Archive for January 2020

You Acquit, You Own It

January 29, 2020

According to most polls, the American public is narrowly split in favor of convicting President Trump in the Senate trial.  According to pundits, however, the Senate will not have a 2/3rds majority to convict under any foreseeable circumstances.  So, why are Democrats beating the drums seeking witnesses before the Senate actually votes up or down on impeachment?

Democrats have at least two reasons for seeking further testimony. 

  • First, witnesses, like John Bolton, can add to the body of evidence that the President used the power of his office to dig up dirt on his potential opponent, Joe Biden. 
  • Second, waiting just beyond the scope of this impeachment lies potentially similar egregious behavior such as President Trump offering favors to China President Xi and Turkey President Erdogan in return for favorable treatment for Trump businesses.  Spoiler alert, the second reason is akin to a fishing expedition but the waters look very rich.

Republicans, on the other hand,

  • see no value and quite the opposite see great harm to their brand if the President was convicted. 
  • In addition the President has demonstrated a lethal “get even” attitude when other Republicans got at cross purposes to his wishes.  And, simply counting votes instructs Republican Senators that the President’s coattails look better than what is in second place.

But Republicans would be wise to think twice.  The President has well established his modus operandi and there is no reason for any sane person to think his impeachment will result in a revision of his “methods and means”.  The risk Republicans run is that there is already other examples of the President using the power of his office for personal gains.  And when the next abuse of power is exposed, how will Republicans explain that to disgruntled voters?

Most likely Republicans are sleeping at night because they believe the masses will not abandon the President (and by inference, the Party) too quickly.  While that assessment could be true in the short term, the eyes of history will inevitably find otherwise as historians assess the written record in the years ahead.  Hmmm.

  

2nd Amendment Rights, Absolute?

January 28, 2020

There is a shooting range a couple of miles from where I live.  Apparently, local officials have struck a deal with the range owners.   A few minutes ago, at 12:01 pm, the range began operation for Sunday attendees.  Bang, bang, bang.

While I do not know any range members and therefore whether they are satisfied with the agreed upon “hours of operations” arrangement, I think that the unstated compromise involving a small sound disturbance for the nearby community is more than worth the insult that open carry presents in some communities.  IMO, guns are a personal thing and shooting them at the range or carrying them in the woods during designated hunting seasons, is a fair right for citizens to possess. Wearing a side arm in the local hardware store is not.

The Supreme Court ruled (in error IMO) that the Constitution, under the second Amendment, grants the right for citizens to possess weapons.  Some State courts have expanded this right to include “open carry” almost everywhere in that State.  Some have argued that there should be reciprocity from State to State and open carry in one State should be observed in another State even if that State has chosen not to allow open carry.  Hmmm.

The recent rally and protest in Richmond, Virginia should be a wake up call.  The Governor called for martial law and outlawed open carry during a planned demonstration.  A large fenced off area in front of the Capital had been defined as the demonstrators “space”. No guns in that area.  Standing only feet away, just beyond the chain linked fence, stood hundreds, openly wearing their weapons.  A Virginian sheriff was quoted as saying he would deputize any and all should the State try to take weapons away or outlaw open carry.  Hmmm.

The right to bear arms seems often to escape common sense.  Shooting at a range, hunting in the woods, and possessing weapons for self defense in ones home seem of low risk to others.  Larger issues with guns arise, however, with (1) the ability to own large numbers of weapons (what precautions exist against theft, misuse, or subsequent disposal), (2) the ability to own military style weapons (capability to shoot many other people quickly), and (3) use by militias (or armed gangs) which may or may not be “well regulated”.

Hmmm.

2nd Amendment debates are plentiful.  Supporters are adamant and speak of the fear that their guns will be confiscated.  Opponents speak of violence associated with misuse of weapons.  Why is it supporters and opponents seem unable to discuss guns logically?  Why does any discussion seem to follow the argument: “I want my rights and if they step on someone else that is not my fault, it is what the Constitution says”.

My neighborhood shooting range offers an example where gun owners can use their guns and agree to use the guns only during certain hours thereby recognizing the rights of others to quiet time.  Win-win for both supporters and opponents.

Sleaze Bag

January 25, 2020

This past week, President Trump, who was attending the Darvos economic forum in Switzerland, referenced House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler as a “sleaze bag”.  The reference was in the context, “oh yes I know Jerry Nadler, he’s a sleaze bag from long ago…”  Hmmm. 

There are a variety of definitions for sleaze bag but they all boil down to someone who is dishonest or immoral.  For an elected official, much less the President of the United States to travel abroad and take the opportunity to sling mud on political opponents simply is not done. 

The President often reminds Americans that he went to a very good school (University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance)., normally to imply how bright and well educated he thought he was.  The use of this epitaph, at the least, would suggest Trump missed or dropped any classes dealing with decorum or respectful composure.  

One is also struck that the President may have forgotten the old adage, “it takes one to know one”.

Stealing Signs?

January 22, 2020

With all the high drama bouncing around Washington DC, the public might be enough distracted that major league baseball’s revelations could escape detection.  MLB has determined that the Houston Astros used “technology” to crack the codes visiting teams were using for communications between their pitchers and catchers… and as a consequence, Houston’s batters were alerted that the next pitch might be a slider and not a fast ball.  Hmmm.

For as long as I can remember, television announcers have been “guessing” what the pitcher would throw next and sharing it with the TV audience.  During television broadcasts, camera frequently were trained upon the catcher in the act of giving his signs. One finger down, fast ball, two fingers down, a slider, three fingers down, a curve, and some shaking of the catchers fist, a change up.  Hmmm.

So why would MLB finally crack down on stealing signs and use a “red line” named “technology”?

 If one walks through any major league team’s training complexes what one would see is “technology”.  And, the whole wave of “analytics” which if followed allows one manager to position his players optimally.  Isn’t that the use of technology?

Is it possible that in the pursuit of ratings that MLB panicked when they sensed a threat to their credibility?  Is it possible that the pursuit of TV ratings will drive the organization to “make a stand” against cheating”?  Or is it possible that MLB already messes with game outcomes by one year supplying “juicy baseballs” which seem to fly out of the ballparks and now wants to stop the merry ground.  Hmmm.

Large organizations, especially those seeking strong growth, will often get caught in hypocritical situations and work strenuously to pander to investors while reassuring fans (customers) that their organization is “top-shelf”.  Hmmm.

Impeachment Blues

January 20, 2020

Tomorrow the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J Trump begins.  Las Vegas odds must be in the President’s favor given what Senate Republicans have said so far.  President Trump’s supporters, however, are all over the place on why the President should not be convicted.  (Remember the Impeachment boat has already sailed, President Trump is now the third President in US history to have been impeached.  All that is left is whether 2/3rds of the Senate will vote to remove the President from office.  Hmmm.)

The impeachment and the trial never needed to happen.  Had the President expressed regret over his extortion attempts towards the Ukrainian President (like, I was only interested in stemming corruption in the Ukraine and in my excitement I mentioned the Bidens.  I should not have said that.)  With a mea culpa, Democrats would have lost the indignation which the President’s “perfect phone call” claim elicited.  But mea culpa was never the path the President would pursue.

So, there will be a trial and Republicans will defend and Democrats will prosecute.  Listening to sound bites, Republican attempts to exonerate the President seem far fetched.  What planet are they living on?

Abuse of Power” is not a crime, Republicans say.  In other words, there is no statute that defines what is an abuse of power, so the President violated no law.  Hmmm.  Further, Republicans add, “the military aide was delivered, no harm, no foul”.  

Obstruction of Congress” is also not a crime.  President Trump considered the House investigation as a political act and he directed his executive branch to ignore the House and get on with business.  Hmmm.

Democrats see the impeachment quite differently.  In Democrat’s view, the President stepped far over the line by concocting a scheme where the Ukrainian Government would be extorted by holding up Congressionally approve aide and to add insult to injury, President and other Administration top players would snub the Ukrainian leaders… unless the Ukrainian Government announced publicly an investigation into Hunter and Joe Biden.  Seeking a foreign government to, in essence, provide Trump aide in the 2020 election is clearly out of bounds (I think).

The Impeachment Blues will begin as Republicans attempt to deny there are grounds for impeachment, and therefore there is no onus to convict.  Think about that.  Republicans are saying that “anything goes with future Presidents seeking help from foreign countries like China, Russia, or whomever.”

Republicans have already sullied their brand with a defective tax cut, immoral border and immigration policies, and deficits topping $1 trillion which our grandchildren will inherit.  One might argue that not convicting the President is par for the course.

Voters must listen carefully to the Senate proceedings.  President Trump has a much different view of the Presidency than past Presidents had.  Looking around the world, it does not take much effort to see so many countries tilting towards authoritarian leaders since open and free societies can be “so messy” to govern. 

Trump’s impeachment will stand as a clear line in the sand that repeat behavior will earn the next President another impeachment too.  

Communicating Through Speech

January 17, 2020

Most Americans are used to a direct communication method with whomever they are in contact. Being diplomatic, however, is also recommended so as to not offend the other person.  But, when diplomacy leads to the point of “what did he/she just say”, communications can be frustrating as well as confusing.  Auxiliary techniques such as eye contact, body posture, or hand positioning can aide or detract from the message.  Never the less, so many of us, at one time or another, say, “if only i had understood what you were trying to say, I would have……”

Contrast this to a proper Japanese who might say to a neighbor, “oh my husband so admires how beautiful your tree is”.  After a few days the Japanese lady might follow with, “my husband so admires your tree with its beautiful branches.”  And, if necessary, the Japanese lady might say a few days later, “my husband wonders how you take care of such a beautiful tree”.  The point of this exchange was to prompt the neighbor to inspect the tree and realize that its branches had grown over the property line and were dropping leaves upon the neighbors yard.  Hmmm.

This exchange may seem bazaar to Americans.  What’s wrong with just saying “your tree is dropping its leaves on my property, could you please pick them up?” 

This direct communication style can also over step the rights of others.  For example:

  • “I believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman, why do you two (man-man, woman-woman) think you can marry?” 
  • Or, “you may be a loving couple and may be able to provide a safe home, but same sex couples are inconsistent with our religious beliefs and therefore, we will not allow you to adopt someone our organization is trying to find a home for.” 
  • Or, my personal views are that fetuses represent a human being beginning at conception, and therefore ending a pregnancy is akin to murder. Accordingly, I believe the fetus has priority over rights (and life) of the woman carrying the fetus, period.”

What is common about these positions is that the person’s beliefs are imposed upon someone else even though the other person’s has done nothing to the first person.  Said differently, why is it ok for someone to impose their views upon another when the other person is doing nothing to hurt the first person?

The Japanese lady was prompting the neighbor to recognize the imposition the tree’s falling leaves were making (the neighbor must go and pick up the fallen leaves).  When Catholic Charities refuse to allow adoption of a child in its custody even though the potential adopter is otherwise fully qualified, Catholic Charities is hurting someone else when that other person has not hurt Catholic Charities.

Governments, even Presidents routinely tell citizens that policy X should be adopted for this reason or that reason.  When, however, the proposed policy is blatantly prejudicial to a minority group but not to the larger group, injustice can be seen.  Why should individual African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, or Asians who may be suspected of undesirable tendencies poison the thinking about the group as a whole? 

Prejudice is normally tied to complex social behavior.  Politics, however, can take something complex and make it toxic.  Detecting prejudicial behavior is easy when one asks the question, does the policy apply to everyone?  Does the policy penalize some and not others? Is the politician pandering to religious groups allowing these groups to impose their “deeply held beliefs” on others?

Communicating through speech sometimes is more difficult than it looks.

 

 

 

 

Toxic Thinking

January 11, 2020

Section I – The Birth of an Idea

During the George W Bush Administration, America was introduced to “Neoconservative” thinking.  This oxymoron was intended to reflect an updated version of good old Republican values most Americans recognized if not loved.  Neoconservatives argued that the United States represented the zenith of civilization offering a vibrant economy, military strength, and wholesome values which others would do well to emulate.  A “think tank” named “Project for the New American Century” boasted a foreign policy designed to ensure the 21st century was made in America’s image.  Hmmm.

“W” was not much of a thinker although IMO he eventually realized there was something fishy about his hubris filled, swaggering staff when they preached how America was right and others were not.  “W” was more comfortable wearing nice suits and getting his picture taken then squaring up what his Vice President, Defense Secretary and others were saying with laws and the Constitution.  So “W” side tracked his “compassionate conservative” label and read the scripts subordinates like Dick Cheney gave him.

And then there was 9/11.

The neoconservatives threw open doors and windows, and shouted from roof tops about the exceptionalism of America (google PNAC -Project For A New American Century) and how it was their duty to spread this thinking throughout the world but especially in the Muslim world. 

No sooner had US forces ousted the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan than the neoconservatives set their sights on “nation building”.  “We can’t allow terrorists to highjack Afghanistan again”, the neoconservatives said thumping their chests.

But that wasn’t enough.  Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, etc pointed at Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and falsely connected him to 9/11.  The Cheney cabal beat and beat war drums until the US invaded and occupied a sovereign country on trumped (pun) charges. 

Black sites, enhanced interrogation (think Nazi Gestapo techniques), and Guantanamo Bay Detention center (created to be outside the jurisdiction of US courts!!!) were products of neoconservative thinking.  Hmmm.

Section II – Rebirth

Fast forward.  Following 8 years under President Barack Obama where logic and reason prevailed, the country elected Donald Trump.  President Trump has turned out to govern in ways lacking logic or reason.  The stage has been set for neoconservatism to return.

The decision to assassinate the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani smacks of Dick Cheney-esq foreign policy.  (If you got the bigger stick, use it.) President Trump breathlessly raced to center stage in order to proclaim the assassination was on his order.  Trump thinks he is a tough guy despite having had bone spurs when he had the chance to go to Vietnam.

One must be careful, however, in assigning credit or blame to President Trump with respect to the assassination.  The President is an opportunist’s opportunist.  One should instead look to those advising the President, who would gladly hand the President a loaded gun in a crowded room.

Neoconservatives are paternalistic ideologues who exemplify “father knows best”.  Issues are reduced to black or white decisions which of course the neoconservative knows the best path forward.  Regrettably, the world is not a dichotomy of choices where one path is clearly superior to the other.  But authoritarian, paternalistic thinkers do not handle this possibility very well.

Iran is from an American’s perspective an opaque place where theocracy rules, women are subjugated, and free speech does not exist.  Iran, however, is not illogical, and like Russia, has adopted a foreign policy which buffers the homeland with client organizations operating in neighboring countries.  Iran does not want another Saddam Hussein ruling a neighboring country and subsequently invading Iran.  Hence General Soleimani’s work as a Middle East “trouble maker” is not likely to end with his death.

Assassinating the General will not change Iran’s foreign policy, it will simply change who is pursuing that policy.  Neoconservatives do not seem to recognize this subtlety and when confronted with more “bad behavior”, neocons will most likely reach for the hammer over using their words.

Section III – Teaching Points

There are ample reasons why President Trump ought be a one term President which have nothing to do with this recent assassination.  With respect to Iran, however, the President has willingly become a tool of neocons.  Judgement?  While the buck stops with the President, voters would do well to realize there are neoconservatives behind many bushes and trees, poised to jump out and take control of a putty-like President.  

In a strange way, the combination of President Trump and Neoconservative backers combines the worst of two dangerous forces.  One must assume that neocon motivation is at least in part founded upon energy sector driven economics.  The President has demonstrated a fondness for energy companies already and his America First motto fits Neoconservative rhetoric like a glove.  

President Trump has tried anti-globalism, embraced trade wars, and championed xenophobia.  Is neoconservatism next?