Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Trump Mortgage "Fraud" - An Object Lesson

A snake-oil salesman named Ridings was hired by Donald Trump to head Trump mortgage. It turns out that the guy's bio on the Trump Mortgage web site was trumped-up, to say the least. He was a small fish with a fishy background, but he apparently swam his way to the top of Trump Mortgage by bamboozling the Donald. Or maybe not, but I got to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on this one - nobody as smart as Trump would knowingly hire a lightweight like this Rider guy to head an organization that is subject to endless legal controls.

This event should be an object lesson for us all. Don't accept anyone's bona fides before you have checked them. I am membership director for a volunteer ambulance company, and we get applications from the general population. Do I check references? You bet! In a previous life I investigated possible frauds for a major corporation, and I found that people can be very different than they are perceived to be. Since then I've been a great proponent of Ronald Reagan's famous adage, "Trust, but verify."

If the Donald belatedly follows Reagan's advice, we're likely to be reading a follow-up story soon.

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Day Before Christmas

Today I had the Christmas spirit. I just willed myself to have it - that happy spirit that puts a smile on your face, temporarily erases all the worries about how screwed up the world is, makes you appreciate your friends, and renews your confidence that God has something good in mind for us when we die. Maybe it will last through tomorrow...I hope so.

It's been a busy day. I volunteered at the ambulance overnight, but we had no calls so I got to sleep, rather poorly. Came home, showered, choir at 9:45, church at 10:30. It was a great Christmas pageant, and everyone who came in the door was offered some kind of costume item - hat, halo, crown, maybe even a robe or some kind of shawl. As the pageant went on, people from the congregation came forward and became part of it. Sounds crazy, but it went over great. All the kids were smiling, and the adults got infected with the good humor. My religion is pretty informal, but one thing I'm pretty sure of is that God loves to hear people laugh for the right reasons.

Then off to the ambulance again, as the medic from 12-3. Looked at a kid's sprained thumb and sent him home with his dad and three ice packs. Went to a home where an older man was having some serious heart and memory problems, and I gave him over to a paramedic for transport to the hospital. Then I took a non-emergency call to verify a death. It turned out I knew the family and was able to help them deal with it, since the older man certainly was dead of a terminal disease. He was the fifth dead person I've had to deal with in the past month, which is an unusually high number. Death is no stranger to me anymore; it's just what happens when we get old, if we're lucky enough to get old. It doesn't take a time out for Christmas.

My oldest son, who is divorced and lives in Detroit, arrived here last night around dinnertime. Late this afternoon we saw "The Good Shepherd", a very dark movie about the C.I.A. The movie was rather slow and confusing, and it made me happy I never wanted to be a spy. Following the movie, we came home and assembled a "luminario" (candles inside paper bags) in my small trailer in the garage. Then we went to the church and placed them up and down the driveways and lit the candles. It was a beautiful sight, since the church was also nicely lit up on the outside. Then home for a quick dinner with the long-suffering wife.

The 9:00 church service, where I also sang in the choir, was packed. The family I had helped in the afternoon was there, and I spoke to the widow again. The minister had good words to say, and lots of people participated in various ways. For some reason the spirit was especially good tonight...maybe it was just rebound from all the troubles of 2006, but it felt so good!

Three couples of long time friends came over to our home after church, and they stayed until almost midnight. We drank a fair amount of wine (I fixed one guy a potent Manhattan, too), ate some scrumptious desserts, and never once discussed a serious subject - a miracle! I have found after 62 years of life that there are few things in life more precious than long term friends. I can be "me" and not have to worry about it. I can hug them all, and be hugged back with a certain firmness that says "I love you." We are family after all these years.

That was the day before Christmas, a long day of responsibilities and accomplishments, focus on God's great gift of life, seeing a period attached to the sentence of another's life, and confirming relationships that add so much meaning to my life. The Christmas spirit provided a burst of energy that somehow sustained me all the while. It's great to have a 100% good day, and that's what this one was.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! To all who stumble across this humble blog!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Policy Optimism - Or Pipe Dreams?

My friend Ron over at RWorld is concerned that the media and the electorate are overly focused on the 2008 presidential race to the detriment of interest in the policy decisions of the next congressional session. True, the celebrity candidates are getting a lot of attention, but I'm hopeful that the heat is on our representatives and our president to get some big things done next year. It has to be next year, since 2008 will bring nothing but electioneering.

Why am I optimistic? Several reasons. Bush will have no legacy except disaster in Iraq unless some major policy issues are settled during his reign. The republican legislators have been roundly criticized as presiding over the most "do nothing congress" in many years, and that failure was certainly a big factor in the November elections. And the democrats have got to show some vigor in 2007, or their ascention to power will be viewed as pointless. Perhaps the constellations are lined up right for a change!

The big question is: which policy issues have sufficient bi-partisan support to clear all three power centers? Embryonic stem cell research reform may be passed over Bush's veto. An immigrant amnesty bill probably has enough support to get through all the hurdles. Minimum wage uplift is a lock. Much work has already been done on Social Security and Medicare reform, so expect at least some action on one or both of these. If balance of trade talks with China don't move forward, legislative initiatives will come forward to, at a minimum, embarass the administration. There's a good chance that public concern about global warming will force another energy bill, higher CAFE standards, or some kind of tax carrot-stick approach to motivate migration to lower carbon-producing transportation. I'll bet my readers have a list that includes other potential policy breakthroughs.

One area where I don't see potential for progress is the tax code. The republicans and democrats are just too far apart in their basic approach to the economy.

RWorld recently posted a prediction that the blogosphere is gathering steam and has much potential to grow in popularity and influence. I agree with him. The bloggers will not stand for congressional inaction, and they will mobilize their digital armies to hammer the presidential hopefuls into actually doing something that will justify elevating them in 2008. Or am I only dreaming?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lawrence Welk Reborn - Andre Rieu!

My angel and I took a quick trip to Toronto this weekend to see Andre Rieu and his orchestra at cozy little Rogers Centre where the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball. About 20,000 grey haired fans joined us to see Andre lead his 35 musicians and 8 singers in a two hour show. We went because we had seen him perform in several public television specials, and we like all kinds of music if it's done well.

Well, even from the peanut gallery it was obvious that Andre Rieu has a winning formula - fine musicians, lots of action, pretty lady and handsome men singers, engaging banter (sometimes serious), and an obvious dedication to making the audience feel they got their money's worth. He's Dutch, but his bread and butter is Viennese waltzes. In addition to those, his orchestra played some Christmas carols, the Canadian national anthem, and Stars and Stripes Forever. The encores lasted about 30 minutes, which seemed to be part of the plan, and everyone went home happy.

I appreciated the professionalism of the musicians, which was evident at all times - even when they did silly stuff to meet the needs of some audience members. Seeing Rieu one time is definitely enough, but he's a real pro and has got his thing down so well that it's a money machine. As we walked back to our hotel, it occurred to me that Andre Rieu owes a big debt to Lawrence Welk - he's taken Welk's model, exchanged polkas for waltzes, and made it work.

Toronto is perhaps the most ethnically mixed city I've ever visited, even more than NYC. Canada's liberal immigration policies have drawn people from everywhere, and they seem to mix quite well. Maybe our government should offer free vacations there for people from the red states...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Foleygate - No Crime, No Problem

The Foley report is complete, and none of the republican leadership will be disciplined, nor will any of the republican and democrat staff members who were aware of Foley's sexually-oriented internet contacts with congressional pages. And all these guys were re-elected. There is no shame in congress, nor in the electorate either, it seems. The double standard is alive and well.

This issue has nothing to do with Foley being gay. It has everything to do with his inappropriate conduct, and with the inappropriate conduct of those who knew about his contacts with the pages. Both Foley and those superiors and peers in congress crossed the line, but his resignation seems to be the end of it - nobody broke any rules, so they all get a little criticism and it's over. But it's not over with me.

I serve on the boards of three non-profits who deal with youth in one way or another. These organizations must have written policies regarding sexual harassment and very special rules with respect to conduct with minors. Sunday School rooms are retrofitted with glass panels to ensure visual oversight of teachers, and all youth activities will have two adults present at all times. Needless to say, if any adult in these organizations was found to be emailing a high school age person with sexually-oriented content, there would be hell to pay. The scandal would hit the local papers, would prompt visits from other interested governing bodies, would result in the dismissal of anyone who was aware of it and did not report it, and would severely or mortally wound the organization itself. Yet such conduct by members of Congress, in the end, generated only sound and fury. There were no consequences beyond those paid by the pitiful Foley.

I feel for those administrators who go to bed every night hoping that none of their people put as much as a toe across the line that day. For those conscientious people who run group homes, churches, schools, YMCA's, scouting programs, athletic teams and all the other organizations that deal with youth. They know that one person's lack of discretion, or even an innocent but suspect gesture, can cost them their job and the organization its place in the community. Unfortunately for them, they don't work under the same rules as Congress.

In the idealist's world, those with more power and responsibility are held to higher standards. In the real world, those with power and responsibility ensure they cannot be disciplined for anything less than blatant law-breaking. We let them have their investigations and white-washes, and life for them goes on as usual. What are we, nuts? I guess so.

Monday, December 04, 2006

In Memoriam

I'm sad tonight. One of my patients from a few days ago is dead. This old man smiled at me and told me he was alright after he fell down the stairs. I was hopeful, and I worked with a bunch of people to keep him alive. And so he was for a few days.

Life is precarious, especially when you are old. But some older people are more alive than others, and he was one of them. God bless you, old fellow, and watch your step up there!

Abdul Aziz Hakim?

def. "Ignominious" - Marked by shame or disgrace. ex., American president meets with Iraqi factional leader Abdul Aziz Hakim at White House.

It began with "Shock and Awe". I guess it's ending with "Shock and Awe".

Never has America been brought so low in one week. Bush got stood up in Jordan by al-Maliki, who at least was a president. Then he met an Iraqi nobody who dislikes him at the White House. What started out as a short vicious war and "Mission Accomplished" is ending with an American president on his knees begging for a way out. Arrogance and stupidity rewarded with ignominy. America's worst enemies couldn't have scripted such a wonderful outcome - for them!

I'm not gloating over Bush's untidy end. This is all about America, and it's sickeningly sad. How is it that a country with so many intelligent, wise, compassionate, and freedom-loving people can be so screwed by one elected birdbrain? If this past week of infamy is not enough to get us smarter, then nothing will be.

I'll end with a question. Is the media going to describe the past week for what it was (ignominy), or will they leave that to the historians?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Aimless America

Can you imagine a football team without a coach? A class without a teacher? A business without a manager? Mature people know that leaders, although always imperfect, are the ones who put together the plan, communicate it, train the responsible actors, and ensure all is done to achieve the desired outcomes.

The need for leadership grows in importance as the size and complexity of the affected organization increases. Maybe a five person basketball team could self-organize for success, but would you predict an equal level of self-organization in a 60 person football team? Maybe a small study group could learn a topic by negotiating research and presentation responsibilities, but could a 400 student survey course at State U. do the same? Is is possible that a GE could stumble without a Jack Welch at the controls? A large organization without effective leadership is like a flotilla of warships steaming aimlessly in a fog, unable to coordinate their efforts and in jeopardy of experiencing terrible collisions, and rarely accomplishing their intended purposes.

Effective leaders have a clear vision of their organization's purpose, and they ferret out the information necessary to identify and prioritize the several goals of their organization. They communicate these goals and get active buy-in from their subordinates. They work diligently to ensure that the sub-groups in their structure plan and act in support of the goals, often coordinating effectively with each other. They measure progress, recover from the inevitable mistakes, and encourage all members of the organization to stay committed no matter how difficult their tasks may be. They recognize the entire group when each milestone is achieved and each goal is met. And they continually update their objectives, recognizing that each new year presents unforeseen opportunites and threats. By doing all these things, they continually build the capabilities of their organization and the trust of the people within it.

Do you see these characteristics in America's leaders? Do we share a vision of what America should be? Are the goals prioritized and clearly delegated to responsible people and structures? If so, then we all should feel confident that:

- America will have effective relations with every country in the world.
- America will have reliable sources of energy for the forseeable future.
- America will educate every citizen who is intent on learning, and reward achievement.
- America's streets will be safe for everyone, day and night.
- Americans will be free to live as they please, as long as they cause no harm to others.
- America will become more and more beautiful as the years go by.

Should not our leaders set the highest standards for our society? Should not our leaders be mobilizing America's incredible human and material resources to make these standards a reality? Must we face a major foreign relations crisis, a critical energy shortage, an incapable workforce, a pervasive lawlessness, a palpable stifling of the human spirit, or a desolate landscape before we demand leadership that makes us confident of the future? Or will it be too late for leadership if these evils come to beset us?

We have a leadership deficit in America. America is aimless. How can it be that our best and brightest seldom carry the banner of America? Maybe the time has come to re-think how we choose those who aspire to lead, or at least to refocus the criteria we employ in our current system. Or do we wait for the crisis?