Inspector Generals and Auditors

What do Enron, Healthsouth, Adelphia and Tyco have in common? All were found guilty of fraudulent activities. And, each were misled by CEOs and even CFOs. The names Kenneth Lay and Richard Skilling of Enron (accounting and tax fraud), Richard Scrushy of HealthSouth (accounting fraud), John and Tim Rigas of Adelphia (fraud, corruption and theft) and Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Switz of Tyco (massive theft) will not be remembered in a good light. The Enron scandal even brought down one of the largest accounting firms, Arthur Andersen.

Because of their activities, the SEC passed a rule stating that the Board of Directors’ Audit Committee must be given greater authority and independence. In short, the Audit Committee must be independent of the Executive Committee and cannot include the President or Treasurer. It also must:

– Not include anyone employed by the organization or the audit firm
– Have at least one “ financial expert ” who is familiar with the audit process
– Avoid conflicts of interest.

In the federal government, the Inspector General’s office imbedded in each of the departments of the Executive branch serves like an auditor. The equivalent Board oversight is the Congress of the United States, not the president. It is a very important role that keeps America running like a democracy and not an autocracy. When this oversight is compromised, America’s democracy is diminished.

I raise this now as the president of the United States seems to be at war with the Inspector Generals in the Executive branch. Friday night, the president sent a letter that he was firing Michael Atkinson who did his job and reported to Congress the veracity of a whistleblower complaint. To Atkinson’s credit, he publicly defended his role and encouraged whistleblowers to still come forward.

This week, the Glenn Fine, the appointed IG overseeing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus fund, was removed and will be replaced by a Trump appointee. Fine was well regarded in this role coming out of the Department of Defense. Something seems fishy here.

If that were not enough, the president was critical of a US Department of Health and Human Services IG report led by Christi Grimm. The report was critical of the hospital preparedness for the coronavirus, which is not a surprise, since hospitals and governors are begging for help.

What does all of this mean? Why is the president at war with the Inspector General’s office? Is he hiding something? Are they saying things that run counter to his own storytelling which is well-known to be less than truthful? If this were a publicly traded company, these actions would raise a red flag with the Audit Committee. They should do the same with Congressional oversight.

In short, the US is not a kingdom. It is not an autocracy. The president has never reported to anyone before his swearing in, except for his father. He is highly accustomed to not being questioned. In fact, he does not like being questioned, which is apparent on a daily basis. Yet, he must answer to Congress. I urge Congress to do their job. They must represent Americans, not a political party.

A fool’s errand

The president of the United States said yesterday that reporters are trying to get the coronavirus so that they can infect him. In a long list of bizarre, blatant and mere exaggerated lies, this comment may be his most idiotic. Mind you, there is a lot of competition for the prize as most idiotic. But, to think someone would endanger themselves and their family to get the president sick is just beyond reason.

The fact the president is untruthful is not news. Even Tucker Carlson admitted to such on his Fox News program last fall. Why that is not more of a problem to Carlson is beyond me? Lately, I have been using the following phrase to define how we should react to the president’s persistent untruthfulness. “Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand.”

When Trump supporters tell me I just don’t like the president, the truthful response is I do not like that I cannot trust the president of the United States. But, I am not alone. In a poll of Europeans several weeks ago, 64% said they do not trust the president of the United States. Even more alarming is they trust Vladimir Putin and Xi Jingpeng more.

The president should not lie in everyday matters. Senator Bernie Sanders rightfully calls him a “pathological liar.” Trump’s former National Economic Advisor Gary Cohn called him a “prodigious liar.” John Dowd, an attorney working on the Mueller investigation on behalf of Trump called him a “f**king liar.” And, the list goes on, but I often use Thomas Wells, an attorney for Trump, who wrote in 2016, “Donald Trump lies everyday, even about things of no consequence.” The only thing Wells got wrong is the frequency is higher. He lies several times a day.

Yet, in times of crisis, we must look to the president for telling us what is going on. But, we cannot with this person. He protects his image or the perception over the truth. He simply cannot be accountable or own the truth. He said earlier this week it is the media that is causing the stock market to fall. Per the president, it has nothing to do with the coronavirus unpreparedness and impact it is having on people doing things. And, it has nothing to with Saudi Arabia and Russia causing an oil glut or the general softening of the growth in the global economy.

As I have said to others, I no longer watch the president as it is unsettling to count the lies in real time. I prefer to read them and judge for myself. I start from the bottom not believing a word he says or tweets. Then, I go from there. To me, it is sad to feel that way about the president. Other presidents have lied, but not with the frequency and volume that the incumbent does.

-George W. Bush told us there were weapons of mass destruction as reason for invading Iraq. That was a lie.
-Bill Clinton said he did not have sexual relations with that woman. That was a lie.
-Barack Obama said if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. That was a lie.
-Ronald Reagan told us he did not sell arms to Iran to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. That was a lie.
-George HW Bush said read my lips, no new taxes. That turned out to be a lie.
-Richard Nixon said I am not a crook. That was a lie.

Yet, while I can likely note a few others by the above, I can easily name a half dozen lies the incumbent has said in about five minutes. Given more time, I can think of a few dozen. Googling would list a host more.

So, to the Trump fan who said he is just rough around the edges, or to the one in the commercial who said you can trust Donald Trump, please note the following. Trump is more than rough around the edges. And, the US is less trustworthy because our president cannot be trusted. So, my strong advice to people is “taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand.”

Wednesday wanderings the first week of March

Well, March Madness will be thrust upon Americans later this month, so everyone get ready for the various brackets for the NCAA basketball tourney. Madness may be the operative term for the world these days, but please note things are usually not as bad as reported, as good news is vastly underreported and does not have as high a bounce as a negative news.

Here are few thoughts as a wander this Wednesday.

The Coronavirus will be more prevalent than first thought, but it seems not as deadly as other viruses. Still, those who are not in good physical shape with breathing issues, circulation issues, obesity issues, etc. should be prepared to more abruptly deal with symptoms. Sadly, since the US president has made this a personal political issue, listening to politicians talk, whose first mission is to protect the Trump brand, is not reassuring. I want to hear from experts.

Many financial people have forewarned that using stimulus tools to prop up an economy and stock market when it is going pretty well is not the best time to deploy them. When they are used now, what will you use later? The economy is still doing pretty good, but has been softening for more than a year. And, the stock market has been in need of a downward adjustment for some time. But, the president views the stock market as a key barometer, so he takes it personally when it falls, even though, he has little ability to control it long term. Yesterday, the market did not react very well to the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates 50 basis points (1/2 %). To me, it was seen as a panicky move, but smarter people than me will have to judge this (note, the market got a bump today in reaction to Biden’s success in the primaries).

While I like Bernie and will vote for him if he is the nominee, America breathed a sigh of relief yesterday with former VP Joe Biden’s rebound performance. As an independent and former Republican and Democrat, I am fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I very much believe in helping people with opportunities and to climb a ladder when disenfranchised. But, we need to pay for things. Right now, we have $23 trillion in debt and it is projected to increase to over $35 trillion by the end of the decade. We must deal with this obstacle, while we do other things – pay for infrastructure improvements, shore up the ACA, Social Security, etc. With this in mind, while both are good people, Biden will be better positioned to bring folks together to do that – Democrats, independents and even some Republicans.

If Bernie wins the nomination, I hope he pulls in a more moderate Democrat as his VP candidate. If Joe wins, it would be great if he tapped someone a little more progressive than he is. One of the dilemmas is the Democrats need to think about the future, as neither person is a spring chicken. I like listening to folks like Pete Buttitieg, Andrew Yang, etc. as they have a well-considered ideas, even if you don’t agree with every thing they say.

Whatever happens, Democrats need to vote for their candidate as four more years of the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including the corrupt Richard Nixon, will not be good for America. I have said and written this to Senators and my Congressman, but regardless of party, we cannot have a president who acts the way this incumbent does. He is a national security risk and quite simply, America is no longer trusted as before, because the president is not trustworthy. Plus, we cannot lose sight of more aggressively addressing climate change and environmental degradation that have been made worse and would deteriorate more on his continued watch.

A few more hoaxes

Recently, I wrote about “If everything is a hoax, what is real?” Yet, the person who claims everything critical against him is a hoax, is one of the biggest purveyors of hoaxes and fake news. Here are a couple of things to think about, both old and new:

– Trump says he started with a $1 million loan from his father. The real story is his father transferred over $400 million to his son before he died through a variety of means to escape estate taxes.

– Trump started his political persona on Fox by perpetuating a later refuted conspiracy that President Obama was not born in the US. After finally fessing up, he did what he often does and blamed Hillary Clinton.

– Trump said the India prime minister asked him to broker a peace deal between India and Pakistan over the territory of Kashmir announced while the Pakistan prime minister was visiting. Within the hour, the India prime minister said no such request was made. The White House was eerily silent after this unforced error.

– Trump has repeatedly said the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt, yet over 30 people were indicted and some have gone to jail. The report also did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, noted several places where the president lied and revealed an overall sloppy and inviting relationship with Russia. I have said the Russians did not need to collude, as the Trump campaign was easy pickings for use. With that said, the report noted if they dug deeper, they may have found more as files had been erased.

– Trump continues to say he did nothing wrong with the Ukraine, but the evidence is to the contrary. But, one key question to ask is if the call with the Ukraine president was “so perfect,” why did White House staff try to bury it?

There are so many more examples we could note, but that will get the conversation started. As an independent voter who has been a member of both parties, it matters not what party is in the White House – this behavior is not right and it certainly is not presidential.

PS – Interesting to note the Republican governor of Vermont has endorsed Republican presidential candidate Bill Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. This is no hoax or fake news. Now, why would he do that?

If everything is a hoax, what is real?

We learned from the president of the United States, the coronavirus is a hoax designed by Democrats and the media to make him look bad. The president needs no assistance in looking bad. The family members who lost a loved one can breath more easily. And, the huge decline in the markets is not happening.

Of course, per the president, the Russian thing is a hoax designed to make him look bad. Good, so we need not worry that they did it and are doing it again per our national intelligence agencies.

Of course, if that was a hoax, then the Mueller investigation is a hoax or witchhunt. The fact that people have gone to jail and were indicted is irrelevant. The fact the Mueller report did not exonerate Trump of obstruction and said he was less than truthful is beside the point.

Plus, the impeachment thing was a hoax. It was another witchhunt per the president. So, I guess we should ignore those credible witnesses who testified at great risk and under oath, as well as the fact he was impeached in the house.

While we are at it, Michael Cohen’s words under oath where he said “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con artist and he is a cheat,” were never spoken. It must have been a hoax thing.

So, if every thing is s hoax, what is real? It must be a hoax that Donald Trump is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including the crooked Richard Nixon. It must also be a hoax that Republican leaders would rather damage our democracy than question the abuse of power in the White House.

Let me leave Republican sycophants a piece of advice. Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand. And, that is no hoax.

“Truth is not the goal”

After media pressure, Facebook closed down a fake news site in North Carolina. As reported in The Charlotte Observer in an article called “Facebook takes down NC Facebook page with fake news” by Zachary Eanes, after a few months of publishing fake news and garnering 50,000 followers, the site was closed. A person contacted by the reporter said the following in response:

“‘Truth is not the goal’ behind the stories shared. ‘Getting Trump reelected is the ultimate goal.'”

That line is worth rereading. In essence, the truth does not matter. I have been echoing the premise the Republican party can no longer claim to be the “law and order” party as too many of its leaders have aided and abetted the corrupt and deceitful actions of the president. And, it can no longer claim to be a party of truth, the decline in truthfulness having started long ago, but made worse by the deceitful actions and words of the president.

It should be noted the site included a number of articles pushed by Russian disinformation sources. This is on top of a radio station in Iowa, which appears legitimate, but is using the Russian sputnik radio feeds for sources of disinformation. There is a reason Trump and Russia want you to believe Ukraine did all the election meddling. Trump wants Russia’s help again.

Let me be brutally frank. The biggest purveyor of fake news is the guy who says those words the most. His name is Donald Trump. Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand.

A few thoughts on a rainy Tuesday

It seems like we cannot escape the rain, but at least it is better than ice and snow. Take care and drive safely. Here are a couple of thoughts on this rainy Tuesday.

In the first Harry Potter movie, one of Potter’s dorm mates won his group extra points by standing up to his friends when they were about to do something wrong. The headmaster noted standing up to one’s friends shows more courage than standing up to one’s enemies. Senator Mitt Romney should be awarded more points for his political courage for standing alone as he spoke truth to power. Like Romney, the public servants who testified under oath and at great risk showed courage when they knew they would be punished by “he who should not be named.”

There is an old saying “one should never argue with a street preacher.” Why? If someone is going to stand on a corner and yell for several hours, they may be a tad zealous. Online or on social media, it is hard to identify the street preachers (a metaphor for zealous people). Their views are given too much weight, especially when they are elected officials. Unfortunately, with gerrymandering and tribal politics, some authors of ludicrous statements are better left ignored. When an official advocates killing people for their beliefs, that is not only asinine, it is hate speech. I wish the press would ignore much of the BS spewed by the US president, yet they feel obligated to report it.

Since my computer seems to be hiccupping this morning, let me leave you with those two thoughts. Have a great day.