Holidays.

Miscellaneous Friday Musings

Happy Friday everyone. If your weekend has started already, make it all you want and need it to be. Here are a few miscellaneous musings for the week that was, in no particular order.

Not that I am a Carly Fiorina fan, but I do give her credit during the GOP debate for her matter-of-fact way in which she dismissed Donald Trump’s remarks about her looks in the Rolling Stone interview. He made his situation worse with a horribly insincere and wincing retort that he thought she had a beautiful face. He missed the point entirely – a woman’s looks are less relevant than her ability to lead others. Yet, he made a similar screw-up earlier when he responded to Rand Paul’s criticism of Trump’s childish comments, by again commenting off-hand about Paul’s looks.

Beyond the childish remarks and labeling, what will eventually bring Trump crashing down is his history of trying to screw people over and his inability to explain a detailed answer to any questions. The only truth that Trump knows is he exploits others for gain and when they no longer are of service, casts them aside and leaves the problems for someone else. By the way, most companies do not file for bankruptcy and they especially do not do it four times. He also uses his bravado to mask a lack of awareness of issues and resolutions. “I will be an unbelievable President on this issue.” OK, show us.

The refugee crisis is a mess and all countries need to lend a hand. Some countries are choosing to close up shop. These folks are in need, but there are so many that the burden of help and eventually welcoming to their new homes has to be spread around. There are some Middle East counties that have exhausted all resources to help, even with financial support. There are others who could pick up some slack. But, the reasons they are leaving have to be dealt with and that is hard. I am hopeful that productive discussions can emerge from the larger powers to determine some path forward as it is a conundrum, yet it cannot continue.

Pope Francis, the most respected leader on the planet today, is coming to America. He brings his important and on-point message that we must focus on our global poverty and climate change problems. He correctly notes the latter affects everyone, but especially the poor who tend to live in areas that are more susceptible to environmental concerns. I wrote a post recently about all the issues being related. These two issues are exacerbated by global corruption in leadership, even in America, and the maltreatment and undervaluing of women. We must treat women better for their own sake, but also for the sake of commerce, innovation and leadership.

I mention this last point in that it is not unusual to find women in important roles in the world. Angela Merkel, the prime minister of Germany is one of the strongest and most respected leaders on the planet. Christine LaGarde is the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Janet Yellin is the Chairperson of the US Federal Reserve. Park Geun-hye is the current president of South Korea. And, the US has had many notable female Secretaries of State such as Madeleine Albright, Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton. It also took a bipartisan group of female senators to end a government shutdown led by Ted Cruz in 2013, who threatens to do it again. Note to Cruz, give it a rest.

I hope we listen more to this Pope and the voices of women in leadership positions. We have many issues in the world, yet we need to talk about them more in a reasonable way. We men tend to compete more in the game of politics, meaning I must win and you must lose. Yet, in that kind of game, we all end up losing. Watching this debate the other night was evidence of that as the real problems of America and the planet were not discussed much at all. And, that is a problem for us all.

A Path Appears – Women and Children need our help

Our friend Debra (see link below) has written a review of the much-needed book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “Half the Sky.” This is one of the toughest reads you will ever take on as it discusses how women are maltreated around the globe. In addition to how awful it is to the women and children who are subject to this maltreatment including rape, sex slavery, genital mutilation, fistula due to births before the body is able, and domestic violence, it discusses the economic detriment to those communities. The book is based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, so if you treat them poorly, you are devaluing your economy, competing with one arm tied behind your back in a world that will leave you behind.

https://debrabooks.wordpress.com/2015/02/16/who-cares-about-poor-women/

Kristof and WuDunn have followed up their first book with one called “A Path Appears,” which expands on these issues, but discusses how we can make a difference. We can find a path forward to help women, children and communities in need and how it will do the giver as much good as the receiver. Attached is a New York Times review which provides a review and summary of the book. I have yet to read this book, but have seen the two authors interviewed on PBS Newshour as they discuss how each of us can play a role in helping others.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/a-path-appears-by-nicholas-kristof-and-sheryl-wudunn.html?_r=0

An additional book worth reading on this subject is penned by former President Jimmy Carter called “A Call to Action.” It leverages further the work of Kristof and WuDunn, but brings the arguments home to America as well as speaking to the global problem. While we are only beginning to give notoriety to sexual abuse in the US military and on our college campuses after long ignoring the problems, while we are finally highlighting the impact and prevalence of domestic violence toward women that occurs in our society, we are still largely unaware that we have a non-inconsequential sex trafficking industry within America. We have sex slaves being brought in from other countries in addition to the women stolen from within our own communities.

I have read Carter’s book as well and find his arguments and anecdotes compelling. It is also a difficult, but must read. Carter has been one of the best ex-Presidents we have ever had. He has done more good for humanitarian causes and his voice is a powerful one and full of substance. We should heed his, Kristof and WuDunn’s messages and begin to better address the maltreatment of women.

Our world needs stronger positioning of women. We see the wonderful examples with Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, Christine LaGarde, Director of the International Monetary Fund, and Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister of Denmark, to name only a few, but need more. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, while not the first female, she was the most widely known ambassador of the US and made a huge difference to the issue of helping women.

But, we cannot wait on more women to get in power. We all need to see the wisdom of treating women and children fairly and as we would want to be treated. We all need to see that if we devalue women, we are limiting idea creation, market opportunities and good governance in our country and communities. We all need to see that treating a human being like property is not in keeping with the overarching messages of religious texts or answering well the Christian question of WWJD? What would Jesus do? He would treat women like he would want to be treated.