Being safer is harder when we lose focus

Our new President used fear as one of his key marketing messages to get elected. Let’s face it, fear sells especially to an uninformed audience. He feels obligated to act on those selling points as a show of force – build that wall, limit travel and focus on Islamic terrorists. It is not unlike a gorilla beating on his chest before a fight. They are largely symbolic than effective.

The dilemma is not only are these efforts not going to make us safer, they will actually have the opposite effect. Conservative columnist David Brooks said not only was the travel ban rolled out with equal parts chaos and incompetence, the ban will accomplish nothing except make us look poor in the eyes of the world and be used against us by terrorists. The best defense against extremists is a welcoming and flourishing diverse society.

The same is true with the heightened focus using the words “Islamic Terrorists” at the expense of funding of other terrorism fighting within our borders. Per an editorial in The Charlotte Observer called “In war on terror: look closer to home,” the following quote struck me.

“Charles Kruzman, who teaches sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University, say that 74% of the law enforcement agencies surveyed listed anti-government extremism as one of the top three terror threats in their jurisdictions – compared with only 39% who felt the same about Al Qaeda and like groups. And, with good reason: an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in terror plots since 9/11, in contrast to the 337 per year by right-wing extremists.”

There are over 1,000 domestic terrorist groups in the US that range from right-wing extremists to anti-government to white supremacists groups. Yet, the President feels we should focus less on this problem preferring to use the funding to fight a much lesser problem. To me, this is the direct influence of Steve Bannon who catered his Breitbart website to alt-right extremists.

Finally, building a wall between us and Mexico is symbolic more than it will be effective. The cost will likely be higher than the recent Homeland Security estimate, as that does not include land acquisition and cost overruns tend to occur. Plus, the annual maintenance is not factored in. Yet, illegal immigrants are largely here and the flow of immigrants has slowed. The ones that are here are accretive to the economy buying goods and paying taxes. If the President thinks building a wall will solve a problem, knock yourself out.

So, our President is focusing on three things that will do little to make us safer. Yet, these bumper sticker solutions were boasted about on the campaign trail, so he feels he must beat on his chest and say look what I have done. Since our money is dear with almost $20 trillion in debt, we could be spending that money more wisely in my view actually using a data driven analysis on where it would be most helpful to make us safer. The problem it is hard to put data driven analysis on a bumper sticker, or Tweet.

We need to know the truth

The new leadership of our country has a modus operandi that the truth is only a commodity to be used when it works in their favor. I have witnessed in my consulting and managerial career that organizations take on the personality of its leader. Our leader is combative, thin-skinned and not too comfortable with the truth. Other leaders have lied, but we are talking about a whole different level of lying here as measured by fact checking organizations and just paying attention.

So, his PR people feel obligated to do the same, as once a lie is told and discovered, it either needs to be apologized for or padded with more lies. For this regime, the latter is the more common course of action. Cover a lie with more lies. The dilemma is it is a relentless effort to confuse people paying attention and sway those who do not.

But, this is not new, as our leader has been this way for most of his career. Who says so? His five biographers and ghost writer of his most popular book, “The Art of the Deal” say so. He has exploited many people during his career through bullying, misrepresentation, stiffing people, and many lawsuits, both threatened and real.

I have said before that I start out with the position of not believing a word the man and now his PR people say. The odds are in my favor that I am correct. Instead, I encourage folks to watch his actions, decisions and appointments.

For example, the so-called man of the people, has done the following, to name only a few of his actions, all of which are true.

  • He eliminated a planned mortgage premium reduction that would have helped millions of homeowners who did not put a large amount down on their house.
  • He is requesting the removal of a new requirement that would make all investment advisors act as fiduciaries, meaning they would operate in your best interests, which means that they would instead push transactions that may not be in your, but in their best interests.
  • He said Obamacare was in a death spiral, yet in a letter by the American Academy of Actuaries to Congress, they said that was not true. It should be noted Obamacare is helping twenty million plus Americans and, needs improvement, but is not a disaster, as he conveys.
  • He said Climate Change is a hoax invented by the Chinese to steal our jobs and has appointed several cabinet members and advisors who are perpetuating climate change denial in the face of overwhelming and convincing numbers of climate or environmental scientists. He is censoring climate change science by his departments which is a sure sign of not having faith in his own argument. It was reported by Bill McKibben in The Guardian, rural areas will be heavily impacted by not addressing climate change and not moving to renewable energy.
  • He introduced a travel ban that will do little to help with terrorism and actually will do the opposite. The terrorists are already here, but what is little known, he reduced funding on terrorism to address the 1,000 plus domestic terrorists groups that are tracked here. This coupled with ostracizing Muslims here and abroad, makes us less safe, as we should welcome all of our citizens and afford them the same rights and respect as others.

All of the above have an impact on the people who voted for him, as well as the rest of us, and not in a good way. It would be nice if these actions are highlighted, as  we need the truth. Otherwise, our complex problems will not get solved and we will have to address them in the future.

 

 

 

Chaos and Incompetence

Conservative columnist David Brooks appears weekly on PBS Newshour as well as NPR to recount the week. Last Friday on PBS, he and Mark Shields discussed their concerns over our new President’s decision-making, unforced errors and fights that he has picked in his first eight days.

Yet, what caught my attention most was Brooks reference to how our President has conducted his Presidency. He said he has exhibited equal parts “chaos and incompetence.” I could not agree more. While I support the President since his success is tied to ours, I have a very low bar of expectations, which he has not met. And, I am not too optimistic at this point, given his difficulty in admitting any fault.

Management has not been his strength. He is a great salesman and merchandiser, yes, but manager, not so much. His executive order to block entry to people coming from seven countries has been total chaos and coupled with his torture comment makes America out to be a pariah in the eyes of others. Issuing an order should allow time to execute and include some instruction to make it effective as well as being vetted by various agencies. And, per Senator John McCain, it makes us less safer providing fuel to the ISIS fire.

Chaos and incompetence. Remember these words. Add them to the words lying and thin-skin. And, let’s pray that our President begins to learn a few lessons before he does even greater damage to our country and its reputation.

140 Characters and Global Risk

This number equates to twenty words of seven letters or symbols. Or, twenty-eight words of five letters or symbols. Irrespective of the combination, 140 characters typed in impatience is not conducive to well-thought out communication.

Yet, when in the hands of an ego-maniacal, less informed than needed and thin-skinned man who does not filter his thoughts, it is dangerous. People react to these few words that cannot possibly reflect context and subtlety and, in many cases, should not be typed without much thought and input from expert advisors. It is a bumper sticker approach to policy statements and governance.

But, when these character limits are deployed with national security messages, they are a recipe for disaster. The author has been advised on more than one occasion by another country how troubling these communiques are, most recently by China about his tweet on North Korea.

If this author is intending to govern by tweet with his temperament, this should give every person on the planet pause. But, don’t take my word for it.

On the BBC World News America earlier this week, Ian Bremmer, the founder of the Eurasia Group, an organization who measures risk, said the greatest global risk this year is an independent or retrenching America from the global scene. Bremmer said it would be akin to removing the guard rails on the global highways.

This is the stated posture of the President-elect to look more within. Imagine that concept being executed in the hands of the same less-informed, ego-maniacal and temperamental tweeting man. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Three Senate Votes Tell You a Great Deal

Last Thursday, the US Senate took three votes that tell you a great deal about where people stand on issues. One of these votes combined two issues into one that the majority of Americans do not want and will be vetoed. The other two address a major concern that would helpful and are long overdue, but they did not pass.

The first one that passed is a bill that combines defunding significant parts of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The former when mentioned by its nickname, Obamacare, drums up political ire from our Republican friends. They fail to tell their constituents it is working pretty well, but could use some targeted improvements. They also hide from the fact Obamacare is based largely off a Republican idea that was advocated by Tea Party leadership until Obamacare was passed and Mitt Romney ran for office.

Adding to the seemingly recurring vote to repeal Obamacare, which Americans said they do not want per a Kaiser Family Foundation survey – they want it improved – is defunding Planned Parenthood. The latter has been the target of a smear campaigns and an unedited video that misled viewers. The Congressional Committee that questioned the CEO looked small and, at times, incompetent when they erroneously cited data that was unverified off another entity’s website and not Planned Parenthood’s. It should be noted that at least two presidential candidates have cited this faulty evidence as fact in debates.

Planned Parenthood does a huge amount of good for women’s health, especially those who cannot afford a doctor. They perform mammograms, pap smears, and provide education on self exam and wellness. And, even though they perform abortions with no federal funding, their group actually reduces the number of abortions through family planning. But, something needs to be said to those who only want to use the rhythm method of birth control and abstinence – those measures do not take into account that people are going to have sex and they fail to achieve the objective of effective birth control. And, neither speak to educating young people about sex, esteem issues and STDs. It should be noted that there is a high correlation between increased family size and poverty.

This combined vote is merely a political stunt as it will be vetoed, a fate known before the vote was taken. The other two votes that did not pass can be viewed together. One was to extend background checks on all gun purchases. The other was for suspected terrorists or people under scrutiny and suggested the use of the No Fly Zone list to deny purchases of weapons in America. It is far easier to get guns here than anywhere, so once the terrorists (many of whom are citizens) decide to purchase weapons, they can easily do that.

Americans have wanted the background check expansion by a large majority per several surveys. The Elon University survey from 2014 noted over 70% of Republicans want background checks on all weapon transactions with the all voter sentiment around 90%. The second vote is both sad and comical. Here is where the rubber meets the road. The GOP has been very adamant over the concerns of the American people over terrorists harming Americans on our own soil. Yet, when a definitive measure that actually would help with a very difficult task of monitoring or denying purchases, the unholy alliance with the NRA rears its ugly heads.

To me, as an independent voter who is frustrated by our failure to act, this vote shows clearly that the money the NRA spends on their campaigns is more important than trying to combat terrorists on our own soil. I was watching the news after the vote and a terrorism expert said governing gun sales to would be terrorists is a critical step. We failed to take this step last Thursday. The NRA would not let us. It should be noted that legislators who want to restrict 1st amendment rights on freedom of religion to millions of Muslim Americans and further restrict entry to Syrian refugees, say it is very important to protect the 2nd amendment rights to No Fly Zone people under scrutiny. This is a shameful hypocrisy in my mind.

Words are cheap. Actions speak volumes. We had three votes – all three that go against what Americans want. One of which was a waste of time as it will be vetoed. In the next few weeks, when Congress complains of time to pass the budget, please remind them that they should not waste it. They should also focus on doing something that might help America. Not dealing with our gun death (see the link below) and terrorist concerns do not suffice.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/guns-killed-more-americans-in-the-past-50-years-than-every-us-war-ever/ar-AAfZ3Bt?li=BBnb4R7&ocid=DELLDHP

Donald Trump – the terrorists’ best friend

I have a sense that ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists groups are extremely happy with the continual bombardment of comments from Donald Trump and some of his fellow candidates in regards to denying rights to Muslim Americans and stiff arming the Syrian refugees. Trump and friends are writing the recruiting language for these terrorist groups. They need only to cut and paste from his comments and can simply say “this is what America thinks of Muslims.”

Setting aside the unconstitutionality and the attack on our ideals which are most important, Trump’s comments on shutting down mosques, setting up a data base, and demonizing Muslim Americans are xenophobic and fear mongering. Yet, they are doing the opposite of what he intends – his comments do not make us safer. They inflame terrorists and will cause more citizens to question our country. As torture and drone strikes have done, we are creating new generations of people who do not like us and expanding the number of people who we are offending.

Several retired generals came out in article by Tim Mak of The Daily Beast to admonish Trump and fellow candidates for the same reason. Retired Army Lieutenant General Charley Otstott said “We should be countering Daesh (ISIS) propaganda rather than taking actions which will most certainly feed their propaganda machine.”

Retired Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap said, “Focusing on religion can be, from a military perspective, counterproductive, as it could serve to incite the opposition where there may be none.”

The article included quotes from several other retired generals, but the gist of their argument can be captured in these two statements. We counter terrorist propaganda, by living up to our ideals and constitutional rights. We counter their propaganda by fighting for the rights of all citizens. We counter their propaganda by being the shining light on the hill and beacon of hope for refugees and immigrants.

I would add that Trump is not just aiding and abetting the causes of these terrorists, he is drumming up misguided anger and action from our over 1,000 domestic hate groups. Through his remarks on Mexican immigrants, African-Americans, Muslim Americans, and women, we are fanning the flames of these groups. The Charleston shooting involved a young man who wanted to start a race war. At a Black Lives Matter protest in Minnesota over yet another shooting by police, several protestors were shot. A Black Lives Matter protestor was roughed up at one of Trump’s gatherings and Trump later said in an interview that maybe he should have been roughed up.

We need our leaders to bring us together, not sow seeds of discontent. We need our leaders to act like the Mayor of Charleston and Governor of South Carolina did after the Charleston shooting to quell racial tension. It frustrates me that some Americans are cheering this man on as he represents the worst of our traits with a false bravado which some mistake for leadership. We must live up to our ideals and honor our constitution which affords freedom of religion and separates church and state. We must welcome people in crisis as we have usually done, especially since we helped cause the refugee crisis by not acting sooner in Syria.

If we cede the higher ground, then we are just another country. While our role of leadership in the world is now shared with other countries, these countries need us to be part of the moral leadership to promote freedom and security. We cannot be part of the problem. We must be better than this.

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.