Archive for December 2019

Is Hong Kong Exceptional?

December 30, 2019

Visiting Hong Kong for most of the last two weeks, some thoughts and questions about the essence of this mostly Chinese, Western influenced island have arisen.   Arguably, Hong Kong is a special place deserving its own destiny along side Shanghai and Beijing.  Oops, you mean Shanghai and Beijing do not have control over their destinies?

Hong Kong is a land where everything works (like Germany), where food tastes magnificently (like France), and where there is oder (like the UK).  People go about their business without regard to what job they have or what income they make.  Everyone is dressed well and seems to eat equally as well.  More importantly, no one seems to worry about where the next meal may be emanating.  In short, Hong Kong works.

Some disclaimers…  there is a large difference between the wealthy and the average person with expensive cars and private drivers for the one group, and public transportation for the other.  Living space takes place in tall 20-40 story high rises where the average person uses 1-2 rooms and the wealthy occupy as many as 8+ rooms (with of course, live in help).  Education is both public and private, inexpensive and expensive, available and exclusive.

Hmmm, sound like America?

Central Hong Kong has sky scrapers, public parks, subways, buses, and taxis everywhere.  And people, both Hong Kongers and foreigners crowd streets and alleyways.  Public toilets are plentiful and immaculate.  Everything seems in good repair.  The city looks well run.

So, why are there “protests”?

When a country is dirt poor, citizens protest for food.  When there is shortage of adequate housing, citizens protest.  When there are limitations on mobility, citizens protest.  But when there is sufficient food, housing, and mobility, and people still protest, the burning question is why?

When a young, well fed, well housed, and educated generation, however, ponders the future, they realize that Hong Kong is scheduled to return to “one country, one system” (more than 20 years from now) when mainland China assumes total control.  It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that intellectual freedoms, current enjoyed in Hong Kong will be subject to strict controls.  For many younger Hong Kongers, restrictions on free choice, free movement, and free thought are freedoms they are unwilling to give up.


Good Things Move In Mysterious Ways

December 18, 2019

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

The Chinese have a way with words.  Those written above seem apropos at this moment of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.  Sadly, all signs indicate Trump’s reckoning will only include “impeachment” and turning out of office will have to wait until November 2020.

Ironically, Trump’s own hand (or mouth) will have done him in.  Trump’s attitude that the President (or at least Donald Trump) is above the law, which is a variant of his personal life “me first” or “it’s all about me”, has enabled President Trump to run roughshod over long established norms and precedents.  The impeachment process, regardless of how partisan it may have been, has shed a sanitizing light upon the President’s true intentions.

The President’s modus operandi is simple enough.  “Do whatever he wants, then if called out, tell his base supporters either (1) the President didn’t do it, or (2) “there’s nothing wrong if the President did do it”.

The longer the President whines about his impeachment, the longer everyday Americans are drenched in the evidence that the President did abused the power of his office.  In other words, the President did not play fair.

Providing Democrats do not nominate Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans will see the election cast in terms of 4 more years of a cad who is also dangerous, or selection of a moderate who is a traditionalist.  The moderate will win, IMO.

Whoa, Afghanistan, Really

December 12, 2019

The Washington Post has broken a tragic story, which is bound to elicit from those who were involved, “of course, everyone knew that”.  The story traces the US involvement in Afghanistan from the days shortly after 9/11 when the mission morphed from eliminating al Qaeda into nation building.  The story of how American policy tried to build a modern democracy, is not pretty and hardly heroic.  Rather, it is the tale of how national purpose drifted away from core values.

According to the Post, American Afghan policy has created a hugely corrupt culture, did not achieve stated goals including pacification.  The debacle began with George W Bush, continued with Barack Obama, and operates well with Donald Trump.  And even worse, there are officials who know about the corrupt practices and have been unable to do anything about the outcome,  As this unfolds, the Afghan scandal has the potential to ruin a great number of careers.

There is, however, another way to look at this government failure.  There is irony in that Bush and Obama were personally squeaky clean.  But both presided over organizations highly motivate to achieve goals.  Pacification of Afghanistan and the adoption of certain western values were key deliverables in the mind of American negotiators. What could go wrong?

How about trying to take a short cut, “money for results”, for example, money in exchange for human rights (as seen by the west), simple.  In theory the money was to buy arms, train militias, and build civil works projects, but in a wink, the local Afghans were also suppose to agree to certain human rights requests.

The Post reports that in addition Afghans learned that without the “grease” of money, nothing was needed to be done regardless whether the payer was the American Government or one Afghan doing business with another.

Does this learned behavior sound like the “art of the deal”?  “You do this for me, I’ll do that for you.”  Imagine, this dysfunctional behavior being witnessed in Afghanistan resulted from well intend US foreign policies under two different US Presidents, ostensibly for good intentions.  What might happen with a one-off, narcissistic President? 

Do You Hear The Whistle Blowing?

December 7, 2019

The train is leaving the station.  Do you hear the whistle blowing?

President Donald Trump, who I am confident, will be rated by historians as the worst President in modern times, if not for the entire life of the United States, is about to be impeached.  In all likelihood the impeachment as well as the Senate trial will follow party lines.  Impeachment under these circumstances, implies  two outcomes, (1) that President Trump will not be convicted in the Senate, and (2) that should the tables be turned (Democrat President and Republican controlled House), the majority party will return the favor and impeach the President of the other party.  Of course, unless there is a majority of 2/3rds in the Senate, any impeachment will simply be a political act with little or no consequence.

Many are worried about what type of precedent impeaching President Trump will established? What will follow?   But  then again, hasn’t that precedent already been set?  

The impeachment of Bill Clinton is a case in point.  The impeachment was strictly political payback by ideologically Republicans.  Clinton had mislead Americans as well as the Special Prosecutor on the nature of his relations with Monica Lewinsky. But weren’t these transgressions personal and not connected to malfeasance in office?

“He lied under oath”, however, claimed the Republicans.  “He darkened the good name of the Presidency” other Republicans carried on.  Despite public opinion decidedly being against impeachment, Republicans went forward.  (Hmmm, all the while the leading voice, House leader Newt Gingrich, was conducting a secretive affair with another woman after asking his wife for an “open marriage”.  So much for living a saintly life)

One might do well also recalling the stonewalling of Merritt Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court by Republicans for over one year.  No advise and consent for a Democrat nomination.  

So arguably the country is already engaged in divisive political behavior and “getting even” is regrettably a political way of life.  

Republicans may whine about the process (and they will).  Attempted bribery and seeking foreign involvement in the 2020 election represent an abuse of Presidential power and behavior that is inconsistent with the Constitution and commonsense.   Impeachment, even without conviction will send a message to all Americans describing Presidential behavior which should not be repeated. 

Unfortunately, like the train whistle, once the train has passed out of view, the whistle can no longer be heard.  I wonder how this tit for tat can be broken? 

My Tribe?

December 1, 2019

President Trump has inadvertently got himself in a teaching moment.  The President’s plight, of course, has nothing to do with a bad break or a totally unexpected consequence but instead is the product of “business as usual”.  President Trump has at every turn in the road demonstrated the notion that rules apply to others but not him.  Any student of the founding fathers intentions knows that rules must apply to everyone.  Hmmm.

Trump is an entertainer at heart and a “bullshitter” by nature.  The President wants to please others and in return receive adulation from his listeners.  Trump does not just “want”, he actively seeks positive feedback as a thirsty person does a glass of water.  As a “bullshitter”, the President is blind to the veracity of what he says.  Unlike a “lier”, President Trump never see the need for what he says to be correct.

What is astonishing, however, is that most of the President’s base act as if, on balance, the President represents more good than his flaws may mean.  “The President is the leader of my tribe”, is the message supporters exude.  Implied is the notion that future President ought to be like Donald Trump.  Does this make sense?

In the impeachment hearings held the past few weeks, clear testimonies confirmed for all to hear what the “whistleblower” wrote and more amazingly the readout of the telephone call with President Zelensky reported, President Trump sought to extort a foreign government in exchange for their efforts to smear a opposition candidate. 

The President put an administrative hold on Congress approved military aid funds, pressured the Ukrainian Government, using several middlemen plus his own phone call, to open investigations into internal US politics, and specifically asked that the Ukraine investigate President Trump’s Democrat challenger – former Vice President Joe Biden.  There is no ambiguity on these facts. 

So why are the President’s supporters (his tribe) tossing out all sorts of mitigating thoughts, like “the military aid was delivered”, there was no “quid pro quo”, or the phone call was inappropriate but there was nothing impeachable about the President’s call?

Using the acid test, what if this had happened during President Obama’s Administration, would Republicans have held the same opinion?  Probably, and maybe certainly, not.

The tribe takes care of their own.  If one is a Republican or a supporter of Trump, many see themselves as accused.  This enables each individual to see the impeachment charges as a referendum on their tribe.  

This behavior is the mark of a crowd, of the common folk, of the mass electorate.  There are many other types of tribes, such as fans of a sports team, or a pop singing star, or a social media influencer.  IMO the phenomena we are seeing with Trump supporters’ adamant denial of President Trump did nothing wrong is mostly sincere and gut driven.

Members of this tribe, however, are not asking the simplest questions, like why did the founding fathers put an impeachment clause in the Constitution in the first place?  Or, why should the President put his gains ahead of national security policies?  Or, is this Ukrainian incident a “one off” and not representative of Trumps behavior through out his life? 

The accent Greeks coined the term “Tyrant” to designate someone the Greek citizens had given essentially unlimited powers to rule (presumably to lead the country through periods of crisis).  Regrettably, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Our 250 year old Democracy has been stressed many times before.  Somehow Americans have rallied and put national interests above local parochial ones.  Look around, strong authoritarian leaders do not lead their citizens to better places.  President Trump is no exception and the 2020 ballot box is the place for Americans to put the ship of state back on the right tracks.

Impeachment, however, is about something else.  President Trump has acted in a way inconsistent with our historic democratic traditions and in a way which corrupts the basic governance promises Americans expect of their leader.  Impeachment says clearly “no one can act this way and remain President”.

It is generally believed that President Trump will be impeached by the House and not convicted by the Senate (baring any new information).  The impeachment, if based upon the already established Ukrainian facts, will stand as a guide post for future Presidential behavior.  The ballot box, on the other hand, will signify whether Americans can learn from the “Greeks tyrant example” or whether they would like to try another four years of it.