Monday, June 19, 2017

"The Dystopian World of James Comey"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Dystopian World of James Comey”
June 19, 2017

I am one of the few honest people I have ever known.”
                                                                                                          Nick Carroway, narrator
                                                                                                          The Great Gatsby
                                                                                                          F. Scott Fitzgerald

Substitute Comey for Carroway and you have a sense of the arrogance and hypocrisy embedded in the former’s testimony. James Comey is expert at navigating the obstacles that constitute Washington’s politics. The former FBI Director came across as more of a prosecutor than an investigator and public servant. Having used bait-and-switch tactics over the past year, Mr. Comey gladdened, infuriated and appeased Democrats, while he irritated, enthused and angered Republicans. Like his predecessor, J. Edgar Hoover, he thought himself invincible.

His testimony was Orwellian. Words meant what he wanted them to mean. To “leak” a memo about a private meeting with the President, via a third party, to The New York Times was okay. Yet, it was not alright to tell the press that the President was not under investigation regarding Russian interference in the election, even though he wasn’t. It was his duty, he alleged last July, to lay out the prosecutorial case against Hillary Clinton for using a private e-mail server while Secretary of State, but he felt it his responsibility to determine that no reasonable jury would convict her. Nevertheless, he felt bound, in October, to say she was still under investigation. He said he had no doubt that Russia interfered in the election, yet offered no evidence.

Mr. Comey told Senators that Mr. Trump lied as to why he (Mr. Comey) was fired, but was less direct with the President. He construed the word “hope,” as uttered by Mr. Trump regarding Michael Flynn, as implying obstruction, knowing full well it would mean his good friend, special counsel Robert Mueller, would have to investigate the allegation. (If “hope” becomes standard for obstruction of justice charges, all of Washington will be under indictment, as will most Americans.) James Comey testified that he agreed to accept (then) Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s request that the investigation into Mrs. Clinton be referred to as a “matter,” last July, knowing that to do so was wrong. Yet he did not feel obliged to disagree. His performance throughout his testimony suggested he was being either devious or he was a poltroon… or perhaps both. If he truly felt wronged, a courageous, honorable man would have resigned.

Mr. Comey has abused his position as Director of the FBI, certainly since last July. But, while he may have the ethics of a warthog, he is not stupid. For the last nine months, like Uriah Heep, the unctuous Mr. Comey bobbed and weaved around the Scylla of Washington politics and the Charybdis of ethical behavior – that is until he encountered Mr. Trump, an outsider to Washington politics, a man who had promised to “drain the swamp,” a place where he (Mr. Comey) was one of its most prominent denizens. Whether you hate him or love him, all agree that Mr. Trump is no master of subtlety. The President fired Mr. Comey unceremoniously, something unexpected by a man who felt untouchable. As one who tried to please everyone, Mr. Comey would have been well served to have re-read the story in Aesop’s Fables of “The man, the boy and the donkey” – the moral of which is, you can’t please everyone.

Once fired by Mr. Trump, Democrats forgave Mr. Comey his transgressions regarding Hillary Clinton and Loretta Lynch. Since his firing, Mr. Comey has cast his lot with those who see Mr. Trump as an illegitimate President, an autocrat, they claim, with a far-right agenda – a President who should be hastened from office, regardless of the cost to our democracy. In testimony, Mr. Comey offered the excuse that the leaking of his memo was for self-protection against a President he did not trust. He said it was justified if the consequence was the hiring of a special counsel. Since Mr. Comey was unable to bring the President down on charges of colluding with the Russians over last November’s election, he now hopes his friend Mr. Mueller will find obstruction of justice as cause for impeachment.

The failure of Democrats to accept last November’s election results reinforced the vitriol that consumes our country. It worsened the culture of incivility and violence. It is manifested in many ways: in the use of crude (and cruel) language by late night comedians and talk-show hosts, like Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon; in Madonna calling for the White House to be bombed, and in a mask of Mr. Trump’s bloodied, severed head held up by Kathy Griffin; it is visible in a publically-funded Shakespearean play in New York’s Central Park that showed the stabbing of a blond, blue-suited Trump-lookalike as Julius Caesar. And, five days ago, we saw it in the shooting of four Republicans on a ball field in Alexandria, Virginia. While no one political party has an exclusive in terms of foul language and heinous acts, we cannot ignore the role played by social media, i.e. the posting by James Hodgkinson, the shooter of Republican House Whip Steve Scalise, to his Facebook page in March: “Trump is a traitor. Trump has destroyed our democracy. It’s time to destroy Trump & Co.”

But icons from Hollywood, the media and Washington take no responsibility for the culture of hatred they have helped inspire. Instead, when a CNN host calls the President a piece of s**t, they cite First Amendment rights; or, in the instance of Congressman Scalise, they employ the Trojan horse of gun control, as did Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe within moments of the shooting in Arlington.

Politics has long been a blood sport, but incivility has reached heights last seen in the Vietnam era. Science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, once wrote that dying cultures invariably exhibit “personal rudeness, bad manners and a lack of consideration for others in minor matters.” That is a current cultural trend that no one can deny. Arnold Toynbee, the British historian, said civilizations die from suicide, not murder. Social media has become a medium for the venting of passionate hatred. I post photographs of my grandchildren and wildlife, and an occasional non-political essay. But what we see are venomous outpourings of those who see this venue as a forum for political hyperbole. Like Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the United States Army when it was under investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy, we ask those who post such partisan comments on social media, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

As a friend in Europe recently wrote, the attempt to find a Russian connection to Mr. Trump’s campaign of last year has created an Austin Powers-like atmosphere of looking for a crime to fit a predetermined judgement. In his self-serving testimony before the Senate, Mr. Comey did nothing to reduce the hate-filled tenor that permeates Washington and our nation. Could he have helped? He is a smart man, a man who has been around corridors of power for a long time. Honesty, fairness and straight-forward answers would have brought some succor to a divided country. However, it was his reputation he was interested in saving, not bandaging wounds or revealing truth. He knew what he was doing. He chose the dystopian way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Sydney M. Williams

Essay from Essex
June 14, 2017

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you,
than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”
                                                                                                Bob Proctor
                                                                                                Canadian author, speaker and mentor

While campaigning in Virginia in 2008, President Obama said, “If you’ve got a businessyou didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Later, in the same speech, he did mention the need for individual initiative. While Mr. Obama stated his belief that government is instrumental in individual success, he was also referring to the roles mentors play.

A mentorship can be defined as a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. Young people who do well in school and in sports often attribute their success to the dedication of a teacher or coach. The same can be said for those beginning their careers, and it is true even for old goats who, late in life, take up writing essays. Mentors help turn doubt into determination, aspiration into accomplishment. Earlier this year, in the Harvard Business Review, Anthony Tjan wrote that “mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it.”

Mentoring is a way of giving back. Five years ago, I was invited to join a small group of retirees in Old Lyme, people who realized their experiences and talents could be of use to those in need. While I was not then retired, I was spending most Fridays in the country, so Friday morning meetings worked. We called ourselves Mentoring Corps for Community Development (MCCD), a 501(c)3 organization. Our website speaks to the “sparkle” we try to add to our town and the region – Old Lyme and southeastern Connecticut. Over the years, we have worked with schools and students, with families who have experienced natural disasters, and individuals who have suffered hardships. We have aided non-profit organizations and helped small businesses. We try to abide by advice Robert Frost once gave: “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

We all have had mentors in one form or another. Mistakes are a form of mentoring. Certainly, that has been true for me. While I was not smart enough to learn from them all, I have learned from some: my rudeness, when I was fourteen, to a young girl who was not very popular; a wise man who gently advised my 16-year-old self about the risks of speeding on back roads; a group of construction types who separated me from my paycheck when I was seventeen; I learn from my grandchildren who chide me when I mess up.

But, I also benefitted from those who mentored me: a teacher of English at Williston Academy, Horace “Thugsy” Thorner, whose class on Macbeth and Hamlet I have never forgotten; an instructor in journalism in college, and the editor of Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, NH, for whom I wrote a sports column. I recall being told by my first real boss – Jim Donnelly of Eastman Kodak – that, if I set my mind to it, I could achieve anything. I was taught the basics of selling equities to institutional investors by Andy Monness, who thirty years later encouraged my fledging writing career. He often disagreed with my opinions, but liked the way I expressed them. As important as anything, in terms of my writing, have been the hundreds like you who have corrected me when I was in error, challenged my opinions when yours differed, and emboldened me in offering praise, not all of it deserved. I consider you all mentors.

It is when we are young, and not fully formed, that mentorship is most effective. I think of an experience in mid-summer 1960. I was a member of a prospecting team in the Northwest Territories of Canada, along the Nahanni River. It was 3,000 miles from home and about 200 miles from a road, not to mention a village. I was nineteen and lonely. There were twenty people in the expedition, most of whom were at least twenty years my senior. In mid-July, we were to move the base camp about 100 miles further north. I told the manager, a man named Doug Wilmot, that I wanted to go home. He said fine, just help us move the camp. He said nothing more, nor did I. A week later, once the camp was moved, we prospectors were ordered back to the field. I joined the others without hesitation. I have always been thankful I did. Quitting would have been something I would have regretted the rest of my life. I am grateful that Mr. Wilmot handled me as he did – no arguments, no recriminations, no attempts to convince me of the error I would have made by leaving betimes, and no smugness at my decision to stay.

When thinking of mentoring, we typically think of bright, talented, but reserved or introverted students who come to the attention of an observant, caring and capable teacher. A January 2014 report titled The Mentoring Effect, commissioned by the National Mentoring Partnership, found significant positive outcomes for those who had a mentor: They were more likely to aspire to or attend college; they were more likely to participate in sports or extracurricular activities; they were more likely to assume leadership roles in school, and more likely to volunteer in their communities. While the political focus is on funding underperforming schools, the greater need is finding teachers, coaches and volunteers who will give counsel and care to students navigating the shoals that separate childhood from adulthood. Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”

But, as important as I believe mentoring to be, it is no guaranty of success. It is not a magic elixir. In cannot substitute for a lack of aspiration and initiative. It cannot compensate for those who do not work hard, or who do not show fortitude. We all know the adage of leading a horse to water. Mentees, like Dickens’ Barkis, must be “willing.” Good mentors, as Mr. Proctor notes in the rubric at the start of this essay, see a spark that just needs igniting. Two thousand years ago, Plutarch wrote, as a lesson to both mentors and mentees: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

Looking back on my life, I count myself lucky – fortunate to have been born into the family I was, and lucky to have been born at the time I was. I was fortunate in the woman who agreed to be my wife, in our children, and now in our grandchildren. I have been fortunate in my friends, both new and old. I was lucky to have served in the military when I did, after Korea and (just) before Vietnam. I was fortunate to have a career and a job that I loved. I have been lucky in my health, and thankful I was blessed to find an avocation as a writer. I was fortunate to have been endowed with an optimistic outlook. And I was fortunate to have had help from so many people over the years.

And, now, as age creeps up and I think of the past seven decades, I am thankful I can give back something through groups like MCCD. Mentoring is partial payment for all I have received.


Monday, June 12, 2017

"The Paris Accord - Much Ado About Nothing"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“The Paris Accord – Much Ado About Nothing”
June 12, 20117

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever, –
One foot in sea and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.”
                                                                                                     William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
                                                                                                     “Much Ado About Nothing”
                                                                                                     Act II, Scene 3

The importance of the Paris Accord has been greatly exaggerated. It is vital to the narrative of leftists, but it makes no requirements with respect to climate. It was “largely symbolic,” a good friend (a man who resides deep in left field) e-mailed me. He later added, “these days, symbolism is everything.”

It is actions, not symbols or words, that are meaningful, at any time and in every situation. The behavior of elites does not match their rhetoric. As Victor Davis Hanson recently noted, private jets – a favored mode of transportation for wealthy progressives – emit “more carbon emissions in a year than do entire small towns in Ohio.” The U.S. pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001, but that did not affect our emissions’ reductions. According to the NYC Data Science Academy, European countries failed to meet their Kyoto target levels of per capita CO2 emissions, while the United States did. The reason we succeeded was because of innovation, not supranational mandates – energy companies, using hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, substituted natural gas for coal on an unprecedented basis.

The Paris Accord has been signed by 190 countries. Much has been made that only Syria, Nicaragua and the U.S. have not signed the Accord – and Nicaragua said it wasn’t tough enough. But, besides symbolism, what was the point? Wealthy countries contractually committed to nothing, but are expected to send monies to emerging nations. India and China, the world’s largest per-capita polluters, were exempted from taking any actions until 2030. And emerging countries stand to take in money – to help them meet developed countries’ standards. What’s to lose? Why wouldn’t they sign the Accord?

When Mr. Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Accord, Hollywood and main-stream media went ballistic. Bette Midler called the President a “megalomaniac” who was voted in by “numbskulls,” (including yours truly). Al Gore said the decision was “reckless and indefensible.” The Washington Post accused Mr. Trump of “turning his back on the world.” David Brooks’ column was headlined: “Donald Trump Poisons the World.” But to me, he looks like the small boy from the Hans Christian Anderson’s tale who proclaimed the emperor naked – the one person willing to speak truth. The New York Times acknowledged in an editorial that the Accord “does not require any country to do anything.” Yet, that same editorial referred to Mr. Trump as a man who “knows nothing” and does “dumb things.” So, why is the Accord so important? Because progressives have determined that the science of climate change is forever settled. It is part of their mantra, and that of their commercial dependencies. As Holman Jenkins, Jr. recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “…the whole point of being in office is to redirect resources to interest groups best able to reward [one’s self and one’s Party].” That the Accord does.

In announcing America’s withdrawal from the agreement, the President was respectful. He said he “…would begin negotiations to re-enter either the Paris accord, or an entire new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers.” That doesn’t sound “reckless,” “dumb,” or like a “megalomaniac.” The left has been reacting to this issue with heat and hypocrisy. A front-page article in the June 4th edition of The New York Times, read: “How G.O.P. leaders Came to Reject Climate Science.” In the article, Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton claim Republicans do not believe in man-caused climate change. That is wrong, or “fake news” if you prefer. Excepting some kooks, no one on the right rejects science; no one rejects the fact of climate change, and no one claims man has not played a role. The mules, in this debate, are all on the left. It is they who insist that causes can be precisely determined. Science is the pursuit of answers. It is delving into the unknown. To claim that the science of climate change is “settled” shows a disregard for scientific discovery. Science is rarely, if ever, settled, and certainly not in matters as complex as climate. 

Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and former head of the Danish government’s Environmental Assessment Institute in Copenhagen, noted that adherence to the Paris accords non-binding recommendations would cost a trillion dollars a year, all to reduce global temperatures by 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Lomborg’s alternative: encourage investment in non-carbon power…which is what we are doing and which we will continue to do. While regulation is necessary, it should carry a light touch. It is the individual’s aspiration, creativity, ability and a willingness to take risk that leads to innovation.

Besides its cost, its reliance on peer pressure and its ineffectiveness, there are other reasons to quit the Paris Climate Accord: The Accord subjects a large segment of the economy to oversight by a supranational body – not a positive thing, if economic growth is an objective. The Accord allows the world’s two largest emitters of carbon dioxide, China and India, to ignore any recommendations for a dozen years. The Accord asks developed nations (read: US) to pay $100-$200 billion a year to developing nations. If history is guide, a significant portion of those funds would end up in the Swiss bank accounts of a few dictatorial leaders. (It is not as though we have money to spare.) President Obama signed the Accord, but only as his term neared its end – in September 2016, nine months after the Paris meeting. And he did not submit what is essentially a treaty to the Senate, because he knew it would not garner a two-thirds majority.

Global leaders must balance economic growth with protecting the Earth. We must recognize that people everywhere want to live better lives. We must acknowledge that the world is more prosperous and more equitable because of democratic, free-market capitalism. As democracies and capitalism flourished over the past two centuries, poverty declined and equality improved. As globalization increased, so did wealth, health and longevity for millions, but so have greenhouse gasses. We should continue to minimize the effect we have on the Earth and the skies. But we must recognize that the ability to correct environmental damage is a function of wealth, which is why economics are essential to any solution.

The Paris Accord is a “feel-good, do-nothing” program. Apart from the vitriol it has generated from the left, it is much ado about nothing. The world could use a climate agreement, but one that is fair, sustainable, and which recognizes that economic growth is crucial to progress.