A few mid-week musings

Since we are at mid-week, let me offer a few miscellaneous musings, mostly good with a few bad. Let me start with some good news:

A Federal appeals court in the Chicago area ruled that the LGBT community is protected under the 1964 Civil Rights amendment even though they were not specifically listed. The court case was around a community college professor who contended she was fired for being a Lesbian. The ruling was 8 to 3, but will of course be appealed to the district court in Indiana.

On what appears to be good news, but falls way short, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a repeal to the discriminatory HB2 law, yet left the most important piece of discrimination therein. They rolled back the change on the transgender bathroom issue, yet left in place the exclusion of the LGBT community from protected status for discrimination. Reviewing the above ruling in Chicago, it is apparent that feature is unconstitutional.

The electric car maker Tesla blew past expected deliveries this past week for their first quarter with over 25,400 cars. Tesla is on pace to deliver the high-end of their 45,000 to 50,000 first half of the year estimate. What is interesting the stock market is valuing the future for this company and its current market capitalization value is $48 Billion which is now higher than Ford at just under $45 Billion. Tesla is owned by Elon Musk who is leveraging his battery technology to aid in solar and wind energy storage, working on a key project to help Australia with an outage problem.

Reuters reported today that utility companies are not being influenced by our President’s fight to end the war on coal. With the exception of one of 31 companies, a two-thirds majority said it would not impact their plans to move to cheaper and cleaner natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewable energy sources. The other companies were silent. In a piece I read last year, we are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and it was postulated about utilities why would they invest in an expensive coal-fired plant that will be obsolete before it is completed?

On the bad side, I am increasingly concerned by Bashar al-Assad and his willingness to gas people. This man has a history of doing this and then lying to reporters and other leaders about it. It would be great to see the UN powers come together and say, we will help end this war in your country, but you must step down now or face charges of war crimes. While our former President did many good things, his handling of Syria was not one of them. He and Congress let the world down by not spanking this SOB for his last gassing of civilians. I am a peaceful person, but there are times when you must stand up to evil.

Then, there is North Korea who remains a threat as it is run by a petulant tyrant. China must join with the rest of the world in helping put a lid on this man’s chest beating. Otherwise, we leave it in the hands of our own mess maker. While I trust some of his military advisors in doing the right thing, I have little confidence in our leader solving this problem without some diplomatic help. What at least should scare North Korea is our President is a loose cannon, as it scares me.

Well, that is all for now. Have a great rest of your week.

 

America must be better than this


For some time I have been deeply troubled by how we Americans are acting. We are tolerating bigotry and hiding behind a curtain of political incorrectness. Our political discourse has fallen into name calling, labeling and demonizing people who are different from the speaker’s audience. Avoiding political correctness, does not give someone the license to be a jerk. When an opponent raises an issue, your opinion is less valid by calling the person ugly or stupid.

The terrorists attacks in Paris have caused us to stoop to new lows, where we are forsaking our ideals and going against important foundations within our Constitution. We are kowtowing to xenophobia and fear mongering when we use crises to demonize entire groups of people, especially those in need.

Our country was founded on the premise of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. For some so-called leaders to say we should close mosques goes against who we are. Where would this stop – would we close Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh temples next? What about synagogues or Unitarian Universalist churches?

Our nation has also been built on the backs of immigrants. We have been consistent in extending our welcome to refugees of war torn countries. Yes, we should be vigilant, but turning away people in need, especially after vetting people from Syria for 18 – 24 months, is inconsistent with who we are.

At the heart of my concern is if we cede the higher ground by restricting freedoms and civil rights, the terrorists win. We would be lessening our country as well as giving more ammunition to terrorists to recruit people.

I understand the concerns and we must be vigilant. Yet, we should not replace serious and sober discussion with fear mongering and demonizing. We must hold dear what makes America great. When we cede the higher ground, we are just another country.

Reality is scarier than fiction this Friday the 13th

I have never been a big fan of gory horror movies, although I did enjoy Frankenstein and Dracula when I was little. And, The Exorcist and The Omen did cause some chills and entertainment. However, what is most scary to me are stories that could happen or did happen in real life. With that in mind this Friday 13th, the most scary things that could happen are very real and that is being led down poor paths by our leaders.

In no particular order:

– ISIS is scary, but what is most scary to me is our leaders possibly taking their bait and introducing US ground troops. That is precisely what ISIS wants. We have reached a tipping point and that is the Muslim world is saying no more to terrorists like ISIS who have hijacked their religion with extreme views. The fight against ISIS must be a Muslim-led effort with our support and help. ISIS knows this and wants to draw in America, so they can point to another enemy.

– Before leaving the Middle East, I shared with my Senator’s office that signing a letter to Iran with 46 other senators is asinine. These 47 senators endangered America by showing our division to the world. It is more than OK to debate and argue, but to circumvent negotiations over something this important and to disagree with something before you know what it is childish and dangerous. Columnist Michael Gerson, who is one of the best conservative bent writers, largely said the same thing in his column today. A shrewd leader will use this to our disadvantage. Putin has already written op-ed pieces in our papers to sway opinion. Remember this is the guy who controls his media, so he can play us against ourselves.

– But, let’s set this aside for a minute. What do the chest beaters want us to do if this agreement fails? What do the chest beaters want us to do in Ukraine? What do they want us to do in Syria? Our troops have said to people who will listen, we don’t mind fighting, but give us a clear-cut mission with an end strategy. What does winning look like? These folks that want us to get more heavily involved can not define what winning looks like, as to be brutally frank, it may not be clearly definable. There is a two-word term that comes to mind that military personnel use often to describe these situations and it begins with the word “cluster.” I will let you complete the thought.

– At the same time I was including in my previous post about the City of Miami and the three surrounding counties spending $200 million to combat the encroaching sea that is now coming up through the storm drains and flooding the streets, the state of Florida was striking the words climate change and global warming from formal documents. This is akin to the George W. Bush White House marking through scientific papers presented to them striking the same language. It is also akin to the state of NC General Assembly refusing to accept a peer-reviewed scientific paper that said the sea levels will rise 39 inches (one meter) by 2100, the same prediction accepted in Virginia, Maine, and Louisiana. I wish I could handle my problems this easily, by erasing them with my delete key or pencil eraser. Didn’t you know you could hold back rising sea levels with legal briefs?

– The scariest thing in America right now is our leadership and political machinations. No one cares to govern and only wants to grease the skids to get elected or remain in office. Everything is a win/ lose zero sum game, where one party has to disagree with the other party no matter what. For example, Obamacare borrows from Romneycare, a Republican idea which was advocated by Tea Party leadership for the country and is working for the most part, but Republicans have to hate it. Americans generally know what the problem is in large part, but with the election system gerrymandered and controlled by large donors coupled with a specifically uninformed public who does not know when they are being lied to by faux news shows, we do not have much hope for better governance.

Yet, we must try to make a difference. We have to hold our elected officials accountable. We have to ask questions of news experts and pundits regarding positions or statements they have made. We should also be wary of name-callers and labelers. When you hear someone resort to labels, be mindful that the person must not have a very good argument. We must also read, listen and watch more reputable news sources such as NPR, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, BBC World News America, Al Jazeera News to name a few. If we don’t, then everyday may be a Friday the 13th.

 

 

 

 

 

Random Musings on a Rainy Friday

“Let it Rain” sang Eric Clapton, as that is precisely what it is doing. At least it is not snow and ice, as we have had more than enough of the solid precipitation. A few random musings on this rainy Friday are in order.

Obama nominates some questionable ambassadors. This disappointed me as he was supposed to be above recommending ambassador posts to some big donors. For someone who tends to get shortchanged on the good things he has done balanced by some of the bad things that have happened, you would think the President would not do something so foolish as to appoint some ambassadors who were not qualified and could not answer some basic questions. The fact that others have done this before is no excuse. In tennis, this would be called an “unforced error.”

Bill Nye has two debates with people with some interesting views. Bill Nye the Science Guy had not just one, but two debates the past ten days. First, he debated with Ken Ham about Creationism and the age of the world. Second, he debated Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who is Vice Chairperson of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, about climate change. Tennessee is home to the new Creationism museum which has among other things dinosaurs walking with people in exhibits. I am sorry but the Creationist debate was put to bed about 100 years ago and for people to believe the world is only 6,000 years old flies in the face of a mountain of data. I am not saying someone cannot believe in God, but the authors of the bible who were men, had lesser understanding of science than is known today.

As for Rep. Blackburn, she holds to the conviction that climate change is unproven science and said Nye was just an actor and engineer. It is time for the GOP to join the rest of the world and stop listening to their funders in the fossil fuel industry. Why am I picking on them? The industry hired a Public Relations firm around the time of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” whose sole purpose was to convince people global warming was a hoax. They did a good job, as the goal was to create enough doubt to continue fossil fuel retrieval at an even faster pace. If this was a sporting event, it would be a route 96 to 4. 96% of scientists, including the actor, believe climate change is real and man-influenced. The data is overwhelming.

But, let me put these two issues together for simplicity. If the GOP cannot recognize that climate change is real and is harming our planet right now or continue to let people in their party equivocate Creationism with science even passing laws to teach it as such, then they cannot be trusted with any problems of the day. I left the GOP for its stance on climate change in 2006 and that was eight years ago. Stop being the dinosaurs who show up with people in your Creationism museum.

Ukraine. You cannot kill your own people. If you do then you are a tyrant. A peace accord was reached today. Let’s hope the parties honor this and get to a better place. The Ukraine leadership has to decide which direction they want to go, forward toward freer markets and governance or backward toward more iron fisted rule, as that is what Putin wants them to do. Putin says he has no dog in this fight, but you cannot stir things up like he did, and then step back and say you had no role. The people seem to want the former and are willing to die for it.

Iran. The discussion between Iran and other countries to limit their nuclear development to electrical power uses show promising signs. I know these conversations are unsettling to some, but making progress through conversations about mutual needs, is far better than the alternative. I know there is an element of “trust but verify” needed in the discussions, but I see this as promising.

Syria. I was hopeful these conversations would have more success. The fact that there have been two sets of meetings following the chemical arms disarmament is good. Yet, for this decimated country to survive, two things need to happen, one of which is quite difficult, while the other is needed but harms an ego. The extremists in the rebel ranks need to be dealt with. They are capitalizing on the rebellion and have made it much worse. That is the hard part. The easier part is Assad must go. His ego is getting in the way. This country cannot continue with any trust in leadership with this individual in charge. It is that simple.

North Korea. Moving from one dictator to another, the United Nations has completed a report which says the North Korean regime has committed crimes against humanity. The conclusion is not a surprise, except the fact that is now in a formal public document. On the good side, a reunion of some separated families between South Korea and North Korea was allowed to happen, but only for a brief meeting. It is sad that there is not freer travel, but the first sentence above tells us why. If people were allowed to leave, they would likely not come back. It should be noted these meetings were on North Korean soil.

US Businesses are clamoring for immigration reform. This morning I read a piece that said businesses are pleading for immigration reform, as the states are doing Congress’ job in their absence of action. As a result, multi-state employers are having to deal with the various changes in immigration laws on a state by state business. The innovators have been crying for change as well as it is harder for them to recruit and keep talented immigrants and foreigners. The key problem is innovation is portable, so manufacturing will develop wherever the innovators land. Congress needs to decide if wants to govern or run for office. Unfortunately, their actions are toward the latter.

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Thanks for reading my random musings. I look forward to your thoughts and opinions.

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.

View from the peanut gallery – Syria decision needs due diligence

A few observations from the peanut gallery are in order around the decision on next steps on Syria. This is a difficult decision with no clear-cut answer which will solve all problems. It is truly a “Catch 22” decision in many respects. So, it deserves the necessary amount of due diligence, so we and our allies who support us can agree that this is what we should do and here are the parameters on the authority granted. Also, what do we hope to accomplish and what are steps that we can take if Syria, Russia, etc. react a certain way needs much discussion? I certainly do not want this to be a political football as we tend to do in this country. Saying it another way, I do not want spin doctors trying to make a decision that is in the best interest of a political party. What is the best thing for our country and our allies?

I have already read comments from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Let me state the obvious in reaction, you of all people along with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove do not need to offer an opinion. Our credibility is in question because of your building a story of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Scooter Libby, one of Karl Rove’s lackeys went to jail because he outed a CIA agent to discredit her husband and former ambassador who called you on the carpet when you misused his reconnaissance to build this story. American and allied troops died because of this fabrication. This is why the rest of the world is skeptical. Thank you gentlemen for sullying our honor.

Mr. President, you cannot escape either, as your continuation of the NSA spying set-up under Bush makes us look poor. While I support your decision to seek Congressional approval, it does not build credibility when you are answering questions about reading emails of leaders of other countries. We have got to get back to better footing permitting surveillance, but respecting the rights of people not under suspicion. We must have better governance over this and our drone program. We are not there and that is disappointing.

With all of that said, Assad is a war criminal equal to that of Saddam Hussein. It is pretty obvious to recognize that Assad gassed his own people. There are many dead on Assad’s hands, but when he gasses innocent kids, he is the worst of the worst. The evidence looks very compelling and shows that Assad is an evil person that needs to be stopped in some manner. If no one stops him, he will accept inaction as free license and will do it again. He has the backing of a Russia, where Putin is a classically trained KGB hood. From this old fart’s chair, it is apparent that Assad and Putin will push as much as they can to see what they can get away with.

No one wants to do what needs to be done. Yet, I think the world is at a point that someone needs to stand up to bullies and say you cannot do this. This is why if we decide to act, we better be darn sure what we intend to do and know how to handle possible reactions. Russia will not support a UN Security Council vote. If Russia and China had stepped and done the honorable thing two years ago, coordinated action could have been taken earlier. Yet, given the WMD error noted above, we better be darn sure we have it right. If we don’t, then the President should be fired. This is too important to screw up. And, I do agree with the President – it is not just his credibility, it is our nation’s as we cannot lie to our allies and the rest of the world. We have to climb out of the WMD and NSA holes.

So, I hope our Congress does its due diligence and asks all the right questions. We deserve an informed choice not a political one. I hope the President speaks to us citizens and our allies more. If we need to act and, we may need to, to stop this war criminal, we need to do so with seriousness of purpose. As an example, getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the easiest part of Iraq. Making the country governable is the hardest. Let’s remember that lesson. I wish the wisdom of Solomon for all of our legislators and those in other countries.