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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

But, he has a 80% approval rating

Some times phrases are used in the news in a way that portrays them as solid information. On more than one occasion, when referencing Vladimir Putin and his ability to look people in the eye and lie to them about Russia’s role in Ukraine, it is noted “but he has a 80% approval rating.” This piece of information is said like Russians must be OK with his performance because it is so high. What the news person fails to realize is “of course, it is high; if you were in the 20%, your life may be in danger.”

What happened this past week to opposition leader Boris Nemtsov who has shot dead from behind within a couple yards of the Kremlin is not an anomaly. Opponents of Putin have a way of finding themselves in prison or no longer living. So, with his KGB like affinity and desire to recreate the USSR footprint, disagreeing with Mr. Putin is not a good business to be in. It is like “The Outlaw Josey Wales” movie, where the bounty hunter says being a bounty hunter “is a living.” To which, Wales responds, “Dying ain’t much of a livin, boy.” It is not much of a living opposing Putin, even though it still must be done.

This is not unlike the approval ratings of Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un. Both experienced approval ratings in the high 90% range. I think they were cognizant of not saying 100% as that would appear as a false positive, so they fudged the numbers downward. In Russia, with a more free society over the last twenty years, those 20% still believe they have the ultimate freedom to do and say what they want. Yet, there are still enough people around who remember and can counsel to not be on someone’s list. Nemtsov was on such a list and was about to call Putin out with evidence of his lying about Russian involvement in Ukraine.

Of course, I like to keep things simple. If you are not involved in Ukraine, why are European leaders bothering to talk to you? By speaking with them is that not prima facie evidence that you are involved in Ukraine more so than you let on?

So, news people, the next time you cite the 80% statistic, you may want to caveat that the percentage is likely artificially high. The Russian people deserve to know the truth about what is happening, so they can reach their own conclusions. They are not hearing the truth from the state controlled news there.

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.

 

 

 

 

A potpourri of news items

While a few thoughts bounced around as potential themes, I felt it would be best to highlight a few items of note, in a world of many to choose from. In no particular order:

Ukraine troubles continue – One of the things that does not get stated in the downing of the Malaysian airplane is the pro-separatists do not have any planes, so why would the Ukraine military be firing in the air? The evidence points the finger where the missile was launched from and the group that says it had no hand in it is not letting people get to the site to investigate. And, the artillery launcher was moved, presumably back to Russia. Call me crazy, but when your arguments are contradicted by actions, then your credibility lessens. Putin has not learned this yet either. Folks, get to the table and negotiate a settlement to cease innocent people being killed and before your story falls apart. Plus, while I understand economic sanctions in this case as an alternative to military options, in general, I don’t like them, as they tend to punish the wrong people for leaders’ actions.

Israel, Hamas and Gaza – In my simple view, a country has a right to defend itself, but Israel has gone a “bridge too far” and is looking poor for civilian deaths. The UN is correct to assert their position and the violence on civilians and children must end. Hamas should also get poor marks for hiding among the civilians and setting the stage for pawns to be killed, as well as not acknowledging the right for the other to exist. Yet, the conditions are ripe for a group like Hamas to survive. Reasonable leaders (on both sides) need to advocate for a cessation to the violence which is killing its people. Reasonable leaders need to push for finding a way to co-exist. Reasonable leaders need to find ways to stop marginalizing people and look for ways they can thrive, live in peace, raise families and practice their religion. If they do not, then both sides are destined to live in an environment where innocent people are in danger and killed.

Afghanistan election is important – A major step forward for Afghanistan is still in the works. The Presidential vote recount is important to get it right and pass muster. This is the first election post Karzai and it needs to be successful regardless of the winner. The peaceful transition of power is a major element of a sustainable government. This is why the Taliban is in such a dither not to let it happen.

Medicaid expansion push gets a practical conservative voice – Please check out Dana Milbanks’ editorial article on a conservative GOP Mayor in North Carolina marching to Washington to advocate for saving a closed rural hospital in his town. A woman died because of this closing, as she could not make it to the next town in time, which was 75 minutes away. He had reached out to the North Carolina GOP leadership and was told they could not support anything to do with Obamacare. He said it plainly, this is not a political issue, this is an issue about people dying because we don’t have a hospital near by.

Kudos to Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Jeff Miller for collaborating – I mention their efforts in my previous post, but want to highlight how legislation used to and is supposed to work. Sanders is an Independent, who caucuses with Democrats and Miller is a Republican, yet they said failure to get some action to help our veterans is not acceptable. I hope it catches on as a trend. Again, as you vote this fall, if a candidate advocates strident ideology at the expense of collaboration, a “my way or the highway view,” show them the highway.

Treat others like you want to be treated, especially refugee children – America has had an immigration problem for a while, but legislators would prefer not to act, even though there are votes today in the House to pass the bi-partisan Senate bill passed last year. They also complain about securing the border, yet won’t fund filling open border patrol positions. Irrespective of this, people should not punish children, with some screaming at them, for our own failures. A recent Religion Polling survey noted that 75% of Americans want us to take in these children. We have already made this a political chess game. Let’s stop making it a game and show some stewardship and heart. My friend George Dowdell notes in his blog* about the concept of being a Red Letter Christian, meaning Christians should follow the words that Jesus spoke. So, WWJD?

Same-sex marriage train continues down the track – 19 states now allow same-sex marriage and fifteen more have ruled in favor, but are awaiting the appeals process. The Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage over the Virginia case, but their jurisdiction includes South and North Carolina. The Attorney General in NC said after the ruling this week, that he will no longer fight the current court cases, since the appellate court has spoken. I said a few posts ago, this train has left the station and eventually all states will allow same-sex marriage, as to do otherwise is discriminatory and unconstitutional. So, I repeat the question I asked then, if you are against same-sex marriage, where do you want to spend your time?

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There are many other topics worth talking about. I would love to hear your thoughts on these and other topics. Thanks, in advance, for your comments. Note, you can check out George Dowdell’s terrific post on Red Letter Christians with this link: http://georgedowdell.org/2014/07/28/take-seriously-what-jesus-said/#more-3033

 

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.

 

Reflections on the week it was – intimidation and bigotry abound

Looking back at a few occurrences over the course of the week, I observed Vladimir Putin is quite good at influencing outcomes and bad behaviors. Even ministers are not immune from his lessons of bigotry. This is a key reason he is unlike other Soviet leaders (word intentionally used) as he is a very skilled, scary and corrupt politician.

Crimea election shows 96% plus favor joining Russia

History has shown when you intimidate voters, the election results will favor your cause. A few weeks before, North Korea voted to continue with Kim Jong Un with 100% of the vote. Something about killing your own Uncle for not bowing low enough or clapping hard enough has a tendency to sway voters. Saddam Hussein used to win elections with 98% of the votes as well. Hussein was not too tolerant of dissent, but was smart enough to allow 2% vote against him to show the world he is fair. I would not want to be in the 2% in Iraq back then or 4% in Crimea this week, as you might not be around much longer..

In Crimea, the native Tartars and pro-Ukrainian voters decided to stay home, since there was evidence of dissenters disappearing and having big “X’s” marked on your door can make you feel unwelcome. Yet, I found an interesting statistic. One district had 124% turnout. That is a turnout any Tammany Hall politician would love. It appears, if you had a Russian passport, you could vote. So, people who are not even citizens of Crimea voted to join Russia. You could have sensed something was amiss when reporters were having their cameras thrown to the ground and independent election officials were not allowed in to verify results.

Two final comments. First, if Crimeans want to join Russia, I understand that, but at least have a fair, democratic, and constitutionally (Ukraine’s not Russia’s) supported vote and not one that looks and smells like it was rigged as this one was. Second, as I said in an earlier post, I would not put it past Putin to send in his own thugs to stir up trouble in a community and then send in troops to provide security. This is an old school strong-arm tactic and I believe it was used in Crimea and is being used in other parts of Ukraine. PBS Newshour corroborated this with their belief last night when they spoke of a seemingly orchestrated set of eleven demonstrations in an Eastern Ukrainian city at the same time. It is too much a part of Putin’s nature to believe he did not puppeteer this outcome in the manner I described.

Franklin Graham applauds Putin for denigrating the LGBT community 

Reverend Graham published an article that said he admired Putin’s stripping away the rights of the LGBT community in Russia. He did not support other things Putin has done, but he took a shot at our President and Attorney General for supporting non-discrimination of gays and lesbians and heralded Putin for discrimination. From the bible I was taught, Jesus was inclusive. In fact we used to sing a bible song, “Red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have searched my memory banks, but cannot recall an exception on whether they were gays or lesbians in the song or in Jesus’ Golden Rule.

I have a very low tolerance for bigotry from the pulpit and have written several posts about my distaste for when ministers misuse the faith the congregation has placed upon them. Per the song from the movie “South Pacific,” you have to very carefully taught to be a bigot. My mantra has been when religion is inclusive it is at its best and when it is exclusive it is at its worst. Let me go one step further. When religion is bigoted, it is wielded as a weapon to divide. I have known many ministers in my day and they are by and large the most wonderful people and give much of themselves. But, just because someone is a minister does not mean they are immune to biases and mistakes. They are imperfect just like everyone else.

What disappoints me about the younger Graham is his father was so admirable in cutting a path of inclusion for all. Using an old phrase, he was a “Big Tent” preacher who wanted everyone to come and hear the word of God. That is the way it should be. Franklin would ask you to complete a survey and if you checked the wrong boxes, you would not  be allowed to enter the tent. He needs to spend some more time with his father and ask for guidance on how to be inclusive.

I will reiterate what I said before. Vladimir Putin is a thug, but a skilled one who uses people’s biases to divide and achieve his purpose. Franklin Graham took the bait and tried to appeal to a base of bigotry that is being cultivated in our country. I am hopeful many will see Putin’s true colors through this process and will not tolerate bigotry from anyone, but especially a religious leader.