Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The President and his rhetoric


Saturday, October 13, 2018

It's Time for Trump the Deal-Maker to Hit the 'Pause' Button


On October 2, 2018, Jamal Khasoggi, a former Saudi Arabian senior journalist who was critical of the Saudi regime, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain paperwork for his planned marriage to his Turkish fiancée. There is video evidence of his entry into the facility, but no evidence showing that he ever came out again. Khasoggi, fearing arrest for his criticism of the Saudi government, had gone into self-imposed exile, had become a legal permanent resident of the United States, and wrote opinion pieces for the Washington Post and other media outlets.

Turkish officials claim that they have audio and video evidence that shows Khasoggi was beaten, tortured, killed, and then dismembered by a team of Saudi intelligence officials who had entered Istanbul and departed by private plane the same day. The Turks say that one of the 15 agents was a forensics expert. The Saudis, not surprisingly, deny this happened, and call the Turkish claim a lie. Outside the locked rooms of the various intelligence agencies little is actually known, other than the fact that Khasoggi has not been heard from since October 2.

While I, like most outside the intelligence community, don’t know what actually happened inside the Saudi consulate on October 2, what I do know has left me shocked, appalled, and disgusted. Shocked, but hardly surprised, that a government would even contemplate such a barbarous act. Appalled that so little concrete has been done beyond the usual public statements of ‘shock, dismay, and disapproval.’ And, disgusted at my own government’s reactions to his incident.

President, and deal-maker-in-chief, Donald Trump, when this first hit the airwaves, was noncommittal, and ended his statement by saying that while this, if true, was terrible, he did not want to cancel a $110 billion arms sale to the Saudis. Subsequently, Trump expressed his ‘anger’ at the whole incident, promised that he would have ‘strong words’ for the Saudi leadership, but still expressed his reluctance to kill the arms sale – because of its benefits to the US economy and US jobs. Furthermore, he expressed his desire that this windfall not go to other countries, such as Russia or China. His statements, or at least, the part about the arms sale, are dismaying and, from what I know, incorrect.

Let’s look first at the ‘facts.’ He claims a $110 billion sale; in fact, the White House previously announced this $100 billion potential sale, but without going into any details. Based on current reporting and the history of US-Saudi arms deals, I find the $110 billion figure hard to swallow. In 2017, Saudi Arabia bought $10 billion in arms, $6 billion of that from the U.S., the rest from mostly European countries. A tenfold increase in purchases seems, on the surface, to be incredible, and, frankly, unbelievable. News reports indicate that State Department records show a planned purchase of $4 billion, which is more realistic. As to Trump’s claims that the Saudis will, if the U.S. sale doesn’t go through, purchase from Russia or China, also don’t pass the smell test. The Saudi military uses mostly U.S. equipment. It’s doubtful that either the Chinese or the Russians could provide material or equipment that would be compatible with the current Saudi force structure, and it would take several years for Saudi Arabia to reconfigure their force to integrate Chinese or Russian arms. My conclusion is, what we have here is another case of the ‘alternative facts’ that seem to come out of this White House with alarming frequency.

One other thing that dismays me is the reporting that the U.S. intelligence community had information that the Saudis were planning to lure Khasoggi back to Saudi Arabia so they could arrest him. Why, one might ask, was he not warned of this danger?

According to Trump, he’s not an American, the incident didn’t happen on American soil, so, it’s not our ‘problem.’

Horse feathers! Intelligence Community Directive 191, I understand, is an executive branch directive that requires the IC to warn any individual, specifically non-US individuals, when there is a threat to them in a foreign country. Even if such a directive did not exist, I would think a sense of ‘right’ would compel the government to find a way, without compromising sources and methods, to alert someone that a foreign agency has him or her in its sights.

One can only wonder at this point; if Khasoggi had been a legal permanent resident working for Fox, Breitbart, or one of the other right-wing media concerns, if we would be hearing the same tired old song.

The world will be watching us and judging what we do in this terrible situation. Will we continue to put money over morals? If we do, all I can say is – SHAME!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Preparing the U.S. Foreign Service to Survive Disruption


Whenever there is a change in leadership in an organization, whether it’s a country or a country club, there will be change. And change is, by its very nature, disruptive. With every change of administration in Washington, government workers must accommodate the inevitable changes., sometimes minor, sometimes very substantive. Career personnel are committed to carrying out the policies of the elected leadership, but sometimes that job is made difficult by the pace, volume, and nature of the changes that a new administration brings. During my 50 years of military and civilian government service, under every administration from JFK to Barack Obama, I have lost track of the number of times I’ve had to make significant changes in how I carried out my duties.



Everyone, including the Foreign Service, faces changes in the way we do business when the foreign policy leadership changes. As frustrating as it can be, it is what it is.



.

Disruption means change: Sometimes Cosmetic, Sometimes Cataclysmic



During my thirty years as a Foreign Service Officer, in positions from junior consular officer to ambassador, I observed and experienced the turbulence that came with five presidential administrations, and since my retirement in 2012, I’ve followed with interest the changes underway with the current administration. Sometimes the changes were merely cosmetic, consisting of relabeling programs that were longstanding, but, at other times, the changes were dramatic.



The Reagan Administration practiced a form of ‘out-of-the-box’ disruptive diplomacy, but Reagan had a clear goal and even though he sometimes used militant rhetoric, was willing to change when the situation called for change. In addition, he had an excellent foreign policy inner circle.



George H. W. Bush entered office in 1989, a time of seismic changes in the global situation, with the USSR breaking up and the Cold War ending, ushering in what he called the ‘new world order.’ Bush, however, was not given to militant rhetoric or grand gestures, preferring instead a deliberate, cautious approach. While he was cautious with his rhetoric, he did cause some disruption because of his tendency to have direct contact with foreign leaders often leaving the diplomatic corps to learn things from the foreign press...



Bill Clinton took office in 1993, and his foreign policy direction was to rely on regional and international organizations. Much of the disruption during his two terms came from his conflict with congress over war powers, and the administration’s failure to act in response to the genocide in Rwanda, which, after he left office, he acknowledged was a failure on his part. Establishment of relations with Vietnam was perhaps the high point in his tenure, and expanded opportunities for many Foreign Service Officers who were Southeast Asian specialists.



When George W. Bush assumed the presidency in 2001, his foreign policy focused on stronger relations with Latin America, Mexico in particular, and a reduction in US nation-building efforts. One of his earlier moves, withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocols, caused a brief diplomatic scramble as our people abroad had to explain our position to host nations. Objections to the International Criminal Courts, and the possibility of it being used to target Americans for propaganda purposes, with threats of reduced assistance to countries who did not support our position created problems for diplomats who had to approach host countries what amounted to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it bullying’ offer.



In 2009, the administration of Barack Obama outlined a foreign policy based on cooperation with allies, a global coalition of partnerships to address global issues, such as the Paris Agreement on the Environment, and an emphasis on soft power instead of military solutions to problems. He did not immediately repudiate past policies, including some that many of our allies disagreed with, and 805 of the previous administration’s politically appointed ambassadors were retained for varying periods of time, ensuring continuity in our relations with their host countries.



And, that brings us to the present administration of Donald J. Trump, which took office in January 2017. From day one, and even during the campaign in 2016, we have seen a Heisenberg Principle level of uncertainty and disruption in US foreign policy, with policy pronouncements often announced via early-morning Twitter posts, without the benefit of interagency coordination. These actions have caused significant shifts in long-standing policies, forcing diplomats on the ground to scramble to explain their meaning to our allies



The Short- and Long-term impacts



Since January 2017, there has been an exodus of experienced senior career FSOs from the State Department, which exacerbates existing problems, particular relating to providing career guidance to new hires. In the short term, these vacancies have to be filled with often inexperienced mid-level people, who are not lacking in intellect or will, but who don’t have the wealth of experience and depth of contacts needed. This is further complicated by the lack of a clear policy. While ‘Make America Great Again,’ is an interesting slogan—albeit bringing to mind the discredited ‘America First’ policy of the pre-World War II years—it is not a policy.



The potential long-term impact is even more distressing.



Continued efforts to reduce the State Department budget, which is barely sufficient at the best of times, impairs the ability to staff our missions abroad. The administration often seems unaware of the many services our diplomats offer Americans that have nothing to do with politics. Consular services are not just immigration. Consular officers help American travelers and expatriates in ways that seldom get mentioned in the media, from replacing lost passports to issuing birth and death certificates.  Foreign Commercial Service Officers and their State Department economic officer colleagues assist American businesses in entering foreign markets, understanding foreign commercial environments, and settling business disputes. If we reduce this American presence abroad, we eventually reduce our ability to level the playing field for American business abroad, and we leave Americans traveling or living abroad without an essential lifeline.



Another long-term impact of the administration’s actions that no one seems to be considering is this: who will implement this administration’s policy abroad—assuming it can eventually develop a coherent policy. It might be barely possible, but hardly effective, for one person to run a big company, but it’s not  possible for one person to run a country. Domestic issues alone are beyond the scope of a single individual’s ability, and when it comes to the myriad of activities that go into the foreign affairs mix, it’s a fools’ errand to even contemplate going it alone.



How Can the Foreign Service Survive?



The Foreign Service currently faces an existential threat. Are we prepared to accept this new reality, and more importantly, do something about it? It’s not just the continued survival of the Foreign Service as a viable institution that’s important either. We must also consider the continued ability to provide essential services to Americans abroad, and to serve as the eyes, ears, and voice of the United States in places around the globe.



Working with the congress and other stakeholders, we need to take action to prepare our FSOs and Foreign Service Specialists, not only to survive for the next two years, but to prosper. We must prepare junior- and mid-level officers and specialists to perform effectively at more senior levels much earlier in their careers. This requires more than traditional tradecraft training, It requires a sustained program of career education that begins on day one of an officer or specialist’s employment.



This does not mean that we should junk current programs—at least, not all of them—but we should add programs that are designed to instill and reinforce the core values and skills that people require to be effective diplomats..



Courses in mentoring, counseling, ethical decision making, leadership, and planning should be mandatory for all personal at all grades. The A-100 course, for instance, should include basic instruction on these subjects, as should the senior leadership courses and the Ambassadorial and DCM/Principal Officer Seminars.



Mentoring and counseling are important for developing and motivating subordinates, and it’s no longer possible to rely on the apprentice system of the past; there simply will not be enough senior, experienced people to support it.



Current ethics training is necessary, but in today’s complex ethical environment, not sufficient. Our people need to be able to act and make decisions consistent with core American values while preserving their own personal moral values. Additional education is required to enable them to operate effectively in the gray area of moral uncertainty and value conflict, and they must have options beyond surrender integrity or resign.



FSI provides leadership training which is fairly effective. I say effective, but, I think there should be more participation by experienced practitioners. Mandatory leadership training should also be required for all tenured FSOs and all specialists who wish to compete for leadership positions.



Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s first diplomats, said, ‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” At the same time, there’s an old military saying ‘no plan survives first contact with the enemy.’ I’m not sure who said it first, but it’s true. Every event, every crisis is unique, and has to be dealt with in a unique way. So, what’s the good of a plan? Planning helps to focus people on the organization’s goals and puts everyone at the same starting point, so that in a crisis, efforts to deal with it are coordinated and coherent. Planning disciplines the mind, so that, in a crisis, with a short planning time frame, people can identify the problem, marshal needed resources, and deal with the problem in a coherent and timely manner. Planning requires one to identify the problem or goal, assess different courses of action, determine logistic and administrative requirements and drawbacks, and make decisions. This disciplining of the thought process, when a common part of the organization experience, helps in crises. While the planning time frame is much narrower when the balloon goes up, it still applies. Identify the crisis, determine the desired end state, marshal required resources, and execute.



These modest recommendations would, I believe, address many of our short- and long-term issues. The Foreign Service faces hard times, and at the end of the next two years will be a severely weakened institution that will have to be rebuilt. We shouldn’t, however, seek to rebuild it exactly as it was. We should strive to build a new and better Foreign Service. One that is resilient, and ready for any mission, anywhere. This we owe the American people.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Mnangagwa Wins First Zimbabwe Election since Mugabe's Ouster

Trump and the Truth

Trump once bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and people would still support him. 
The consistent support of his base in the face of his constant falsehoods would seem to support
that assertion.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Trump's Real Wall


Is Trump biting off more than he can chew?


From the beginning of his campaign, and even before, Donald J. Trump has been confrontational. As president, he has been continually disruptive, starting feuds all over the landscape, and lashing out at his enemies, real and imagined.

He has insulted the handicapped, women, John McCain, and Gold Star parents, started unnecessary trade wars with China, Canada, and the EU, and issued an ALLCAPS threat to the Iranians in response, not to something they did, but to something they said. He has waged close to all-out war on the media—except of course for his main source of faux (pronounced Fox) news and threatened to reduce the Department of State and our diplomatic corps to less than bit player status in his four-year reality show. He has rolled back environmental and other protective regulations that threaten the environment for decades to come. Except for Putin of Russia and Kim of North Korea, who seem to be his best buds, he’s picked fights with just about every imaginable demographic.

He has, though, picked one fight that might just be his Waterloo. He has frequently and persistently of late undercut and undermined the US intelligence community, expressing a preference for believing Vladimir Putin over them. So far, he has not picked on the military as an institution, because like many draft dodgers of his generation, he is enthralled by men in uniform—as long as they are not him—and, I believe he’s afraid of them. The problem is that none of his love interests, not Putin, not Kim, and not the US military, can aid his hold on power. Putin tried, and even succeeded in helping him gain the Oval Office, but I don’t think there’s much he can do to keep him there or ensure him a second term. Kim can only add more complications to his life, and unless he can somehow install a military dictatorship with himself as figure-head leader while America is sleeping, the military will continue to follow the orders of the commander-in-chief, but they’re not gonna do much for him politically.

The intelligence community, though, and to a lesser extend the federal law enforcement community, can make or break him. He likes to tell us how smart he is, and even if that was true—which it definitely is not—he still needs information in order to effectively use that smartness. By dismissing his intelligence professionals out of hand as he does, and because of his tendency to blab classified information to people like the Russians as he did with the Israeli information, he ensures that they will only give him the bare minimum. The law enforcement community also has information that would be valuable for him to have, but since he’s always attacking them, and never listens anyway, he will continue to NOT have that information.

In the meantime, he keeps wading deeper and deeper into that swamp he swore he’d drain but has instead simply added new creatures. One day, he’ll be so deep he’ll be breathing swamp water, and guess what. He’s not likely to have a hand reaching out to extricate him, because by that time, all the hands that could have helped will have been slapped.

Trump’s behavior for the past eighteen months reminds me of an old saying, ‘Be careful who you step on on you way up the ladder, because you’ll have to pass them on the way back down.’

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Tale of Trump's Taxes


Since the administration of Richard Milhous ‘Tricky Dick’ Nixon, U.S. presidents have publicly released their tax returns; a way to reassure the public that they have no financial entanglements that would interfere with their duty to the nation. Every president, that is, except Donald J. Trump.

During the campaign, then-candidate Trump refused to release his returns, claiming that he couldn’t because they were being audited by the IRS—this, despite the IRS stating publicly that an individual had the authority to release his returns even during an audit. There were, if I remember correctly, vague promises that he would release the returns if elected.

Well, we’re over a year and a half into the Trump Administration, and President ‘Dishonest Donald’ Trump still has not released his returns, breaking a 40-year precedent that has been honored since the days of Jimmy Carter.

Why, one has to ask, is he so jealously guarding documents that every senior government official in a position of responsibility is required to provide, and presidents before him have willingly provided? Questions that arose after his sniveling, submissive performance in Helsinki when he shared the podium with his bromance, Vladimir Putin, make these documents even more important, and makes me wonder why the secrecy.

I don’t want to start another conspiracy, so I’ll say up front, I don’t know, and we may never know, but I would like to offer some possibilities for his reluctance to let us see his tax returns.

1.      They show that he’s not nearly as rich as he claims he is, and we all know how sensitive he is on that subject.

2.      They show income from questionable sources such as the Russian mob, or even domestic underworld sources. His flirtation with organized crime figures has been well documented, as has his relationship with Roy Cohn of McCarthy Red Scare fame, who himself had underworld connections.

3.      They show expenses, especially if he used a credit card or third-party payer, that prove conclusively that he’s lied about some of his extramarital liaisons or that he actually did hire . . . ladies of ill repute to stage the salacious Moscow hotel event.

4.      They show investments or debts from Russia that indicates he’s in hock to them up to his eyebrows.

5.      They show money flowing in from unusual sources that can eventually be traced back to Russian intelligence or Putin himself.

I’m not ranking these scenarios, and I’m sure there are other possibilities, but if I had to rank them, items 1,2, and 3 would head my list, simply because they are so typical of the man. Item 4 is not beyond the realm of possibility, while number 5, though unlikely, also can’t be entirely dismissed.

All of this speculation and the constant questions and doubts could be laid to rest if the man would just man up and release his returns. An alternative would be the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman requests the returns from the IRS as he’s authorized to do and let them be reviewed by members of both parties on his committee. At least some of our elected representatives would know what’s what. Not the ideal solution, but better than nothing. But, Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from the 8th District of Texas, ain’t about to do that. Like many of his GOP colleagues, he will continue to support and enable Trump until they go over the cliff.

So, it’s likely we’ll never know. But, it’s such a minor thing. If you’re honest and have nothing to hide, what’s wrong, when you’re the top dog in the kennel, with letting people see what everyone of your predecessors has let them see?

I’d like to see a reporter at one of Sarah Sanders’ press conferences bring this up, just to see how she punts it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Where is Global Leadership when you need it?


With the current US administration’s abdication of global leadership, the world is more in need of effective leaders across the entire spectrum of business, social organizations, and government than it has been since the onset of World War II.

It doesn’t matter whether the objective is negotiating fair bilateral or multilateral trade agreements, dealing with foreign interference in domestic elections, or with the global threat of climate change, leadership that is incapable of communicating and acting across cultural and national boundaries is not only ineffective, it’s dangerous.

Now, there hasn’t been a time since the establishment of organized communities or nation-states that global, or cross-cultural leadership hasn’t been important. But, in the current era, when air travel has reduced the time between the most distant points on earth to hours instead of months, and technology has made it possible to communicate around the globe with the press of a button, the ability of leaders to navigate the uncertain terrain is more important than ever.

It’s always a good idea to define what you’re talking about so that everyone involved in the conversation is singing from the same song sheet. For the purposes of the present discussion, global leadership as ‘the capacity to develop and maintain multiple key cross cultural or international relationships toward a common purpose.’ This definition, by the way, applies to any leadership situation.

How do we recognize effective global leaders? Where do they come from?

For as long as I can remember, the debate over whether leaders are born or raised has raged, with neither side giving in. From my perspective of 50 years of experience in government—being led, observing other leaders, or leading—I’ve found that, while truly great leaders do share some common traits, and some people do have a larger share of these traits than others, no one is really born to lead. Some do perhaps exhibit leadership traits in childhood, but it takes more than possessing the traits to make one an effective leader. Leaders, global or domestic, are developed from among those with the potential and desire to lead, either from within their organization or from the outside. They must be identified, educated and trained, and nurtured from early in their careers.

Leadership education is a life-long process, and one that must be undertaken by organizations an by those who want to become effective leaders.

During my time as the first American consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, I had the opportunity to see global leadership first hand—both effective and ineffective.

One of the biggest US investors in Vietnam at the time (1998-2001) was the sports wear giant, Nike. Nike’s production was done in contract factories run by Koreans, Singaporeans, and Taiwanese, with Vietnamese workers. Cultural misunderstandings in a couple of the factories led to work stoppages and threats of legal action by the government. Worse, though, Nike’s image in the US took a beating. Nike hadn’t taken the step of giving its in-country representative control over the factory managers and hadn’t anticipated the potential for cultural clashes when Confucian cultures like Korea and Taiwan came into contact with the easygoing Vietnamese.

Nike did at least have the good sense to hire former UN ambassador Andrew Young to help them develop a solution, to the problem, and I had the rare opportunity of working with him as he did so. After reviewing the situation, he came up with a series of steps that solved the problem, and Nike’s reputation was saved.

This incident highlighted for me the critical importance of global leadership. Global leadership is important, even if you’re sitting in an office in Seattle or Raleigh. It’s important that even small organizations identify and nurture people capable of leading in today’s world—people with an understanding of the diverse factors that can affect an organization’s ability to achieve its goals.

By way of recap, following are the characteristics of effective global leaders:

·         They are able to gain the trust of multiple stakeholders, both internal and external to their organization.

·         They are able to identify key tasks and are devoted to achieving organization goals without disrupting or fracturing relationships.

·         They take personal responsibility for mistakes or failings and share credit for achievements.

·         They leave their egos at home. At the same time, they possess the self-confidence and self-assurance to step up when needed.

·         They value and respect diverse views.

·         They are effective communicators. Sometimes this means the ability to communicate in other languages, but most importantly, it means understand how culture and language effect the organization. They don’t for example, try to market a car named Nova in Spanish speaking markets.

·         They can identify core values that all stakeholders can share and are creative in seeking solutions to problems while maintaining those core values.

·         They remain calm regardless of the situation.

·         They have an appropriate sense of humor, understanding that what might be funny in one culture might be insulting in another.

·         They can deal with any situation.

Believe it or not, global leadership is really just that simple. One wonders, therefore, why is so rare these.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Man Controlled By Russia Says Germany Is Controlled By Russia

Trailer for Tihings I Learned From My Grandmother

Want to Lose Weight? Dole the Rice


Whether we like it or not, we all reach a certain age when keeping the pounds off and conquering middle-age spread is a chore. And, worse, the pains that come with aging—some of which are payback for the things we did when we were younger—means that losing weight is not just a voluntary matter of looking good, but mandatory quest to relieve the pain on aching joints.

I fought off this realization for a long time, but shortly after my 71st birthday, when I tipped the scales at 230 pounds and my knees—both of them with degraded cartilage and arthritis—ached so much I had trouble sleeping, I knew I had to shed a few pounds.

The problem with that, though, is that I’ve had a complicated relationship with diets. I’ve tried many different regimens over the years, and have managed on occasion to lose a few pounds, but, like a worrisome zit, they always come back. In addition, diets such as the South Beach Diet, or the low- or no-carb diets, require giving up something, and that’s often something I really like, and giving it up only leads to craves, which leads to falling off the wagon, which leads to . . . well, you know the story. I’ve even considered some of those weight loss plans advertised on TV, but only for a few seconds, as their claims sound about as valid as a three-dollar bill. This whole thing is further complicated by the fact that I’ve weighed over 210 pounds since the 1970s.

So, with the new resolve to lose weight, I had to come up with a plan that was unique to me. One that would allow me to take pounds off in a measured way, deal with any cravings that arise, and—most importantly—keep the pounds off.

During the process of mulling it over, I remembered that there have been times in the past when I was able to lose weight and keep it off for longer than a month or two; the times when I lived in Asia and ate mostly local food. I did a little research on Asian cuisine and discovered why that was so. Asian diets are generally based on rice (and sometimes noodles) rather than bread as a source of starch and carbohydrates, and they’re light on red meats, while heavy on vegetables and fruits. In addition, I finally admitted to myself that I was a heavy beer-drinking snacker (pun intended). So, even when I managed to lose a pound or two, I’d inevitably succumb to my cravings for a bag of chips and a cold brew and pack them back on, along with a few friends.

My task was clear. I had to craft a diet that would help me lose pounds, resist the temptation of cravings, and keep those pounds off. It took a while, but I finally did, and I’d like to share it.

Cut Down, Not Out

Several years ago, a doctor advised me to completely eliminate fried foods, red meat, eggs, and dairy products from my diet to lower my cholesterol. The result: my cholesterol went up, for the simple reason that when I stopped ingesting any cholesterol, my liver went on red alert and started producing more. That taught me a good lesson; totally cutting something out of your diet can be a bad thing. The key is to ingest at manageable levels, or to find a suitable substitute before you toss a food.

For example; I love bread, but an ounce of whole wheat bread has 79 grams of calories and 1.53 grams of fat. Compare that to an ounce of brown rice which has 31 grams of calories and 0.23 grams of fat, and you’ll start to see where I was going.

I didn’t totally eliminate bread from my diet, or red meat, or alcohol. I just brought them under control.

Control the Craving

I knew that if I tried to eliminate certain things from my diet, I’d soon experience cravings that could very well destroy my diet plans. So, I made a note of my favorite comfort foods, ice cream, Snickers™ bars, potato chips, craft beer, and established ‘binge’ periods of once or twice a month, when I would partake of them—not in excess, but just enough to remind myself of what they tasted like. Other than my binge periods, I cut out snacks. No more mid-morning pantry raids, or late evening cookie binges for me. I also cut way, way down on alcohol consumption. Not just beer, but all booze. Now, I drink on special occasions; my birthday, my wife’s birthday, or the occasional business lunch.

I kicked off my new diet in January 2017—figuring I was already so depressed that Donald Trump had somehow been elected president that a diet couldn’t make me feel any worse. My weight at the time was 228, and my goal was to be under 200 in a year, and then to finally get down to around 195.

Compare Foods

If your diet is to work, you need to know what you eating and what you’re giving up. Read the nutrition labels on food. Go on line and look things up. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. In addition to what I previously mentioned about the comparison between whole wheat bread and brown rice, did you know that those instant Asian noodles have only 30 grams of calories per ounce, but 2.58 grams of fat? They’re also very high in carbs, so you might want to go easy on them. Rice, though, even white rice, is lower than bread in calories and fat, so it’s a good starch, and can be prepared in a variety of ways that are really quite tasty.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is always a good idea, but be aware that fruits are high in sugar, so you might want to have a doctor evaluate your sugar levels before you binge on melons and apples.

I’m nuts about nuts. Unlike a lot of people, I’m not allergic to peanuts, which are a great source of fiber and protein. They are, however, high in fat and calories, so don’t be a glutton. A handful a day is enough. If you’re allergic to peanuts, walnuts and almonds are good substitutes.

Go easy on the red meat. My doctor advises me to eat it occasionally for the iron, so I have about two to three days a month that are red-meat days, which seems to be working.

Keep Track, But Don’t Obsess Over the Numbers

Keeping track of your weight will help you monitor your progress. But, you shouldn’t fret the occasional uptick in weight. Particularly if, like me, you occasionally binge. As long as the trend is downward, you’re probably okay. In my case, I started my diet in January 2017 at 228. By October, I was down to 206. It took me until April 2018 to hit my mark of 200, and I’ve gone back up to near 206 once or twice since then, but always come back down and kept going down. Near the end of April, I finally broke 200, and have only gone back over that mark once since. It’s mid-July as I write this, and my weight this morning was 197. I can’t tell you how much better I feel than I did two years ago. The pain and swelling in my knees no longer bother me—in fact, the swelling is gone, and the pain’s hardly noticeable. I am wearing clothes I couldn’t button two years ago. And, I have a new spring in my step. I exercise regularly, and with the decrease in knee pain, have been able to expand my exercise routine to include more leg-strengthening routines. My 195 goal is within reach, and the fact that I’ve kept my weight down for nearly two years is a good sign that I’ve finally found a routine that works.

Will it work for you? Honestly, that’s something that only you can understand. But, I’m no iron man, and it worked for me. Maybe you should do what I did. Study yourself and your circumstances, and then cobble together a plan that is uniquely yours.

What I’ve learned though is that to lose weight and keep it off, you don’t roll the dice; you dole the rice.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Doing His Master's Bidding


Putin the Puppet Master


My Political Journey


When the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and went into effect on July 1, 1971, just four days before my twenty-sixth birthday, I’d already been a registered voter for five years, having voted in two presidential elections and one mid-term. I’d never actually been to a polling place, because I joined the army when I was seventeen, and was never in my home state of Texas for an election. So, I’d been submitting absentee ballots.

Local elections were easy for me to decide. East Texas was, and as far as I know still is, solidly Democratic, and when I was a kid growing up in the piney woods of that region, the Democrats were the guys wearing sheets and hoods and burning crosses—or at least, some of them were. So, unless I knew a Democratic candidate personally, which is not difficult to do when you come from a county with a population of less than 12,000, I either voted for the Republican, or left that part of the ballot blank.

At the national level I voted mainly for Republicans, figuring the Party of Lincoln had my interests at heart; sort of. Of course, if I’d been old enough to vote I would have voted for John F. Kennedy, and when Jimmy Carter ran against Ronald Reagan, I left that block blank. If I’d known at the time what I later learned, I would’ve voted for Carter.

For a long time, though, I self-identified as a Republican because of what I thought I knew about the Republican Party. Gradually, however, reality penetrated my thick East Texas skull. I was serving in Germany during the 1964 election, when Arizona Republican Barry Goldwater played the Southern Strategy during the primary, and was, unfortunately, unaware of it.

Later, though, when Nixon reformed that strategy, and took it a step further by appealing to the ‘Silent Majority,’ my eyes were opened wide. I discovered that a lot of Republicans were as racist as I’d always imagined most Democrats to be.

I’d already been confused with Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat, and JFK’s successor after his assassination, championed and then pushed through congress, a civil rights and voting rights bill that infuriated a lot of the southern Democrats, causing them to defect to Nixon’s Republican Party.

At that point, though, I couldn’t purge those robes and burning crosses from my mind, so I began calling myself an Independent; my way of saying, ‘a pox on both their houses, since I’m not welcome in either one.’

Things stayed pretty much that way until Bill Clinton, an Arkansas Democrat, ran for and won the presidency. Damn! How was it that another southern Democrat seemed to be able to treat all people equal? I began to waver and found myself looking more closely at Democratic candidates in national elections. I retired from the army and joined the Foreign Service in 1982 and had a lot of opportunities to meet some of these guys in person, and what I learned stunned me. There were some Democrats who were racist, homophobic misogynists, and some Republicans who, despite leaning to the right, had compassion (the Bush family comes to mind). But, the two parties had taken entirely different roads. The Republicans had gone so far right they were off the map, while the Democrats dithered on the left, but not all that far from the center. The Republicans seemed to be in the pockets of big industry, and under the thumb of the far, far right, and the Democrats were eating from labor’s lunch buckets. Being more of a centrist, I still clung to my Independent label.

Then, a miracle happened. Young, urban, intellectual voters came out in droves and put a black man, a Democrat, in the Oval Office, not once, but twice, and the Republicans pulled off the gloves and did everything they could to make him fail. They failed to do that, but since the 2016 election, the Republican incumbent has been trying to pull an old Soviet trick and erase him and his achievements from the history books.

There’s one thing about me that must be understood at this point; I have always hated bullies. Despite twenty years in the army, I’m a pacifist at heart, but bullies make me want to fight.

So, during Barack Obama’s first term, I went to my local election office and registered as a Democrat

I guess that makes me a political animal now, but unlike many Democrats I know, I still have friends who are Republican—and, not a few relatives. We still get along; we just avoid talking about politics, religion and sex, flash points for many Republicans, and topics I’d always been taught to avoid anyway.

But, I’ve learned that maintaining such cross-party relationships is not an easy thing to do. It’s not big thing for me because I don’t pay attention to detractors, but the Republican friends of my Republican friends probably wonder how they can continue to interact with me, not only a Democrat, but an apostate to boot. I think, though, that these particular friends are true friends, because they’ve not abandoned our relationship. A few of my false friends did after the first election when they found out I’d gone to the dark side.

That is my political journey, one that continues, and I continue to hope that one day things will go back to a semblance of the way they used to be when hands could reach across the aisle in friendship and cooperation, and people could disagree without being so darned disagreeable.

I just hope I live long enough to see that day arrive.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Danger of Photo-op Diplomacy


Recent satellite imagery of North Korea appears to show that country making substantial improvements to one of its nuclear research facilities.  This comes just weeks after U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s summit meeting with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and Trump’s public announcement that ‘there’s no longer a nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula.

Though marred by widely circulated images of Trump saluting a North Korean general, the summit was generally regarded as a positive step toward a diplomatic settlement of what could be one of the most dangerous situations of this century. As with many of the Trump Administration’s actions, though, this one seems to be mostly smoke and mirrors, and naïve, wishful thinking on the part of a president more impressed with appearance than substance.

In some ways this brings to mind George W. Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished’ press appearance during the second Gulf War, just before things in Iraq went haywire. The difference this time, however, is that the stakes are infinitely higher, and the situation is even more dire. Iraq was found, after an exhaustive investigation by U.S. and international agencies, not to actually have nuclear weapons, despite some evidence of its efforts to get them. North Korea, as we well know, not only has a number of nuclear bombs, but has made great strides to mount them on missiles capable of reaching U.S. shores.

This tendency the U.S. president has of conducting off-the-cuff diplomacy, consisting of photos of smiling leaders shaking hands followed by rosy announcements of ‘victory,’ might play well to a certain audience, but it does nothing to change the reality on the ground. And, this latest imagery shows what those familiar with North Korea already know; North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons, the only bargaining chip Kim has in dealing with his more powerful adversary.

It will be interesting to see how Trump deals with this latest development. Clearly a rebuke of his early, off-the-cuff assessment, will he admit he was premature in his announcement and take the necessary steps to get things back on track? Anyone who has observed the man during his time in the Oval Office, and who is willing to admit that when it comes to the complexities and nuances of foreign policy he’s clueless, will have to conclude that he won’t. Incapable of admitting mistakes and lashing out viciously at anyone who dares accuse him of being wrong, he’ll probably tweet some non sequitur, or even worse, ignore the whole thing. No, there is actually something worse he can, and might, do. As he did when the intelligence community published an assessment of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, or the FBI and DOJ did their jobs on the investigation of Russian involvement with the Trump campaign, he might tweet derogatory invective in an effort to undermine this latest finding.

When personal image is the thing foremost in your mind—his mind—and you appear to be ruled by ego gratification and the adulation of others, your actions are not likely to be rational; at least, not rational to rational people.

It would be nice to think that there are a few sane people working in the White House who will sit the man down and explain the ‘real’ world to him. Nice, but not bloody likely. This is a man who, like a mafia don, values personal loyalty above all, and who is not likely to listen to anyone trying to tell him something he doesn’t want to hear. In fact, that person is likely to be looking for a new job shortly after making the effort.

Public diplomacy, reaching out to public audiences to get your message across, is an effective tool in the soft power toolbox, but public relations diplomacy, getting the right picture in front of the largest audience to make yourself look good for a few moments, is a path to disorder, and a dangerous way to conduct international relations. As a matter of fact, it’s a pretty lousy way to conduct domestic affairs as well—but, that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What Would Emily Post Do?


Having watched the Trump Kakistocracy trample all over human dignity for over a year, I can certainly understand the frustration and anger that would lead patrons to boo the homeland security secretary in a Mexican restaurant, or why the owner of a small independent restaurant would ask the White House mouth piece to leave—I can understand it, but I cannot approve of such behavior. I was distressed when I saw Representative Maxine Waters on TV calling on people to confront these bullies whenever they see them in public, to make it uncomfortable for them.

You see, this kind of behavior is what they do. At the very time spokesperson Sanders was lamenting the call for people to shame the kakistocrats in public, the Kakistocrat-in-Chief was engaged in public name-calling. That is not who we are as a society—at least, not the society I want my grandchildren to grow up in. We should aspire to be a society of people who treat each other with courtesy, regardless of our religions or political affiliation, gender, race, or sexual preference. What we should not be doing is crawling into the sewer these people inhabit.

If we wish to highlight their bad behavior, I can assure you, we will not accomplish it by being even half as bad as them. We do it by being just the opposite of them. Where they try to incite hatred and fear, we encourage love and confidence. When they take actions to drive wedges between us, we work to build bridges.

So, let’s not confront these people when we see them in public places. Allow them to enjoy their meals unmolested. If they make eye contact—and the ones who are still capable of feeling shame probably won’t—smile. That will drive them wild trying to figure out what you’re really thinking about them.

You won’t change their behavior by doing this, but you will show our children that the clown act they see on TV is not how real, adult Americans behave.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

ASCENDANCE OF THE KAKISTOCRACY


During the English Civil War in 1644, speaking to supporters of King Charles I, Paul Gosnold lamented the rise of the Kakistocracy. Those who read former CIA Director John Brennan’s April 2018 tweet to President Trump have probably already looked this word up, but for those who haven’t, a kakistocracy is a ‘government of the worst, most corrupt, and most dishonest.’ Brennan used the word to describe what the Trump Administration is doing to America.

I have the greatest respect for Mr. Brennan and wish to state for the record that he has, in a short tweet, described exactly what is happening to the ‘Land of the Free.’ The turmoil of the past few weeks surrounding the administrations ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards immigrants on the Mexican border, resulting in the separation of over 2,000 children (some infants) from their parents, serves to prove just how right Brennan is in his assessment.

First, a bit about this term’s meaning and origins. It is derived from two Greek words; kakistos, meaning worst, and kratos, meaning rule. In other words, a system of government run by the worst, least qualified, most unscrupulous citizens.

Let the events speak for themselves.

In April, the Trump Administration began a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, the intent of which was to prosecute as many illegal border crossing offenses as possible. Because the Justice Department cannot prosecute children along with their parents, the new policy initiated an upsurge in family separations, with an estimated 2,000 children of all ages being taken away from their detained parent or parents in April and May. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, at a White House briefing maintained that DHS does ‘not have a policy of separating families at the border,’ and while the administration’s policy does not specify separation, the reality is that this is just what happened. Pressed, though, she acknowledged that separation is an inevitable consequence of the policy. Nielsen and other administration officials often cite similar actions by previous administrations, especially the Obama Administration, and blame congress for a law that requires them to do what they do. The difference is that in previous administrations, as odious as the practice is no matter who does it, there were at least guidelines prioritizing deportation actions against gang members, those posing a security risk, and those with felony records. The Trump Administration’s policy has no priorities—everyone caught attempting to cross illegally is swept up in the dragnet. The executive order issued by Trump in January 2017 refers only to ‘criminal offenses’ which can include misdemeanors, such as illegal entry, as well.

In some cases, children separated from parents are placed with relatives in the U.S., but in many, they are held in what amounts to juvenile concentration camps. Some child advocates have reported scenes of children in these facilities crying for their mothers while staff are prohibited from having physical contact with them.

To add insult to injury, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on national TV, even used a biblical passage to defend the government’s policy—which the homeland secretary had previously stated ‘didn’t exist,’ and which Trump blames on Democrats in congress, saying ‘they gave us that law.’ Several things wrong with this scenario. One, Sessions, tone deaf on issues of race and ethnicity at the best of times, used a biblical passage that was at one time used to justify slavery, and Nielsen can’t seem to get her terminology straight. Trump, as usual, blames someone else for a policy that he, as president, can change with a phone call.

And, speaking of his powers, just days before he issued a vaguely-worded executive order calling for an end to family separations (which failed to address those already separated), he told a reporter, ‘we can’t do it by executive order.’

Trump also alluded to the separations as bargaining ‘leverage’ with congress in his efforts to get funding for his border wall and other immigration priorities. This is in sharp contrast to his statement when very publicly signed his executive order, when he said that ‘anyone with a heart would be against separating children from their parent.’

At times, various administration officials, including Sessions, have said that the prospect of family separation was a deterrent, a claim that has been debunked by the fact that the number of arrivals at the border have actually increased since the policy was implemented. And, Trump continues to blame the ‘Democrat’s law’ for the debacle, saying that they must work with their GOP colleagues to pass the law that he wants, a hardline bill—despite the fact that he has threatened to veto even a hardline bill that the GOP tabled.

The rhetoric coming from the White House has been, and continues to be, mind-blowing. Trump has said that without his tough policies, ‘millions will swamp the border and infest our country.’ Where those ‘millions’ will come from he does not say.

I could go on, but the taste of bile in my mouth as I write this is becoming overwhelming. It appears that the kakistocrats have taken over. It’s like the inmates taking over the prison.

Maybe this is the beginning of the third-party system in this country. The Democrats, those Republicans who’ve come to their senses and want to go back to Bush’s compassionate conservatism, and the Kakistocratic Party, made up with those who have glued themselves to the cult of Trumpian personality and seem to be willing to go over the cliff with their hero.

Forever the optimist, I keep telling myself that this, like a kidney stone will eventually pass. But, like a kidney stone, it’s going to be a painful experience.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Shades of Manzanar: Trump's actions on immigration could destroy the GOP


The Trump Administration has been subjected to a barrage of criticism from many corners over its zero-tolerance immigration policy that has resulted in approximately 2,000 children being separated from their parents and placed in facilities reminiscent of WWII Japanese internment camps.

This issue has created fissures within the Republican establishment like no other, and if sober, mature minds don’t come up with a solution, could be the issue that puts the final nail in the GOP’s coffin.

In the face of criticism of the policy of separating children from parents when the parents are detained for illegally entering the U.S., the president has blamed the Democrats, an accusation that fails to convince any but his most diehard supporters given the fact that the GOP controls the House, Senate, and White House. The law allowing this inhumane practice has been in place since the Bush Administration and was applied in a limited way in both that and the Obama Administration, but it wasn’t until the current administration that it has been so widely applied. Moreover, Trump, though he publicly says he ‘hates to see kids taken from their parents,’ is using the tactic as a bargaining chip to force congress to cave on some of his other immigration demands, a callous attitude if there ever was one.

And then there’s Attorney-General Jeff Sessions using the Bible to justify the practice, and not so smartly using a biblical passage that was at one time used to justify the practice of slavery.

It’s not just Democrats and human rights activists objecting to this odious practice, either. Church groups have spoken out against it. Some prominent Republicans have expressed t heir disapproval. Even figures within the Trump Administration, and other Trump supporters, such as short-time White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, have come out publicly against it.

If the bulk of the Republican Party, with its trademark ‘family values’ stance, doesn’t publicly denounce this practice, and then take immediate legislative action to end it; if the conservative religious institutions don’t speak out against it; and if the administration doesn’t step back and consider the long-term consequences of its actions, we could reach a crisis point, and the GOP could find itself on the brink of extinction or irrelevancy. With the exception of that portion of the American population that is so angry that it cares about nothing about assuaging its anger, I can’t imagine the majority of the American people not being shocked at what’s going on.

This is not my America. Have we not learned from Manzanar? As bad as that was, we at least kept families together? Just because an act is legal doesn’t make it right, and I’d like to point out to Mr. Sessions that the Bible also says that the laws must be just and moral. We have a moral duty to oppose unjust, immoral laws. That’s the America I want to live in again. Forget ‘Make American Great Again,’ it’s always been great, let’s focus on making America ‘Good’ again.

I’m convinced that we will eventually wake up and do the right thing. I just wonder if the GOP will still be sleeping when that happens.