Monday, July 31, 2017

Reservoir Dogs in the White House

The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists. - Ernest Hemingway

A guest post by Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Anthony Zurcher, the BBC’s North America correspondent, nailed it in a report on 27 July. “Where Abraham Lincoln had his famous ‘team of rivals’ in his administration, this is something different,” Zurcher wrote. “Trump White House seems more akin to the final scene in Reservoir Dogs, where everyone is yelling and pointing a gun at someone else, and there's a good chance no one is going to come out unscathed.”

Several walking wounded have limped out of the White House since then, including ex-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, but nobody would call them unscathed. And in has come Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, who appears to have escaped from the same Quentin Tarantino movie. Maybe Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink.

Fun fact: Scaramuccia (literally "little skirmisher"), also known as Scaramouche, is a stock character of the Italian commedia dell'arte. He combines the roles of a clownish servant and a masked assassin carrying out his master’s will. He often ends up decapitated.

Things are falling apart in the White House much faster than even the keenest observers of Donald Trump’s behaviour would have predicted, and the important part is not the dysfunction. The United States would work just fine – in fact, rather better – if Trump never managed to turn his tweets into reality. What matters is that he is cutting his links with the Republican Party.

Trump was never a real Republican. As a genuine populist, he is ideology-free. If Barack Obama had fallen under a bus and Trump had chosen to run for the presidency in 2008, he could just as easily have sought the Democratic nomination.

Senior Republicans knew this, and they tried quite hard to stop him from winning the Republican nomination last year. After that they were stuck with him, and he did win the White House for them, so they have been in an uncomfortable partnership ever since. That is now coming to an end.

Part of the unwritten deal was that establishment Republicans get senior roles in the Trump White House. Reince Priebus, dismissed last Friday, was the most important of those people. He followed deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, communications director Mike Dubke, press secretary Sean Spicer and press aide Michael Short, all of whom had already been pushed out.

What’s left are alt-right white nationalists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, New Yorkers with Democratic leanings like Anthony Scaramucci, Jared Kushner, Dina Powell and Gary Cohn, Trump family members (Donald Jr and Ivanka), ex-businessmen like foreign secretary Rex Tillerson (who may be about to quit), and a triumvirate of generals in high civilian office.

This is a recipe for paralysis, but who cares? Did you really want a White House team that enabled Donald Trump to impose his will (or rather, his whims) on the United States and, to some extent, on the world? Well, no, and neither do senior Republicans – but they do care very much about controlling the White House.

Republicans who think long-term are well aware that the changing demography of the US population is eating away at their core vote. This may be their last chance, with control of both Houses of Congress and (at least in theory) of the presidency, to reshape their image and their policies in ways that will appeal to at least some of the emerging minorities.

They can’t do that if they don’t control the White House, and the only way they could regain control there is for Trump to go and Vice-President Mike Pence (a real Republican) to take over. A successful impeachment could accomplish that.

It would be very hard to engineer such a thing without splitting the Republican Party, even if the current FBI investigation comes up with damning evidence of Trump’s ties with Russia. Nevertheless, the likelihood of an impeachment is rising from almost zero to something quite a bit higher.

It would be a big gamble. The Republicans in Congress couldn’t really get Trump out before November 2018, and the turbulence of an impeachment might cost them their control of Congress in the mid-term elections. In an ideal outcome, however, it would give the Republicans time to go into the the 2020 election with President Pence in charge at the White House and some solid legislative achievements under their belts.

What would Trump do if he faced impeachment? Maybe he would do a kind of plea bargain and resign, but that would be quite out of character. His instinct would be to fight, and he fights mainly by creating diversions. The best diversion is a war, but against whom?

Even Trump would have trouble selling a war against Iran to the American public. Despite all the propaganda, they don’t really feel threatened by Iran. Whereas North Korea says and does things provocative enough to let Trump make a (flimsy) case for attacking it.

If he thought his presidency was at stake, he certainly would.

A guest post by Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.  Reproduced with permission from the author.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The “Honorable Members” of the Newfoundland and Labrador Government

Character is the only secure foundation of the state. - Calvin Coolidge

The qualities of a great man are vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character. - Dwight Eisenhower

I used to muse a fair bit over the years about the Newfoundland and Labrador political scene but I found that for the most part, while my musings evoked a lot of emotion in people, those same people rarely took action, preferring to complain from the sidelines, on social media or in their local coffee shop. 

My insane work schedule these days further limits my musings but occasionally something comes to my attention that bothers me so much that I need to work it out in a musing of some sort, whether it be in my journal or here in my blog.

I’ve been receiving a lot of communication over the last year or more regarding the activity of the Honorable Members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Government.

I’m not referring to the politicians themselves but rather, their “honorable members”.

It seems that the political world that exists in the Confederation Building has become overrun with predators who have learned at one point or another that one of our most basic primal needs serves as a useful tool to accomplish what they need (often to the detriment of others).

Stories of rampant infidelity trouble me but I’m not a prude, I’m not ignorant of the ways of the world nor do I judge people who prefer to throw their families and relationships under the bus as they (including Ministers of the Crown) roam the hallways of government, using their honorable member to satisfy their primal needs for sex and power (this includes certain female MHAs and their equivalent “portfolio”).

Judgment of their deeds, where appropriate and deserved, comes soon enough at the hands of others or the Ultimate Authority.

I don’t judge the married MHA who was confirmed to have an Ashley Madison account (verified by his own credit card).

I don’t judge the MHA who has a diaper fetish (not a need for adult diapers) and likes to be treated like a baby in private.

I don’t judge the spouses who have made the choice to turn a blind eye to the deeds of their partners in exchange for the benefits they derive from the power and prestige bestowed upon their partners.  I do feel badly for the ones who don’t really understand what is happening – their families will be hurt at some point by the actions of their partners.

It is true that I have been known to make a few digs here and there, such as the time when a minister was honored with new court title and I asked him on Twitter whether he told his girlfriend or his wife first.

And yes, I do judge the senior Liberal bureaucrat who has helped protect a family member from prosecution.  Many years ago, his family member had a paper route and had asked a 7-year-old boy if he would help him.  For curious reasons, the paper route went off into the woods where the family member offered the boy a nickel to be allowed to be shown “what a screw was”.  In the conversation that followed, the boy quickly determined what was happening and fled the scene untouched.  Even at the age of 7, I wasn’t that stupid but I have since learned that the behavior of this individual continued for years unabated.  Unfortunately, what I experienced cannot be used as grounds for charges and others must be willing to step forward.  Speaking in hushed tones or in private confessions of a secret do not bring people to justice and justice would be difficult to obtain when that person is protected by someone with power.

Lifestyle choices, whether I agree with them or not, are the private business of those who choose them.

For the most part.

Where I do take umbrage to someone’s lusty, licentious needs is when such needs are used to intentionally harm others or when they open the door to creating harm for others. 

When male MHAs offer or demand sex from female MHAs in exchange for favors or support of legislation, it opens the door to the female MHA (or the male one, if the female one is the instigator) feeling compromised, potentially threatening their work, their ability to retain their portfolio and their intention to serve the people as they were elected to do.

The fact that for some women, keeping their job (whether elected, appointed or hired) depends on their ability to be “a part of the team” is tremendously disconcerting.  While we in the business world understand the ramifications of being caught making such demands, it seems that those who make the rules find no issue in breaking them.  In one case where I have screen shots of the demands, I was told by police that the victim must come forward herself, which she is very hesitant to do.  Too often the women in such situations are intimidated or humiliated into silence, some fear that their naivety makes them look stupid and yes, some women encouraged or allowed “an exchange” to happen for their own gain before they realized they had gone too far and now they can’t say anything for fear of personal disgrace.

What disturbs me equally are the many women who know this is going on but accept it and say nothing.  They may express pain, concern or disgust over it in private but publicly they say nothing.  They are the embodiment of Martin Luther King when he said, “One who condones evil is just as guilty as the one who perpetrates it.” or Lieutenant General David Morrison who noted, “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

And as I noted previously, some are active, willful participants, harvesting their own benefits from such actions.

In addition to creating a toxic environment that would sink most businesses or business people who dared to partake in such miscreant behavior, there is also the potential that people who participate in such things open themselves up to extortion.

For example, If news of the MHA with the diaper fetish came out (or, God forbid, a photo of him), that MHA could be leveraged, with the person on the other end of the lever demanding cash or some sort of government gift in exchange for silence.

When MHAs, employees or consultants have been intimidated to put out or get out in order to accomplish their own work or when they could be compromised through extortion, government ceases to be of and for the people but rather, of and for the people who hold the secrets.

While this is not unusual for governments in general (to be at the whim of those on the other end of a secret), use of behavior that intimidates people or makes use of tactics that are illegal everywhere else should be considered unacceptable.

Shouldn’t it?

The Bottom Line

Secrets have always been a part of government and business and those who have been compromised regret the impact when those secrets are revealed.

But when those secrets hurt innocent people such as family members unaware of what is going on, MHAs being coerced into compromising situations in order to get their own work done, workers being intimidated into submission to keep their own job or similar evil acts, we have a problem.

When those secrets can be used to compromise a Minister into performing any task at the request of a master of extortion, we have a problem.

When people who observe it do nothing to fix it, we have a problem.

When people who believe they are a guiding post of ethics, character and morals and are a role model for young people demonstrate behavior that doesn’t portray any of these attributes, we have a problem.

The dilemma with problems is that they continue to grow in scale, frequency and impact unless we choose to do something to solve them.  We may think these problems do not affect us but eventually our analysis is proven to be flawed and we claim surprise or indignation as a result.

The other dilemma is that there are many good people inside the Legislature, whether elected, appointed or hired, whose efforts and intentions are being bent, interfered with or thwarted entirely while people use their primal wiring of lust to satisfy their primal need for power.

Where is the courage for people to stand up and demand better, both inside or outside the Legislature or the courage of others to support those who would do so?

When do we demand better so that the people inside who are capable of doing better and who want to do better are free to execute without fear of intimidation or compromise?

What happens if the list of things I have seen, also in the possession of other people who are more motivated by personal power than I am, decide they want to take down a government unless they get what they want?

Where does it end?

With us, of course.

But that all depends on whether people have the courage, the strength, the wisdom and the will to stand up for what they believe in and to take a stand against behaviors that we are taught to be unethical, immoral and in many cases, illegal.

Or we can make this fodder for social media or coffee house chatter, marveling or being disgusted with it but doing nothing else until something happens that affects us directly.

Doing the latter doesn’t change anything.

In fact, finding a reason to justify why we can’t do something only becomes an excuse, an excuse that translate into ignoring the activity, then condoning it and then supporting it …. making us part of the problem despite our vehement protests to the contrary.

What does change things depends on whether people care and demand better.

Do you?

Be the change you wish to see or stop complaining about it.

In service and servanthood,


PS Don’t bother asking me for the list of licentious behaviors and the names attached to them.  There are plenty of people who have this information.  Unfortunately, when such deeds are so rampant, there is no shortage of sources of information.  However, my tweets in recent days referencing this behavior have produced calls, texts and emails from MHAs demanding to know who “their evil colleagues” are. Weakly disguised efforts to see if “I am on the list” only make the whole situation more comical and more pathetic.

I wonder what minor event becomes the tipping point that takes out an entire government, only to be replaced by another one that suffers from the same complexities.

Addendum – The Initial Reaction – July 20, 2017

After my blog was posted, I was contacted by four MHAs, two men and two women.

The men were outraged at the content and the idea that I had publicly identified them. The curious thing was that I not only didn’t name anyone in this post, I wasn’t even thinking of these two in particular.  When I tried to convince them of this, they didn’t believe me. 


The two women provided curious responses also.

First of all, in an attempt to identify the people I was referring to, they named other people (consistent across both of them) that again, I was not thinking of.  The plot thickens in an environment filled with rumor, conjecture and malfeasance.

The other thing is that they both found the environment incredibly difficult to survive in.  They used words like intimidation, bullying and the like to describe actions directed towards them and other women.  They freely named women who were targeted victims of intimidation and manipulation.  They both identified women who “played the game” with multiple MHAs.  They both admitted to having been offered sex by Ministers in exchange for “whatever”.  They also admitted to having acts of jealousy directed towards them when, having refused the advances of someone, were then accused of doing so only because “they must be sleeping with x”.

They both agreed with me that women should never accept abuse in the workplace or anywhere else.

All good.

However, they both admitted that they were willing to accept all of this in order to retain their seat and to continue doing the work that they do.  They also admitted that they had an acceptable tolerance level of abuse, “a price” as both named it, that allowed them to keep quiet.

Hmmmm …. didn’t they say that abuse was unacceptable?

Both had complained to someone else known to be an active participant in the environment.  Their words won’t create change and they know it but they take solace in knowing that they did talk to someone about it.

Neither is willing to take a public stand against it.

I asked them both to consider the quotes from King and Morrison in regards to saying and doing nothing while acknowledging the toxic environment.  I asked them also to consider how they would feel if they had a daughter, sister or mother caught up in such a situation. 

They are not stupid people but their willful inability to see themselves in the quotes speaks volumes.  I’m not sure either of them agree with my position – that to not take a stand outside of complaining privately makes them part of the problem. 

That’s what we are told in the private sector!

I wonder if they have read the following Government-issued documents:

I assume HR does nothing because they see elected officials as “their boss”.  It’s a curious thing to me, working in an industry where HR heavyweights will sometimes lay into someone for looking at another person the wrong way.

In regards to accepting abuse in order to get work done, I wonder what would happen if one of my executive team were caught behaving as these people behave and when the police and legislators show up, I used the excuse, “You can’t arrest him – do you realize how much work he gets done?”

My team member would still be arrested and I would be humiliated and vilified - rightfully so for demonstrating such ignorance.

As I look at the SMS messages on my phone early this morning, I wonder if they could be used to establish a precedence whereby abuse was allowed in the workplace.

After all, if the legislators embrace it as status quo, why shouldn’t we?

Such thinking is dangerous, destructive and regressive.

Which makes me wonder why it is tolerated (and even embraced) within the highest authority in the Province.

Where are the public outcries amongst women’s groups who likely know this is happening?

Perhaps it serves their interests to stay quiet rather than risk offending “useful friends”.

And how do women expect to create respect in the workplace (whether in Government or elsewhere) when they are unwilling to stand up and demand it?

How indeed?

Closing Thoughts (almost - I changed my mind later)

I know from my contacts within the Government and from feedback that some MHAs have sent me to directly that once again, I have stirred up a hornet’s nest.  I have been accused of being immoral or unethical (by the people who committed the acts) for making these observations while they fail to see that had they not committed the acts in the first place, there would be no observations to make.  So in their mind, performing or accepting nefarious acts is not immoral – reporting them is.

I made some observations on social media about naming names, which was met by cries of foul from some who say that such actions will hurt the innocent.  My response to this is that the innocent are already being hurt and that the number of people who are being hurt will continue to grow as long as miscreant behavior is not addressed.

I find the ultimate message here to be confusing – the contradictory rule that certain behavior is considered unacceptable except in the areas where it is considered acceptable (based on nebulous, fluid rule interpretations and damaged rationalization).

Perhaps someone smarter than I am can enlighten me.


Addendum – Are You Really Surprised? Who Wants to Bell the Cat? – July 23, 2017

When people act surprised about something, it’s always an interesting exercise to see if they are truly surprised or just feigning surprise.

A few people brought the story of Valerie Penton to my attention, a woman who was being sexually harassed by a fellow employee of the Government and who felt that Human Resources within the Government did little if anything to help her. 

She eventually settled a  harassment suit out of court and moved on to other opportunities.  One writer writing about her story noted that the man who harassed her (and used access to DMV records to examine her personal records including her address) was still working there.  I don’t know if that is still the case but most of us get fired immediately for such indiscretion.

Interestingly enough, many of the stories written about Ms. Penton by the local media have been deleted (although some are still available in different web cache locations).

There are at least four articles that remain that don’t require exploring the web cache (at the time I write this):

The people who came forward telling similar stories after Valerie Penton’s story became public indicated that HR did little if anything for them when their harassment was reported.

Those same people indicated that Ministers were slow to respond to their concerns and needed to be prompted multiple times to take action.

Some people inside and outside of Government said, after reading my post, that they have never heard of any type of harassment inside Government before I posted my piece.

And yet an external review was undertaken to review this very subject after Valerie Penton’s case became public.

So where is the surprise regarding any of this?

Maybe the answer can be found in a personal experience of mine.

Some years ago, I was on the board for an international charity when some significant indiscretions by staff members were discovered.  When I reported them to fellow board members, I found out that they already knew.

When they discovered that I now knew also, they demanded to know what I was going to do about it.

When I asked them why they hadn’t already done something about it, they replied that they didn’t want to jeopardize their other board postings.

Ah yes … courage only when convenient and risk-free.

We need to find a way to encourage those who are victims to know that they have our support in ferreting out miscreants.

And we need to find a way to pressure those with authority to stand up for them.

Many of the latter have been coming to me demanding to know what I am doing about this.

I am asking them in return,“What are you doing about it?”

It reminds me of this story:

A group of mice were arguing in a mouse hole one day about a cat that had been terrorizing them.  With every passing day, the cat would sneak up on one of them without warning and would make off with the unsuspecting victim.  The mice were now tired of this and were arguing about what to do about the villain.

One mouse suggested that if they put a bell on the cat’s neck, then he would no longer be able to creep up on them unawares.

Recognizing the brilliance of the solution, the mice spent considerable time congratulating themselves on how they had solved the problem when their celebration was interrupted by a lone voice in the back of the mouse hole.

“The solution may be brilliant”, observed a wise old mouse, “but who will bell the cat?”

Silence filled the mouse hole and eventually the mice went about their business, realizing that there is a big difference between being full of ideas and having the courage to carry them out.

So … who wants to bell the cat?

Monday, July 10, 2017

When the Little Things Become the Big Things

It's the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. - John Wooden

A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching. - Swami Sivananda

I drive my teams crazy regarding the small details of our projects.  While many self-described experts tell you not to worry about the small things, I have found over the years that the small things add up to the big things and can prove to be catastrophic in potential and impact if ignored.  Sometimes the item believed to be small, insignificant or statistically unlikely becomes the thing with the greatest impact as I mused about in Statistics: The Mathematical Theory of Ignorance.

I recently declined an opportunity to work with a not-for-profit because they ignored the importance of the small things, creating documents with legal errors, leaving board members with little or no liability coverage should something go awry and allowing board members to sign documents that they knew contained legal issues.  The board members didn’t seem to have an issue with this either so they had no interest in pushing back, demanding higher standards.

In my polite declining of the opportunity to work with them, they cited the mistakes as minor things falling through the cracks.

The problem is that they are not minor at all.  Creating documents with legal mistakes in them and having board members who have no issue signing them, knowing that there are legal mistakes and loopholes in them, is a recipe for a disaster down the road.

And when the disaster comes, everyone will act surprised as is often the case.

Unfortunately in such situations, the innocent as well as the guilty are hurt and that is the greatest crime of all.

The little things do matter.

Take this example.

This is an airport at an undisclosed location – the photo was taken a few days ago.

Note the excellent security, including cameras, multiple keypads, barbed wire – this entry point is secure within reasonable definition.

Go 100 yards down the street and you come across a second gate.  Everything looks good (again within reasonable definition of security).

Go another 100 yards down the street and you find this – no gate, no fence, no signs – nothing.

Some people will argue that there are likely hidden cameras in place to prevent miscreants from performing an evil deed.  I would argue that if this were the case, you wouldn’t need the excellent security at the other gates either – just a camera and hope.

But if anything should happen at this airport, everyone will act surprised.

And hope is never a strategy.

The Bottom Line

The little things do matter.

The art and science of knowing what is a little thing with great potential versus the little thing that is trivial in potential is worthy of learning.

Otherwise, when you claim that something fell through the cracks or you were caught by surprise as the little droplet of water developed into an overwhelming tsunami, you will have no one else to blame.

They won’t believe you anyway, especially when the details are revealed.

Do you allow the little things to go unnoticed or ignored in terms of potential?

Are you willing to take a chance that they are not as small and insignificant as you think?

Are you sure?

In service and servanthood,


Small things ....

When I wrote this, I was reminded of these "small" experiences in airport security, noted in my musing Terror: Vulnerability Through Decent Acts.