Are You As Cognitively Sharp As A Presidential Candidate?

It’s less than 90 days before the 2020 presidential election, and voters have lots of information-gathering to do in order to make an informed choice. It’s not only must the candidates’ positions on key issues which has to be ascertained, but the status of their cognitive abilities as well. With both Joe Biden and Donald Trump in their 70’s, so a decline in cognitive abilities is a real possibility, a huge concern where an individual is becoming president of the United States.

The issue of the state in which the candidates’ heads are came to a head recently when President Trump challenged his political opponent, Joe Biden, to take a cognitive assessment test. Is this a crazy notion? Considering that Biden is 77 and would be the oldest person to become president if sworn in on Inauguration Day, the concern seems reasonable. But Donald Trump, the current president, is no spring chicken himself. At 74, he currently holds the record for the oldest individual to assume the presidency. Let’s hear it for gray power!

At least for the Republican candidate, loss of basic cognitive abilities has not (yet) occurred. How do we know this? Because the Donald aced a cognitive assessment test achieving a perfect score. In 2018 this test was administered to him at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. And he hasn’t forgotten that he passed this with flying colors, confirming his memory is intact.

Just how is a decline in someone’s cognitive abilities detected? You can give them a MoCA. No, that’s not a coffee, it’s a paper and pencil test which is used to detect a decline in mental capabilities. President Trump was the first president to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test for Dementia, commonly known as MoCA. Abnormal cognitive function can be determined by this relatively simple and brief test. MoCA, used in more than 200 countries worldwide, is the most sensitive test available for detecting Alzeheimer’s.

Given the presence of the word “Montreal,” in the test’s name, it should come as no surprise that the test was developed at a public research university in Montreal, Canada. The purpose of the test is to detect cognitive impairment. According to the assessment’s creator, neurologist Zrad Nasreddine, MoCA was not meant to measure IQ or intellectual skill. 

Dementia is more prevalent with age. Thus, Nasreddine himself agrees that the status of a candidate’s cognitive abilities is a “pertinent question” when that candidate is over age 70. Joe Biden, however, bristled at the suggestion he take an assessment test. His test-y response was, “Why the hell would I take a test?” Um, perhaps because voters want to know if you are losing it before they cast a vote for you to become the leader of the free world? Backing up Biden was DNC Chairman Tom Perez who characterized a reporter’s asking Biden if he’d take an assessment test as “a stupid question.” Sorry, sir, but my momma told me that there was no such thing as a stupid question. And, if I may be so bold, isn’t it more stupid NOT to want to know if a candidate’s cognitive abilities are declining?

Assuming a candidate’s cognitive abilities need to be assessed, how does MoCA work? Well, it doesn’t take much time. MoCA consists of 30 questions which take about 10-12 minutes to complete. Thirty is the highest score which can be obtained. President Trump achieved a perfect score of thirty out of thirty. A score of 26 or up is considered normal. Mild cognitive impairment (MCI)  is denoted by a score between 18-25 and can help predict dementia. Do we really want someone running our country who is “impaired” and possibly on the road to being demented?

The MoCA test questions relate to different parts of the brain and assess different cognitive domains. One such domain is orientation. An individual must be able to state the date (month, year, day), place, and city. With people stuck at home due to COVID-19, it’s not necessarily a sign of cognitive decline not to know what day it is. Don’t the days all just blend together when quarantined or working remotely?

Language abilities are another domain which is assessed. A couple of sentences must be repeated correctly and a list of all the words beginning with the letter “F” that can be recalled have to be listed. Hmm. This question might make the presidential debates more fun. Who can repeat a tongue twister twice without making a mistake? And what “F” words  can the debaters identify related to government or American history? Let’s see–Founding Fathers, Franklin, Filibuster, Felix Frankfurter, Freedom, etc.

MoCA tests abstract reasoning because that function is often impaired in dementia. Thus, a test taker must explain how two things are alike. A tough question might involve how Republicans and Democrats are alike.

A fun challenge in MoCA is to identify three animals which are pictured. If the test is to be given to presidential candidates, donkeys and elephants should surely be included. Inability to recognize the animal symbolizing one’s political party is definitely cause for concern about cognitive abilities.

MoCA may, however, need to be updated to be in synch with current practices. Test takers have to draw a clock face showing a specified time. Today, digital is in. No one may really know what time it is if we go back to looking at a a clock face.

As tests go, MoCA seems rather harmless in that it is short and fairly straightforward. While no one wants to take a test, taking it anyway has certain benefits. The stakes are high when it comes to running our country. Does it really hurt to take 30 minutes of time to assure not only the voters but yourself to rule out that declining cognitive abilities won’t impede your ability to carry out presidential duties?

Why not have both candidates take MoCA prior to the election? President Trump hasn’t taken the test since 2018. Things may have changed between then and now; the rest of the world sure has. Joe Biden is approaching 80. If he makes it to the White House, he’ll have his plate full of things to deal with. Let’s make sure in advance that declining cognitive abilities of the Commander in Chief isn’t one of them.

Sure we want to have someone who is cognitively sharp running our country. But don’t we want those electing them to also be with it?  And by with it, I don’t mean simply oriented as to date, place, and time; I mean voters should be informed on what the issues are and what the candidates’ stances on those issues are. MoCA tests ability, but voting should utilize knowledge. Let the candidates take MoCA while voters drink a mocha and get informed on the candidates and issues.

Just WONDER-ing:

When voting, do you ever consider the candidate’s mental health? Does it concern you that both presidential candidates are in their 70’s? If you were running for a political office, would you be willing to take MoCA and have the results released publicly? How much health information about a candidate is the voting public entitled to have? How informed are you on current issues and the candidates’ position on them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bolton’s Best Seller — In What Room Will It Happen?

Who’s #1 may be up for debate, but what’s number 1 is clear. Former U.S. National Security Advisor John R Bolton’s new book, released Tuesday, was a best-seller even before it came out. The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, has also been a top news story and the basis for federal court proceedings. Is there room for his political tell-all on your bookshelf? 

People sometimes buy a book because they like the author. Seventy-one year old Mr. Bolton is hardly Mr Popularity. In fact, before all the drama surrounding his controversial writing arose, I’m not sure a significant portion of the population could have even told you who he was. Singer Michael Bolton, perhaps; political figure John Bolton, nah. 

So just who is this author and what should we know about him? John Bolton is a conservative Republican who began his federal service during the Reagan administration.  He received his undergraduate degree and his law degree from Yale University. (OK, so he’s no dummy, but that doesn’t mean he can write a good book.) From 2005 to 2006 he served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. He was appointed as President Trump’s National Security Advisor in April 2018, a position he held until his ouster in September 2019, some 17 months later. Considering he was the third person to hold this position, Bolton should have known going in that job security was a pipe dream.

Bolton has a head of white hair  and a distinctive bushy white mustache. But, for Donald Trump, Bolton’s facial hair was reportedly a problem. The president’s disdain for mustaches was a hurdle Bolton had to clear before his initial appointment. (Note to Donald Trump: You should’ve gone with your first instinct and not trusted a man with a mustache.) 

Issues with facial hair aside, President Trump had evidence up front he and Bolton may not see eye to eye on issues. While serving as a senior national security advisor under President George Bush, Bolton was a main proponent of the claim Iran had weapons of mass destruction requiring a ground invasion by U.S. troops. On the other hand, Trump denounced the Iraq war. Bolton is a hawk with aggressive positions on dealing with Afghanistan and North Korea. He wanted military action, but Trump isn’t eager to get into such confrontations. Given this background, it seems apparent, at least to me, that Trump and Bolton were headed for their own confrontations.

Disagreement between Bolton and Trump over various policy issues and tensions between the two were well-known during Bolton’s tenure. With the revolving door of Trump administration officials leaving on their own or being shown the door, the handwriting was on the wall for Bolton. On September 10, 2019, President Trump announced on Twitter that he’d asked for Bolton’s resignation. Bye-bye, Bolton.

What’s a fired National Security Advisor to do? Write a tell all book about his turbulent time at the White House, of course. Bolton wanted to have the last word. With his  576 word best seller, he’s gotten way more than just one word as a parting shot. He’s also been able to avoid having to make an unemployment claim since he received a $2 million advance from publisher Simon & Schuster. 

But the turbulent times were hardly over when Bolton was removed as National Security Advisor. The Trump administration moved in federal court to block the release of Bolton’s book on the basis that classified information could be exposed. Hmm. Shouldn’t a National Security Advisor (current or former) know better than to reveal sensitive information? It was a classic battle between First Amendment rights (claimed by Bolton) and national security concerns (raised by the Trump administration).The book’s original release date of March 17th as well as the rescheduled release date of May 12th came and went without a release as the wrangling over the consequences of the release continued. 

Finally, on June 20th, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that release of the book could go forward. Nevertheless, the judge expressed concern that Bolton was proceeding to publish his memoir without formal White House clearance. The judge wrote that Bolton had “exposed his country to harm and himself to civil (and potentially criminal) liability.” If classified information is indeed published, Bolton could find himself on the receiving end of a criminal prosecution. In reaching his conclusion, the federal judge noted that with over 200,000 copies of the book already distributed nationwide, the cat was basically already out of the proverbial bag. 

What has Bolton included in his memoir that’s so titillating we must read it? To absolutely no one’s surprise, the author portrays President Trump in an unflattering manner. Well, of course, that’s the man who gave Bolton the axe. True or not, is it big news to hear someone claim Trump is driven by self-interest, obsessed with his re-election, and uninformed? I’m going to plunk down big bucks for a hard-cover book to read that? 

Two big claims made in Bolton’s book indicate Trump’s foreign policy was tied to political gain. First, an August 2019 conversation with the president is recounted in which Trump reportedly told Bolton he wanted to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid from the Ukraine until the country helped investigate Trump political rival Joe Biden. Bolton also says Trump “pleaded” in a 2019 summit meeting with Xi Jinping of China to help Trump’s reelection prospects. What page turners–not!

Bolton’s book has accomplished one thing no one believed could occur. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump are both condemning it. What? Gasp! Trump’s thumbs down is for obvious reasons. What could a top Democrat have against it? Well, Bolton refused to testify during House impeachment hearings. Pelosi feels Bolton put publishing profits in his pocket over national interest; she believes he should have made his allegations sooner rather than waiting for a book publication.

To be honest, I’m not sure how this book is so intriguing it’s a best-seller. We’ve heard these claims before, it’s written by someone who Trump fired and can thus be considered sour grapes, and people are simply tired of the political divisiveness and drama. It’s bad enough when Democrats and Republicans can’t be civil; now we have to deal with two Republicans facing off (Trump and Bolton). Don’t we want to read a best seller that takes us away from all this stomach-churning reality mess.

Bolton could’ve penned an enjoyable read. He should have stopped with “The Room Where It Happened.” That title catches my interest and intrigues me. What happened? Was there a murder? Was there espionage? At best, Bolton’s full title, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir,” makes me yawn. The only mystery and intrigue is about which of the 135 rooms of the White House he’s referring. I’m guessing it’s the Oval Office. A ghostly encounter in the Lincoln Bedroom would be much more interesting than a political meeting in the Oval Office.

When it comes to goings on in Washington, D.C., I prefer to stick to entertaining fiction. Bolton’s book won’t be read in any room in my house. I’ll read Murder in the White House by Margaret Truman, Pres. Harry S. Truman’s daughter, again instead..

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you tempted to read a book just because it’s a #1 best seller? Do you enjoy reading political tell-alls? Why or why not? If you were going to read a political tell-all, what individual would would be the book’s author?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over The Ocean And Through The Dark To See The Troops He Goes

In a classic case of “you can’t believe everything you read,” Newsweek predicted President Donald Trump would spend his Thanksgiving golfing and tweeting. What really happened? The Commander in Chief flew to Afghanistan under cover of darkness to be a surprise guest at the Thanksgiving meal for troops at Bagram Air Field. So, who was more surprised? The troops or Newsweek?

Regardless of what your political leanings are, Americans can certainly agree  the troops stationed in Afghanistan serving our country sacrifice a lot. Having their Commander in Chief make the effort to appear personally to express thanks for their service was undeniably a morale booster for them. I mean, President Trump could have spent his Thanksgiving merely playing golf, tweeting, and eating turkey at Mar-a-Lago. But no, he went out of his way to travel halfway around the world to serve turkey to our troops.

Lest you think that this trip was no big deal, let’s consider the facts. In the first place, President Trump’s Thanksgiving destination was further than over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. The round trip totaled 33 hours. Upon arrival in Afghanistan, the president advised he had traveled 8, 331 miles to get there to join the men and women stationed at Bagram. That’s a long way. Just imagine how many times someone on his plane could’ve asked “Are we there yet?”

Furthermore, this Thanksgiving trek was unannounced. It had to be kept under wraps and concealed from the president’s public schedule for security reasons. As a result, cloak and dagger moves were required. Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday where he would presumably, according to Newsweek, be golfing and tweeting. Nevertheless, Trump secretly flew out of Palm Beach back to Washington, D.C. Wednesday under cover of darkness leaving Air Force One behind. Apparently it was believed people would assume he was still in Florida if his plane was there.  There is no word as to whether the president wore a trench coat for his great escape.

Awaiting his arrival in D.C. were thirteen clueless reporters and photographers assembled on the top floor of a parking garage. I say clueless because they had no idea of their destination. The group was transported to Andrews Air Force Base where they secretly (from other journalists and the public) boarded the hidden twin version of Air Force One which was stashed away in a large hangar. The plane took off at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday night with the shades drawn and the running lights off.

Cell phones were confiscated from all those aboard the plane. Yes, even President Trump’s phone was taken from him. But wait! Weren’t tweets coming from his Twitter account during his flight? Why, yes, indeed they were. To cover his absence, the White House posted tweets from the president’s Twitter account while he was in the air.

President Trump and his entourage arrived in the darkness at Bagram just after 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. He was escorted around the base by heavily armed soldiers because, after all, the Commander in Chief was in a war zone. The President was put to work serving turkey to the troops, but he didn’t get time to eat any. He eventually got food for himself, but after taking a bite of mashed potatoes he was called to pose for photos leaving the turkey, cornbread, and remaining mashed potatoes on his plate uneaten. Eagle-eyed and likely hungry pool reporters revealed that ham, mac and cheese, and candied yams were also on the military’s holiday menu.

While at Bagram, the president fulfilled presidential duties. He met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and announced that talks with the Taliban had been reopened. He also addressed some 1,500 troops who had gathered in an aircraft hangar to hear from their Commander in Chief. Apparently the president was too busy with these presidential duties to play golf while there. He also spent the holiday away from his wife, Melania, who did not accompany him.

The news embargo about the unannounced trip was lifted after the president had been at Bagram for about three hours and was getting ready to depart. The long trip back home was broken up by a stop at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany where the president switched to the real Air Force One which had been flown in from Florida for him. (Does this mean there is an Air Force One A and an Air Force One B?) He returned to Mar-a-Lago where he was still able to work in some golf and tweets before returning to the White House.

President Trump’s trip to Afghanistan was not his first trip to a war zone. OK, well, an official war zone. Political skirmishes are ongoing in Washington, D.C. He and Melania traveled to Iraq to visit troops last Christmas. In choosing Bagram, the president went to the largest military base in Afghanistan, one occupied by the Afghan Armed Forces and U.S. forces. Bagram is the base of operations for most U.S. air activity in Afghanistan as it has a dual concrete runway capable of handling any size aircraft.

A military base in Afghanistan is not a cushy or particularly safe spot to spend a holiday or even a few hours on one. Bagram is located at a high altitude (4,895 feet above sea level to be exact) near the Hindu Kush mountain range. Temperatures can be extreme (translate below zero) and violence is always a threat (think suicide bombers and incoming mortars).

President Trump was beaming and smiling during his time at Bagram. Even assuming he had a great Thanksgiving there, he hopes he won’t have to return. He campaigned on a promise to get the U.S. out of “endless wars,” and the war in Afghanistan certainly qualifies for that designation. It is the longest war in U.S. history; American troops were first deployed to Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The war has spanned three presidential administrations and seen thousands of U.S. troops stationed there. Currently about 12,000 troops remain in Afghanistan, down from the 14,000 earlier in the year. That’s a lot of people to supply with a holiday meal!

Thanksgiving is now over, but the president’s trip provided reasons for giving further thanks. The troops in Bagram had a memorable holiday and were told how much they were appreciated even if they were far from home. American citizens were assured that if, God forbid, something happened to Air Force One, its twin is ready and able to take to the skies. The press got a feel good story to run for the holiday albeit pretty much after the fact. Not giving thanks, however, are a large number of turkeys who got the short end of the wishbone and gave their lives to feed Americans both at home and stationed abroad.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you surprised that President Trump was able to slip out of the country unnoticed? Is it safe for a sitting president to visit a war zone? Has someone you know been stationed in Afghanistan?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November Turkey Talk — Mideast Mayhem

It’s November, so we should be talking about turkey, right? While the bird which will grace your Thanksgiving table is certainly a timely topic, another timely topic is the country of Turkey. Mayhem abounds in that area of the world, and we can be thankful we aren’t there. And, due to a recent decision of our Commander in Chief, a thousand or so U.S. troops aren’t there either. Let’s talk Turkey about this news.

Back on October 6th, President Trump made an abrupt and controversial announcement that U.S. troops were being pulled from northern Syrian which borders Turkey. At the time, approximately one thousand American military members were based there. This figure was down from the 2,000 troops with boots on the ground in Syria the previous year. Woo hoo! Less troops in harm’s way in this dangerous area of the world.

A troop reduction in Syria should have come as no surprise to anyone. Why Trump campaigned for the presidency on a promise to end U.S. participation in wars such as in Syria. After becoming president, he first announced his intention to withdraw troops from Syria in 2018. So what’s the fuss? I mean, he did what he said, right? But some were taken aback that Trump decided to remove the troops pronto. His exit strategy was to exit. Period. Right then.

What was Trump’s rationale for the troop withdrawal? He wants to get the U.S. “out of these ridiculous endless wars.” The troops were in northern Syria in the first place because of an “age-old conflict” between Turkey and the Kurds, many of whom are located in northern Syria. The president noted that America is “not a policing agent.”

Turkey and Syria are neighbors; they share a border which is approximately 511 miles long. Nevertheless, their relations are anything but neighborly. Populating northern Syria along the Turkish border are Syrian Kurds who number around 1.7 million. Why doesn’t Turkey like its southern neighbor? Do the Kurds play their music too loud? Nope. Turkey considers the Kurds to be terrorists who must be eliminated. And by eliminated, I mean killed.

And the Kurds aren’t just living in northern Syria. They make up about 20% of the population in Turkey. The Kurds in Turkey have been stirring up trouble in their country an attempt to establish their own state. In fact, the Kurds, who per CIA estimates number between 25 and 40 million, are the world’s largest ethnic group without its own state.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (“PKK”) has been fighting for autonomy in eastern Turkey for 30 years. And by fighting, I mean carrying out violent acts such as bombings and assaults; it has a long history of conducting terrorist attacks. Moreover, the U.S. has formally designated PKK as a foreign terrorist organization. So, you can see why Turkey isn’t really keen on the Kurds in its own country.

But what beef does Turkey have with the Kurds living in northern Syria? They didn’t carry out any violent acts in Turkey. Well, Turkey views the Kurdish militia that dominates the U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (“SDF”) as being aligned with the Turkish Kurds’ terrorist group PKK. The Syrian branch of the PKK is YPG. Are you A-OK in grasping this background? .

Let’s recap. Turkey doesn’t like the Kurds. It doesn’t like the Kurds in their country, the PKK, because the group engages in terrorist acts. Turkey doesn’t like the Kurds in northern Syria because Turkey thinks they are in cahoots with the Turkish terrorist group PKK. The Turkish Kurds don’t like the Turkish government because it quells their separatist movement. Got it? Now, how does the U.S. fit into all this? Well, its like many relationships. It’s complicated.

The U.S. teamed up with the Kurds in Syria to fight ISIS. In this context the U.S. armed YPG, the Syrian branch of Turkey’s PKK. Kurdish-run detention centers in Syria hold thousands of captured IS fighters and their families. According to some reports, about 11,000 detained ISIS terrorists are being guarded by the Kurds. The bottom line is the U.S. was allied with the Kurds against ISIS. But the Kurds don’t get along with Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S. not to mention an area of strategic significance to our country. What’s a world power to do?

Well, President Trump decided not to risk a war with Turkey over the Kurds, so he ordered U.S. troops to high tail it out of Syria. This executive decision led to intense bipartisan criticism. (I mean, does anything he does escape criticism? But I digress.) President Trump was vilified for abandoning our Syrian Kurdish allies; naysayers felt the U.S. owed a huge debt to the Kurds for helping us contain ISIS.  Trump responded that the U.S. may have left Syria, but it was not abandoning the Kurds.

Turkey, on the other hand, was delighted when the U.S. troops pulled out of Syria. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered an assault on the Syrian Kurds before the dust had settled from the U.S. troops’ departure. The aim of this military operation was to push Kurdish militants back from Turkey’s southern border and deeper into Syrian territory.  Can’t you just hear the Turkish commanders urging their troops, “Push ’em back, push ’em back…?” Trump, living up to his statement that he was not abandoning the Kurds, sent Vice President Pence to Ankara to broker a five day ceasefire.

But the plot thickens. Now Russia is in the mix. The U.S. supporting the Syrian Kurds gave Turkey a reason to buddy up to Russia. Turkish President Erdogan met with Russian President Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss the situation. Hey, if you have to talk politics, you might as well do it in a relaxing and beautiful location, right? Turkey and Russia struck a deal to establish a 20 mile safe zone with no Kurdish forces along the Syrian border. Now Russian military police are patrolling the Syrian-Turkish border along with Turkish troops.

Whew! What a headache to try to understand this complex situation. It has the makings of a good political soap. Will ISIS take advantage of the U.S. troops’ departure to make a comeback? Will Turkey and the U.S. kiss and make up after the U.S. teamed up with the Kurds in northern Syria but has now physically left the area? Is Putin gloating that he’s playing footsie with a NATO ally of the U.S. and getting toehold in the Mideast? All this Turkey talk is making me thankful that all I have to do is prepare a turkey for Thanksgiving and that I don’t have to deal with Turkey trouble.

JUST WONDER-ING:

Have you been following the news on the pullout of U.S. troops from northern Syria and the aftermath thereof? Did you realize that Mideast relations were so complex? Should the U.S. be involved in what’s going on in northern Syria? Why or why not? If so, to what extent should our involvement be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirty Days of Thanks — Current Events Version

You know it must be November when social media is filled with posts giving thirty reasons to be thankful. Practicing gratitude is a wonderful way to improve one’s attitude. Unfortunately, most posts I see are personal to the person posting them. Aren’t there reasons for our society as a whole to give thanks at this time of year? Of course, there are! Let’s turn to current events to see what positive things we can identify for which we can be grateful.

FUR FORBEARANCE.  Animal lovers can give thanks that our animal friends are a bit safer now. Unfortunately, there will still be a mass slaughter of certain feathered birds in connection with Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, some fur-bearing animals can breathe a sigh of relief. The Queen’s dresser (What? She can rule a kingdom but can’t dress herself?) has revealed in her new memoir that Queen Elizabeth will no longer wear fur during royal appearances. OK, she will still wear fur, but it will be faux fur. Since fashion trends are swayed by anything a royal does, it would appear that real fur is out and fake fur is where it’s at.

HEALED HERO. U.S. citizens are giving thanks that a military hero is A-OK. This particular military hero has four legs and is covered in fur. He’s Conan, the Belgian Malinois. With no regard to his personal safety, Conan dashed down a dead end tunnel after an ISIS leader clad in an explosive vest. Detonation of said vest rid the world of a terrorist but resulted in injury to Conan This brave canine officer was awarded the Medal of Honor by our Commander in Chief and invited to visit the White House. Conan, who’s a good dog, won’t complain if he’s served fast food there or even leftovers. It’s wonderful to know that man’s best friend is doing his part to serve his country.

IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME. Praise be that good sportsmanship is still a concern in today’s world. A Long Island, New York football coach, Rob Shaver of Plainedge High School, was suspended for one game after allowing his team to run up the score on an opponent. He ignored a good sportsmanship rule that was intended to prevent lopsided victories. The coach was faulted for not taking his starters out quickly enough allowing his team to notch a 61-13 victory. I’ll bet the coach did not even say “I’m sorry for your loss” to the losers.

HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO CLOTHES. For those of us who don’t want to part with old clothes in our closet, we can be grateful that old clothes can sometimes be very valuable. Olivia Newton-John decided to clean out her closet recently and got rid of an old pair of leather pants from 1978. These famous pants, worn when she sang  “You’re The One That I Want” in “Grease,” sold for a whopping $162,000. The pants won’t be worn again or even relegated to a closet. Purchased by Spanx founder Sara Blakely, the leather pants are to be framed and hung in the Spanx headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Will this make Hotlanta  even hotter?

SNAGGED SUPPORTIVE SPOUSE. We can be thankful that women behind the scenes aren’t forgotten these days. We’ve all heard that behind every successful man is a woman. In some cases there’s  more than one. Let’s take recently departed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for example. He allegedly had four wives. No wonder he rose to such heights of terrorist power; he preferred to be out causing trouble than to be at home mediating between four wives. Turkey’s president announced that Turkish forces have captured one of these wives along with several other of the slain leader’s relatives. I feel safer that Wife #1 is in custody, but should we be nervous that Wives #2, #3, and #4 are on the loose? Can we put Conan on their trail?

THE END IS NEAR(ER). It’s almost here! The 2020 presidential election, to be held on November 3, 2020, is now less than one year away. Seems like the candidates have been running since the dawn of time, but we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. And the tunnel is getting less crowded as presidential contenders drop out of the race. Bye bye, Beto!

FOOTBALL FRENZY. It’s a great time of year to be a college football fan. A monumental game is on tap this Saturday between LSU and Alabama, two SEC teams rated #2 and #3 respectively in the season’s first College Football Playoffs rankings. And if the high stakes game isn’t enough excitement, a high profile fan will be in the stadium–President Donald Trump. Who will President Trump be rooting for? Well, he is a member of the GOP whose official symbol is an elephant….Roll Tide???

TRASH TECHNOLOGY.  Thanks to technology, household chores are now less onerous. The world’s first self-changing trash can is currently on sale. Townew’s Smart Trash Can automatically seals the bag inside with the touch of a button. No muss, no fuss. Once the bag is removed, a new bag is automatically installed. Unfortunately, the smart trash can is not smart enough to take the discarded bag out to the street for pickup, but progress has been made.

IT’S BACK!  Didn’t get to try Popeye’s new chicken sandwich when it debuted in August, promptly sold out, and dropped off the menu?. Hallelujah!  The apparently to die for fast food feature is now back and available for purchase. Unconfirmed rumors indicate the chicken sandwich boldly asserted, “Ill be back” before fading off the menu. A chicken fight is back on between Popeye’s and Chck-Fil-A, although Chick-Fil-A observes a ceasefire on Sundays.

We can all be thankful that there is more than simply bad news out there. It may take some searching to find them; however, some current events do provide reasons for us to be thankful. Keep an eye out for additional reasons to give thanks this month when you are reading or listening to the news. And express gratitude when you come across them.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Can you think of other current events that give rise to a reason for gratitude? Do we tend to focus on good news or bad? Which attracts more media attention? Does giving thanks promote a more positive attitude?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain From The Ukraine

It’s the biggest and the poorest country in Europe. Right now it’s causing both political parties in the U.S. a bunch of pain. If you have heard any news report in the last two weeks, you should be able to guess that this country is Ukraine (formerly “the Ukraine”) even if you aren’t a geography whiz. How and why is this Eastern European country causing such an uproar here in the U.S.?

First, for all those geographically challenged citizens, let’s take a minute to get up to speed on Ukraine. The country came into existence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s capital and largest city is Kiev. Whether Ukraine can lay claim to creating Chicken Kiev is a controversy for another blog post. Ukraine produces and processes its own natural gas and petroleum an industry which sets the stage for the present goings on with Americans.

Ukraine has some disputes, land and otherwise, with Russia. The enemy of your enemy being your friend and all, Uncle Sam is Ukraine’s friend. And as any good friend would do, Uncle Sam is providing hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to Ukraine to fight Russian-aligned forces.

Just like the United States, Ukraine has a president. The current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected back in April 2019. Like President Trump, Zelensky was not an experienced politician when elected; he was an actor and comedian. President Trump appeared on the TV screen in “The Apprentice” before his election to the nation’s highest political office. President Zelensky starred in the TV series “Servant Of The People” where he played the Ukrainian president before being elected to fill that office in real life.

With that background, let’s look at THE biggest news story receiving air time right now. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced on September 24th that six committees would undertake formal impeachment inquiries against President Trump following reports of controversial interactions between Trump and Ukraine. Apparently six committees instead of just one are required to undertake these proceedings because the government cannot do anything without duplication and repetition.

Although the word “impeachment” does not have a “U” in it, you can’t talk about the current impeachment goings on without Ukraine being smack dab in the middle of it. The apparent last straw to fuel the impeachment fire was President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. This conversation has been characterized as Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election. Hey, what’s an American election without foreign interference, right Russia?

As verified by transcripts of the phone call, Trump suggested an investigation by Ukraine was in order of some fishy business involving Americans in that country. So far, that sounds reasonable. The catch is that the individual in the crosshair was none other than potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

How is Joe involved with the Ukraine? Wasn’t he busy being President Obama’s VP and now running to unseat President Trump? Why yes, but Biden is not just a politician, he’s a family man. Surely he is a proud papa of son Hunter, a Yale Law School grad. And not only does Hunter have a law degree, but he is savvy too. In 2014, he managed to land a position the board of directors for Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer. This scandal-plagued Ukrainian natural gas company took Hunter on despite his having no background or experience whatsoever in oil and gas. And for that lack of background and experience he was paid up to $50,000 A MONTH to so serve. (Where do I sign up for this kind of work with my law degree?)

Why on earth would Hunter Biden of all people have obtained this clearly lucrative position in a Ukrainian business? COINCI-DENTALLY (or not), Hunter’s dear old dad was serving as U.S Vice President at the time and was personally involved in U.S. Ukrainian policy; in particular, Joe was pressuring Ukraine to do better at rooting out corruption. At best, taking such a job was poor judgment on Hunter’s part; at worst, it represented a conflict of interest.

But, hey, that’s simply Hunter’s bad, right? Well, there’s more to the story. In March 2016, VP Joe Biden threatened then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko that $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees would be pulled if Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was not fired immediately. The Prosecutor General had been generally denounced by Western leaders as corrupt. Ukraine sacked Shokin as a result. So, if he was corrupt, what’s the big deal? COINCIDENTALLY, Shokin was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings at the time he was fired. Getting Shokin removed could be seen as an attempt to keep Sonny Boy’s business from getting in trouble and him thus losing his enviable ~$50,000/month board position.

Fast forward to July 2019, Trump is chatting with Zelensky president to president and mentions that some bad things might have been done in Ukraine. Shouldn’t a leader want to get to the root of corruption and bad dealings in his country? Sure. But, as with Hunter Biden, this request, which put a Trump political rival under a microscope, might be seen as a lapse in judgment or self-dealing.

A transcript of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky conversation was released. To absolutely no one’s surprise, readers reached various conclusions. Trump supporters found nothing horrible while Trump foes were aghast at such egregious behavior. Additional accusations were levied that Trump used military aid as leverage; specifically, it was said that he was blocking millions of dollars the U.S Congress had approved for aid to Ukraine. (This move would be a no no as opposed to Biden threatening to withdraw a BILLION dollars in U.S. loan guarantees to obtain leverage.)

Was Zelensky pressured by Trump? Why not get the answer staight from the proverbial horse’s mouth? In a September 25th press conference at the U.N., Zelensky addressed this very issue. He stated, “It is impossible to put pressure on me.” The Ukrainian president went on to stress that “nobody pressured me” to investigate Biden. But, he’s a president (not to mention a former TV star), so can we believe what he says? Trump supporters say “yes,” while Trump detractors say “no.”

It remains to be seen where the impeachment inquiry will lead. But the story to date provides some takeaways. It’s politics as usual for both political parties. Those involved, regardless of their party affiliation, often make poor judgment calls (pun intended as it applies to Trump and his phone conversation with Zelensky). Monetary assistance, or the lack thereof, is a frequent political weapon of choice. Whether or not a politician’s particular actions are outrageous or acceptable lies in the eye of the beholder and his political affiliation. In any event, the Ukraine’s involvement has taught people some geography and provided a solid news story as opposed to reports about Justin Bieber’s second wedding to Hailey Baldwin.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you read the transcript of President Trump’s phone conversation with President Zelensky? Does the fact Zelensky claims nobody pressured him to probe Biden resolve the matter? Should alleged instances of corruption be investigated no matter who brings them to the attention of the authorities? Why do successful, well educated people make poor judgment calls?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey, Greenland — Let’s Make A Deal!

President Trump is no longer a secret shopper. Word is out he would like the U.S. to buy Greenland. Yes, that’s right–the large northern land mass which is pretty much covered with ice, i.e., it isn’t green. The idea sounds crazy, but is it really?

Why would anyone want a frigid and icy land mass which mostly sits above the Arctic Circle? (Can you say Brrrr?) Three-fourths of Greenland is covered by a permanent ice sheet. In fact, 80% of Greenland is covered by ice one mile thick. Well, potential purchasers aren’t eyeing Greenland for its balmy weather and golf courses. Two things draw their attention–Greenland’s abundant natural resources and its strategic location.

Global warming leads to more than just higher temperatures; it causes Arctic ice to melt. As a result of global warming, Greenland’s mineral and energy resources are being uncovered and becoming more accessible. These resources include iron ore, zinc, diamonds (that’s my kind of ice!), gold, lead, oil, and uranium. Drilling and mining are more likely activities on Greenland than golfing.

Strategically, Greenland provides access to the Arctic. The United States’ northernmost military base, Thule Air Base, is located in northern Greenland. The base is 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 947 miles from the North Pole. In the past, the U.S.’s main interest in Greenland has been obtaining space for military bases there.

So, good reasons exist why a country would want to own Greenland. But Donald Trump is not the first or only leader to consider this, as he describes it, “large real estate deal.” In fact, the U.S. has tried to buy Greenland before. Way back in 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward explored the possibility of our country buying Greenland. His idea was dropped due to congressional opposition. Later, in 1946 President Harry Truman attempted to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100 million in gold. Today, that offer would equate to $1.3 billion.

And the U.S. is not the only country to be sizing up Greenland for a purchase. China has been eyeing buying Greenland for years because of the minerals and sea lanes it offers.

So Greenland is an attractive purchase for a world power such as China or the U.S. But why would a deal have to be struck with Denmark, a country over in Europe? Well, it’s because Greenland is an autonomous Danish territory and a part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Based on the 2009 Self-Government Act, all governing power except for foreign affairs and defense was transferred to Greenland. Denmark’s constitution provides the future of Greenland’s sovereignty is in the hands of Greenland’s population to decide in a referendum. Sure, Denmark could negotiate to sell Greenland, but residents of Greenland would have to approve the purchase.

Why might Denmark want to unload Greenland? The icy land mass is poor with its economy tied to fishing, which accounts for 90% of Greenland’s exports. The country is not very developed. It consists of only about 17 towns, and virtually no roads connect them. Over one-third of the Greenland’s population lives in its largest city and capital, Nuuk. Danish subsidies are required to maintain the standard of living. Even if you aren’t an economic genius, you can see Greenland is an economic drain on Denmark.

And Danish subsidies go to support a fairly small number of people. Greenland’s population is merely about 57,000 people. To help you visualize this number of people, consider that the entire population of Greenland would not fill Sanford Stadium (seating capacity of just under 93,000), where my beloved Georgia Bulldogs play football. The world’s largest non-continental island, which is about three times the size of Texas, is not teeming with masses of people.

Denmark can’t bolster Greenland’s economy by promoting it as a great tourist destination. Since Greenland is located between the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans, it is not a Caribbean island with sun and fun. Greenland does boast the world’s largest national park, the Northeast Greenland National Park, which, true to its name, is located in the northeast portion of Greenland. But outdoor activities are limited due to the ice covering the ground and the freezing temperatures.

So, is Denmark eager to make a deal? It does have a track record of entering into large real estate deals with the U.S. about islands. Back in 1917 Denmark sold what was then known as the Danish West Indies to the U.S. for $25 million. Today these islands are known as the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Despite this past transactional history, Denmark apparently isn’t interested in making a deal. Trump’s proposed purchase was quickly rebuffed by Greenland’s foreign ministry who responded, “We’re open for business, not for sale.” Similarly, Denmark’s prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, pooh-poohed the idea by characterizing it as “absurd.” Apparently responding, “No thanks, we’re not interested in selling,” was ruled out as being too diplomatic.

Thus, the deal is off. So what? Well, the drama continues. Donald Trump had been set to make his first formal visit to Greenland in early September. Not only is the purchase not happening, but neither is Trump’s visit which was cancelled in the wake of his real estate deal idea being torpedoed. President Trump did not take kindly to the Danish PM’s characterization of the idea as “absurd,” finding it a rather “nasty” response. Guess now is not a good time for the country’s leaders to meet face to face and have to play nice.

While the U.S. may not be buying Greenland, there is a bright side to the failed transaction. China isn’t going to be buying Greenland either since Greenland’s made it abundantly clear that it isn’t for sale. Period. Now China and the U.S. can go back to duking it out in their trade war instead of jostling to see who will buy coveted real estate.

Guess President Trump will have to revise his shopping list if Greenland is off the market. If he really wants an island, he may be able to get a good deal on a private one. I don’t think Jeffrey Epstein will be using his 70 acre private Caribbean island, Little St. James, now…

JUST WONDER-ing:

Is it “absurd” for a country to want to acquire specific real estate for strategic reasons? If Denmark was willing to sell Greenland and Greenland’a population would approve the transaction, should the U.S. spend the money to buy Greenland? Why or why not? Have you ever wanted to visit Greenland?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s World Cup–A Kick In L’herbe

Love might be what’s in the air in Paris in the springtime, but soccer is what’s on Parisians’ minds this summer. France is hosting the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup now through July 7th. Even if you aren’t a soccer fan, there’s plenty to keep you entertained with this tournament. The event’s a real kick in the grass–or l’herbe if you speak French.

More into economic news than sports scores? Keep an eye on a big match ahead. The defending champions, the U.S. team, plays the host team, France, on Friday in a quarterfinal match at Parc des Princes in Paris. The face value for tickets to this match runs a reasonable $17 to $65 for world class action on the grass–er, l’herbe. But demand is high for these tickets. What happens when demand exceeds supply? You guessed it. The price for the supply skyrockets. Tickets are now being hawked on Stubhub.com for between $425 and $5,100. Forget grass. You’ll need loads of bread to afford those tickets.

Maybe you are more of a science fan than a soccer fan. The Women’s World Cup is being played under fascinating meteorological conditions. Earlier this week an intense heat wave built across portions of France. More than half of the country (including around Paris) is under an orange alert, the second highest intensity for potentially dangerous weather conditions. Forecasters are predicting France could set a new national heat record of around 113 degrees. The old record, set in 2003, was 111. This record-setting heat wave will provide high temperatures and humidity for the players to endure on the field as well as for the fans in the stands to stand. With a capacity crowd of 47,929 expected at Parc des Princes, thousands of fans will be longing for some fans blowing cool air on them.

Those who enjoy U.S. political news will not be disappointed with the Women’s World Cup. Although he is neither playing in it nor attending it, President Donald Trump is still grabbing headlines related to the tournament. He and the U.S. women’s team co-captain, Megan Rapinoe, are engaging in a war of words. Who? If you aren’t a sports fan, you may not be familiar with Megan Rapinoe’s name. But she sure is easy to spot on the field. She’s the player in the U.S. team uniform with light pink hair. Along with athletic workouts, Rapinoe prepared for the big even by dyeing her blond hair. Maybe she was feeling in the pink about the U.S. team’s chances of winning and wanted to look in the pink as well.

Although news reports haven’t focused on Rapinoe’s hair color, they have brought to President Trump’s attention that the U.S. team’s co-captain has for several years remained silent during the national anthem to protest inequality and injustice. Her silent protest continued when the “Star Spangled Banner” was played before the U.S. team’s opening match against Thailand. Trump did not feel this behavior was respectful and blasted Rapinoe on Twitter. Rapinoe shot back that she wouldn’t go to the “f***ing” White House if the team won the World Cup. Trump retorted Rapinoe should win first before worrying about celebrating at the White House. Anyone else feel like they are following a tennis match here? Don’t both Trump and Rapinoe have something better to do than tweet? Like run the country and prepare for the most anticipated match of the World Cup to date respectively?

Fans of reality TV shows, which always seem to involve squabbling and controversy, haven’t been disappointed with the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The match between England and Cameroon didn’t have “Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad Boys,” but the losing team’s women exhibited some bad behavior. FIFA will be investigating the match as a result.

In case you missed it, England won the round of 16 match against Cameroon by a score of 3-0. But the real story of the game was the Cameroon players’ actions towards the referee and opposing players. They didn’t want to kick the ball on the grass; they pretty much made clear that they’d like to kick the poor official and their opponents. One Cameroon player was caught on video spitting toward an English player. Really? These are ADULTS playing? The players also showed their disenchantment with some officiating calls by deliberately fouling several players, refusing to kick off for several minutes, and arguing with the ref while huddled around the official. I don’t know if they forgot about trying to hold their breath until they turned blue….

The Women’s World Cup also provides the opportunity to sharpen one’s geographical knowledge. Interestingly, the group from which the U.S. emerged from the knockout round was comprised of four teams, all from a different continent. These teams were the U.S. (North American), Chile (South America), Thailand (Asia), and Sweden (Europe). Of the eight quarterfinalists left from the original field of 24, seven teams are from Europe–England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. The lone non-European team remaining is the U.S.

OK, sure, these are all large countries that (hopefully) most people might be able to pick out on a map. But what about the venues for the soccer matches in France?  Nine different stadiums are to be utilized during the tournament. Raise your hand if you can pick THESE locations out on a map of France: Grenoble, Le Havre, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Paris, Reims, Rennes, Valenciennes. I may not be able to pick it out exactly on a map, but I do recall from taking four years of French in high school that Nice is on the Cote d’Azur, the French Riviera. Sign me up to go there whether there’s a soccer game or not!

For all you material girls (or boys) out there, the World Cup provides a sparkly (and expensive) prize for the winner. To the victor goes a trophy. No, not just any trophy. A big, heavy, costly trophy. Whatever teams is left standing after the final match will be awarded a 19″ tall trophy weighing 10 pounds. Sterling silver and 23-karat yellow and white gold were utilized to make this shiny award. Yes, the Americans can truthfully say that they are going for the gold in this World Cup. Not a medal, but a magnificent trophy.

Only time will tell who will hoist that heavy trophy in the air come July 7th. In the meantime, let’s wring all we can out of the Women’s World Cup. We’ve got economics, weather, politics, geography, boorish behavior, and last but not least, some kick in l’herbe exciting sports play. I’ll be chanting “USA! USA!” as I peruse a map of France from my very affordable seat in front of my television with the AC running come Friday’s match against France. How about you?

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you watched any of the 2019 Women’s World Cup or at least read about it? If you aren’t a sports fan, do you think you could still enjoy reading about or watching such a big world event? How important is good sportsmanship? Is the playing field the appropriate venue for political protests? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Americans Are Coming!

My how times have changed. Back in 1775, the Brits decided to pay a visit to the Lexington and Concord area. This alarmed the colonists who were warned by Paul Revere “The British are coming!” Revere’s words were a call to arms. Fast forward to 2019. The U.S. President and First Lady traveled to Britain. They weren’t invading; they were invited. The Queen wasn’t alarmed the Americans were coming; she rolled out the red carpet for them.

The top story in the news the past few days has been President Trump’s state visit to England. A state visit means that the Queen extended an invitation for the president to travel across the pond to spend some quality social time with her. President Trump is only the third U.S. president to be honored by a state visit with the queen who, at 93, has seen a number of U.S. presidents enter and leave that high office. President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama are the only other U.S. presidents to have been treated to a state visit.

President Trump’s trip was timed to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day. However, the invitation for a state visit was extended to him quite awhile back. It was made just after he assumed the presidency back in 2017.

The president’s visit was mostly ceremonial. With no hard news to cover, the media had a field day with fluff. Even while on maternity leave, Meghan a/k/a the Duchess of Sussex took front and center. Would her husband give the Donald the cold shoulder for (GASP!) saying that Meghan was “nasty?”

Fortunately for Meghan (but not the news media), she had a PC reason not to come face to face with President Trump; she has baby Archie to care for these days. Harry, however, had royal duties to attend to and was present at a function with the U.S. president. Per an interview with the British press, Trump revealed that he and Harry had not discussed the “nasty” business. What a shame! Imagine how fun a rumble at a royal event could have been. Personally, I think the whole thing should’ve been called a draw. Meghan said Trump was a “misogynist” during the 2016 presidential campaign, and he said that was “nasty” for her to do that. Moving on….

An uproar ensued when the media reported that President Trump had breached royal protocol by touching the Queen. As any protocol expert can attest, you don’t touch a monarch unless she initiates contact. Aha! Meghan can now say that Trump is a misogynist and ignorant about royal protocol. In any event, the Queen was not visibly annoyed by the contact. If she were annoyed, Trump might have found himself hauled off to the Tower of London for a possible beheading. But since the touchee, i.e., the Queen, wasn’t perturbed, what’s it to the media? Oh yeah, a news story.

At least President Trump is in good company as being deficient in knowledge of royal protocol. Michelle Obama laid a hand on the Queen way back in 2009 and lived to tell about it. Actually, she lived to write about it as the incident is discussed in the former first lady’s recently released book.

Good grief! Name calling. Inappropriate touching. What next? It was “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” The state dinner at Buckingham Palace was a white tie affair attended by 170 guests. Excluded from the guest list was London mayor Sadiq Kahn with whom President Trump has been openly feuding. The mayor thinks that the U.S. president is ill-informed about Islam, and President Trump has questioned the mayor’s IQ. Savvy planning to keep those two apart. Of course the mayor announced that he wouldn’t have come even if he’d been invited.

Although Prince Harry had attended a luncheon at the palace with the Trumps, he skipped the state dinner. Snub to President Trump or simply a gushing new dad who prefers to be home with his wife and newborn after a hard day’s work at being a royal? Prince William and Kate did show, the latter wearing her favorite Lover’s Knot tiara. Perhaps the future king and his spouse are aware that the job of a monarch entails dealing with heads of other countries regardless of your personal opinion of them.

The American guests also provided fodder for the news media. Four of President Trump’s children were in attendance with him–Ivanka (accompanied by husband Jared Kushner), Don, Jr., Eric, and Tiffany. While Ivanka and Jared are advisers to the president, what were the other kiddos doing there, the media wondered. Seriously? The Queen invites you to a fancy dinner with her kids in attendance, but you can’t bring yours? And who wouldn’t want to attend a state dinner at Buckingham Palace where you could meet the queen? If the Queen didn’t want the President’s family members there, I am sure she could’ve gotten the message across politely. I mean she had two years to plan the event.

Even the menu, approved by the Queen herself, provided the press with food for thought. (Pun intended.) The entree, new season Windsor lamb with herb stuffing, didn’t raise concerns, but the dessert did. Guests were served strawberry sable’ with lemon verbena cream. Aha! The media were quick to point out that President Trump was enamored of chocolate cake. Perhaps there was a message in that by the Queen not serving him some. Geez! Maybe the Queen just likes strawberries and, well, she’s the Queen so she gets what she wants.

Why couldn’t the media have used the dessert as a teaching moment? I confess. I had no idea what sable’ is. Just in case anyone else is  as clueless as I was, a sable’ is a sweet shortbread that’s buttery and noticeably salty. Yummy! Who knows? Donald may now have a new favorite dessert. At the very least, he wasn’t eating fast food–a notorious favorite of his..

The whole point of the state visit was to demonstrate the “special relationship” between our two countries. If the goal is to promote and celebrate that closeness, isn’t focusing on petty things like who said what about whom, who didn’t want to talk to whom, and who doesn’t want to socialize with whom counterproductive? Isn’t it more beneficial for both countries to accentuate the positive? Trump wanted his family members with him for this historic and special event. Harry wanted to spend time with the new addition to his family. The British eat things other than fish’n chips. Come on, mainstream media. Leave the “nasty” focus to the tabloids.

Just WONDER-ing: How closely have you been following President Trump’s state visit to England? Would you jump at the chance to attend a state dinner at Buckingham Palace? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

The Ugly American

Beauty may only be skin deep, but ugly reaches deep inside.  The inner ugly is the idea behind the pejorative term, “ugly American.”  Americans aptly described this way suffer from what I call B.A.  In other words, they have a bad attitude towards non-Americans.  Ugly Americans act in an arrogant and demeaning manner towards those from other countries and cultures.

Perhaps you, yourself, don’t act this way, but Americans as a whole may be labeled “ugly” because of how highly visible Americans behave.  While the initial thought might be that American tourists are the ones giving the rest of us Americans a bad name, that is not always the case.  U.S. corporate businesses in the international arena have made Americans seem pretty ugly by mistreating the locals.

A vivid portrayal of this scenario occurs in the 2015 Owen Wilson movie, “No Escape.”  Wilson’s character, an engineer, arrives in an unidentified South East Asian country to start a new job.  Timing being everything, he shows up just in time for a violent coup.  Citizens of this country were upset that foreign (translate American) businesses controlled their water supply.  They are mad and are not going to take it any more.  Looting and killing.will take care of that problem, they think.

Wilson’s character runs for his life.  He is a target, not because of anything he has personally done, but because he is an American.  That label inextricably links him with the American businesses taking advantage of the citizens of the foreign country in which he finds himself.  He is thus “ugly” and suffers the wrath of the citizens of that country.

Americans being “ugly” is not a new development.  The concept was the basis of the 1958 best seller, The Ugly American., a political novel penned by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.  .The book addressed the failures of the U.S. Diplomatic Corps in Southeast Asia.  Not deigning to learn of the local culture, language, and customs, did not serve the Americans well in that area.

The current political climate makes a strong case for non-Americans concluding that the U.S. is a nation of ugly Americans.  America First is the major theme of the Trump administration; the president embraced this philosophy off the bat, referring to it in his inaugural address.  While I do not disagree with the idea that taking care of our country is and should be the primary concern, I am not sure that the way that idea is now being expressed gives our world neighbors any warm, fuzzy feelings about Americans.  In my opinion it seems to gratingly come across that we only care about ourselves.

This perception is only going to be exacerbated by the political actions taken in support of America First.  President Trump has announced major penalty tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) imports.  Certainly a $375 billion trade deficit with China needs to be addressed.  But, placing oneself in a non-American’s shoes, you can see how these actions might be viewed as economic bullying by ugly Americans.

While tough talk and actions may be called for, I would suggest that Americans balance that harshness by showing their soft side.  Reading The Ugly American prompted John F. Kennedy to work to establish the Peace Corps, a means to assist those in other countries.  Anyone in the world can relate to the idea that taking care of one’s own is the top concern; however, non-Americans need to be shown that Americans do care about others outside their country and are not solely concerned about taking care of themselves, including lining their red, white and blue pockets.

Do I have the solution? No.  Do I want to enter politics? No.  Do I care about others who aren’t Americans? Yes.  Is the ugly American really a problem?  Yes!  If you don’t think so, let me tell you a true story from an encounter with residents of another continent.

In November 2016, I went on a mission trip to Ecuador with a group from my church.  During a down time, some of our group set out on a hike up to a waterfall.  The views were stunning.  I felt like I was in another world far away from my real life.  Here I was in the Andes on a narrow trail in the middle of nowhere.  Who would care about politics in this idyllic setting?

Well, politics reared its ugly head.  As we progressed along the trail, our group encountered a couple of local residents.  One was a very old man.  These men spoke in Spanish to a couple of men in my group.  It was obvious that our group was composed of Americans, if not from our clothing, definitely from our language.  What do you think this little old Ecuadorean man wanted to ask Americans?  Did he want to know what our country looks like?  Did he want to know what type of houses Americans live in?  Was he curious as to what type of food Americans eat?  No, sir.  He asked if Donald Trump was going to deport all the immigrants when he took office.  This Ecuadorean man was very friendly to us Americans in his country; nevertheless, he perceived Americans were being hostile, i.e., ugly, to non-Americans in the U.S.

Where different countries exist, there are going to be different points of view, different ways of running things, and different ways of addressing issues.  As my mother always said, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.”  I will modify her words slightly.  Americans can disagree with other countries, but we don’t have to be disagreeable, i.e., “ugly,” in doing so.   Americans can do what needs to be done, but let’s do so in a civil and respectful manner. Let’s make “ugly” a four letter word in the figurative sense when dealing with our world neighbors.  It’ll make the world a more beautiful place.

Just WONDER-ing:  Have you ever been in a situation where your status as an American was viewed negatively?  Was that because of something you had done or was it guilt by association with ugly Americans?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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