Thursday, June 21, 2018


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.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When Rhetoric replaces Reason: How to Screw Up a Good Thing

As someone who has been a fervent critic of Donald Trump even before he was elected president, I will surprise everyone by starting off this piece by complimenting him for being able to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table. While the method he used to do it was highly unorthodox—and dangerous—it achieved a worthy end.

Now comes the follow-on assessment.

If Trump had simply let the outcome of his meeting with Kim Jong-un stand, perhaps making a somewhat anodyne statement about how historic it was and it presaged long and tough negotiations to achieve our ultimate aim of complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, my compliments would stand. But, Donald J. Trump, it seems, will always be Donald J. Trump. It’s always about him, and he cannot seem to resist making little ad hoc remarks that land like the proverbial dog doo in the punchbowl.

Here are a few examples.

“There is no longer a nuclear threat,” he tweeted. You have got to be kidding. Unlike Iran, which had yet to actually develop a weapon, North Korea has several nukes and has tested delivery systems capable of reaching US territory. No threat indeed. Ask the South Koreans or Japanese, and you’ll get a different answer to that question.

“Kim’s a tough guy, but a good negotiator. I trust him. Sure, he’s done some bad things, but so have many others.” WTF! When did we decide the US President was a publicist for Kim Jong-un? Just off the top of my head I can think of three or four diplomatically-worded statements that would’ve been far better than this.

“We’re stopping the war games. They’re provocative.” That’s a big concession on our part; not necessarily one I would completely disagree with, but not done in the way Trump did it. A public announcement, standing next to South Korea’s enemy and having not warned them in advance. Oh, and by the way, using terminology from North Korean propaganda. We call them military exercises, Mr. President, not war games, and they’re meant to strengthen capability for prevention of hostilities, not to provoke. Sheesh!

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to do what my grandmother used to say, ‘keep your mouth shut.’ It’s certainly not a good idea to say whatever pops into your mind without considering how it plays with multiple audiences, or how it makes you sound.

Just a small piece of advice from the peanut gallery. I, for one, hope the negotiations going forward will yield success. They are going to be long and hard. Unlike a TV reality show, there won’t be retakes, and the stakes are high. A little less reckless rhetoric and a bit more sober reflection would be welcomed at this point.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Hole Keeps Getting Deeper

There’s a saying I remember from my army days; ‘when you’re in a hole, stop digging.’ Watching the trajectory of events in US politics over the past several weeks that saying keeps coming to mind.

I sometimes wonder if I’m being paranoid in my fear that in both domestic and international relations, we’ve been dropped in a big pit, and the shoveler-in-chief, rather than stopping and reflecting on the consequences of his actions and words, just continues to dig.

Here are the indicators that worry me.

On the one hand, we bag the Iran nuclear deal that, while not perfect, was a step in the right direction, while at the same time push frantically forward to make a ‘deal’ with the North Korean regime over an existing nuclear weapons capability—which, by the way, North Korea is unlikely to ever relinquish. We have people scrambling to organize a June 12 summit meeting before we’ve had all of the preliminary meetings to set the stage for a realistically productive summit. A case of putting the cart before the horse if I’ve ever seen one. The summit will, in my opinion, based upon over thirty years of experience in international relations as a diplomatic practitioner, either be a total bust, and leave us in worse shape than before, or it will be a colossal PR exercise with both leaders claiming a public relations victory. The North Koreans will be going into the summit with a victory of sorts—Kim Jong-un has already been blessed with desired legitimacy merely by Trump agreeing to the meeting.

The other troubling sign (or signs) relate to our deteriorating relations with our G-7 allies. Tariffs on Canadian goods for ‘national security’ reasons, causing Canada to be a bit cheesed off with us. Man, when the Canadians are mad at you, things are really bad. The administration’s response to this: ‘our relations with our allies are a 10, because the people smile at me.’ And then there’s the call for including Russia in the G-7, making it the G-8. I’m sure the Russians like that, but the G-7, in response to our heavy-handed and bullying approach is already the G-6 plus a weak one. How is including Russia in the G-7 contributing to US security, when our own actions are threatening to embroil us in a global trade war that will cause many American industries and workers to take it ‘in the shorts’ when the affected countries retaliate. Who is the winner from this suggestion? Why, the Russians, of course.

Then, there was the action to relax sanctions against the Chinese firm ZTE, to help reduce Chinese unemployment. How does that help the US economically or politically? ZTE is a company that has long been suspected of unsavory anti-US activities, both economic and security related. So, if we relax sanctions, we help China, but what US company or individual benefits? I think most rational people who follow events closely enough know the answer to that question, and those helped by this action are all in the same family.

We’re so deep in a hole now, it’s hard to see the rim. And, what are we doing? We keep digging.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Putting the Horse before the Cart

Trump Administration officials entered North Korea this weekend in a frantic effort to put the Trump-Kim back on track for its planned June 12 happening. One can only wonder just who these officials are and what their agenda is beyond trying to arrange the complicated administrative arrangements that must precede any such meeting.

As someone who spent 30 years of his professional life practicing diplomacy in the field and having been involved in setting up more than one high-level meeting, I can’t help but wonder just who is working on planning the substance of this meeting.

While anything that might lower the tensions on the Korean Peninsula is welcomed, one has also to consider the implications of the summit failing. The normal way these things are handled is that there are many preliminary meetings, hammering out the details and positions of both sides, so that when the leaders meet at a summit, all they have to do is bless what’s already been decided. Trump seems hell bent on doing things bass-ackwards and treating this whole thing like it’s one of his property deals. He’ll swoop in and stun his opponent with his combination of bluster, bravado and charm(?), and make the deal of a lifetime.

The problem is, international diplomacy is not like real estate. One has to have a good feel for what an opponent’s desires and objectives are, develop compromises that, to a degree, satisfy the goals of both sides, and then slowly and carefully, make the outcome public. One has also to be prepared for the talks to break down. The best time to learn this is before a summit is announced—or even planned—not after the summit itself.

Every president and his (or her) administration has a learning curve. In times of crisis or potential crisis, that curve should be steep. What I’m seeing with this administration is not an upward trending curve, but a flat line, and as in the ICU, a flat line is not a good sign.

I’m hoping this thing doesn’t blow up in Trump’s face, because if it does, we will all suffer.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The Trump-Kim Relationship: Learning Foreign Affairs the Hard Way

There is no instruction book for being President of the United States, and every new president has to learn on-the-job. Most do this in measured ways, taking, or at least considering, the advice of their senior foreign policy advisors before taking action. The incumbent, though, goes about things in a unique, and uniquely dangerous way. I call it, DITTW, or Do It the Trump Way. He blusters, threatens, demeans, and makes grandiose pronouncements, only to have, in light of subsequent events, to walk everything back into the corral.

The summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un is a case in point. Trump started out with a war of words, promising ‘fire and fury,’ and calling Kim ‘the little Rocket Man,’ and then, after the North Koreans finally agreed to a meeting and released three Americans they’d been holding prisoner, calling Kim, ‘honorable.’ Of course, his bombastic national security advisor, John Bolton, put his spoon in the soup, referring to the ‘Libya option’ in regard to North Korea’s nuclear program, which caused them to threaten to cancel the whole thing.

Now, with North Korea dismantling an already destroyed nuclear facility with international press witnesses, Trump has cancelled the planned June 12, meeting in Singapore with ‘regret.’

In my humble opinion, as someone who had over 30 years of experience as a diplomat, and several years working on Korean issues, both north and south, a firm date for a leader summit should never have been announced before many preparatory meetings were held, and it should have been realized from the outset that North Korea is not about to unilaterally give up the only thing it sees as protecting it from the U.S. A more stable, wise person would’ve done this analysis before making public statements and promises and would listen and heed the advice from a variety of knowledgeable people before making any decisions. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and some hard lessons are being put forth—I hesitate to say that they are being learned, because, frankly, I have my doubts. We can only hope that the current situation does not go beyond another ‘war of rhetoric.’

Life teaches hard lessons, but only for those who are willing to learn. Too often, though, it is those of us outside the classroom who suffer the consequences when the ‘students’ refuse to learn.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Trailer for the Adventures of Bass Reeves series

Facial Hair is Making a Comeback

When I retired from government service in 2012, I began growing a beard, my first facial hair since 1985, when I lived in northeast China and grew a beard to avoid having to shave in the subzero weather that exists for most of the year. My reasons in 2012 were similar. I had just returned to the U.S. from southern Africa, and when I went to buy replacement blades for my razor, I noted that prices had gone through the roof—nay, into the stratosphere. So, I reckoned, if I grow a beard, that means fewer shaves, so less money for blades. As the thing began to grow in, I came up with another rationale; now a private citizen and engaged in freelance activities (writing, art, photography, consulting, etc.), the beard contributed to the bohemian image I wanted to cultivate, or so I tell my wife, who frequently importunes me to shave it off. She’s fine with the mustache, but feels the beard makes me look sinister. So, my image makeover seems to be working.

On May 19, 2018, I think she finally decided to leave my beard alone. Like millions of other people around the globe, she was glued to the TV, watching the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry to American actress, Meghan Markle. I glanced at the screen occasionally on my way to replenish my water bottle, and have to say, the bride was absolutely beautiful, but what caught my eye, and what just might have changed my wife’s attitude, was the groom. Harry’s a handsome lad, and he cut a fine figure in his military uniform (he’s an Afghan combat vet, by the way, and a helicopter pilot), but what really struck me was the neatly-trimmed, russet colored hair on his chin. That’s right, folks, young Prince Harry sports a beard, and does it quite well, too. In the audience, I also spotted actor George Clooney with his facial adornment, and George, like me, has more salt than pepper in his chin covering.

Well, the day just went on. It seems that every time I went to get water—my doctor has advised me to drink nearly a gallon a day—there would be a commercial, and at least a third of them had a spokesman with a beard. From the guy touting the ‘speak to your remote’ streaming service to the home improvement guru, all had beards.

Wisely, I said nothing about this to the wife, but I think she gets the message. For whatever reason, facial hair is making a comeback. I’d like to think that this is one fashion trend that I was in the leading wave of.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Congressional Statement on Zimbabwe After Mugabe

(Transcript of my statement to the Africa Subcommittee of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs)

Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, I am honored to be able to appear before you today to discuss the path forward in US-Zimbabwe relations. I served as U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe from 2009 to 2012, during the period of the ZANU-PF/MDC coalition government, a time of relative peace and economic stability, but, unfortunately, also a time of lost opportunities to put Zimbabwe on the path of truly representative government and a prosperous economy.

Most American today know very little about Zimbabwe, but for a brief time in November 2017, it was again prominent in the American mass media. After several weeks of increasing political turmoil, primarily within Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, the first vice president, Emmerson D. Mnangagwa was accused of disloyalty and sacked. He then fled to South Africa, claiming that his life was in danger. Around this same time, Mugabe’s wife, Grace, began to appear more and more in public, making statements that she should be the one to succeed the aging leader, pronouncements that Mugabe did nothing to deny. In an unprecedented—for Zimbabwe—move, Constantine Chiwenga, chief of the Zimbabwe Defense Staff, made a public statement that the military would not stand idly by and allow liberation figures to be removed from government or the party. Shortly thereafter the military made its move. It took control of key installations in Harare, and placed Mugabe and his family under effective house arrest—although, it was quick to publicly announce that what it was doing was not a coup. As one opposition figure said, though, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. It was a palace coup, with the army moving against elements of its own party, but make no mistake about it, it was a coup d’état. Relatively nonviolent, and done in a most unusual way; Mugabe was allowed to meet the press, to phone the South African president, to meet with the coup leader in what on the surface appeared a cordial encounter, and even to call a cabinet meeting; it was still a change of government initiated by force of arms rather than the ballot box.

How the military’s actions will be dealt with is something for Zimbabweans to decide. For the rest of the world, and the United States in particular, the key questions are; where does Zimbabwe go from here, and what role should we play in that journey?

We should start with a bit of background on Zimbabwe’s new ruler, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The question on many minds is, will he be any different from Mugabe? He is, after all, someone who worked closely with Mugabe for more than 37 years after the country’s independence, who served as an intelligence officer during the war for independence, and who, because of his actions in support the crackdown on Ndebele political opposition in the 1980s, and MDC supporters in the 1990s, has earned the nickname, ‘Crocodile.’ Prior to being appointed to the first vice president position, Mnangagwa served as defense minister and justice minister. Though he lacks Mugabe’s charisma, he enjoys the support of most senior military officials. Moving forward, his first priority will be to reassert control over ZANU-PF, a party that has fractured along generational lines, with many of those in their 40s and 50s, known as the G-40, supporting Grace Mugabe against the older liberation-era party members. A united ZANU-PF is essential if the party is to retain power. This won’t be an easy task for Mnangagwa, as the rift between the two demographics was worsened by some of the actions and rhetoric during September-November of last year. The issue is further complicated by the presence of former ZANU-PF number two, Joice Mujuru’s Zimbabwe People First (ZIM-PF) Party. Mujuru, until Grace Mugabe engineered her ouster, was first vice president, and at the time was in competition with Mnangagwa, a successor to Mugabe. A veteran of the liberation struggle, as a fighter with a fierce reputation, she also enjoys some military support, although probably not as much as Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa’s second priority, I believe, will be to ensure ZANU-PF’s continued control of the reins of power in the country. If he can somehow pull all the ZANU factions together, and overcome the possible threat from Mujuru, he will have to decide whether or not to proceed with elections in July 2018. He has indicated that he will do so. While violence and chicanery are still possibilities that can’t be cavalierly dismissed, a united ZANU-PF is likely to be able to do well against the current opposition party lineup. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is still split between the faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the one led by Welshman Ncube. As the parties that pose the greatest challenge to ZANU-PF in the urban areas, if they were united, they might do well, but it is unlikely that they will merge. The remainder of the opposition parties, with the exception of ZIM-PF, will only take votes away from MDC, which is to ZANU-PF’s advantage. In the rural areas, ZANU-PF has, in the past at least, had an advantage, and Mnangagwa is sure to capitalize on this.

So, while it’s too early to predict that the 2018 elections will be free, fair and nonviolent, let us assume, for the moment that they will be. Where do we go from that point?

During my time as US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, one of the most frequent topics of conversation was US sanctions. Put in place in response to the violent land seizures and electoral violence of the late 1990s, the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act was enacted in December 2001, and a presidential executive order, targeting individuals and entities involved in the violence and antidemocratic acts was issued in March 2003. Both actions were intended to encourage a return to democracy, something that had not happened by the time of my arrival in 2009. After the MDC won the 2008 elections, although without the necessary 51% majority, there was more violence, but under South African pressure, a coalition government was formed. That government, with the MDC in a subordinate position to ZANU-PF, lasted until the 2014 elections, in which ZANU-PF got the required majority and subsequently formed a government without MDC. The sanctions, in my view, were clearly not having the desired effect, and Mugabe’s party hardliners were using their existence as an excuse for all of the country’s ills. My response to the many queries of, ‘when will sanctions be lifted/’, was, ‘when there is a return to nonviolent elections and democracy. In fact, during one of my final media interviews before my departure in 2012, at the end of my tour, I said, “Sanctions were a response to a violent electoral process. A credible electoral process, free of violence, would make our current policies irrelevant.”

If this year’s elections are head, they are determined to be credible, and there is no violence, the ball will be in our court. If we truly want to see Zimbabwe develop to its potential, we must be prepared to work with the winner of a credible, nonviolent election, regardless of the political party. Even if the election is credible and nonviolent, any new government is almost certain to contain officials who bring a lot of historical baggage with them to the positions they occupy. I firmly believe, however, that we should, in such a situation, put the past behind us and focus on the policy statement in the introduction of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001; ‘it is the policy of the United States to support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful, democratic change, achieve broad-based and equitable economic growth, and restore the rule of law.”

I leave development of the precise modalities of our actions to the policy makers and the professionals in the Foreign and Civil services of our foreign affairs agencies, primarily State and USAID, but I would offer a few suggestions on the way forward. First, we should instruct our embassy in Harare to establish contact with Mnangagwa and his current government to reiterate our policy regarding sanctions, and to inform him that, if upcoming elections are credible and nonviolent, we are prepared to recognize and work with the new government. While we should continue to monitor the human rights situation, our initial focus should be on actions to reinvigorate the country’s economy and empower the private sector to revitalize the agricultural sector, and rebuild stagnant industries, with a view to creating meaningful employment and broad economic security. We should encourage the new government to develop an investor-friendly climate, and take steps to curb corruption, while at the same time, encouraging American business to explore opportunities to increase two-way trade and investment.

During my time as ambassador, we experimented with a local economic development program modeled on an Asian village financing scheme. Women in a few poor rural villages were taught to organize local savings clubs, in which deposits were loaned out to members at low interest rates for income-producing ventures. These programs, though known to the government, were outside government control, and within months of establishment, totally self-reliant. Consideration should be given to implementing such a program in rural and suburban communities country-wide. People who are economically self-sufficient are less vulnerable to political exploitation. The elephant in the room, which can’t be entirely ignored, is the Zimbabwean military. Existing laws and regulations will limit what we can do with the military, but for the long term, peaceful development of Zimbabwe, at some point we will have to figure out a way to work with this institution.

Initially, I believe the primary focus should be on inculcating in the military establishment an ethos of service to the nation as a whole rather than identification with a specific political party. In my limited contact with senior military officials when I was ambassador, I was convinced that there exists within the military establishment a cadre of people who would like to professionalize and depoliticize the institution. The challenge will be to identify those individuals, and develop effective ways of working with them. One possibility might be to establish a working relationship with the SADC Peacekeeping Academy, which is located in Harare, and allowing Zimbabwean military participation in courses of instruction on military professionalism. I leave it to State and Defense, working with the congress, to determine just how such a program would be implemented.

While I have, in making these recommendations, assumed that elections will be held in July 2018, and that they will be credible and nonviolent, I must make clear at this point that I am not making a prediction. I do believe that if everyone approaches the coming months with an earnest desire to see Zimbabwe pull itself out of the doldrums and take its rightful place in the region and the world, it can happen. If it does happen, if everyone then puts the past behind them and focuses on the future, a new and more vibrant Zimbabwe can arise Phoenix-like from the ashes.

Amb. (ret) Charles Ray (r) and Rep. Chris Smith, subcommittee chair, talk after the hearing.

Forum on the State of American Democracy

Ambassador (ret) Steve McCann, founder and CEO of The Stevenson Group, was the keynote speaker at a Forum on the State of American Democracy, held at Virginia International University, Fairfax, VA on May 18, 2018.

Panels discussing the state of democracy in the U.S.

The forum consisted of two panels of academics, journalists, and business people who spoke on the state of democracy both in the United States and internationally before a audience of faculty of the university. The first panel discussed the disturbing trend of backtracking on democratic reforms internationally and the trend globally toward autocracy, and the lessons that can be learned here in the U.S. in light of the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections. The second panel then looked at the state of democracy in the United States, emphasizing the fact that political polarization is at its highest since the Reconstruction era following the Civil War, and the trend of closed electoral primaries resulting in mostly extreme candidates in general elections. It was pointed out that while the US has a business climate that is favorable to small and medium-sized enterprises (ranked third in the world), in terms of inequality of income, the US ranks as one of the worst when compared with other developed economies, outperforming only countries like Burundi, El Salvador, and Iran.

McCann delivers keynote address

In his keynote address, McCann acknowledged that the challenges to democracy are great, but stated that as long as the populace remains alert and active, and we continue to abide by the Constitution and honor the rule of law, there is no danger of the U.S. becoming an autocratic state.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A New Phone Sales Technique: I'm not Buying

Modern life, with all the electronic assistance available, is convenient, but at the same time, annoying. Telemarketers, using robo-calling, interrupt naps and mealtimes with their inane, totally inappropriate pitches, and getting to the desired site online is hampered by all the pop-up ads that are inserted in the hopes that you’ll be foolish, or distracted enough to click on. All these things annoy me to no end.  But, recently I encountered what has to be the most annoying modern innovation of all. A combination of pop-up advertising and robot-centric telephony.

I called the service department of a company (for legal reasons I won’t name the organization) and got the usual phone message; ‘press 1 if you’re bored, press 2 if you don’t care,’ or something along those lines, delivered by a soothing female voice. I didn’t want what they were trying to sell, I just wanted some technical help, so when I was given the option of pressing the # key in order not to answer, I kept being sent around in a circle, with yet another offer. I’m no great fan of the vanilla music they play when you’re put on hold but have decided after my encounter with this hard sell technique that the music is preferable. I mean, not only did this woman’s voice keep coming back, but when I refused to ‘press 1’ for the third time, her tone became strident. Remember, this was a recording, not a live person, so the darn thing was programmed to do that with people who didn’t follow instructions. Now, I can take a lot from computers, but being chided because I’m not interested in getting a free prepaid card, or whatever the heck it was they were touting, was over the line.

I finally gave up and went on line, where I had to wait (in silence) until a tech came on to help me, but from that point things went smoothly.

A piece of advice to companies; if you want to get new customers, or keep your existing customers happy, don’t install this system. If you already have it, please, oh please, get rid of it. You’re not making any friends with this technique.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free: ��   Please double-check prices before downloading  ��   Easy Innocence ...

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Second day of spring 2018 - Washington, DC area

March 21, 2018, the second official day of spring, and here’s the view I have from my kitchen and family rooms in North Potomac, must outside Washington, DC. And, while it doesn’t show in the photos, the snow is still falling, and is forecast to continue to fall until late at night, putting most of the area on snow emergency lock-down.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Teaching my granddaughters art

Taking a break from my writing, I sometimes go to my daughter's house to visit with my three grandchildren. Sammy (6), Catie (5), and Tommy (3) keep me on my toes, and leave me feeling rejuvenated. Sammy is being home schooled, and I volunteer to give her art lessons. Catie, of course, is included.  Here are some photos from our last session, where we covered drawing cartoon bodies, perspective, and color mixing.  I  hope you can see from this just how much we all enjoyed it.

At the start, everyone's there, but soon my daughter and Tommy leave,
and we get down to serious business.

As you can see, there's a lot of talent in those little fingers.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Racism by any other name still smells like s**t

Donald Trump’s alleged statement that he was tired of people coming to America from Haiti and ‘shithole’ countries in Africa ignited a storm of controversy, and caused his apologists to pull out all the stops to refute the claims.  Trump has been accused by many of his critics of racism, while those in his camp vehemently deny this accusation. I might be misreading the whole thing, but the racism charge seems to be based mainly on his alleged use of the term ‘shithole’ to describe countries in Africa, along with his preference for people from Norway.

While Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) maintains that this was what Trump said, Senator David Perdue (R-GA), after initially saying that he didn’t ‘recall’ the president using such a term, later came out and told George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “This Week” that he ‘did not use that word.’ Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) said he didn’t hear Trump say ‘that word.’ Kirstjen Nielsen, Homeland Security Secretary, who was also in the meeting, told Fox News that she didn’t recall Trump saying ‘that exact phrase,’ but conceded that the conversation about immigration was ‘impassioned.’

Now, we can rant and rave forever about whether or not Trump called African countries ‘shithole’ countries, but I’d like to point out something that everyone seems to be ignoring. None of the Trump apologists have denied that he expressed displeasure at immigrants coming from Haiti and African countries, and would prefer Norwegians. Maybe they were so busy trying to make him sound less crass and vulgar, they overlooked it, or maybe he said it, only without calling the countries in question ‘shitholes.’ So, dear friends, whether or not he used that exact term is irrelevant. If he said he was frustrated with immigrants from Haiti and African countries, and would prefer lily white immigrants from Scandinavia, whether it was intentional or conscious or not, it was racist—just without the scatological term. The fact that he was expressing a feeling shared by many of those who support and voted for him is also beside the point.

I’m sure there will be someone who will immediately come up with a scenario where he ‘never mentioned Haiti or African countries.’ After all, in this administration, truth is often replaced by alternate facts, and if the man behind the desk at 1600 Pennsylvania disagrees with it, it’s ‘fake news.’

So, let the fun begin.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

American Diplomat - Podcast

Check out this amazing podcast by Peter Romero and Laura Bennett that explores the day-to-day life of American diplomats.

Leave Trump on Twitter, but keep the fire extinguishers handy

 In the wake of Donald ‘Loose-Lips, Tweet from the Hip’ Trump’s most recent 140-character rants, there was buzz encouraging Twitter to suspend his account. Wisely, the company refused to do so. Now, anyone who has read my musings knows that I’m no fan of our 45th president, but, I am strongly against trying to stifle him on Twitter, or any other communications platform, for the same reason I condemn the White House’s attempt to block publication of Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House; it would be a blatant violation of the Constitutional provision of freedom of speech.

As a nation of laws; a condition that Trump seems hellbent on changing, by the way; we must learn to endure communications that we disagree with, or vehemently dislike, in order to protect all speech. So, we must continue to allow Trump to get up in the wee hours of the morning and fire off his ‘Rocket Man’ and ‘I’m a stable genius’ missives, and hope that he doesn’t inadvertently start a nuclear war in the process.

There’s another reason that we should not try to block this, despite the danger it causes. At some point, and that point is probably a way in the future, he will have to answer for his actions, and there will be no better evidence of his state of mind, intentions, and actions, than his own words. So, rather than trying to muzzle him—as desirable as that might be—we should preserve his every tweet, his every recorded word. One day, they just might be the key exhibits in the prosecution’s case. And, if not that, they will certainly be a treasure trove of background material for historical researchers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...

History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...: A fascinating tale of one of the great black heroes of the American West! Read the First Chapter! Meet the author, Charles Ray! In 1875, Ind...

History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...

History and Women: Meet Author Charles Ray and his fascinating novel,...: A fascinating tale of one of the great black heroes of the American West! Read the First Chapter! Meet the author, Charles Ray! In 1875, Ind...

Friday, December 22, 2017

The holidays in my neighborhood

  I live in a diverse neighborhood, and it's never more apparent than during the winter holidays. Some of my neighbors don't celebrate, some go for the minimalist look, and some go hog to the wall.  I don't celebrate, but the wife does, and now that we have grandchildren, it's kind of obligatory. The wife did a tree and streamers for a while, but with just the two of us, it got kinda boring, so she's now restricting the decoration to a single, simple wreath on the door, and we go to our daughter's house for the other stuff.

What I do like, though, is going around the neighborhood just before December 25 and snapping photos of some of the more notable displays. I share a couple of them with you.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Veterans' Day Radio Show with Paul Berry on American Home and Family show

Dark Days Ahead for American Diplomacy

Like many Americans, I was surprised in November 2016, when, despite losing the popular vote by 3 million ballots, the quirky Electoral College system elected Donald Trump president, and again when he announced the nomination of Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. I was, however, prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, conditioned as I am after 50 years of government service, to accept the outcome of elections, even when, because of the Electoral College, that will is not that of a majority of those who voted, and if recent polls are to be believed, a majority of those who didn’t.

As we approach the first anniversary of the Trump Administration, though, I’m left with a lot of doubt, and very little benefit, particularly when it comes to the dismal state of the country’s foreign affairs.

With the president engaging in name calling and bellicosity with North Korea’s mercurial leader pushing the world as close to nuclear war as it was during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, undercutting his secretary of state by publicly calling his statements on the need for diplomacy to solve the Korean crisis ‘a waste of time,’ and alienating many of our key allies through his actions and tweets, I’ve watched the United States’ global position gradually eroded over the past eleven months more than after our 1973 withdrawal from Vietnam. Secretary of defense James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, in summarizing Trump’s plans to reduce the Department of State to a hollow shell, said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Trump seems determined to do both. In February 2017, the White House draft budget proposed a State Department cut of 31%, but a $54 billion increase in defense spending. The defense increase was only partly offset by cuts to all civilian agencies and programs, which is bad enough, but the idea that we can increase military presence globally, while at the same time, decreasing or eliminating the diplomats and aid officials that work alongside the military in some of the world’s toughest spots, is not pennywise and pound foolish, it’s just plain foolish.

Tillerson, despite his success as CEO of Exxon, has not done much better at the State Department. His aloofness, failure or inability to convince the president to curb his tendency to ‘tweet before thinking,’ and failure to fill key senior positions across the entire department, have resulted in alienation and frustration at Foggy Bottom. Senior and experienced Foreign Service Officers have been leaving in large numbers, and little has been done to fill the experience void their departure creates. When Tillerson travels abroad, rather than working with our ambassadors (many of whom are charge d’affaires, because ambassadors have not been nominated), he has with him in meetings, sitting where the ambassador would normally sit, an aide who lacks foreign policy experience.

Failure to appoint senior leaders in the State Department, such as the assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, for example, and leaving many of the bureaus under the leadership of individuals in an ‘acting’ capacity, has an immediate impact. Certain actions, such as the decision to evacuate an embassy, cannot be decided by an official ‘acting’ for the principal, which could result in a delay in making critical decisions. In addition, when coupled with the departure of so many senior career officials, people are placed in positions without having access to the advice and counsel of more experienced people. There are also long-term effects that neither Tillerson nor the president seem of aware of, or, heaven forbid, care about it. Eliminating so many senior people means that those in the junior ranks must work their way through the system without benefit of the experienced guidance those of my generation in the diplomatic service found so valuable in our careers. They, in turn, though forced to take on more senior responsibilities, lack the experience to effectively help those below them. After four years, this becomes a problem that will exist for a long time into the future, long after the end of this administration.

What we’re witnessing is the systematic destruction of our ability to exercise sober global leadership, and the erosion of our global reputation.

For the average American, there is also a price to pay. Hollowing out the Foreign Service will eventually reduce our ability to serve the interests of Americans who travel, work, or live abroad, and will reduce the level of service we provide to American business abroad. This is not good for our national security.

None of these problems will be solved by buying more ammunition.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Friday, November 17, 2017

My historical novel, 'Vixen,' nominated for Readers Choice Award

 I am excited to announce that my novel, Vixen, has been nominated for the Readers Choice Award in the Historical Fiction Category. I encourage all of my readers to go to and go to category 14 (Historical Fiction) and vote for it. Vixen can be found near the bottom of the category page. Your vote will be greatly appreciated. Again, a reminder, go to and vote.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The New Centurions: Pro Atheltes Kneel to Stand up for Rule of Law

 When former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick, knelt during the playing of the National Anthem at the start of the 2016 season to bring attention to police brutality against African-Americans, it kicked off a controversy that has even included the President of the United States.

Donald Trump, famous for his early-morning tweets about sundry subjects, often having nothing to do with his role as the country’s commander-in-chief, and frequently abrasive and abusive against his perceived ‘enemies,’ immediately inserted himself into the situation by demanding that any players refusing to stand during the anthem should be fired. In response, many more players (and some owners and other team officials) have either joined in the protests, or sided with Trump.

This controversial situation shows no signs of abating, and raw emotions have taken the place of rational thought as Trump continues to stir the flames with his ill-advised and often inappropriate tweets.

A number of questions need to be asked and answered in order to bring some sanity back into this situation.

Is there anything, other than personal respect, that requires any American citizen to render honors to the anthem or flag? As a former professional military officer, I’d have to say, it depends. Military regulations require uniformed personnel to render appropriate honors, whether in or out of uniform, but there is no statue that can require non-military personnel to do so. If this argument is about rendering proper respect for our national symbols, I have to ask, what about the many examples of misuse of the national flag?

The Flag Code, though not a law, establishes certain procedures and actions in respect to the national flag. Flag etiquette requires that the flag not be”

-          Used as drapery, or for covering a speaker’s desk, draping a platform, or any decoration in general.

-          Embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything to be discarded after temporary use.

-          Used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, policeman, fireman, or members of patriotic organizations.

What, then, should the reaction be to singers who wear headwear, jackets, or pants with the flag on them, or the NASCAR vehicles with flags on them, which are exposed to dirt, grease and exhaust fumes? What about the display of the national flag alongside the Confederate flag, a symbol of forces that rose in rebellion against the United States?

It would seem to me that, if we’re going to have conniptions about people kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, we should be indignant over the blatant misuse of the flag, should we not?

If Donald Trump, who attended a military high school, but is ignorant of the bugle calls that he should have heard every day he was in school, is so upset over this exercise of the Constitutional right to protest, he should be equally indignant over the blatant disregard for flag etiquette.

That he is not speaks volumes. Patriotism is not something that can be legislated or demanded. It arises naturally when people feel respected by those waving the symbols. Our energy would be better spent learning and respecting the rule of law established by the Constitution, and showing respect for those whose views differ from our own.

It’s time to stop tweeting, and start thinking.