May I ask why?

On the final day of May, it seemed like a good time to ask some why questions. In no particular order:

May I ask why US leaders believe North Korea would give up all of their nuclear weapons after taking so much time, effort and money to build them? I am happy dialogue is occurring, but we need to manage our expectations.

May I ask why people would trust leaders who make sure their most viable opponents are not permitted to run against them? Call me crazy, but this is prima facie evidence that the leader’s story cannot stand up to scrutiny (think Putin, Maduro, el Sissi to name a few).

May I ask why legislators at the state and federal levels are trying to avoid normal process to pass legislation? Take it to the bank, when legislators avoid normal process, the issue is political and the people end up losing.

May I ask why someone who harps daily on his innocence, cries that everyone is against him, declares routinely that it is a witch hunt and often changes his story, should be believed? Using the scientific concept of Occam’s Razor, it is easier to believe that there is not this vast conspiracy against the man and far easier to believe this untruthful man is lying.

May I ask why many of us are forgetting what Jesus and other religious leaders told us and treating others so poorly? We need to walk the talk more, as to be frank, words are cheap. And, we need to hold our leaders accountable to be our better angels, even when they don’t hold themselves into account.

May I ask you offer comments, reactions and questions in response?

These truths should be self-evident, but many are not

This Monday we get a day off to create a nice long weekend. Memorial Day is a wonderful celebration, but is one where we should honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We tend to promote jingoism, which is an ugly term, to beat on our chests and talk about how mighty we are. Yet, I believe we should honor our valiant soldiers who died fighting our battles, by being truth seekers. We owe it to them to do so.

I believe the following truths are self-evident. If you disagree, I welcome your comments. I am not looking to blame anyone, but learn from our mistakes and realities of the situation. In my view, we cannot address our problems, if someone is telling you the problem is not real and we are so great that we can make any problem go away. In no particular order.

– We went into Iraq with insufficient troops and hardware and without a clear-cut plan for success. General Shinseki actually resigned because of this initial failure. The later “surge” is what Shinseki had argued for in the first place. Winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace, which is what Shinseki noted to his bosses.

– We overreacted to 9/11 and as a result underreacted to Syria and pulling out of Iraq, so says a military historian. Al Qaeda was small in number and now we have a much greater enemy. We are a war-weary country and made many mistakes from the outset and along the way. We had the Iraqi police force fired, many of them later became part of ISIS. This concern was noted at the time of their firing ten years ago.

– Torture of prisoners has made us less safe, because we have grown larger, multi-generational groups of people who do not hold America in high regard. What little intelligence we have gained is dwarfed by this continuing animosity and mistrust.

– The Middle East is a hard to solve conundrum. America cannot win a war that will solve this problem, as proven in Iraq. Again, winning battles is easier than maintaining the peace. We have been fighting in the Middle East for over thirty years and spent trillions of dollars – what do we have to show for this asks another military historian and Vietnam veteran. He noted we did not learn the lessons of Vietnam.

– While many are grandstanding with chest beating opinions, it is good to be negotiating with Iran over limiting nuclear development. The non-diplomatic options are not worth considering as they could lead to a deadly result for many. In any situation, we owe to our troops and to their families to exhaust all other means before we send them to die.

– The same is true for Ukraine which gets lost in the news these days. Vladimir Putin is not a trustworthy individual. We need to continue to hold his feet to the fire as an international pariah. We need to help Ukraine be stronger, but also continue a joint effort to call Putin on the carpet.

– We also owe it to our troops to protect them and their families from predators here at home. Pay-day lenders and expensive and ineffective for-profit colleges have had a license to steal from our military families. The former will get our families into a 1000% annual effective interest rate pretty quickly. The latter spends more money marketing than teaching and graduation rates are in the low teens if that high. Also, the diet supplement business which is largely unregulated (due to some well-funded senators), has led to deaths of many soldiers who bought diet supplements (from on-base stores to aid with their training). You cannot support troops and screw them over like this. It is not right.

We owe it to our troops and their families to make sure we have exhausted other means, before we send them into battle to risk their lives. We owe it to them to have a clear-cut plan for success and a reasonable end strategy. We owe it to them to learn from our mistakes and not placate political egos to gain favor with voters. Finally, remember the quote from the movie “Troy,” when Achilles is consoled by his cousin – war is old men talking and young men fighting. Let’s honor those young men and women and treat them and their families well.

 

 

 

Every rose has its thorns – a few miscellaneous thoughts

With the world in justifiable tither over events in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Ukraine and West Africa, I want to highlight a few news stories, including some of the above, that need some airing.

Guns and roses – the Center for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted the top ten states for gun deaths – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Montana, Arkansas, Alabama, New Mexico and South Carolina.  It also noted of the 32,351 gun deaths in 2011, about 20,000 were suicides, the number one gun death cause in all but one of the top ten states. Two statistics struck me. First, homes that have a gun have 3x the rate of suicides than in homes without a gun. Second, the states that have the most lenient gun laws have the highest rates of violent crime which is the opposite of what lax gun law proponents state.

When you add this to the Journal of Trauma and Medicine’s data that we dwarf the civilized world in gun death and child/ teen gun deaths, it paints a picture we need to deal with in a more orchestrated way. The issue revolves around several factors – lack of civil discourse, poverty, crime, entertainment violence, mental health issues, but make no mistake, it includes access to weapons as well. Dealing with this issue like parents should is needed. It is long past due. We should use James Brady’s death as a lightning rod to do something.

Where and to whom you born matters more than it should – The American Dream does not exist for many Americans as we continue to slide in socio-economic class mobility. Warren Buffett says “I was born lucky. I was born a male in a white family.” Buffett notes he had opportunities others did not have. An increasing number of the top Americans have inherited their wealth than earned it, so we have our own brand of aristocracy. But, of the top 400 wealthiest people in our country only one person is of color – Oprah Winfrey.

We have a poverty problem in our country. This is not talked about enough. There are some who believe those in poverty are less virtuous and do not work very hard. That is total bunk. In my work with those in need, I witness very pious people who only have their faith. I also witness people working multiple jobs, but they still lost their home. Yes, there are some sycophants, but they are very few in percentage. We need to help people in need with increasing the minimum wage (the average minimum wage earner is age 28) and increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. And, keep the Affordable Care Act as it is helping people in need as well as the economy through enhanced spending of those who now have healthcare insurance. But, let more people know about the subsidies therein, as many do not know they can get a subsidy.

Democrats need a better press agent on jobs and economy – I reported on this last year with respect to jobs, but a non-partisan study was reported on by PBS Newshour last week that indicated the data is pretty overwhelming. The economy and job growth has measurably done better under Democrat White Houses than Republican ones. Even explaining away some of the timing issues, there is clear light of day between the performance of the economy and job growth when a Democrat President is in the White House. Obama takes a lot of crap about many things, but the job increases, economy and stock market have done pretty well on his watch.

Republicans use campaign rhetoric of the “failed stimulus” but per six econometric firms the stimulus bill did not fail. It was just not enough. We have chance right now to do what we should have done four years ago – invest in our sagging infrastructure. Per former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, there is no better jobs programs than investing in our infrastructure. We can still invest while we make cuts in other areas, but we need better roads, improved bridges, deeper ports and better internet and power grids.

ISIS is bad news no matter what religion you are – These guys are thugs and the worst kind of terrorists. To kill innocent people the way they do demeans any religion including the one they blindly profess. The Sunnis that sided with them early are scared of their dangerous bedfellow. Yes, the US screwed up when it went into Iraq under false pretenses. Yes, the US screwed up by bringing all of its soldiers home. But, this enemy of organized, peaceful religion is worthy of the attention of all leaders, including ours,  who want peace in their countries. So, the US and others need to help people who want to live and worship in peace. And, we need to make sure we do it in the right way supporting those who are trying to put down this group in their own countries.

No matter how justified Israel believes it is, it should not be killing so  many innocent civilians – I understand the right to defend yourself. I understand the Hamas may be hiding among the civilians, but Israel’s position is poor when so many innocent children and adults are killed. The more they kill, the worse it is gets. This is not an isolated opinion as the United Nations and Amnesty International are saying the same thing. The violence needs to stop and reconstruction needs to begin. Killing children is bad policy no matter how justified you believe your position.

Putin is punishing the US by denying his people our food – This may be the most inane thing I ever heard. I know Putin controls the media, but people have to eat. And, if they don’t  eat, then this may bother them. Russia has damaged itself in the world economy as its leaders cannot be trusted no matter how many tigers Putin poses with. If I were a business leader, I would be very reluctant to do business with someone who is not trustworthy. Russia could have avoided all of this by letting the Ukraine President, its stooge, sign an agreement with the European Union last fall. Ukraine could have been business partners with both Europe and Russia and everyone would have benefitted. Now people have died and more will still.

Those are the thoughts of this Old Fart. I would love to hear your comments. Many thanks in advance.

 

 

 

 

We are so similar and need each other

Our friend Raye, who paints so well with words and pictures at http://jotsfromasmallapt.wordpress.com/, commented to me earlier this week, through all of her travels, she has noticed how similar we are. Of course, we are a diverse group of people of different races, religions, ethnic groups and cultures, but when you get beneath the surface, she is accurate in her conclusion. We want to have fulfilling lives and raise our families in a safe, secure and productive environment. We want to laugh with our friends and provide the needed armfuls of hugs, shoulders to cry on, hands to help with, legs to walk with and ears to listen.

Like me, Raye looks through a very human lens of imperfection and cares for the disenfranchised and the ones who do not have a voice at the table. She anguishes when the school yard bully from Russia takes the lunch money of everyday Ukrainian people. These are the folks that want to live, feed their families and have opportunity like everyone else. They should be able to decide this for themselves. I would encourage you to read the insightful comment by susan@quirkywomeninbooks in my post this weekend https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/as-the-rest-of-the-world-decides-on-putin/ where she speaks of her time in the Ukraine.

Like me, we anguish over those who had leaders that ruled them unjustly and lived the high life in the “Animal Farm” house while the everyday folks toiled outside working the fields. Whether it was Egypt, Libya or Ukraine, people saw how their leaders lived and realized they have little to show for it. These real life “Boxers” did not want to end up like the hard-working equine hero in George Orwell’s novel, so they rebelled and said why are we looking to align ourselves only with an entity that squelches freedoms and free markets through corruption?

We need to speak up for the pawns in these political games that are played around the world, whether they are in America, Venezuela, China, Middle East, India, Russia or Ukraine. In capitalistic economies, the power is in the industry leaders and if left unfettered by governance, they can become robber barons. The United States had robber barons six score years ago and is closer to it again today with a limited few owning an astounding percentage of American wealth. In socialistic economies, the power resides in the government oligarchy which is more easily corruptible. And, in totalitarian countries, it resides in the limited few who rule and embody corruption.

Right now, other similarities exist for the pawns around the world. We have a poverty issue.  We have a hunger issue. We have a water issue. We have a human rights issue. My friend George Dowdell lives and breathes helping others and his work and advocacy can be found at http://georgedowdell.org/2014/03/03/first-impressions-justice-conference/. He notes that the issue of climate change effects the “least of us” in the world the most. They are the ones whose food crops suffer due to lack of water. They are ones whose islands get consumed by the sea. They are the ones where industry steps all over their land rights. Yet, we have too much discussion around the politics of influence and ownership. The loud voices over who gets to rule or influence the rulers, drown out the faint echo of those whose voice cannot be heard and whose needs are the greatest.

On a blog I follow which shows various acts of kindness at http://kindnessblog.com/, it showed a picture of the young daughter of Ukrainian soldier visiting with her daddy who was on duty behind an iron bar fence. To me, it reverberated Raye’s comments that we are so similar. Here was a daughter that missed her daddy. And, from one daddy to another thousands of miles away, I can assure you he misses her, too. Let’s make sure he has the opportunity to watch her grow and live a fulfilling life. Let’s make sure other daughters and sons can do the same no matter where they live. Let’s speak up for the disenfranchised. If we don’t do it, the bullies of the world will continue to steal their lunch money. Sometimes they will use a tank and sometimes they will use a pen.

As the rest of the world decides on Putin

This is a tough situation in Ukraine. You have a large part of the country who wants to be part of Europe and dictate their own course and you have another part which is pro-Russia, yet I am not quite certain they know that the Russia in Putin’s mind is a dressed up version of the Soviet Union. You also have a country in need. I am glad we are talking with our allies, as some definitive action will be needed and needed very quickly.

This part is for certain. Vladimir Putin is a hood. For those who don’t know the vernacular, he is a crime boss. HIs country is known for corruption and bribery and doing business in Russia is an exercise in mistrust. There was a “60 Minutes” piece a few weeks back with a businessman who knows Russia well and he calls it a criminal environment. The owner of the New England Patriots football team has even accused Putin of stealing his Super Bowl ring after asking to hold it. Putin is also a narcissist and fancies himself with a much greater image than people in the know do. He also squelches disagreement and adversaries.

This will be a hard thing for me to say, but he is the kind of individual that will only react to power. It is good we are discussing sanctions and boycotts and we should. We should also send bailout money with troops support to Ukraine. Putin is seizing the whole country if you have not figured it out, and I have not put it past him, to seed the violence with people who are pretending to be Ukrainian like Hitler did with Poland. We are in this predicament as he bribed Viktor Yanukovych with money to stay aligned with Russia back when an agreement was on the table to be part of Europe. Putin could not stand for that, so he will take matters into his own hands.

I am peaceful person, but sometimes you have to be direct with people like Putin. You cannot threaten to tell mom. I recognize fully the risks that this takes, but the west is being invited in to help the temporary Ukrainian government. So, the west better not wait as it will be too late. By the way, George W. Bush thought he had a kindred spirit in Putin. He was wrong. Putin played him like a fiddle. Obama needs to change instruments and get a larger band, but act with more force on this. Please remember this thought, Putin does not care about sanctions. He can tell whatever story he wants to his fellow Russians. He is also a hood. He is backing that murderer in Syria, so that tells you all you need to know.

Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain

As the United Nations published its convincing report about the chemical weapons attack in Syria noting the manner in which the chemicals were deployed, it is pretty obvious that the Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people. This is in spite of his and the Russian ambassador’s pleas that the report is not convincing enough. Yet, I am reminded of the famous scene from “The Wizard of Oz” where Toto pulls back the curtain and the wizard says “don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain” to dissuade Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man from not believing what they were seeing. This is exactly what Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin want you to do as they try to convince you not to believe what is obvious.

A key reason I ask you not to believe The Wizard of Assad and his friend and benefactor in Russia, is that too many times what he has said could not be confused with the truth. There are numerous examples, but let me highlight three of his more telling, shall we say, misstatements. First, when the rebels in Syria first started the rebellion, he denounced them as terrorist groups. That may be more true now as the United Nations failed to act (due to Russia and China’s blocking in the UN Security Council), but when the rebellion first started, it was a rebellion of citizens reeling from past maltreatment and the repercussions of a severe drought that affected their food and water supply.

Second, last year al-Assad was speaking with a news reporter who asked about the Syrian government rolling tanks into Homs to crush the opposition. When he denied that his tanks were in Homs, the reporter showed video footage of Syrian army tanks rolling down the streets in Homs. The rebels did not have any tanks.

Third, after denying for years and months that Syria possessed chemical weapons, in an interview with Charlie Rose, al-Assad answered directly to Rose’s question that Syria did not have chemical weapons. This interview was aired Monday of last week and that same day after Secretary of State John Kerry answered a question regarding diplomatic options that Syria could turn over its chemical weapons, the Syrian Ambassador said they could do that. Now, call me crazy, but did not your President just deny on camera again that Syria did not have chemical weapons and you said you would agree to release these phantom weapons?

In the middle of all of this is our KGB trained friend Vladimir Putin, who may be the most savvy politician in the world. I use that term not as a term of admiration, but one of admonition. Putin is playing everyone for a fool to seize upon a relatively easy concession for Russia and his friend and foil in Syria. The Syrian government has killed 99% of the 100,000 deceased with conventional weapons and can easily concede the chemical weapons to remain in power and not face American bombing. Putin can keep his client happy and boost the Russian economy selling weapons, keep Russian access to a vital port and make the western world look belligerent as he comes across as the peacemaker. In this way of thinking, Winston Churchill must have looked belligerent to the folks supporting Adolph HItler’s march into Paris when Churchill stood up and said that is not right.

I recognize that the real rebel Syrians are getting a raw deal as the terrorists have seized their cause to gain power. I also recognize that the millions of Syrian refugees are the greater issue, which we must do even more to help. Yet, with real Americans having no appetite for another war without a clear-cut mission objective, I do applaud that we can find a peaceful way to resolve an issue and appreciate the Russians for being a key part of this. I must concede kudos to Putin (as well as Obama for his delaying tactic) for his role in this, but everyone should know that it is my belief that Putin does not do anything without trying to gain politically. And, if you disagree with my questioning his sincerity, just look at how he came back into power and is using old school Soviet tactics to squelch anyone that dares disagree with him.

But, getting back to The Wizard of Assad, I would not construe much of what he says as the truth. It would be inconsistent with his track record. It reminds me of when Senator John Kyl of Arizona was caught in giving misinformation, he famously said “Don’t construe what I say as a factual statement.” I would also not be surprised if al-Assad used methods to purposefully distance himself from the events, not unlike the infamous curtain behind which the wizard from the movie hid. So, I am asking you to use your eyes and ears as you consider what the Syrian and Russian government are saying relative to what the UN report and others are saying. My advice is to most definitely “pay attention to the men behind the curtain.” They are the ones who have the gas masks on.