More candid observations

In keeping with the theme of my previous post, the following are some diplomatic candid observations:

– Help me understand why the people in the White House seem surprised that North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear weapons? I applaud their and the the South Korean’s effort and energy, but we seemed to be a little naive that Kim would cave.

– Saying something under oath in front of a judge who will sentence you carries a lot more gravitas than tweeting or saying something to a favorable interviewer. Under oath, Michael Cohen said he committed illicit acts at the direction of the candidate. I realize Cohen is not a Boy Scout, but his words under oath should carry some weight.

– A man of character died Saturday on what would have been my parents’ 67th anniversary. Senator John McCain was an imperfect man with whom I did not always agree, but he was very honorable public servant. Character and honor are two words that are not top of mind when I look to define a certain man in a US leadership position. I think it speaks volumes that McCain asked such a man to be excluded from attendance at his funeral.

– It is nigh impossible to stop bigoted thoughts or the teaching of children about bigotry. But, we must shine spotlights on behaviors that strip away at other people’s rights or promote one group’s rights over that of another. We must share our disagreement with hate speech. The easiest thing to do is vote with your feet and avoid people and places that enable bigoted thoughts. Confrontation is difficult, but listening, questioning and commenting can be done civilly with some. Or, it can take the form of openly applauding the efforts and successes of people who seem to be targeted with hate speech more than others.

– Finally, one’s reputation is the dearest thing we own. Rob Roy said your honor is a gift you give to yourself. This is why it is puzzling so many Republican legislators are spending their dear reputation supporting a man who daily brings dishonor to the Presidency and would throw them under the bus if needed. Please note my intentional avoidance of the use of “leader” in my descriptions.

We Americans and others around the world are craving an honorable leader. And, as said in the movie “The American President,” being President is entirely about character.

From whose perspective?

A mentor of mine had a very common question he would ask of colleagues. A colleague (including this one) would be recounting that a client meeting went well. The mentor would simply ask “From whose perspective?”

Let this question sink in. I mention it today as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met the past few days with his North Korean counterparts. At the same time he was recounting how much progress was made, the North Koreans were sharing their view. What we saw as progress, they referred to it as the US’ one sided “gangster-like” demands.

Further, there is footage of the North Korean officials asking Pompeo if he slept well on the second day of meetings. After he said he did, they said you should not have after the previous day’s meeting results. This statement is pretty telling that perspectives vary.

I am all for dialogue between countries that have issues. That is far better than the alternative. The Presidents of the US and South Korea deserve credit for rhe discussions with Kim Jong Un. But, it has been clear from the get go, the expectation levels are vastly different. Also, the preparation levels were and are very different. The North Koreans have studied this issue far more than the US leader’s team. For example, the key question we failed to understand is “why would North Korea cede a nuclear arsenal that they built to get people to respect and fear them?”

Perspective matters. This same mentor advised to “put yourself on the other side of the table.” In other words, do your best to understand what the other side wants and would accept. It applies to more than these discussions.

A lesson that continues to evade someone

A certain man in a global leadership position continues to avoid learning an important lesson. Not only does it hurt his efforts, but it is harmful to this country’s relationships around the globe and within its leadership ranks. The lesson is his failure to vet decisions and communications of such with key people before a broader announcement.

Yesterday, this man decided to walk away from a summit with North Korea without giving advance notice to a key ally in South Korea. As a result, the US relationship with South Korea is strained. Now, he may be whipsawing them again as he has done all week saying the summit may still be on.

But, this is not the first time he has done this. After pleas from our European allies, he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal.  The echoes of that change continue to strain relationships with our allies to the point an EU leader said “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”

His first major change was so horribly vetted and communicated, it was pulled after two days. He failed to discuss with Congressional leaders in his own party that he was instituting a travel ban. He also failed to gain input and buy-in from affected agencies who had to implement the change. It was as he likes to say a “disaster,” but this one was on his shoulders. Soldiers often refer to poor decisions like this with a word beginning with “cluster.”

But, there are many more examples. What may turn out to be his Waterloo is he fired James Comey without telling him. Comey found out from a TV news report. Further, he failed to give advance warning to his communication team, leaving them to make plans in the White House bushes while the reporters waited. That may be the best metaphor for his Presidency.

Yet, for a man who used to have a faux-reality show where he fired people, he has a hard time doing this face to face. He fired Rex Tillerson without telling him. He had Andrew McCabe fired as he cleaned out his desk to retire, an especially vindictive move. Not telling people they are fired beforehand is extremely poor management. And, for someone who likes to talk tough, it reveals those words are part of a false bravado.

His followers like to say what a great businessman he is, but while he is accused of being a great merchandiser, he is rarely accused of being a good manager. Managing a multi-organization business or government is complicated. It requires diligence, input, time, communication, planning and a dose of compassion. For someone who makes decisions on the fly and bullies people, he is at odds with the tools for successful implementations or relationships.

But, as the man once said. “I, alone, can solve this.” With all due respect, no you cannot, but you sure can screw it up.

The week that was

Looking back at the week ending April 27, 2018, a few things jump out at me as examples of larger problems.

The US Congress heard a speech from a President that spoke of staying the course on America’s global role in security, free trade and environmental issues. He also warned of the unhealthy focus on narrow nationalism and promoted the ideals of the American experiment. Unfortunately, the speech was given by Emmanuel Macron of France and not the US President.

Yet, the US President did make news when he nominated another poorly vetted candidate this time for the VA director role. He was already a curious choice, but he and the White House were obviously not prepared for the discovery of potential peccadillos in his past. This is a recurring problem for the White House where too many candidates withdraw, should not have been nominated or are approved with some later being fired or resigning as past or new problems surface. It should be noted there are too many articles and biographies that do not define “due diligence” as a strength of the President.

Between two tragedies in Canada and the US, it shows that terrorism need not be imported. Four people died at a Waffle House in the Nashville area, while  ten people died on the streets of Toronto. The larger problem that is revealed time and again, it is very difficult to stop a motivated lone assailant. The only thing that has a chance is an invested community who cares about what happens there. Neither of these people were from an actively tracked hate group, which number over a thousand. Nor were they part of an extreme religious terror group.

On Thursday, a boyhood and even adult idol of mine, Bill Cosby, was found guilty of three counts of sexual impropriety. While the trial involved only one of his victims, the number totals over 60. This is very sad  that someone so present in the public eye for fifty years could harm so many people.

Finally, an unconfirmed report out of China notes that one reason North Korea may be eager to give up nuclear testing is they blew up their testing site. The report said an underground blast may have punctured a hole in a mountain and released some radioactive material. From what others have noted is Kim Jong Un likely does not want to give up the nuclear weapons they created and their conventional forces could do great damage by themselves to South Korea. But, this unconfirmed report is interesting nonetheless and offers a potential explanation for a willingness to talk. Setting this aside, Kim Jong Un wins by getting on the world stage in a meeting room. Yet, talking is far better than the alternatives for keeping a lid on things.

Many other interesting things have happened. Our friend Jill has an excellent summary on Ben Carson’s housing plan which will triple the rents for people in need. Maybe he should have remained a surgeon where he could help people.

That’s all folks. Have a great weekend.

 

More Friday Freakiness

Most bloggers recognize these compilations of thoughts for what they are – not enough subject for a post, but something to touch on. In this spirit, a few thoughts for the week.

I want to commend the White House for having a briefing for all 100 Senators over the troubling issue of North Korea. This is a sobering topic and it deserves sober review. I would encourage more of the same on topics of national security.

With that said, I am hopeful that cooler and more knowledgeable heads will be advising the President and he will heed their advice. We do not need the President doing what he is prone to do which is running off at the mouth and letting his ego make decisions.

One of several examples of this is the White House staff being careful not to endorse the recent Turkey election results which gave more power to President Erdogan. The election results have been called into question and are being reviewed by a third party, who Erdogan is making fun of. Of course, our President did not get the memo and fired off congratulations to Erdogan for gaining even more power.

The devil is in the details, but the President has outlined his Tax Reform plan. Several things need to be highlighted therein, especially after hearing Mnuchin and Mulvaney talk about it. Several nonpartisan tax measurement groups have noted the tax cuts will raise the debt from $2 to $6 trillion over the next ten years, a 10% to 30% increase. The M boys – Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Budget Director Mulvaney – have said the common refrain that the “tax cuts will pay for themselves through growth.” While tax cuts have some economic effect, the data from these nonpartisan tax measurement groups said they have historically fallen well short of paying for themselves.

Then, we must look at who benefits. While everyone seems to benefit, the folks who make the most benefit the most. In addition to the individual tax rate cut proposed, the estate tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax rate are eliminated, both which help the wealthy. Adding to this the reduction in corporate tax rate, which has a few interesting twists, plus repealing the ACA additional tax on higher paid people, the folks who “have” will have more which will increase the income disparity.

On top of this, Mnuchin said the President has no intention of releasing his tax returns. Mulvaney said people do not care. So, I guess the more than 2/3 of Americans who said they want to see the tax returns do not matter. For those keeping score, this becomes an official broken campaign promise and to me is firm indication our President has something to hide.

I wish I could talk about other things, but this man dominates the news which is the way he wants it.

Yet another set of mid-week musings

A week has passed since my last potpourri of musings. I don’t know about you, but I feel the world is a much less safer place since our President was inaugurated.

While I don’t feel the bombing of the Syrian airstrip was a bad move, I do feel it might have been in haste and comes on the heels of a variable strategy towards Syria and Bashar al-Assad. Without clear strategy and with the wheel in the hands of a loose cannon, I worry about next steps.

Then there is the petulant boy in a man’s body who is leading North Korea. His ego and penchant toward chaos rival our own leader. I just hope our cooler headed generals play a more active role, since they each have a keener sense of history and diplomacy, much moreso than our President or his Press Secretary.

With the world a tempestuous place, we should not have to worry about the verbal fumbles of the White House Press Agent. Trump is bad enough, but Sean Spicer cannot get out of his own way, which is not a good quality for a PR person. He is apologizing profusely for saying Hitler did not resort to chemical gassing like al-Assad does. This was more than a mild offense to those who died during the Holocaust.

While I have not checked, there must be oddsmakers taking bets on the next Trump advisor to fall. Will it be the aforementioned Mr. Spicer or will it be Steve Bannon? As an attorney who worked for Trump liked to say, if you are on his good side, you won’t be there for long. It is possible both may not see the summer in the White House.

I could ramble on, but let’s leave it at these few musings for today.