No question my worst Christmas was in Vietnam. It’s hard getting into the Christmas spirit in the tropics. (Tomorrow’s high in Ho Chi Minh City will be 90⁰F, with a “feels like” temperature of 107⁰F.) Christmas dinner was “lobster” from the South China Sea. It resembled the real thing in looks only, especially after the Army cooks finished with it. The Christmas truce was a joke, but we did get a brief respite. In Syria, there’s no talk of a Christmas truce … no wise men either. Bethlehem is 100 miles away, but it might as well be on another planet.
December 18, 2016
Life comes at you fast when you are the leader of the free world. Sometimes your job is to slow things down. A Chinese naval commander decides to grab up a U.S.-owned drone in international waters. Was he acting on his own or on orders from central command? If it was a mistake, you want to give the other guy a chance to step away. If not, you need an appropriate response. What you don’t necessarily want or need is the commander-in-chief issuing tweets condemning the other party before the experts have a chance to sort things out. Just saying.
December 11, 2016
I wish President Obama had handled the CIA report about Russian interference in our election more discretely. By making it public he made it political, causing Trump to lash out at the CIA and dig in his heels on acknowledging what everyone knows: Russia’s cyber-prints were all over the campaign. Were they trying to get Trump elected? Well, it’s been argued that Russia was more likely trying to discredit a Clinton presidency, the expected outcome right up until Election Day. Now it’s boomeranged on Trump, raising questions about his legitimacy, which probably suits Moscow’s purposes equally well. What a mess!
December 5, 2016
A man drove up from North Carolina to “self-investigate” a thoroughly debunked Internet rumor (#pizzagate) about a pedophilia ring supposedly operating out of a D.C. pizza shop. Armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, he snapped off a few rounds before being arrested by police. Two women were recently found tapping the sidewalk outside the pizza shop, which has no basement, looking for tunnels they believed were used to smuggle children from the store. Welcome to post-factual America! In other news, Japan struggles with a syndrome called karoshi, death from overwork. The only thing that’s overworked in America is our imagination.
December 4, 2016
Here’s the problem with Trump taking a call from Taiwan. No one can tell if it is a gaffe, a policy shift, or a gaffe that will become a policy shift to save face. It could be any of the above. What we do know is that Trump hasn’t even been sworn in and he’s already roiling the diplomatic waters. Let’s not forget his gushing praise for Pakistan’s prime minister in another phone call, a move certain to upset India. Is Trump signaling policy shifts in two vital regions or is he just blowing smoke? Does he know or care?
November 29, 2016
Most people have never heard of Alex Jones or his Infowars program, a hard-right news source that uses pretzel-like logic to take reality to another alt-level. Donald Trump is a big fan. Trump’s claim that millions of illegal votes deprived him of a majority of the popular vote went straight from Alex Jones’ lips to Trump’s Twitter feed. For a president-elect to act as an unfiltered echo chamber for tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories diminishes the office and amplifies concerns regarding Trump’s readiness for the presidency. Maybe he’ll stop this foolishness once he enters the Oval Office. I’m not holding my breath.
November 23, 2016
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday mostly because it has remained largely unchanged, and the older I get the more that seems like a virtue. It’s the only holiday when I am not bludgeoned into buying something, because this holiday is about giving not getting: giving thanks for what we have rather than wishing for things we haven't got. And the food! There’s mom’s special stuffing, which always tastes just a little better than anyone else’s does. And no matter what your favorite pie is, there’s one made special just for you. So dig in, and pass the gravy.
November 20, 2016
The post-election angst on Facebook has been palpable. People are unfriending long-time friends. Some are pulling the plug completely. Facebook has faced heavy criticism for its uncritical news feed, which failed to weed out obviously fake news sites. To me, this is classic kill the messenger stuff. Facebook did not start the drift towards incivility that has been accelerated by anonymous commenting. Facebook did not produce under-educated adults seemingly incapable of independent critical thinking. This rough beast has been slouching towards us for a long time. Facebook may be the medium, but in this case it is not the message.
November 19, 2016
Donald Trump’s policy adviser, Steve Bannon, was quoted by the Hollywood Reporter as saying “Darkness is good … Cheney, Darth Vader Satan. That’s power.” Not exactly Ronald Reagan’s morning in America. Bannon’s rhetoric is a smoke screen designed to conceal a man on a mission to reignite Jacksonian democracy, the populist Manifest Destiny (that era’s version of “America First”) movement in the 1820s that appealed to millions of white males who had recently gained the right to vote as property restrictions were dropped by the states. Trump flies by the seat of his pants. Bannon is the man with a plan.
November 14, 2016
Pendulous clusters of berries weigh down the branches of our nandina. The holly trees were loaded too. Scientists talk about warm spring weather and timely rains. My mother would say a hard winter is coming and lots of berries were God’s way of looking out for the birds. My head knows the scientists are right, but my heart hopes for a watchful God. It’s hard to believe there’s a God watching over anything, given the way things are going. No matter. I still need something to believe in, even if it’s just a mother’s faith in a sometimes feckless God.
November 10, 2016
Why did Hillary lose? Some blame it on Facebook’s news feeds giving the alt-right propaganda machine unfiltered access. Some blame it on young voters not turning out like they did for Obama. Others blame it on voting laws that let old people vote. Seriously. Maybe we should be asking how Trump won. A polished salesman, he had an instinct for telling people what they wanted to hear. It didn’t matter if he believed in it; just that it worked. Once he found what worked, he stuck with it all the way to Election Day. It’s really just that depressingly simple.
November 9, 2016
If Hillary Clinton had won, I’d want Trump supporters to give her a fair chance so turnabout is fair play. I’m going to take a deep breath and wait to see what actually happens, not what I fear might happen. Trump stoked the anger of rural and rust belt Americans who will expect him to keep his promise to make America great again. Now that he won, Trump wants the country to forget his divisive rhetoric and unify behind him. By Inauguration Day the country may be ready for that, but only if his actions speak louder than his words.
November 8, 2016
I believe the American political system is poised to deliver the best result possible given the available options. But America remains a nation with a chip on its shoulder. Too many Americans got lost in the shuffle of globalization. Too many Americans believe they don’t have equal protection under the law. Too many Americans see the gap between the world they have and the world they want as nearly unbridgeable. Disillusioned and distrustful, they reject an establishment they see as rigged against them. In a politically gridlocked system that can’t deliver change, it’s hard to see how this gets better.
November 6, 2016
After years of pondering the psychological after-effects of war, I came to see it like this: the war never stops trying to kill you. Turns out it’s the literal truth. Chicago Med featured a story about a Vietnam vet dying from a parasite that had lain dormant for forty years. Wait, what? A quick Google check confirmed it. I remembered the leeches I plucked off after a stroll through a water-filled bomb crater, but the parasites they harbor rarely survive in humans. (Uh, define rarely.) Anyway, I feel relieved about the whole parasite-infestation thing. Won’t give it a thought. Really.
November 4, 2016
In Federalist Paper #10, James Madison discusses the “propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities." Good call. What would Madison think about those House Republicans who promise to disrupt a Clinton presidency with endless investigations, who threaten impeachment before she’s even taken office? Traditionally, a new president gets 100 days to make their mark. After that, they are fair game. To declare all-out war on a presidency before Day One is profoundly un-American. If a clear majority of Americans choose Clinton over Trump, then Congress will be thwarting not just Clinton but also the majority of the American people.
October 29, 2016
You see it a lot in football. The ref throws a penalty flag. It‘s a very close call. The players grimace, the coach yells in the ref’s ear. A few plays later, another close call, the ref throws a flag on the other team. Everyone knows it’s a make-up call, rough justice to balance the scales. That’s how I see FBI Director Comey’s announcement that more emails are being investigated: a makeup call to appease his critics. In doing so, however, Comey violated another unwritten rule: don’t let a penalty determine the outcome of the game. Let the players play.
October 26, 2016
Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton’s proposed no-fly zones over Syria might trigger World War III. He could be right. Certainly there’s a real danger this new Cold War could turn hot as America and Europe push back against Russia’s increasingly aggressive diplomacy. NATO is stationing 4,000 troops along Russia’s historical buffer zone, the Baltics and eastern Poland, a real red flag for Russia. Trump says getting along with Russia wouldn’t be so bad, but how do you trust Putin when he continually lies about Russia’s operations in Ukraine and Syria? The next president will have to decide: détente or deterrence?
October 24, 2016
I've just finished “Death’s End,“ the final volume of Cixin Liu's epic sci-fi trilogy. I’m not sure what the author intended, but when viewed as an allegory for climate change it sends a clear message. The future will come, whether it’s 1,000 years from now or 1,000,000 years. That future is beyond our imagination but will be shaped by choices we make. The universe awaits us, but for now we have one job: take care of our home planet. As we fret about climate tipping points, we should ponder this admonition: "The precision of Nature can sometimes exceed the imagination."
October 23, 2016
You want to know how to rig an election before a single ballot is cast? You gerrymander legislative districts so that unfriendly voters become islands in seas of friendly voters. Both parties have gerrymandered, but the Republicans elevated it to a science after the 2010 election, leveraging control of 70 state legislative chambers to create districts that virtually ensured Republican control of the House of Representatives in 2012. But there’s always those pesky unintended consequences. The incoming wave of populist conservatives laid the groundwork for Donald Trump, who is wreaking havoc on the Republican Party. The best laid plans ...
October 21, 2016
Back in the 1990's, when bio-terrorism was high on my radar, I learned something interesting: you don’t actually have to do anything to cause a major disruption. Any credible threat that a product may have been tainted forces officials to act: shelves are emptied amid growing public panic, damaging a brand long after any hypothetical danger has passed. We are watching that play out today over concerns that hackers will disrupt the integrity of our elections. The mere possibility is enough to taint the American brand, especially when politicians are willing to fan the flames of distrust for political purposes.
October 18, 2016
To quote New York Times writer Charles Blow, Trump is “stacking logs of grievance on the funeral pyre” of his campaign. You could see this coming. At the end of the second debate, Trump was asked what he admired most about Clinton. His reply opened a window into his own soul: “She doesn't quit and she doesn't give up.” Ever since, all Trump talks about is rigged elections and media conspiracies. Why? Because Trump has quit believing he can win, so now it’s all about anger and denial as he tries to cope with losing by blaming everyone but himself.
October 15, 2016
One of the recurring themes of this election cycle has been Russia. There is strong evidence that Russia has engineered hacks into state election systems and is behind the Wiki-leaked emails from the Clinton campaign. Putin and Clinton aren’t exactly sending each other Christmas cards. Trump says he can get along with Putin. Trump has also challenged NATO, saying Europe should be paying more for its own defense. Here’s the bottom line. A Trump victory and Europe is thinking, “We’re on our own.” A Clinton win and Putin is thinking, “We have an adversary in the White House.” Elections matter.
October 10, 2016
Donald Trump says he will appoint a special prosecutor expressly to put Hillary Clinton in jail. You’d expect this kind of thing from a tin-pot dictator, but not from an American president. It’s not like we haven’t seen special prosecutors hired (and fired) for political reasons. Whitewater and Watergate come to mind. Neither went well. This one wouldn’t either, given the FBI’s closely reasoned arguments against pressing charges. Trump’s threat, made during a campaign, to use elected office to punish his political opponent is unprecedented in modern times. It offers the clearest proof yet of his unfitness for the presidency.
October 9, 2016
On the eve of the second presidential debate, both candidates are dealing with an October surprise. Trump’s was a nasty one in the form a leaked tape in which he explains how “stars” treat women they lust after. Wikileaks released e-mails containing excerpts of Clinton’s fawning speeches to Wall Street detailing her lust for global trade agreements. Voters will have to decide which is worse, kissing Wall Street’s ass or grabbing a woman’s … well, let’s just say that in what many see as a “pick your poison” campaign, the atmosphere is about to get even more poisonous. No surprise there.
October 8, 2016
In 1976, presidential candidate Jimmy Carter made some off the cuff remarks during a Playboy magazine interview to the effect that he "looked on a lot of women with lust" and had "committed adultery in my heart many times." Carter’s G-rated admissions created quite a stir. Now we have Donald Trump describing his seduction techniques in X-rated detail. What Carter only thought about, Trump actually did. He apologized and said he is a different man now, and anyway the Clintons did worse things. Any parent trying to teach a child right from wrong knows how far that excuse would get.
October 2, 2016
So Trump maybe worked the tax system to avoid paying federal taxes for twenty years. Most folks understand that’s something any businessman would do. Hell, we’d all do it if we could, but ordinary wage earners can’t, and that’s the point. We don’t get the same loopholes that the smart money does. By bragging about it, Trump made workers and retirees living on a fixed income out to be chumps, even as he plans to give new tax cuts to the rich, leaving the rest of to pick up the tab for the trillions in new debt he’ll create. Great!
September 29, 2016
A significant percentage of college-age voters are unaffiliated, unhappy with politics, and apparently unconcerned with the consequences if Hillary Clinton loses. Many think elections don’t matter, that both parties are equally corrupt. More than a third of voters aged 18 to 29 plan to vote for a third-party candidate. They prefer not to think about or can’t even remember 2000, when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader swung Florida and the election to George W. Bush. Some of us can’t forget. Cat Stevens asked, “Oh very young what will you leave us this time?” Please, don’t let it be Donald Trump.
September 28, 2016
So Donald Trump as much as admitted he doesn’t pay federal taxes. Let me channel my inner Bernie: Ordinary taxpayers can’t take advantage of tax breaks written by and for the rich!! But hey, rub it in our faces. Smart! Meanwhile, Trump is proposing massive new spending programs coupled with massive new tax cuts paid for by, you guessed it, budget cuts. But wait! Suppose every rich person followed Trump’s example and paid no taxes. Why wouldn’t they? It’s what Donald would do. Who would be left to pay the bills? Here’s a hint: take a look in the mirror.
September 27, 2016
Looking back at the first presidential debate, I would argue that the most revealing moments occurred before anyone walked onto the stage. Hillary Clinton worked hard at debate prep, spending hours in mock debates and poring over briefing books. Donald Trump took a more relaxed approach, chatting with aides over bacon cheeseburgers and not hitting the briefing books very hard. This is who they are. Clinton’s a grinder, a Plan B kind of gal. Trump prefers to rely on his gut and wing it. For my money, the presidency is too complicated, the times too dangerous to simply wing it.
September 26, 2016
Tonight’s debate is not about the true believers; it’s about those who will be making a leap of faith when they cast their ballots. Clinton must close the trust gap, the residue of decades of Congressional investigations and her difficulties in being open. Trump, meanwhile, must convince voters he actually is qualified to be president. He talks a good game but has no track record in governance. Personally, I think trust is overrated. I never had a problem working with someone I didn’t completely trust. It was the ones who thought they knew everything who caused most of the problems.
September 18, 2016
We always knew emails were insecure. Back in the 1990’s I was telling employees, “Don’t put anything in an email you don’t want on the front page of the Washington Post.” Good advice then, better advice now. Time was, policy would be hashed out in meetings and documented on paper. Then everything got computerized, we got addicted to speed, and now it’s out of control. I’m beginning to think some things would look better on paper. It was good enough to win World War II, and it sure as hell would be more secure than the mess we have now.
September 16, 2016
When will Donald Trump release his tax returns? Every other candidate in modern times has. What’s his problem? The campaign’s refusal to release his returns makes it looks like he has something to hide. You know they’re going to come out, sooner or later. Everything does. Don’t the American people have a right to know if there’s an issue BEFORE the election? Can you imagine finding game-changing dirt a month AFTER the election? While we’re at it, how about Donald Trump’s business emails? His business acumen is his main qualification. If Hillary’s work emails are fair game, why aren’t his?
September 14, 2016
The Clinton Foundation conducts charitable activities in Africa, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and the United States. Ninety percent of its donations go towards charitable activities. A complete donor list is on its web site. Chelsea Clinton will likely remain on the board if her mother is elected. Donald Trump runs the Trump Foundation. He also holds positions in 515 organizations including a number of foreign entities. He has business interests in Scotland, South Korea, UAE, Turkey, India, and Azerbaijan, with plans to expand into Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Thailand, and Argentina. Trump will turn his businesses over to his children if elected.
September 13, 2016
Hillary Clinton stumbling into her car, propped up by Secret Service Agents … well, that’s not a good look for sure. It raises questions that both candidates should candidly address. The job of the presidency is demanding. Look at how President Obama aged, and he started out fairly young. Both Clinton and Trump are old. You get old, stuff happens. Everyone who voted for them signed up for that. In Trump’s case, the presidency may not age him as much given his stated intention to delegate most of the heavy lifting to his vice-president. A man needs to know his limitations.
September 5, 2016
Does it matter who wins in November? To some degree, yes. A Clinton presidency would be different from a Trump presidency, but what’s wrong in Washington is not the White House. The institutional dysfunction which is sucking the life out of America lies within the House of Representatives and the Federal Reserve. Both are independent institutions. Both are stuck in ideological dead ends. The House divided against itself can’t legislate. The Fed is stuck on a zero interest rate program that is crushing savers and retirees. What’s scary is that neither has hit bottom. God help us when that happens.
August 24, 2016
Donald Trump has accused Hillary Clinton of a “pay-to-play” scheme, alleging rich donors gave money to the Clinton Foundation in return for access and favors from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Access, yes; favors, no evidence yet.) If anyone should understand pay-to-play, it’s Donald Trump. During the first Republican debate he admitted donating to any candidate who might help his business interests, including Hillary Clinton. He has also donated $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation. This is what rich people do: they give money to get in the door. Just ask Trump. I’m sure he can explain it to you.
August 23, 2016
Some folks believe that human population has outpaced Earth’s capacity to sustain mankind. They see a thinning of the herd as inevitable, even desirable. If I was any other animal I would probably agree, and unless we change our thinking the herd thinners will prevail by default. Climate change theory predicts extreme weather and the spread of disease. We now see it every day in the news. Sure, they say you can’t link specific weather events and climate, but over time one inevitably becomes the other. IF this is the new normal, then mankind is in for very stormy weather.
August 19, 2016
I’m reading a Chinese sci-fi story with an interesting analogy at its core. Picture an iceberg floating in water. The iceberg is evil. The water is humanity. Both are the same thing, just in different forms. It does seem like our combined acts of individual goodness are unable to aggregate up into a sea change that will wash away evil. The cancer remains, its tendrils tight around our souls. God offers redemption, not a cure. That’s our problem. Can humankind evolve past evil or have we taken a wrong turn, our chance at the good life missed this time around?
August 15, 2016
In the Terminator movies, the trouble begins when the computing colossus Skynet becomes self-aware. This year may have witnessed the arrival of baby Skynet. IBM researchers announced the creation of the first artificial device that truly mimics the operation of the neurons in our brains -- artificial nanoscale stochastic phase-change neurons. I don’t pretend to know how it works, but it uses materials scalable down to billionths of a meter, consumes almost no energy, and is capable of unsupervised learning at speeds far faster than any computer. Here’s what I do know: there’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.
August 14, 2016
Previewing themes for his concession speech, Donald Trump says he can only lose if the election is rigged. Yeah, couldn’t be anything else, right? Look, the folks who work the polls are your neighbors. Some do it for the pay, most out of civic duty, none to “rig” an election. The results are certified by election judges from both parties, who ensure the integrity of voting materials before, during and after the election. The judges and poll workers are committed to having as perfect an election as possible. If Trump loses this election, he will do it the old-fashioned way.
August 13, 2016
John Schindler, writing in Observer.com, accuses Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin of “weaponizing stolen information for political effect,” including hints of an “October surprise” release of stolen data timed to hurt Hillary Clinton. The cast of characters in Russia’s effort to influence our election includes Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and admitted Clinton-hater, Roger Stone, former Trump aide and self-proclaimed dirty trickster, and Trump himself, who instead of denouncing such interference called for more Kremlin hacks. Make no mistake, the Russian government is working hard to disrupt our election with attacks aimed at exclusively at Hillary Clinton thus far. You gotta wonder why.
August 10, 2016
I’ll stipulate that Donald Trump was not putting out a contract on Hillary Clinton when he called those “Second Amendment people” to arms. Verbal gaffes have become business as usual for Trump. He lacks that filter that tells the rest of us when to think it but not say it. Clinton speaks in white papers. Trump speaks in bumper sticker quotes. That’s okay for stump speeches, but eventually you begin to wonder if Trump can be spontaneous AND thoughtful at the same time. If someone can’t even talk a good game, what does that say about how they will perform?
August 5, 2016
The NIH has issued guidelines proposing the resumption of experiments using human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human. The idea is to grow human organs inside animals for use in research into diseases. NIH has crafted restrictions to avoid endowing animals with human consciousness or producing human embryos inside animals. Anyone who watched “Jurassic Park” knows all too well that nature doesn’t always respect our wishes for neat boundaries and tidy outcomes when it comes to living things. “Jurassic Park” was fiction, but does anyone think we are certain to keep life from finding a way?
August 3, 2016
Donald Trump is already making excuses for why he will lose this election, never a good sign. That his chosen method is to make a reckless and unfounded charge -- "It's a totally rigged system. The elections are rigged.” -- should come as no surprise. This idea that voter fraud is widespread has taken root in the Republican Party’s alternative reality show. Recent court rulings struck down restrictive voting laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures because the facts are that voter fraud is almost nonexistent, undermining the primary rationale for the measures. The biggest voter fraud in this election remains Donald Trump.
July 31, 2016
We all know Donald Trump avoided serving in the Vietnam War, but I can’t help wondering what kind of leader he might have been. I observed many commanding officers. The worst made poor decisions that got their men killed. The best looked out for the troops and kept their cool under fire. So what is Trump’s leadership style? He boasts about the great things he’s going to do, but if it doesn’t go according to script he resorts to name-calling and bullying, then denies what he plainly said before eventually backtracking. Hmm, maybe it’s just as well he never served.
July 29, 2016
I grew up in an era when voting was simpler. Democrats stood for this, Republicans stood for that. You figured out which one made the most sense on the issues and voted accordingly. Sure, there were times when you might ignore party lines, but voting outside the lines was the exception, not the rule. Now it’s more personal, less “Where do they stand?” and more “Are they trustworthy?” Party matters less than persona. I don’t know how you judge that in someone you’ve never met. I do know what being a Democrat or Republican means. Simple still works for me.
July 27, 2016
As part of his continuing efforts to improve relations with Russia, Donald Trump today issued a clarion call for greater intelligence sharing with the Russian government: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing [from Hillary Clinton’s email server]. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Given that twenty-one journalists have been killed since Vladimir Putin came to power, I’m sure that will be an especially tempting carrot. Is this the kind of out-of-the-box thinking you could expect from a Trump administration? Oh, yeah … four whole years of it.
July 24, 2016
I’m going to dig out my tinfoil hat and indulge in a little conspiracy theorizing. Issue One: the motivation behind the leaked DNC emails. Factoid: Russia is widely seen as the email hacker. They presumably passed them on to WikiLeaks. Speculation: There are those on the far left who wouldn’t mind seeing a Trump victory, the idea being it takes a shit storm to create a progressive utopia. The Trump-Putin bromance has been widely reported. Not so widely known is the role Russian oligarchs have played in bankrolling many of Trump’s business ventures. Bottom Line: Beware of leakers bearing gifts.
July 23, 2016
Ronald Reagan’s philosophy was to get government out of the way and unleash the genius of the American people. Donald Trump’s plan is to tell everyone to get out of his way while he unleashes the genius of Donald Trump: “I am the only one who can make America great again. … I alone can fix it.” Trump’s vision is less Ronald Reagan’s conservatism and more Benito Mussolini’s fascism: “It is the State which educates its citizens in civic virtue, gives them a consciousness of their mission and welds them into unity.” And we all know for Trump, “L’etat c’est moi.”
July 22, 2016
Before I die I’d like to see an honest-to-by-God UFO. I wouldn’t care if anyone believed me. The important thing is that I would know what I saw … something beyond the ordinary limits of what is thought possible. It’s religion by another name, I guess. There lies within us a desire to bear witness to something greater than mere humanity. We are programmed to receive. The problem is that nothing seems to be sending. Seeing a UFO would not be proof of God’s existence. It would be an affirmation of the unknown unknowns that still await humanity … somewhere out there.