If you need to wear a mask have you given up the high road?

For the all of the flak that Vice President Joe Biden takes for sometimes saying the wrong thing, he oftentimes can say the painfully obvious truth. On his visit last week to the Ukraine, Biden admonished Vladimir Putin and Russia by saying “stop supporting people who wear masks.” This applies far beyond the boundaries of Ukraine. As I was watching the training footage of Al Qaeda the other day, almost every person was wearing a mask. I fully realize it is a head covering pulled down over the face, but the key goal is anonymity.

Sitting in my comfortable seat in a country where it is OK for me to register my dissent, it is very hard for me to place myself in this situation. It is easy for me to send emails and vocalize my concerns to elected officials or as a shareholder to a CEO, which I often do. For those that live in a corrupt and/ or fascist country, anonymity in showing your dissent may be vital to keep yourself and your family alive or out of harms way. This caveat cannot be emphasized enough, as in countries like these, dissent is not tolerated. But, when dissent begins to harm people who simply get in the way, I find that troubling and I find that there can be an element of cowardice behind the mask. It is one thing to protest. It is another to kill innocent people.

Call me crazy, but at my age, I would observe that if you need to hide your identity behind a mask, then you are likely up to no good. Or, to put it another way, you may have given up the high road on how you have chosen to disagree with something. When I see people covering their faces, unless it is for religious reasons, to protect the sun and wind from the face or because the regime is so corrupt, it usually registers that the person is doing something they would be less inclined to do if someone saw their face. This issue becomes cloudy when you have a government that will harm protestors or their families.

I have been taught that the worse a person’s argument, the louder they yell or more they name call. If someone is using labels to define an action they do not like, that means their argument is poor. It usually means they are identifying someone else as the reason for your anguish and asking you to hate them. In my country, we have politicians and religious leaders call things Nazism or Apartheid when they want to demonize something. Even Putin knows America’s weakness, so he also is calling American’s actions as Nazism in Ukraine, when in fact, his troops are acting as instigators across the border in masks and unmarked uniforms. To me, the name calling is a way to mask intent or real discussion of the issues because your points are poor.

With Islamic extremist groups, Americans are infidels. That is a convenient label which is often used to paint America as an enemy. America is far from perfect and our leaders disappoint, but infidels? Give me a break. There is a former Islamic extremist in Great Britain whose new mission is to reach as many young Muslims as possible and say don’t let the extremists blame others for your shortcomings. He is telling these people that extremists are using their religion to divide people, hold people down (especially women), hold back freer flowing economies and not allow people to live a safer, secure life and raise their families worshipping their religion in peace. These are the kind of people who fear Malala Yousafzai and her power when she becomes educated. She is the kind of person who can shame people into acting against these extremists.

We have a worldwide poverty problem. We have a worldwide human rights problem directed at women. We have a worldwide corruption problem where people in power take and take and don’t help those in need. My blogging friend George Dowdell (www.georgedowdell.org) notes until we address this corruption problem, the have-nots will always have an uphill battle. Let’s begin with rebelling against extremists. We can start with those wearing masks. If you are using the mask to promote violence and hate, then your message is one we don’t need. If you have a grievance, come out in the open. If you are wearing a mask, you have given up the high road.

 

A Tale of Two VPs

With the recent flurry of activity to reconsider George W. Bush’s presidency with the opening of his library, I felt I would save comment for a future time. Yet, it got me thinking about contrasting the last two Vice Presidents – Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. My main reason in so doing is the stark contrast in style and performance. You see, for all the crap Joe Biden takes from the press waiting to pounce on his misspeaks, I think he has done a highly commendable job as Vice President. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for his predecessor, Dick Cheney. The more I learn about Mr. Cheney, the more Machiavellian he becomes. In fact, the highlighted word is the one word I would use to describe him when pressed.

When Bush was first elected, I was content knowing the Vice President had been around the block and had served as George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense. His candidacy was recommended by Paul O’Neill, the CEO of Alcoa, who was Bush the father’s first choice as Defense secretary. I mention that as it is important later on. But, when I read more on Cheney, the initial comfort I felt was misplaced. His knowing his way around the block meant he knew how to exploit things to his advantage. For example, being the former CEO of one of the largest fracking companies in the world, he did two major things that will make your stomach turn.

First, he sold off the mineral rights and afforded gas lease rights to various national park lands and other public resources to fracking developers. They were given permission to frack on public property and made a huge amount of money. Unfortunately, since fracking is not as safe as portrayed, the various animal and human populations close by have been suffering. But, that was only step one. Second, he had inserted a very brief provision into the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include a provision in the Act that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the frackers under the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. And, fracking companies did not need to disclose the chemicals they added to the fracking water to make it easier to frack as they reduced friction, killed algae, broke down minerals and depositsIf fracking is so safe, why would you need to add this paragraph?

He did many other things, but let me highlight two. First, Paul O’Neill, the guy who turned around Alcoa and recommended Cheney to Bush the father, became the Secretary of Treasury to Bush the son. Yet, O’Neill felt the Bush tax cuts were not the right path forward for our country and was vociferous about his concerns. Rather than listen to someone with a very good track record, Cheney fired him at the behest of Bush. By the way, O’Neill was right – we did not need those tax cuts and we are paying for them still today. None other than Warren Buffett agreed with O’Neill at the time.

Second, Cheney helped build the Weapons of Mass Destruction argument to go into Iraq. Between him, Karl Rove (another Machiavellian person) and Scooter Libby (who went to jail for giving up a CIA operative to the press – see Valerie Plame), they painted a picture that we Americans, the United Nations and Congress bought hook, line and sinker. The trouble is when you send Americans to die, you better be damn certain this is the right course. As an aside, take your time President Obama on Syria before you sentence young men and women to die like Bush and Cheney did in Iraq.

On the flip side, Biden has been a very positive ambassador for Obama given his role before on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has been able to extend the reach of the Secretary of State and our relations around the globe have improved, so says a Pew Survey before and after Obama took office. On the domestic front, Biden has been a means to reach out to Congress on behalf of the President. The President has been given a huge stiff arm by Congress and he has not been as forceful as needed. But, he has asked Biden to play huge roles in brokering a deal to avoid the first fiscal cliff disaster of 21 months ago and chairing discussions to introduce better gun control legislation among other things.

Biden also played a huge role in moving forward the debate on same-sex marriage. By answering direct questions in an interview about a year ago, he staked a position that the White House came out and supported. He let the cat out of the bag early, but it was the right call and actually helped the President and country by pushing this issue forward. This was more vintage Biden, yet this is one issue where America is and was ahead of the politicians.

The final point I will make is Biden is a people’s Vice President. He is very approachable when he goes out to meet folks and they gravitate to him. His personal loss and his struggles to overcome resonate with people. Cheney is not comfortable in that role and so he chooses not to practice it. The contrast reminds of the difference between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict. Francis sees the major issue of the day as global poverty. He is truly a man of the people. Benedict is more cerebral and less approachable. The same could be said for Cheney.

It is not just me that feels this way. It is GOP folks as well. Why have Bush and Cheney not but included in the last two presidential races from an advocacy or supportive role? The party knows they did not do a good job (note the library cannot change that George), so they distanced themselves. Bush was not physically invited to either of the last two GOP conventions and he only spoke by video as a sitting President in 2008. That may have been the biggest insult – the GOP did not want the sitting President to attend. The press will say that both skipped the events, but this is the biggest event your party does. Why would you not want to have your last president to attend, especially while he is still in office?

Getting back to Biden, he deserves an “atta boy Joe” from all of us. He is far from perfect, but he has served the country well. If Hillary Clinton elects not to run, Biden may be the next Democratic presidential candidate. I would expect she will, but Joe would deserve the shot, if she did not. Unfortunately, Cheney would not be included on anyone’s short list after his stint as VP. He did some good things while in the White House, but for the most part he will be remembered for the above issues.