Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

So Sean Spicer is out as White House Press Secretary and Anthony Scaramucci is in as Communications Director.  Well, good for Sean. I suspect he’ll finally be able to slash his evening whiskey budget. The guy had to have taken a few stiff ones after some of those briefings. He was a regular Republican, not a President Trump loyalist. He was trying to please a demanding, distrustful, unappreciative boss.  And yet …

Spicer did see the legitimacy of some (not all, but a fair amount) of President Trump’s complaints about the White House press corps, and saw at least part of his job as pushing back against manifest unfairness. While it’s a safe bet that the majority of the press room hasn’t voted Republican in at least thirty years (and probably far longer), there was at least some modicum of evenhandedness , if only as a requirement of professionalism, when covering previous Republican administrations. Trump’s victory seemed to unleash a visceral reaction from the press corps, the members of which occasioanlly seem most concerned with impressing their colleagues in the room by being the most aggressive and/or confrontational with Spicer or his deputy (and presumed successor) Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Spicer gave them the rope to hang him with at that first press conference when he (at the President’s prompting) insisted that the Trump inaugural crowd was larger than Obama’s crowds – a statement that was demonstrably false to anyone who with functioning eyes. But that day aside, Spicer’s not Trump, and over the past six months, he tied mightily to square the circle of being straight with the press while aggressively defending his oft wayward boss. Alas, that was a task he could not accomplish. Maybe no one can.

Mr. Scaramucci is going to try. It’s almost defies belief that for his Communications Director, Mr. Trump chose a guy whose name translates to “little skirmishers”, and the singular of which was used for an Italian clown puppet with an expendable neck. You, dear reader, probably think I’m making that up; I’m not. Plus, Mr. Scaramucci has no press secretary experience, although he does have some skill at self-promotion on various business TV channels pushing his mediocre hedge fund.  I’ll be praying for him, but folks, this is unlikely to end well.

It has at least ended at last for Sean Spicer, and I’m actually happy for him. He’ll pick up what’s left of his reputation – (and that’s not nothing; most reporters know he was in an impossible position) and probably move on to the land of corporate communications, where hopefully he can find a position that will allow him to feel good about going to work again. This writer wishes him well.

1TF

Read Full Post »

Last night, I learned the sad news that Senator John McCain has a glioblastoma, a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. While McCain is 80 and has already lived a remarkable life of consequence, it still makes the breath catch a little in surprise. McCain’s a fighter, and he’ll answer the bell on this one too, but there’s no getting around the fact that a glioblastoma is usually fatal.  It is just such a malady that felled McCain’s former colleague, Sen. Ted Kennedy.

McCain’s condition appeared to manifest itself last month during his awkward questioning of former FBI Director James Comey. Listening to the questioning is painful; something was clearly not right. Were McCain well, he and Comey probably would have hit it off. The two have distinct similarities. Both are pragmatic Republicans originally from the northeast (McCain’s family background is really more Pennsylvanian than anything), mainline Protestants (one formerly Catholic and the other nearly became one as a child), somewhat religious but not especially so. Both have been accused of moral narcissism on occasion, because both are apt to follow their conscience, party loyalty be damned.

Opinions on both from partisan members of both parties have careened from approval to disgust and back again. My own opinion of both, however, has remained steadfast – while each has his flaws, both are principled, pragmatic men far better than the average public servant. In an age where society and its issues have become so complicated that many people just throw up their hands and retreat to their own corners, McCain and Comey have wrestled those issues head-on, engaged and found common ground with people different than them. And each has worked out his philosophy for himself, so each arrives at a final position from a strong philosophical foundation, not from the herd mentality of the intellectually confused and politically frightened that habitually roam DC. Those who bounce back and forth in their opinion of McCain and Comey say more about themselves than of those two lions. The government is the lesser for Comey’s forced departure from it. It will be reduced further when McCain’s health forces him to take leave of it.

1TF

Read Full Post »

The death of Otto Warmbier is an outrage. Mr. Warmbier was a University of Virginia student, apparently with some wanderlust and a sense of curiosity. So he arranged to go on a tour of North Korea. The North Korean government made him out to be an enemy. For what? For briefly considering stealing a poster.

I’m not sure what the right answer is with North Korea. But the “strategic patience” route. doesn’t appear to be working. There needs to be a serious consequence for Mr. Warmbier’s senseless death, and I don’t think simply tightening economic sanctions on the whole country would be effective. It’s not the government that gets hurt by those sanctions, it’s millions of innocent, already abused people. I’ll leave it to others to speculate on what specific actions we could take, but I’m sure the State Dept. and the Pentagon have a menu of measured, proportional responses – without resorting to overt military conflict that would needlessly harm innocent people – to get America’s point across to a man with a luxurious private island and a $7 million yacht. I recognize this is complicated by the fact that the North Koreans have other prisoners, but doing nothing or doing something weak, will only invite further outrages. The North Koreans must learn that thuggishly beating one of our citizens to death over a poster is not worth it. This is not how civilized countries act.

Mr. Warmbier was a young man, full of promise, and empty of malicious intent. Kim Jong Un chose to send a message to our government by murdering him. We need to send a strong message back that even he can understand.

1TF

Read Full Post »

Over the coming weeks, we may be getting an object lesson in the importance of a person’s reputation. Reputation matters. Reputation is something that is built up by years of discipline and habit. Reputation is not character – character is what you are; reputation merely what people think you are. However, if one is in the public eye enough, so that the public has had a sufficient amount of actions to judge a person by, than reputation can serve as a rough approximation of character.

James Comey has a strong reputation built through three decades of diligent service in the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of James Comey’s independence and willingness to go where the evidence lay was in 2004 when as Deputy Attorney General, he faced down the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff and refused to agree to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program

I’m not a President Obama fan, but I was impressed by his decision to appoint James Comey to the FBI Directorship; it showed Mr. Obama was serious about the FBI investigating alleged crimes without fear or favor. Mr. Comey had built a reputation for fair play that both parties appreciated.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has built a reputation over the course of the last three decades too. It’s one of brashness, attention-seeking and ignorance.

Yesterday, Mr. Comey said accusations the White House had made about him and the FBI “were lies, plain and simple.” Today, Mr. Trump answered in kind, saying what Mr. Comey said wasn’t about their meeting wasn’t true. Whom to believe? It’s times like these that you wish you had built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness. Mr. Comey has; Mr. Trump hasn’t. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Trump may come to wish he had.

-1TF

Read Full Post »

Tomorrow, voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls to vote for Parliament. The terrorist attacks they have endured will be on their minds as will the ramifications of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has fallen precipitously in opinion polls in the past month, from a lead of 20 percentage points when May called the election to just a single point this week. The Labor Party ought to be ready to sweep into 10 Downing Street. But that’s unlikely due to its standard bearer.

The Opposition Leader is one Jeremy Corbyn. an avowed socialist, advocate for unilateral disarmament, former supporter of the Provisional IRA (not simply the regular IRA, but the actual violent wing), who used to be paid to appear on an Iranian government TV show. In short, the Labor Party nominated someone who is anathema to a lot of regular Britons might otherwise be tempted to support a change in government.  Labor has the good fortune in that voters simply vote for their own particular Member of Parliament, but having Corbyn on the ticket – even with him performing better than expected in the campaign – is probably a drag on their ticket.  Political myopia seems to be a problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  Amongst the major parties of Britain, France and the United States, only the UK Conservatives chose a candidate who wasn’t eventually detested by the other side (and May is merely perceived as “okay, although we have our doubts”.)  Conservatives are poised to hold onto power by default; May ought to avoid pretending she’s got a significant mandate.  Her steep fall in the past month indicates she will not.  Were it not for Jeremy Corbyn helming the party of the left, she might not even have 10 Downing Street.

-1TF

Read Full Post »

Today is D-Day, the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy invasions which began the Allied retaking of northern Europe. It is good to reflect on the bravery and devotion to duty of so many who gave up so much – for some it was their very lives. For many on the homefront, it was, like today, a relatively quiet Tuesday – they didn’t yet realize their son or brother, husband or fiancee, or father was being torn from them.  We owe the dead and wounded our gratitude.  We also owe it to learn and employ the important lessons their sacrifice yielded.  A few of those lessons are particularly timely these days.

The first lesson is that hard undertakings are a little easier when there is effective cooperation.  D-Day involved the cooperation of many allies, primarily Americans, British and Canadians, but also some Australians, Free French, Irish and citizens several other countries helped in the assault.  America is the strongest nation, but we’re not the only nation.  Other Western nations are usually our friends, and as frustrating as they (and we) can be, we should be try to care and feed these relationships as best we can.

The second lesson is the importance of security; be careful whom you allow access to information. Operation Overlord involved loyalty and secrecy. Allied headquarters conjured an entire fake Army division to convince the Germans we were either attacking at Calais or even into Scandanavia rather than Normandy. Given recent headlines, one is left to wonder if a similar diversion could be used to today, given the willingness of some in the press’ interest in printing anything in the rush for clicks, and the willingness of those trusted with secret clearances (e.g. Snowden, Manning, Winner) to provide their favorite press outlet with secret information.

The third lesson is that completing a great enterprise will entail patience and perseverance. The Normandy invasions were not initially successful. Anyone who watched Saving Private Ryan saw some of the difficulty in achieving a beachhead. None of the major military objectives were taken on that first day (although the Allies were able to establish a beachhead).  It took six weeks of effort for the Allies to capture the last of those objectives, the village of Caen.  The enemy was working hard to stop them.  Another enemy is working hard to stop the West.  Patience, vigilance and perseverance are still key to eventual victory.

Appreciate what those brave soldiers did, and learn from their efforts so that we may be up to the challenge we face, just as they were.

-1TF

 

Read Full Post »

I’m still trying to process President Trump’s speech pulling out of the Paris Accord. I found the speech to be a bit of a Rorschach Test. Those inclined to like Trump and espouse an “America First” ideology thought it great; I can see Pat Buchanan and company standing up and applauding. Those instinctively set to dislike him were probably horrified.

The most memorable line of the Trump speech was “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” That was going to be a winner amongst his supporters, many of whom, like the Brexit supporters, have an understandable concern about their country’s sovereignty being usurped by unelected technocrats. However, the Pittsburgh Trump hails is the Pittsburgh of history. There are no steel mills left within the Pittsburgh city limits (although some remain in the surrounding area). The citizens of Pittsburgh are far more likely to be freezing in an overly air-conditioned office park than they are to be sweating it out by a blast furnace. The mayor of Pittsburgh responded to Trump’s speech by saying the city would still abide by Paris.

Trump’s pithy Pittsburgh comment is really more about the small mountain towns of western Pennsylvania and the West Virginia panhandle, where folks are desperate to hear that better times are ahead. But Trump is offering sandcastles in the air to those folks by making coal workers think that brute force by the federal government can bring back coal. But it can’t. While the previous administration was unfriendly to coal, the main reason for coal’s demise isn’t in Washington, it’s in the market. Coal has new competition in the form of natural gas. Take away the fact that natural gas is safer to extract and cleaner to burn (or any other advantage it may have), and you’re still left with the fact that currently, and for the foreseeable future, natural gas is less expensive than coal. The market is speaking loudly, and President Trump can’t change that.

I’m a little puzzled by what Trump expects to get out of this. He is exasperating much-needed allies. And my admittedly limited understanding is that much of the Paris Accord is voluntary anyway. Trump could have pointed to certain parts of it and declared we wouldn’t abide by those parts. Instead, he junked the whole thing. Again, I respect that he’s fulfilling a campaign pledge. But I think that pledge may have been unwise in the first place.

– 1TF

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »