Corruption may be the greatest threat we face

I have written before about the greatest long term risks facing our planet as noted by the World Economic Forum – the global water crisis and poorly reacting to climate change. I would add that population growth would pose further risks.

When I first wrote about this, a British missionary in Nigeria noted he would place corruption high on the list. Why? His reasoning is the leaders of countries throughout the world skim off the top and place friends and family in places of power to do the same. So, the majority of folks become disenfranchised as money and investment are compromised and go into the pockets of these leaders.

This disenfranchisement leads to terrorists being listened to until it is too late. It leads to leaders controlling the messaging often using people’s fears to control them. It leads to a breakdown in institutions to help people and guard against those controlling messaging.

After the missionary’s council and observing what has happened in the past few years, I agree that corruption is right up there with the more natural risks. A few examples might help illustrate why I fully agree with him.

South Korea is a flourishing economy with overt freedoms and investment. To the north, the North Korean people live hand-to-mouth and are the closest thing to the “1984” model we have on earth. Kim Jong Un controls everything from the messaging to the money and you dare not give the slightest hint of non-support.

Vladimir Putin is the most clever corrupt leader on the planet. He controls all messaging in Russia and actively wages cyber war adroitly using Social Media to sway pro-Russia sentiment. Some unknowing sycophants like our President praise him as a strong leader. He may be strong, but he and his oligarchy are quite wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

President Duterte of the Philippines is relatively new to the game, but his corruption leads directly to the genicide of anyone who has touched illicit drugs or openly disagree with him. The negative impact of this man on his country will continue to expose them to human rights concerns.

Corruption abounds with Erdogan in Turkey who used a failed coup (which he may have staged) to remove significant numbers of intellectuals, judges and government officials who shared opposing views. The corrupt leadership in Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell led to ostracized Sunnis allowing ISIS to take hold. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was removed from office with US$80 billion while the average Egyptian lived on US$2 a day. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe was just removed in a coup after years of corrupt leadership and before he passed the official baton to his younger wife to do more of the same.

But, we in the western world should not pat ourselves on the back too much. We hide it better through lobbyists and funders of politicians. Make no mistake, these folks give money to curry favor. In the US, we have billionnaire President with several billionnaires in his cabinet who rode a wave of a populist movement. This would be funny if it were not so sad. His followers need only look at the proposed Tax Reform bills that heavily help the rich in America at the expense of our future. He masks this subterfuge with bombast, lying and a sharply critical tone of dissent and the press.

The downside of all this corruption is the disenfranchised are impacted and have little voice. We are also selling out our future for the bottom lines of folks with more digits to the left of the decimal point. We must speak to corruption and not let it infiltrate further into our world and country. It impacts everything else we need to fix.

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Some men in power are running scared right now

If you are a man in power and have used your power to sexually harass or assault a subordinate colleague or third party, my guess is you are running a little scared right now. Sexually assaulted and harassed women (and men) are more empowered to tell stories that have eaten away at them for years.

Ex-judge and Senate candidate Roy Moore keeps asking why are these women coming forward now? Really? First, you apparently assaulted and harassed these women as impressionable teens and used your power as local DA to silence them. Second, you are interviewing to be a Senator of the United States. But, just read the news and you will know why these women are coming forward now.

Yet, if he did join the Senate, he will find some company in the halls of Congress on sexual assaulting and harassing women (and men). At least two have been noted to have either disrobed in front of a female staffer or French kissed one on the floor of Congress. Now, Senator Al Franken has been accused of sexual assault for inappropriately kissing a woman shortly before becoming Senator.

Then, there is the current President who has been accused by sixteen women of sexual assault, some who came forward before he was caught on the Access Hollywood tape admitting to such groping because he could get away with it. Yet, what failed to garner attention is the man admitted twice on the creepy Howard Stern show that he liked to walk in on unclothed beauty pageant contestants because he owned the franchise. That would include teen girls in the Miss Teen USA pageant. This, by itself, should have made him lose the election. It is too bad Harvey Weinstein was not accused last year, as that would have sealed Trump’s fate as the sexual assaulter he has admitted to be.

Yet, Hillary’s husband was also a known philanderer. I don’t know if he assaulted them, but he did use his power to garner attention. Bill Clinton will be remembered for being a good President who balanced the budget and under whom more jobs were created than any other President. But, he will also be remembered as a skirt chaser. To her credit and resolve, Hillary stood by her husband, but I hope she slapped the crap out of him when he needed it.

If our leadership dishonors their position, regardless of party, they need to be held accountable. A Speaker of the House was forced to resign a few years ago for taking advantage of young wrestler he coached and he paid for silence. If we have members of Congress who have sexually assaulted women or men, then they need to do the right thing. The same holds true for Roy Moore and should have held (and should still hold) true for the Man in the White House.

If some of these leaders are worried about future accusations, they have no one else to blame. As for the ex-judge, my guess is there will be more to come forward.

A little bit of this and that – the sad and farcical

Political news is quite sordid these days in both a sad and farcical way. My purpose is to show how absurd politicians can be as they try to “unsay” things or just outright lie to distract from painful truths. This is not meant to diminish anyone’s pain caused by the underlying events. That is real and these politicians should be held accountable.

Here is “a little bit of this and that” to illustrate the farcical nature of various politicians’ statements. In no particular order:

– The US President said and tweeted many interesting things on his road trip. One of my favorites is his distaste for Kim Jong-Un calling him “an old lunatic.” Trump tweeted he did not like being called “old.” So, by omission, “lunatic” must not have been offensive to him. Trump said he would never call Kim something bad, yet he seems to forget he called Kim “Rocket Man.”

– A close second favorite set of comments by the President is when he said he believed Putin about not hacking one day (even calling our spy leaders “government hacks”) and then tried to explain all of that away the next day, after these so-called hacks stuck to their intelligence and said Putin is lying. Trump seems to not realize we heard him the day before. Call me crazy, but employees don’t like being called hacks by their boss.

– Ex-Judge and Senate candidate Roy Moore apparently had a period of time in his 30’s where he liked dating (and admitted to doing so) young women beneath the age of majority. He has been accused by two women for sexual assault on a minor and three others for his failure to understand that as an adult, he would have been guilty of statutory rape had he consummated these relationships. He said he did not know one woman, but she has his signature in her yearbook. Mr. Moore, you would do better by not talking. But, you will get more chances to consider what you say as more women come forward.

– A Trump staffer tried to show his indignation toward Moore saying there is a special place in hell for people who do what Moore has been alleged of doing. I find that interesting, especially when his big boss has been accused by eleven more women than Moore (so far) of sexual assault and has admitted on three separate occasions on tape that he liked to grope women because of his power and liked to walk in on undressed beauty pageant contestants because he sponsored the show and felt that gave him the right. It should be noted, that one of these pageants was Miss Teen USA. 16 women allege Trump sexually assaulted them. The other stories of admission come straight from the horse’s mouth.

– I do want to take the time to note that ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner is behind bars due to his propensity to woo women by sending a picture of his private parts via his IPhone. The women’s response were likely twofold. “Why would he think that would be a successful wooing strategy?” And, “Could he be that stupid to send this picture electronically where it could be traced?” Apparently, he failed to understand these points and he finds himself in jail.

Well, that is enough political entertainment news for now. Like the Trump accusations, this Moore thing is not funny, as this alleged pedophile could still win if too many Alabaman Republicans don’t remember where they put their conscience. My strong advice is to think of this issue as a parent or, in the case of the inane defenses I have heard from some men, as a father.

For those who say these women are being politically motivated, Moore told these teenage girls he was the DA and no one would believe them. They have come forward as this man is interviewing to become one of the 100 most important leaders in our country and they feel emboldened by the women accusing Harvey Weinstein. I believe them as their stories are quite detailed and painful.

 

 

Prayers are not enough

There is an old joke where a man prays and prays for God to let him win the lottery. After years of praying, he asked God why have you forsaken me and deny me winning the lottery? The clouds parted and God said “It would help if you bought a ticket.”

After yet another gun tragedy, many have offered prayers in public places for the victims and their families, even in the halls of Congress. Being a religious man, I am all for praying, but after so many gun tragedies, it is time we “bought that lottery ticket” and take legislative action. The status quo is not working and legislators are simply not doing their job.

I have written variations of this several times and will have to write it again in the future as our Congressional representatives are too concerned with upsetting the NRA than trying to solve an obvious problem. For example, we have 300 million guns, one for each person in the US, and have over 30,000 gun deaths per year. Japan has an average of one gun per 100 people and had 27 gun deaths for the whole country last year. And, that increased from 8 the year before.

Yes, gun deaths are a mental health issue. They are also a lack of civil discourse issue, they are a drug crime issue, they are a violent entertainment issue, but make no mistake they are an access to gun issue. This is especially true for guns that can kill far too many at one time. But, mass shootings are only part of the problem – the bigger problems happen every day, suicides and homicides. 2/3 of our gun deaths are suicides.

There are measures that can be taken that will help if done holistically. We could begin with by unwinding the horrible legislation that Congress passed and Trump signed that allows 75,000 Social Security mentally health disabled people to be left on the OK to buy a gun list. We could also stop attacking the ACA and its Medicaid expansion which provide mental health benefits. These two practices fly directly in the face of calling gun deaths a mental health issue,

We could follow the lead of states with tighter gun laws and lower gun death rates and start conducting background checks on all purchases and have more elongated waiting periods. We could require gun safety training that must be renewed. We could encode all bullets to help with crime solving and finger print control weapons to prevent child deaths.

And, I am firm believer that no citizen should have fully automatic weapons or even semi-automatic weapons. These weapons have no place in a non-military person’s hands.

King Solomon encourages us to use our brains in Proverbs. Why would God give us this wonderful creation between our ears, if He did not expect us to use it? I have spoken before that people pray for miracles, but isn’t our brain a wonderful miracle that can help solve problems? We are the solution to the problem.

We must act. Our legislators must act. If they do not, we need to share our concerns and share them again. It is obvious doing nothing is not working.

We measure environmental impact on adults, not kids

I have written several times about Sandra Steingraber. Who is she, you may ask? She is a biologist, ecologist, author and environmental advocate. Steingraber has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament and US Congress on the impact of chemicals on our environment and people.

Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor which led her to her passionate advocacy. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer, meaning it is almost always caused by environmental toxins. Her home was in proximity to several chemical plants. In addition, her siblings and nearby cousins also had various cancers, including bladder cancer. A key factoid is she was adopted, so her cancer was not genetic and it came from exposure.

Steingraber has strongly advocated for kids on environmental issues. Her first two books called “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” using her son’s name, focus on these issues. A huge takeaway from her books and advocacy is we tend to measure the impact of environmental toxins on a fifty year old man, not children.

Why is this statement important? Kids are still developing their brains, so they are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Their lungs take time to fully develop as well. Plus, children are smaller in weight, closer to the ground, breathe more through their mouths and put their hands in their mouths with much greater frequency. If they touch something, it winds up in their mouth (remember the pretreated lumber playgrounds? – arsenic was used in the pretreatment).

Steingraber and other scientists’ analyses reveal toxins from chemical plants can damage us from air particulates as much as from seepage into the water. She notes these toxins settle on playgrounds, fields and trees, but then become airborne when the wind blows again. So, kids will often get exposed from what they touch or breathe in from what they scuff up from the ground.

I have seen her speak and have read both of these books. Her message resonates with parents. With the assault on environmental regulations by the current White House, her message is needed even more. Plus, she has another huge caution for all of us. As the climate warms, the impact of these chemicals will only get worse. She likens the earth to a crock pot that is warming these chemicals.

I encourage you to read her books. Her message is pertinent, loud and clear. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, but especially from the playgrounds. We owe it to our children.

Try building your cars in the US – what a great idea

During his visit to Japan, the US President came upon a sudden revelation. He said “Try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over.” What a great idea! The nice part is Japan automakers are already building cars in Tennessee (Nissan), Ohio (Honda) and Kentucky (Toyota). Last time I checked, those three states are part of the US.

What sometimes gets lost in his bluster, demonization and excessive tweeting is a man who is not steeped in history, geography or current events. Nor, as folks who work with him have said, does he shows much interest in learning or doing homework to make himself more aware. So, we must live with John Belushi’s less-studious character in the movie “Animal House,” when he spoke of the “Germans bombing Pearl Harbor,” as our President.

How should Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe react to such an uninformed statement by our President? I wonder if he looked at an adviser and nonverbally conveyed “really?” Does the US President know BMWs are made in South Carolina, Volkswagens are made in Tennessee and Mercedes and Hyundais are made in Alabama, e.g.?

When we talk about global trade and jobs, we cannot overlook what these foreign companies and many others are doing here. They are employing American workers. The focus tends to look only at jobs lost and not jobs gained by global trade. That inappropriately simplifies the issue and leads to wrong conclusions.

Global trade increases the economic pie, especially when the global needs are nurtured. That is a key premise of the Nash Equilibrium which won a Nobel Prize for its creator John Nash. Yes, we need to be mindful of jobs lost and provide restorative action. This could range from retraining to recruiting new businesses or looking for trade-offs. The same strategy holds true with the more significant culprit in job loss, technology advances.

Initially, I thought the now President was over-simplifying things to sell his messiah-like message. Only I can solve your problems, believe me, he has said in numbers of ways. As award winning author Thomas Friedman said about the President, “He has no second paragraph.” The sad truth is the President has no second paragraph because he may not know what comes next.

A President does not need to know everything – that person cannot possibly fulfill that mission. But, we must have one that knows more things than this one does and who does not lie or bluff when he does not. And, if does not know, he need not be afraid of learning.

Increasing the Debt is Malfeasance

If I may be permitted to be crass, let me offer a quote from an unknown source, “any dumb ass can get elected saying they will reduce taxes.” I will let you be the judge at how successful this campaign approach is.

In the United States, we have about $20.5 trillion in debt, which is roughly $63,000 per person and $170,000 per taxpayer. With an annual budget of about $4 trillion, we had a deficit in our most recent fiscal year ending September 30, of roughly $650 billion. The deficit is predicted to only go up, if we do nothing which will in turn increase the debt by an estimated $10 trillion.

With the President’s encouragement, Congress has proposed doing something. But, it is in the wrong direction. The Republican majority has passed a budget that will allow for net tax reductions in the Tax Bill being considered that will increase the debt by an additional $1.5 trillion over the next ten years.

Again, that is on top of an estimated $10 trillion increase. By my math, that puts us at $32 trillion of debt in ten years. There is no other way to say this. This is malfeasance. It certainly is not good stewardship.

The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee completed their findings and recommendations in the fall of 2010. That earnest and diligent effort recommended $2 worth of expense cuts for every $1 of tax increases. We simply cannot cut our way out of the problem. But, this well done report was shelved.

I have heard several members of Congress over the years tout a balanced budget, but that is not enough. We actually need more revenue than expenses. That must include tax increases along with spending cuts. It is that simple. We cannot make the math work otherwise.

If we continue to hide from this problem, like climate change, it will become a major obstacle. We must act now and we certainly do not need to cut taxes and revenue. People will not like this answer, but someone needs to shoot straight with our citizens. We all need to pitch in before it is too late and we leave ourselves, kids and grandkids a mountain of debt.

There are several groups that have been raising this alarm for some time now. “Fix the Debt” and “The Concord Coalition” are just two. Please check them out and let your Congress representative and senators know this is too important a problem to make worse. If they say the taxes will pay for themselves, tell them it does not work that way and they should know that. Let’s fix the debt, not make it worse.