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    A Summary of a Summary: The Mueller Report

    A few weeks ago, Attorney General William Barr outlined what he called “principal conclusions” of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller (Washington Post). For some, the summary was a cover-up coupled with attacks on Barr’s integrity. Others greeted Barr’s summary with claims of victory citing what they concluded to be findings of no collusion or obstruction of justice. As is so often the case in today’s Washington, the reaction of both sides was wrong.

    Nonetheless, here are three basic takeaways from what Barr did say:

    1. The Russians did interfere with the 2016 election.
    2. No one can confirm or deny the fact that the Trump Campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Washington Post)
    3. According to Barr, there is still no conclusive evidence to support the claim that President Trump obstructed justice.

    The immediate reaction was condemnation by the left and victory marches by the right. All this before release of the full report, redacted or otherwise. Such uniformed and virulent responses, in light of the serious charges that have been filling the airwaves for more than two years, is negligent and irresponsible. Unfortunately, that is what we have come to expect from today’s politicians and biased media – on both sides of the aisle.

    After two years of speculation, leaks, false allegations, and the unjustified character assassination of some, we all need to wait for the full report before we make any conclusions. It is time for the political partisans and media pundits to shut up until we all see the full report.

    Barr also has reason to redact parts of the report.  The law requires it. Regardless, it serves no purpose to object to redactions until we see them and determine if they are appropriate legally appropriate.

    So far, no one has any evidence that Barr is anything but truthful. He is highly respected by anyone who is speculating on his integrity at this point in time is either naïve or ignorant. That does not mean he might not make mistakes – just as so many others have done, particularly those on both sides of the issues who love to attack one another. With so much at stake and in light of our growing distrust in all of Washington, now is not to time to jump to idle conclusions.

    Sadly, all of these left/right wing theatrics make me wonder if we can ever believe what our government is telling us and whether we will ever know the whole truth.

    Perhaps time will tell.

     

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    Leading Questions Amid the Nation’s Largest College Admission Scandal

    Famous actors like Felicity Hoffman and Lori Loughlin found themselves making headlines earlier this month after news broke that they, along with dozens of other elite parents, were allegedly part of a leverage scheme involving college admission cheating and bribery.

    Wealthy parents allegedly paid college admission consultant Rick Singer to help their children cheat on college entrance exams in addition to falsifying athletic records as a way of securing admission to schools like Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, UCLA, and USC, just to name a few. (Patch.com).  Some allegedly made contributions or bribes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to assure admission.  The whole story came to light after a Los Angeles parent exposed nearly everyone involved.

    Here’s my first question: How will the reputations of these famous actors, CEOs, and high-level executives change going forward?

    In Lori Loughlin’s case, her partnership with the Hallmark Channel has been severed as the network decided to cut ties with the actor after discovering the news.

    We are saddened by the news surrounding the college admissions allegations. We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin,” Crown Media announced in a recent statement. (Broadway World)

    Some pundits has asked if this just.  Others opine that it is enough.  Actors in general have remained silent.  Politicians have chimed in and some have alleged this is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to corruption in the college admissions process.  Amid all of this, we cannot help but wonder what lies ahead for the children who are at the center of this scandal.  Some have been told they cannot stay in school.  Some in the media have suggested previously granted degrees should be rescinded for anyone who has graduated and who used Singer’s tactics to be admitted.  Regardless, these children are all forever scared, many on account of misguided parents.

    Let us be careful before we judge everyone allegedly involved in the scandal.  Time will tell how deep this goes.  While I agree it presents a clarion call for a full investigation in the college admissions process and the influence of tests, admissions committees, legacy, contributions, and sports, we must be cautious.  We need to be very careful that in our often emotional rush to judgement, we do not convict the innocent by association with the corrupt.

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    Do We Have a National Emergency?

    President Donald Trump anticipated and has certainly received flack after his declaration of a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. (Denver Post)

    Border security is not a new issue. It is something every administrations since Reagan has wrestled with.

    In Trump’s case, one of his most publicized campaign promises — the border wall — has not come to pass.  With the 2020 elections looming on the horizon, delivering on his border wall promise is much more substantial than simply the dollars, materials and labor required to build it.  It’s undeniable that partisan politics — on both of the aisle — infect the debate. But it is also clear that those same partisan politicians have failed to find a solution to an undeniable problem — emergency or not.

    Regardless, there are some basic facts about these types of situations we do know.

    The National Emergency Act, enacted in 1976, addresses any situation that threatens the country and calls for immediate action (US News) emergency orders is the national emergency declared in 2001 as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.  On that order alone, tens of thousands of soldiers were sent to battle and billions was spent. Past national emergencies range anywhere from disarming weapons of mass destruction to trade embargos on other countries, including the reallocation of previously approved Congressional budget allocations.

    In fact, the Constitution gives a standing president very broad discretion to override current policy in response to an emergency. These provisions include seizing property, assigning military forces abroad, instituting martial law, restricting travel, and generally controlling much of the lives of United States citizens.(Boston 25 News) Such powers, however, have rarely been exercised.

    While the President has the authority, the specific reason(s) for declaring a state of emergency must be publicly stated, and when this happens Congress can nullify it by way of a joint resolution. Like any other law, this would require a simple majority vote in the House and Senate to pass.  (Cornell Law School)

    While there are a wide variety of reasons past presidents have enacted this type of executive order, this will probably be the first time one is formally challenged by the Legislature.  Since it’s unlikly to withstand a veto even if the House and Senate pass a resolution against it, the ultimate resolution will be left to the courts. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/98-505.pdf

    Therein lies a big risk for both parties. If this case gets to the Supreme Court, its word will be final should it rule on Constitutional grounds. Nine unelected jurists will define the future of the President to issue emergency executive orders. All because our elected representatives could not come to a full compromise. Nor is the continuing blame game productive. The reality is simple. Two of the three branches of our government were unable to do their job in a bipartisan manner. Now the third unelected branch will make a decision that could have a profound impact on a President’s powers regardless of his or her political party.

    Is that what’s in our best interests?

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    Just Because We Can…

    We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.

    Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us.  All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect.  But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.

    In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony.  Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it.  The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.

    Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony.  Huawei will unveil the results in February.  You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.

    The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick.  In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.

    If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.

    “If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”

    It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?”  Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?  When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?

    As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery.  I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead.  While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks.  This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery.  It is about better understanding where this is all going.  Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.

    Consider this.  We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow.  After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology.  Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek?  Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.

    Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.

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    As Politicians Claim Victory, America Becomes the Victim

    After the longest government shutdown in history, Congress and the White House have three weeks to make a deal on immigration reform or the country faces the choice of another shutdown or a presidential proclamation that we have a national emergency that requires his unilateral action to build physical barriers on our southern border.  Three weeks to settle arguments that have failed resolution for over fifteen years.  Only a Las Vegas handicapper is capable of putting odds on any bet that the two sides will come to an agreement.  Even with odds, that is not a bet I am likely to make.

    We do have an emergency but it is not just about our southern border or immigration.  While that is certainly a crisis, the true emergency facing our nation is a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.  In response to President Trump’s offer this past weekend that could be a start to compromise, Nancy Pelosi immediately criticized it as “not enough” and continued her rhetoric that a wall is immortal.  Senator Chuck Schumer echoed similar sentiments.  On the right, pundits like Ann Coulter accused President Trump of caving and others said he “lost” the fight.  Everyone took sides, ignoring the issues for the sake of partisan politics.

    So once again, we watch the spectacle to which our politicians seem addicted.  A spectacle that is not about what might or might not be best for Americans, Dreamers, DACA and TPS recipients, and the border agents risking their lives as illegal immigrants continue to flood the country.   Instead, it remains a partisan fight over who wields power in Washington and who will win the White House in 2020.  Neither side appears ready to compromise as each continues to kowtow to the extreme wings of their respective bases.  As the leaders of the two parties continue their mindless bickering, no one can argue against the reality that people are suffering and dying – both Americans and illegal immigrants – throughout our country because of a failed immigration policy.

    Three weeks.  That is how long our Washington politicos have to prove to America that they can lead through reasonable debate and compromise, putting aside partisan politics at this critical time.  Whether that will happen depends on all of them and I will not blame the Democrats or the Republicans if they fail.  I will blame them both and urge anyone I know to vote every one of them out of office, from top to bottom, in 2020.

     

     

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    Rhetoric Not Reason

    As we enter yet another day of a partial government shutdown, we continue to hear the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle without any semblance of reasonable debate or compromise.  This is not leadership by Democrats or Republicans.  As Americans, we cannot allow ourselves to be caught up in their partisan politics.  Instead, we need to pressure all of them to bring reason to the debate and embrace compromise as the way of ending their inexcusable behavior.  We have to tell our politicians in the White House, House of Representatives, and Senate to STOP.  Their idea that governance means appealing only to their base is ludicrous.  They represent all of us, not just those who chose to vote them into power.  We elected them to govern, not divide.  It is time for them to stop labelling the other party as the “owner” of this shutdown.  They all own it.  If these elected officials were a business, congregation, or family, such divisive behavior would not be tolerated.  Compromises would be made and we would all move forward.  The truth is that border security, whether you call it a wall, a fence or, as Nancy Pelosi described it, a beaded curtain, is critical to our national security.  Yet they all sit and debate semantics while irresponsible parents abandon innocent children and illegal aliens kill innocent people, including law enforcement officers trying to protect us.  While our borders should be open and our success as a nation be shared and made available to anyone who is oppressed or denied human rights, there must be rules and limitations.  We simply cannot absorb the world’s human rights problems regardless of how compassionate we may be.  The same politicians who once said they support a wall, now say they do not.  Their hypocrisy could not be more obvious.  Politicians on the other side of the aisle, caught up in wordsmithing are equally hypocritical.  It reminds me of the movie, Network:  “So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it and stick your head out, and yell: I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”  Maybe someone in Washington will hear you.  Unfortunately, I doubt they will.

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    Everything You Need to Know About Mick Mulvaney

    Who is Mick Mulvaney?

    Born in Alexandria, Virginia, John Michael ‘Mick’ Mulvaney has a strong Southern background. He grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina and later moved to Indian Land, South Carolina. Mulvaney attended Georgetown University where he studied international economics, commerce and finance, and then went on to law school at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on antitrust law. In 2006, Mulvaney was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, but when an unexpected vacancy in the South Caroline Senate arose in 2008, he decided to run as the GOP candidate. He achieved victory after running in one of the hardest legislative races of that election.

    In 2010 Mulvaney entered the race for U.S House of Representatives, and won, against John M. Pratt. He was re-elected for the following three terms. According to the Washington Post, Mulvaney was elected as a member of the Tea Party movement and was a co-founder of the House of Freedom Caucus.

    President Trump previously nominated Mulvaney in December 2016 to serve as director of the Office Management and Budget and Mulvaney was confirmed by the Senate in February of 2017. The White House also appointed him to be the interim director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau until the Senate confirmed Kathy Kraninger on December 11th (Springfield News Sun).  President Trump has now appointed him to be his next Chief of Staff.

    In a December 14th tweet, Trump enthusiastically welcomed Mulvaney to the team.

    “I look forward to working with [Mick] in this new capacity as we continue to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

    I hope you’re right, Mr. President.

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    Thoughts on Selecting a Chief of Staff

    Kelly is gone and Mulvaney will be “acting” in the role of chief of staff for President Trump.  With all the media angst regarding Kelly’s departure, and public reaction on social networks, I wonder if most of us know what this position is or does?

    In business and in government, any executive will tell you that selecting a chief of staff is no easy task. The job is both administrative management and political; therefore it’s essential to choose someone you know and trust who will help carry out your overall goals while maintaining a prioritized flow of communications in and out of your office.   In this case, the Oval Office. Take former President Bill Clinton, for example, who appointed childhood friend Mack McLarty to the position. While choosing him seemed like a good idea given his esteemed business background and strong friendship, advising people/procedures in the White House is a whole new ball game.  McLarty lasted just over a year and a half.

    It’s hard to pinpoint the exact criteria for the perfect COS candidate. The person in the position will need to adjust to his or her boss’s style and needs.  The choice mainly depends on the individual executive: Who would they work well with? Who can they trust? Who would best represent them?

    While it’s crucial to ponder these queries, let’s not forget relations between a chief of staff and the people they manage. A COS should be able to analyze their staffers’ work and report back to the boss with appropriate, fair, and adequate recommendations for optimal efficiency. The chief of staff needs to be an extension of the executive’s personal decision making so that all minor issues are filtered out or solved before reaching “the big boss.”

    It’s easy to comment from the bleachers on whether the President is hiring or firing the right people.  But what’s he’s doing is no different than what every President has done for decades.  The revolving door at the White House never stops turning.

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    Christmas Trees? Really?

    Yet again, Melania Trump has found herself in the headlines, this time over her choice of White House Christmas décor.

    The first lady proudly unveiled her “American Treasures” themed ornamentation in late November, soon becoming a source of mockery with her particular choice of all-red Christmas trees lining the East colonnade. According to a statement from the White House, the theme is meant to “honor the unique heritage of America” and “shine with the spirit of patriotism.”

    While she also included many traditional aspects of holiday adornment like evergreen trees that twinkle in gold and blue hues in the Vermeil Room and the gingerbread house replicating the National Mall displayed in the State Dining Room, the  Scrooge’s among the critics are fixated on those crimson red trees. People are referring to them as “Melania’s red Christmas trees of death,” and the “forest of red-blood trees.” They’re even comparing the topiary to the red-clad women of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the sea of blood from the movie “The Shining.”

    This backlash comes as no surprise considering last holiday season the First Lady of the United States was judged for decorating a White House hallway with planters of white tree branches that critics called “the most terrifying domestic space in America.” Whether it be the clothes she wears or the décor she chooses, Melania continues to be no stranger to the harsh and myopic lens of media.  But if media has not taken the attacks down to Christmas trees, have they gone too far?  Would any other FLOTUS get this much pushback for her choice of holiday décor? Not in my memory.

    Regardless, there is no denying how much work she put into making the White House look as beautiful as it does.  Instead of trying to find negatives in everything about Washington, let’s take a break and get in the holiday spirit and celebrate the blessings we all enjoy.  That is what Melania hopes we can all do and embrace her creativity as a welcome change.

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    Election Day Roundup

    A record-breaking number of women ran in the midterm elections this year, including an unprecedented number of women of color. Women like Rashiba Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Veronica Escobar, Slyvia Garcia, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland all made history by representing  a variety of different ethnicities now adding to some diversity to the House. In addition, New York’s Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez took home a momentous win while also becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The 29-year-old Democrat will serve New York’s 14th district.

    Altogether, Democrats made a net gain of about 40 seats with a huge victory in the House of Representatives. As for the Senate, Republicans increased their majority by 2 seats. Democrats also gained 7 state governors, at least 350 state legislative seats, and about 7 state legislative chambers.

    Recounts were undertaken in Florida and Arizona as both Senate and gubernatorial races were too close to call. In the end, Republicans came out on top in Florida with former Congressman Ron De Santis winning the senate seat and Governor Rick Scott winning the race for governor . In Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema took home senate victory, defeating her Republican opponent Martha McSally.

    Both Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that voter turnout was much higher this go-around than in previous elections.  According to NPR, it actually hit a 50-year high.  More than 48% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which is up from 41% in 2014. CBS News revealed an estimated 113 million people took part in the elections, even making history by exceeding 100 million+ votes. Regardless of who won or lost individual elections, the unprecedented voter turnout is the real victory in this election cycle.

    Did you vote?

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