A little context on safety

Last night’s Republican National Convention focused on keeping America safe. This is an enviable goal, but while bashing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on Benghazi and terrorism, three key points were missing as context.

First, while we have eight Congressional committee efforts to get to the bottom of Benghazi, at no time was it discussed that a GOP-led Congress cut funding for embassy security the previous summer. But, more importantly, why have we not investigated information that supported the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) claim that led to an invasion of Iraq which has killed 1,000 times more Americans than Benghazi not to mention many allied troops and Iraqi citizens?

This is even more important when it should be noted a member of Vice President Dick Cheney ‘s team named Scooter Libby went to jail for outing a CIA operative named Valerie Plame. The reason is her husband Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was asked to do reconnaissance on a source of WMDs. He found no such link, but his information was intentionally misused. When Wilson wrote an op-ed piece countering this, Libby leaked Plame’s CIA cover to discredit him which is a crime.

Per the last committee’s findings, there was agreement with the findings of a report done two months after Benghazi occurred which was prepared by Admiral Mike Mullens and Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. There are things that could have been done better with Benghazi, but eight committees worth of investigation seems highly disproportionate. And, as Speaker of the House candidate Kevin McCarthy revealed last fall that the purpose of the taxpayer-funded committees was to discredit Hillary Clinton.

Second, as I have written about before, I am having a hard time reconciling the GOP’s NRA influenced pro gun stance with making us safer. Like many Americans, unless we improve gun governance, I see very little that can be done to stop motivated lone gunmen. In multiple surveys, a significant majority of all Americans and a majority of Republican voters agree with the following steps. We must not allow the sale of weapons to people on a no-fly terrorist watch list. We need background checks on every gun sale transaction. We need extended waiting periods to allow time for the background checks and due to the number one reason for gun deaths in America being suicide.

In my view, a candidate can talk until he is blue in the face about stopping mass shootings, but until we have better gun governance, it is all talk. There is not much any President can do to otherwise stop these shootings except involving the various communities in being watchdogs and reinforcing police and investigative efforts. And, we should not alienate groups of Americans, as we all have a role in seeing less violence. No American subgroup is more American than another or less for that matter.

Third, with respect to the GOP candidate, he has already made us less safer with his campaign rhetoric and he isn’t even President. Who says this? Five retired generals and two former CIA directors, of different political parties, have all said that Trump’s comments have been a recruiting brochure for ISIS. One of these former directors, Michael Hayden has noted the danger a Trump Presidency would hold. He went further to say that much of what Trump professes is ill-advised and goes against our ideals and some of which is unconstitutional. And, one of the most effective commercials against Trump is from a sixth retired general who says Trump does not have the “temperament or judgment” to be Commander-in-Chief.

So, being safe is an enviable goal. We just need some context as to what that really looks like. And, as a final sidebar, we do not need to hear from Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani about being safe, as his comments over the past few weeks have been not only off base, but inflammatory toward race relations in America. His comments are in-keeping with divisive comments of his friend The Donald.

 

 

 

Please cease the endless Benghazi hearings (and work on something important)


Dear Representative or Senator,

Like many Americans of all political stripes, this independent voter requests that you ask Congressional leaders to cease the endless Benghazi hearings. Eight is enough, as the old TV show says. You are wasting taxpayer money and time on something that has been put to bed many times over.

Representative Trey Gowdy was made to look very foolish last fall and your first Speaker of the House candidate Kevin McCarthy’s words betrayed the motivation behind the hearings. To be frank, I do not like my tax dollars paying for political campaigns.

If you must continue, please ask Rep. Gowdy to reinvite Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen back in to go over the report that put Benghazi to bed in December, 2012. These report authors were not called to testify for over nine months by Rep. Darrel Issa, who led the first waves of hearings, which I have found puzzling, but not surprising.

With this new found time, Congress can improve upon the executive actions that the President made on background checks which were long overdue. The President should be applauded for this first step. Congress has punted on this issue, siding more with the NRA rather than Americans who overwhelmingly support better background checks, including 79% of Republican voters per a Pew Polling survey. Plus, 40% of all gun sales in America do not have a background check conducted – that is almost half.

I have long grown weary of the stale argument of X action would not have stopped Y mass shooting. One thing is for certain, not doing anything at all has shown to be ineffective. And, the greater number of gun deaths are what occur everyday in America, including 60% of them which are suicide.

Please ask your colleagues to stop trying to keep their job and to do their job. Campaigning does not constitute doing the job. Productive discussions around better gun control measures do.

Many thanks for your time and service.

But, how could you let this happen?

“But, how could you let this happen?” is a phrase often uttered after an event has made the headlines. People are incredulous and leaders, in response, will look at others to blame for the recent turn of events. Yet, oftentimes, the leaders omit their role in the event which occurred by their failure to act. Or, the event was going to happen, and no proactive action was taken to lessen the impact.

I have written before about how social workers are sometimes thrown under the bus for a family treating a child poorly or rampant substance abuse exposing children to things they should not see at their ages. Invariably, the social worker is handling far too many clients due to budget cuts over the years, so that families do not get the attention needed. Depending on travel, capabilities, types of family challenges, and numbers of family members, a social worker should ideally have less than twenty clients. The ratio of 16 to 1 is often mentioned as ideal. Yet, when something goes wrong, we often see social workers with 150 or 200 clients, which means no family gets the attention they need. I have the greatest admiration for social workers, but even Mother Teresa would have a problem with the caseload.

However, this line of questioning is much broader than making sure we staff sufficient numbers of social workers to meet a community’s needs. It gets into most areas of politics and governance. Last week, I was watching a leader of the US border guards on the news describing the problems with the influx of child refugees. He defined and demonstrated how difficult the job is and noted we are already understaffed due to the sequestration budget from last fall. So, to state the obvious, we have people in Congress who, in addition to not passing an Immigration Bill, have not funded the open positions in the border patrol making it harder for them to secure the border. Please reread that last statement, as we have some Congressmen and women who are insisting we secure the border, yet they won’t fund staff to secure the border, in general. This is before the latest request for funds to handle the refugees.

Yesterday, I was encouraged that a bi-partisan bill was agreed upon between the House and Senate committees on handling veterans’ affairs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Representative Jeff Miller (R) are the key proponents (kudos to both). Yet, when the VA Hospital problems hit the fan earlier this year on wait times and veterans not getting served, the echo from Congress was loud, “how could you let this happen?” A veteran leader noted this is the same Congress who would not sign off on Senator Sanders bill earlier this year to address known concerns saying it was too much money, but offered no compromise solution. Yet, they did not do a mea culpa and say we screwed up earlier. Our leaders talk a big game about taking care of veterans,  but we are much more prone to fund tanks and planes we don’t need, than take care of wounded soldiers. Soldiers who have fought much longer and, since fighting among civilians, have been exposed to more PTSD need our help and not just our “atta-boys and girls.” Words are cheap, very cheap. Thank you Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for your actions to support our troops.

Finally, I will drift back to another favorite topic of some and that is Benghazi. “How could you let Americans get killed?” is asked. This issue has been put to bed for eighteen months in a non-partisan review led by Admiral Mullens and Ambassador Pickering, neither of whom were asked before Congressional Committees to speak on their report from December, 2012 until the committees were apprised of this oversight. The report went through all of the areas where we could have done better, but one area was interesting. Security of all embassies had been shortchanged by budget cuts in funding from Congress. So, we cared less about securing our embassies and then cried foul when something happened. And,this is not the first time our embassies and foreign service personnel have been attacked. “How could you let this happen?” the same folks asked.

The two common themes from the above are budget cuts impact service and it is hypocritical to totally blame someone else for something you, as a group, had a hand in causing. As a business person and volunteer board member of non-profit groups, I recognize fully that budgets are not infinite and require trade-offs. I do think we need serious discussions about where we spend our money. Yet, I am also mindful there are some that want to axe everything without noting what services are being performed. And, I also am aware there are those who say cut this or cut that, but when reminded that people back home or funders’ businesses are impacted, change their mind. There are so many military weapons that are not needed and are stockpiling, yet because of funders and lobbyist efforts, we cannot stop making them, e.g.

We have a deficit and debt problem in this country. The answer that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission came to in December, 2010 is both spending cuts and revenue increases are needed. Before we have other “what-ifs” happen, we need to take a look at that report as a plan to start from.

 

 

 

Lesson to Leaders – We need you not to cheat

Paraphrasing a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher: It matters less that you lied to me, as it matters more that I can no longer trust you. In any relationship, this quote describes the unfortunate epiphany when one realizes that another party has lied to them. Trust is built over time, day by day, brick by brick. Yet, a lie can bring the whole building down and cause you to re-earn that trust. Today, I want to focus on leadership letting us down by not shooting straight with us. Oftentimes, when a leader lies or cheats, it is to protect his job or gain a huge return.

Many of the companies who failed us under the financial crisis – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, AIG and so on, either no longer exist, were bought by someone else or received a huge bailout to make it through. Some of the bigger ones who survived, such as Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, are still dealing with issues they perpetuated or acquired from one of the above companies. At the heart of these problems were companies trying to make huge amounts of money off selling mortgage loans to people who could not afford them, packaging the bad loans in bundles and selling them off as reasonable assets. One of the fallacies of spreading risk by bundling is if all of the risk is crap, it won’t be better when bundled.

Yet, the leaders of these companies failed to be good stewards to the customers, fellow employees and managers, shareholders and regulators. If you read “Crash of the Titans” about Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, you will realize that only a handful of people in Merrill knew what was going on, but the CEO lied to his other direct reports and lied to his shareholders when questioned. As a result, the shareholders and public were misled. If you follow-up on Lehman Brothers, who went under, you will see that the CFO moved $50 million to the onshore books from the offshore books for the regulators’ eyes and then moved it back again. This was reported by “60 Minutes.” Yet, to this day, no one from Lehman has gone to jail.

In each of these cases, you will find cheating and lying at the heart of the story. As I have said in earlier posts, the banking industry used to be one of the more trusted professions, but these liars and cheaters (let’s call them what they are), breached this trust. Some conservative leaders balk at the requirements of Dodd-Frank regulations which introduced accountability and the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Agency initially run by now Senator Elizabeth Warren. This agency has already fined financial companies over $600 million (as of last summer) and counting for malfeasance and misrepresentation. So, the answer to those who balk is “tough, these foxes brought it on themselves and we have to guard the henhouse.”

Unfortunately, this plays out in spades in political circles. We have legislators who are so beholden to their funders, they are less inclined to tell you what they think, as they must go along with what the funders think. Please refer to my previous post on “The Routine Bigger Conspiracies” for how this misrepresentation can manifest itself on some bigger issues. It goes even further when we look at the job preservation motivation. Legislators worry more about keeping their job than doing their job. This is the very reason nothing has happened on gun control laws. They are failing to do the right thing because of a huge funding source in the NRA.

Recognizing that the GOP congressional leaders seem too zealous on the Benghazi episode, when you set aside the unhealthy motivation of “gotcha politics,” there are legitimate questions that need to be asked and answered. If the President had been less concerned with spin-doctoring from the outset, some of these questions would not exist. The real answer would seem to be “we failed to read the risks correctly and we did not have protection in place and people died.” The same goes for Senator Mitch McConnell who had a report buried in October (as reported by the New York Times) that showed trickle down economics failed to work. As this was key talking point of the GOP Presidential candidate, it seemed to be politically motivated.

I have also noted on several occasions over my disdain over the previous administration’s fabrication of a story of Weapons of Mass Destruction based on faulty data. People would say they did not know, but that is not true as Scooter Libby, who worked for Karl Rove, went to jail for something Rove later said he knew about as well. As you recall, Libby leaked the name of Valerie Plame to the press, who was a CIA operative and whose husband (and former ambassador) reported at the behest of the CIA that there were no nuclear building materials being sent to Iraq by Libya. This report was misused by Bush/ Cheney and when the ambassador complained in the press, Libby leaked Plame’s name to discredit him. In essence, this is one of the smoking guns that showed Bush/ Cheney lied to the American people and many Americans have paid the ultimate price for this deception.

And, it also flows to state and local politics. To give some brief examples, in NC the Speaker of the House knew he did not have enough votes on a bill, so he sent everyone home at midnight only to call everyone back in from a 1 am vote. He knew others would leave, so he alerted his crowd to pass the word to stay and the yea votes now outnumbered the no votes. On a bill to move the potential to frack for natural gas, one of the legislators voted yes incorrectly and rushed forward to say she needed to change her vote. It was not allowed and the bill passed by one vote. Last week, a NC Committee Chair knew he did not have enough votes, so he took a voice vote – all in favor say “aye” all opposed say “no.” He purposefully heard the loudness differently than others, bragged beforehand he would find a way, and said it passed.

We citizens, customers and shareholders need you to do business in the right way. When you cheat, we seem to be the ones who get screwed. As I told one the Committee Chair, I do not care if you disagree with me, but I do care if you cheat. I said I did not know your name last week, but now I do. Please help us hold people accountable. When you hear that someone does not want regulation, I can assure you it the voice is echoing what is told to them by those who are regulated. We need less bureaucracy, but make no mistake, the foxes need regulation. Someone has to hold people accountable, because it is obvious that market and legislative practices will not.

The Routine Bigger Conspiracies

Washington and the media tend to love a good conspiracy. I do not want to let anyone believe this post is ridiculing the need to understand better what transpired at Benghazi, yet the story has become more on the unhealthy aspects of the investigation. I think the Congressional Committee has every right to ask questions, but at the same time I do questions some motivations as we live in a world of “gotcha politics” where someone has to win and someone has to lose. As an Independent voter, I see the opposing parties purposefully disagree, as they dare not agree on something the other side said.

Yet, what we often overlook in the sensationalism involved with these events are the conspiracies that happen everyday. These more routine failures to look at issues and how to solve them allows special interest groups to conspire to leverage the issues for their gain. And, as a result, we average citizens end up losing as we don’t have healthy debate about issues of import or shine spotlights on areas where we should. Let me mention a few as they are so very important:

Global Warming is Hoax – this conspiracy troubles me greatly, as global warming is definitely not a hoax and, as reported today, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at a very precarious level. The hoax crowd have the full backing of the fossil fuel industry who stands to gain from the perpetuation and advancement of more drilling for oil and natural gas. And, with their significant funding of the Republican Party, Tea Party and ALEC (who feeds langauge to conservative state legislatures), the war on the environment is waged with money and misinformation. The scorecard you should pay attention to is 97% of scientists believe it is happening and man-influenced, but only 26% GOP congress people. That is a startling differential.

Drones Make us Safer – while I am not a fan of drones, I had previously understood their role in warfare. Yet, my blogging friends Hugh and Barney have convinced me that the use of drones is actually not making us safer, but quite the opposite. The use of drones, coupled with night raids in Afghanistan (where our troops crash through the door to get a perceived bad guy, but kill innocent people), and the prison torture and inhumane conditions actually make us less safe. America is not seen as the “shining city on the hill” as much as it once was. In fact, we are more despised in the Middle East than before and our allies question are methods. We have to be better than this.

People in Poverty are lazy and less virtuous – you would think with so many white-collar workers who have been downsized, right sized, RIFed, laid off, furloughed, and fired, this perception would change, but it has not. Poverty is the absence of money – period. We have 48% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. We have 50 million people in poverty. We have people with college degrees working for minimum wage jobs which perpetuate poverty. This is where the middle class went. Yet, the Democrats do not talk enough about this issue and the GOP is kicking the fragile millions in the groin and stepping on them. I have said this to GOP leaders – poverty knows no political party. It is an equal opportunity offender. So, when you cut unemployment, give tax breaks to the wealthy, increase regressive taxes on the poor, not extend healthcare, not increase the minimum wage, and restrict voter rights you are not helping those who need it. All of these plans are right out of the ALEC playbook.

Guns are not the problem – this one insults my intelligence and should insult every American, including gun owners. It stymies me that people can be led to believe that gun deaths have nothing to do with guns. I know the issue is bigger than just guns – we have a more uncivil society, we have a more depressed society, we have a violent culture which is in our face daily, and we have poverty which leads to crime. But, make no mistake, of course it is the less constrained access to guns and assault weapons that are a key part of the problem. The NRA also heavily influences the GOP as the GOP knows they have to appease this voter base to garner their votes. This permits the GOP to perpetuate an agenda that is not in the best interests of most of its voters. Yet, the problem of kids killing kids will occur every day. When a 5-year-old kills his 2-year-old sister as occurred last month or a child shoots his brother in the bathtub as occurred this month, this is not a surprise in America. The shocked and now mourning parents may be surprised, but I am not. It is like parking your car on the street and then being surprised when someone hits it.

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There are more daily conspiracies I could mention, but I wanted to highlight a few that give me pause. These conspiracies are preventing debate on effectuating needed change. I will save some more conspiracies for next time. Please help shine a spotlight on these issues. Please share your thoughts with others. And, with it being Mother’s Day, we should honor our mothers by dealing with these issues.