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Weekly Photo Challenge: It’s easy to be Green


Just did a quick search to find a photo for this week’s challenge.  While this may not be the best fit, this guy seems to be enjoying his green surroundings……  I took this in the very early morning at one of the stops on a European River Cruise a few years back.  I found this statue on a wall just off the empty main square of a beautiful little town (can’t remember the name right now).  I loved the look on his face, the natural flora, and even the bikes parked nearby.  I still find this photo relaxing and a nice reminder of that solitary morning.

A natural smile…..


White House update -Strategic disasters in the making….


I thought I’d continue my monthly political commentary at the end of Mr. T’s second month in the office.  At first I started to recount all of the confusion, obfuscation and ineffectual leadership of the second month but that quickly became tedious.  Instead I thought I’d comment on some of the emerging strategies of this administration and what that may portend for the next 46 months.  While most of the strategies that I list may have not been formally announced, they are clear in the context of the administration’s actions to date.

Belief and Propagation of a Fact Free Environment

This has become a central feature of the administration and is a continuation of  Mr. T’s fact free campaign.  I am writing this as the Director of the FBI is confirming that there is absolutely no evidence that T’s assertions of illegal wiretapping of his campaign/administration.  This tweet has been widely debunked since he sent it but he has reaffirmed it several times.  It follows a long line of attacks on the credible media as well as most of the governmental institutions that we depend on every day.  While his supporters may believe him and his conspiracy theory sources (Fox news and the farther right alternative media), his strategy appears to be to attack and attempt to discredit anyone who disagrees with him – even if it is an outrageous claim.  The press is then wasting their coverage following his false leads and forgetting the important issues of the day.  I hope that may be changing – it is telling when the questions at the white house press briefings now are frequently about “why and when should we believe anything the president says”.  Our allies and people around the world are also and already asking that same question.  Hopefully we can soon get back to questions that matter – such as inauguration sizes or imaginary voter fraud.

Hard Power vs Soft

The recent budget submission as well the administration’s stated strategies revolve around increasing our military and improving our “Hard Power” capability.  This is a strategy that is simple (so even the Commander and Chief can understand it) but it doesn’t fit the complex world that we live in.  We already outspend our closest military rivals by several multiples (2.7 times in the case of the next largest, China).  While I would applaud efforts to streamline the military spending to make it more effective, the vast majority of rules and regulations that truly effect efficiency have been imposed by Congress itself and are unlikely to be changed.   In any case, we and our allies are more than capable of defeating any credible adversary in a hard power confrontation.  I would focus instead on what the new National Security Advisor, General McMasters has said about the need to  “integrate all elements of power: military, political/diplomatic, economic”.  Unfortunately, the budget proposal threatens huge cuts to our diplomatic corps and major cuts to financial capabilities to effect the behaviour of both our friends and our opponents.  This is happening at a time when China is quadrupling its diplomatic corp and has already become the primary financier and supporter of development activities across the  world.  One visit to Africa with signs of Chinese construction and infrastructure projects everywhere will convince you that we are not the ones trying to build those relationships at the local level anymore.  It will only get worse under Mr T’s hard power strategy – the only relationships we will strengthen are within our own military industrial complex.  Update: a group of dedicated former Generals and Admirals are currently lobbying against the draconian cuts to the State Department in order to preserve our “soft power” alternatives.

Energy Policy

Some of Mr T’s most publicized campaign promises where to the coal and fossil fuel industries.  While he has done little to follow through on these promises so far, his cabinet appointments and his budget spell real trouble.  There is practically no-one that thinks the coal industry is going to recover (2 Ohio coal plants announced closures this week) – the market just doesn’t exist.  It was an empty promise that despite his best efforts will not be kept.  All around the world, people are moving to renewable fuel sources which also happen to be green.  Again, even China recognizes this trend and is transitioning its industries.  Meanwhile we have an administration of climate change deniers (with the notable exception of the Defense Department) while the rest of the world invests in, and moves toward renewables.  Combine that with the proposed cuts to energy science, research and technology across the departments and we risk falling behind in the race for trillions of dollars in future investments.

Income/wealth inequality – I’ve been one of  “those people” for years that believe that inequality is a large problem and that the hollowing out of the middle class is a significant issue.  I admit that I cannot personally identify where the middle class of the future will come from.  Other than human intensive activities like public health, education and safety, and service jobs which are today lower paying jobs, I haven’t been able to envision where the jobs are to create that core economic group.  While some people tout that technology and innovation will invent these new jobs, I’m not convinced that they will create more jobs than they will help eliminate.  In any case, I only see the problem getting significantly worse under Mr T.  His budget will certainly harm many on the lower wealth/income spectrum and his (Republican generated) health care plan creates more inequality by eliminating many of the subsidies of the ACA and also provides massive tax give-aways to the insurance industries and the most wealthy americans. Update – the Mr T/Ryan healthcare plan has been defeated so at least that does not appear to be a continuing threat!   I can hardly wait to see the (again Republican generated) tax reform plan which shows all signs of distributing more wealth to the rich in an effort to stimulate the illusive phenomenon of effective “trickle down” economics.

In summary I’ll just state that I believe Mr T has seriously degraded the office that he now holds and he shows no sign of recognising that effect or trying to change his ways.  Even more importantly, his personal strategic views of the world are simplistic and potentially very damaging to this country.   While his plunging approval ratings provide some evidence that the public may be waking up to his con job, there is still no evidence that the Republican party will abandon its seriously flawed front man before he can wreak more havoc.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Atop


Feeling lazy so I’ll take the easy way out this week and choose another photo from Edinburgh for this week’s challenge, atop.  This is a fairly regular view from “atop” one of the hills surrounding Edinburgh.  Although it is a normal view for postcards, you can understand why it is popular as it gives you a nice vantage point for the primary sights of the city.  In particular, the clocktower on the right centre of the photo is on the beautiful Balmoral Hotel, to the right of that is the Scott memorial (to Sir Walter Scott), and to the left is the Edinburgh Castle high on another hill.  I normally don’t like to take views from above cities (skyscrapers or observation towers) because they seldom provide a view into the character of the city.   I think this view is different in that it is not high enough to hide the character of the main buildings and it provides a nice overview of where everything is……

Nice view of Edinburgh’s sights

I should mention that the memorial in the foreground is to Dugald Stewart, a Scottish mathematician and philosopher of the 17 and 1800s.


Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish


I hate to climb on the church related responses to this challenge but we recently had the opportunity to do some photography in and around St. Giles cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.  It was a rainy couple of days so I was able to get some external and internal shots of this beautiful church which dates back to the 1100’s and was rebuilt in the late 1300s after a fire destroyed much of the original structure.  I am not normally drawn to take lots of photos of cathedrals but I found this one to be very photogenic and we also used it as a refuge to stay out of the downpour.

Rainy Conversation

 

I took this first photo not long after we arrived in Edinburgh.  There were actually quite a few people on the rainy streets but this long exposure “ghosted” most of them out of the picture.  Even though the photo was taken over a period of about 50 seconds, the two ladies in the foreground kept chatting for the entire time so they were captured along with the cathedral.  I liked the context they added so I didn’t reshoot the picture or try to remove them in processing……

Almost 1000 years of wishes

The next photo is of one of the main chambers of the church.  The lighting was low but dramatic and yielded just enough color to make the stone building seem warm on this stormy day.  Any time I am in a historic place of worship such as this one, I cannot help but to try and imagine the different ways the people lived during the lifetime of the building and how their hopes and dreams differed over time while at the same time remaining fairly constant in theme.


Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken


We had lots of roads taken over the last week as we were in Scotland, London, and Ireland.  Many of the roads were very shiny as it was raining- a lot.   On our first evening in Dublin we went wandering around the city looking for a place to eat and have a drink.  We ended up right in front of the famous Temple Bar so  I took a couple of shots there before we went on to eat and drink elsewhere.  In any case, we were glad to see it and we went on to a great night on the town in Dublin.

The road taken but a door not opened.....

The road taken but a door not opened…..


Weekly Photo Challenge: A good match


We just happen to be in London for a few days and snapped a shot yesterday that “matches” this week’s challenge perfectly.  I called this “three symbols of London” because it has the iconic underground sign for the subway system, Big Ben in the distance, and it also shows a cloudy sky….which has been consistent since we’ve been here……

Where else could it be besides London?

Where else could it be besides London?


Weekly Photo Challenge: Against the Odds


I’m a little late on my photo for the week as I wanted to finish my political thoughts before I looked at the challenge.  While this photo may not scream Against the Odds to you, it sure does for me.  Back in October my friend Ross and I were out in Rainbow Canyon (near Death Valley) taking photos of military aircraft who often fly through that canyon.  The photographic process for such an endeavour is a lot like fishing – hours of quiet boredom punctuated by moments of frenzy when an aircraft enters the canyon at high speed.  While we were just sitting there waiting for the aircraft to cooperate we amused ourselves with trying to catch a photo of a kangaroo rat running in and out of the rocks that formed our perch on the canyon edge.  The fact that the animals were very quick and very small combined with the reality that they can appear from anywhere to make this a very difficult photo shoot.  After a plethora of failed attempts, we finally resorted with trying to bait the little fella out of the rocks.  While that sounds like cheating, it still did not make for an easy shot – our “model” would still vary his approach direction and timing and also make all of his attempts with a very quick in and out run.  We finally did get some pretty decent shots of the little guy but I though I’d post this one showing him on his way in to the Cheeto lunch table that we had prepared for him….

a worthy adversary...

a worthy adversary…

 


Our white house occupant – a month in review


On the 26th of September I published a post called “a simple question” where I attempted to draw a comparison between the presidential candidates in the context of a hiring decision.  I tried to characterize both candidates using hiring criteria that would be applicable to an executive in a company, organization or even the presidency.   I made some judgements and statements about how I thought each would perform in various situations based on their resumes, their experience, and the personal attributes as we knew them at that time.  As the election is over and the new administration has had a month in office I thought it might be interesting to revisit what I had said then vs the experience to date.  In the paragraphs below I will recount what I said in that previous post vs what has happened since the inauguration.

…… would you hire an “outsider” with no applicable experience or track record and a questionable (at best) and undocumented record in their own business?

 His actions and statements to date (both verbal and twitter) continue to show no depth, lack focus on meaningful issues and give no indication of being able to accomplish things within the structure and laws of the three branches of government.  In the meantime, he continues to hide any detail of his prior experience which might indicate his level of competence, his character (and sanity),  or his potential conflicts of interest.  The chaos and dysfunction that he spreads appear contagious even to more experienced or seasoned people…..

…. would you hire the candidate who overly simplifies the issues leading to impractical or ineffective strategies, brags about successes not related to the issues, and who cannot even understand your detailed questions about your specific issues?

We now have evidence from his executive orders that he is more concerned about the appearance of satisfying campaign promises then he is about effective governance.  The immigrant ban was poorly written and not staffed and has now been sucessfully challenged in the courts.   His lack of understanding of the issues has led to him retract his initial position on the one China policy (without any concessions from China), embarrassed himself to other world leaders (START discussion with Putin, Wall payment with Mexico, immigrant agreement with Australia), and makes it impossible for him to address ANY issue in more than a one sentence soundbite.

…. would you hire the candidate who is critical and disparaging towards your company without understanding your work environment or the vast diversity of your customer base both domestically and across the globe?

Trump has attacked virtually every aspect of the Executive Branch (Cabinet level departments and Agencies) and even the Judiciary (those “so-called Judges”).  The Departments must be thrilled with the prospect of being led by people who have stated their intent to abolish them (even though they had no idea what was done there – e.g. Rick Perry).  The nominee for the Supreme court vacancy uses words like demoralising and disheartening to describe Trump’s comments on the Judiciary.  The demonstrations around the globe reflect the damage he has done in a month to our relations with friends and allies.  In addition, his choice of using the CIA wall of heroes to discuss “important issues” like crowd sizes and TV ratings (and a similar performance in front of DoD memorials in the Pentagon) show a tone-deafness and total lack of understanding of the sacrifices others have made for this country.

……would you hire the candidate who sees diversity as an impediment?

So far, his cabinet and advisor selections seem to be based on their loyalty to the Donald and the size of their portfolio rather than competence.  He did have one day when he was checking a limited number of diversity boxes (e.g.  Ben Carson, Betsy De Los) versus choosing a qualified candidate.  His Executive Order on Muslims and the deportation of non-violent long-term resident immigrants (for being undocumented) don’t inspire confidence in his approach to terrorism or immigration.  His incredible ignorance of Frederick  Douglas and his accomplishments (“he’s doing a great job”) was an embarrassment at the celebration of Black History month.  Add to that the total lack of outreach to anyone outside of his immediate supporters and it paints a very poor picture of his vision for the entire country vs. just Trump country.

Would you hire the candidate who may not be the most likeable but can perform the duties of the position, or would you hire the candidate who brags about successes (without proof of those successes) who is likely to alienate both your workers and your customers?

Probably his greatest “success” to date has been to renegotiate with the Carrier corporation to save a few hundred jobs in Indiana.  The cost of that success was millions of dollars of tax breaks in Indiana which the company has stated that it will use to further automate their factory at the cost of additional jobs.  Mr T  also seems to have a habit of praising the audience he is talking to while ignoring the past very negative comments he has made about that very same group.  He of course denies anything negative he might have said even though it is in writing on his Twitter feed or on video.  He is also already bragging about the cost savings he negotiated on the F-35 program – a cost reduction that had been negotiated by the DoD over many months prior to his involvement/election.  

Would you hire the candidate whose extensive open record contains many accomplishments but also a few highly public mistakes or would you hire the candidate who has taken all possible steps to keep his or her record a complete secret (even from those he intends to serve -the voters)?

Despite continued calls for visibility (including over 600,000 signatures on a white house petition) of his tax and business information, he continues to insist “no-one is interested” and disregards the concept that he now works for “the people” vs the other way around.  He has resisted providing even the same level of documentation that EVERY other senior government employee must provide for ethics evaluation.  In addition, he flaunts his disrespect for those ethics rules by holding international events at his properties, and even has his subordinates endorsing his family businesses (a clear violation of the law).  Every one of his decisions should be examined for the potential effects of his conflicts of interest – this will still be an issue at every turn.

…. would you hire the candidate who brags of instantaneous and miraculous results with no substantiation of approach and who may present a dangerous threat to your company due to conflicts with your long established company values and morality?

He has stated that the immediate impact of his immigration ban would be an improvement in National security against radical islamic terror – while there is no validated instance of a terrorist act from a US immigrant from those countries.  In addition, the vast majority of security experts point to a long term danger of his policy by providing an effective recruiting tool for ISIS and other terror organizations.  One can only suppose that is one reason why the SECDEF was not briefed on the order until the signing was underway.  We will be feeling the repercussions of this impulsive policy for decades.  The “American dream” as a beacon to the rest of the world has been badly tarnished.

….  would you hire the candidate who is likely to be angered, threatened, and/or take an adverse situation as a personal affront?

A man driven to anger by crowd sizes, imaginary voter fraud, and even negative sales reports for his daughter’s clothing lines is not exactly my model for a crisis manager.   His knee-jerk reaction to the Mexican President’s canceled visit was to propose tariffs on all Mexican imports – something that would cost the American taxpayer and also encourage further migration to the US.  Hopefully, cooler heads will advise him but it is not clear who he listens to outside of his immediate family and shadow president Bannon  – not exactly comforting.  His reaction to the current NSA resignation and continuing investigation is to question the leaks that identified the issue rather than address the security implications of the contacts.  It is telling that a president (and party) that made the potential and inadvertent exposure of classified information such a campaign theme is now downplaying the actual and deliberate release of sensitive information to Russia.

Would you hire the candidate that is likely to hire key personnel (eg. Supreme Court Justices) who have a proven history of dedication to the values of your company, customers, and other constituents or, would you hire the candidate who would blindly listen to supporters of a minority of your interested parties independent of likely issues/impacts to be addressed?

While Mr Trump has stated (even on the day of Gen. Flynn’s resignation) that he has assembled the world’s most wonderful group of staff and advisors, the hearings demonstrated a group with questionable backgrounds, lack of knowledge, and existing and potential future conflicts of interest.  At least the nominee for the Labor Secretary, who had a terrific resume of opposing every labor initiative, was withdrawn due to a lack of support as I was writing this…..   It is also apparent that the administration plans to support only the Trump base supporters and ignore the majority of Americans who voted against him or who are now protesting his policies.  If his support continues to dwindle (as it has already started), it is very likely that he will blame everyone but himself in what becomes and increasingly insular and dangerous core group of supporters.  He started a war with the credible media from his first day in office and has only escalated his demonstrably false disinformation campaigns through his official spokespersons and his own twitter accounts.  This cannot end well….

Would you hire the candidate whose experiences demonstrate support for your workers wellbeing or would you hire the candidate with a history of sacrificing his commitments to his workers in favor of his own personal balance sheet/reputation?

While the federal workforce is always an easy target, most administrations learn that it serves vital purposes for our country.  This administration runs the risk of driving the competence out of the bureaucracy through its continuous disparaging remarks and actions (hiring freezes, etc).

Would you hire the candidate who has significant experience in making life or death decisions when necessary or would you hire the candidate who puts everything, including human life and decency in profit and loss terms?

After the recent mission in Yemen, it was heartening to hear Sen McCain remind the “president” that no mission can be called a success  when there are American lives lost – something the “Commander in Chief” seemed to have overlooked.  He also seemed to have no regret or remorse about the loss of civilian lives during the firefight – including women and children.  There is a difference between taking a strong stance and showing no compassion – but that is one more thing that he does not appear to understand.

Would you hire the candidate who is cautious in describing sensitive issues which might affect your company and/or its competitors or would you hire the candidate who praises your competitors while berating your own company and its leadership?

The continuing courtship with Russia and Putin continues to baffle and concern just about all expert observers.  His choices for top advisors seem to aggravate those concerns.  The actions of his National Security Advisor have led to his resignation less than a month into his term!  Even though Gen. Flynn’s action may have been against the law, Mr Trump is more concerned about the leaks than any wrongful action by one of his “Best and Brightest” advisors.  

Would you hire a candidate who could be a source of inspiration to others or would you hire the candidate who is just as likely to be a curiosity or embarrassment to your company and customers?

I  think Mr Trump has inspired millions across the US and around the entire world  – to protest his every action and proposal.  The signs mocking him and calling him an embarrassment speak for themselves.  The daily reality clown show rivals any of the nightly entertainment shows…..if only they weren’t so damaging to people’s real lives.

Would you hire the candidate who sifts through differing opinions and complex position papers in order to make an informed decision or one whose opinion is primarily influenced by a Twitter feed?

It has become increasingly apparent that White House policy is affected by and sometimes driven verbatim from a single cable TV station and other right wing sources like Breitbart.  Numerous sources have described his inability to focus on details and nuance – driving his policies to be so limited in depth   as that contained in his 144 character twitter rants.  While this inattention to detail played well on the campaign, it is frightening in its portent for the future.  He is personally responsible for the age of fake news as he and his staff have made it their primary coping mechanism for their own incompetence.

Would you hire the candidate who has actually achieved results for the disadvantaged in your company or customer base or will you choose the candidate who has had little life experience with the concept of disadvantage and looks upon those in that condition as either undeserving or flawed?

The administration has made NO outreach to the disadvantaged communities other than warnings about “calling out the troops” to solve problems (in Chicago and even in Mexico!).  His billionaires club of a cabinet also have no history or life experience dealing with the less fortunate of our country – besides, the poor and the people of color didn’t vote for him.

In summary, while I was concerned and disappointed after the election, I held out some hope that Mr Trump would allow himself some introspection and make his long awaited “pivot” to acting like a world leader.  Instead he continues to stoke his own ego, ignore his weaknesses and lack of knowledge, and in doing so, threatens the very foundations that have made America the most admired country in the world.  By focusing on his reputation he endangers the country’s.  While I hope he sees the chaos he is creating and modifies his approach and behaviour, I fear that it is beyond his makeup to change.  He has been entitled all his life and his focus on winning for himself will never be replaced with a genuine affection for (all) the people of these United States of America.  Thanks for the opportunity to vent…..


Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadow


I chose a local photo from our neighbourhood for this week’s challenge shadow.  I took this about a month ago when my wife pointed out this kitten sitting on a doorstep across the street.  I thought the very prominent shadow being cast against the bright wall made for an interesting photo – I’ll let you be the judge….

A mere shadow of itself.....

A mere shadow of itself…..

 


American Kestrel


I went for a walk yesterday with our two dogs and ended coming back home walking through the part of Balboa Park that borders our back yard. There is a canyon there that the dogs can run in and you sometimes get surprised by the wildlife there. As we walked on the path, I noticed a beautiful Kestrel sitting in the top of a nearby tree. He was very close and relaxed which is unusual for a kestrel – and me without a camera. I walked up the hill to my house, unleashed the dogs and grabbed my camera and long lens. As I went back down the trail, I could see the kestrel fly away into the large trees surrounding the canyon. I decided to make one quick spin around the area and finally saw the bird again on a telephone pole at the top of the canyon. I climbed my way through the steep underbrush to get close enough for picture and finally got within range. After snapping a few shots, I stumbled and of course the kestrel flew away. I love these great looking little falcons so I was disappointed to not get a shot of it flying. Anyway – thought I’d share the result of my dog walking discovery….

Seeing this little guy made my part of America great again - No thanks to "the Donald"

Seeing this little guy made my part of America great again – No thanks to “the Donald”