End the Debate, Get Serious by Al Sikes

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Planes were turned into bombs! New York and Washington were under attack. These facts and the gruesome aftermath awakened America and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

As various post-9/11 inquiries made clear, our intelligence and law enforcement agencies had, to be charitable, misinterpreted signals that an attack was in preparation. In the aftermath of the attacks, with new found resolve and highly focused action plans, America was again safe although not invulnerable.

Periodically questions are asked about both internal and external threats. Often the heads of various executive agencies and legislative committees speak of the hundreds of threats that were discovered and blocked. It is said the details of the intelligence and police work have to remain undisclosed because methods and sources need to be protected. Fair enough.

I wonder how many potential domestic shootings have been blocked. All we know is not nearly enough.

Now, we can all concede that stopping a lone actor is very difficult; witness the suicide bombings that bedevil both police and military around the world. This complexity alone means that all of our intelligence and law enforcement resources must act in intense concentration and coordination if school, workplace and public gathering attacks are to be minimized.

One thing is certain, the next attack is only a week or so away and those who survive will indicate shock that such an egregious act was possible in their community. And then law enforcement and the press will begin to connect the dots and it will quickly become apparent that the shooting or vehicle or knife attack could have been foreseen or at the very least, suspected.

In the Florida shooting case, the New York Times reported: “Almost immediately after Mr. Cruz turned up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Wednesday and, the authorities said, killed 17 people with a semiautomatic rifle, the disconnected shards of a difficult life began to come together. Students and neighbors traded stories of their experiences with him and wondered if anything could have been done.

Some of the stories fell within the bands of typical teenage mischief-making. But others — including a comment on YouTube Mr. Cruz may have posted last year saying he wished to be “a professional school shooter” — were considerably more troubling. The comment, left under the name “nikolas cruz,” was reported to the F.B.I. by someone who did not know Mr. Cruz, and the agency said on Thursday that it had been unable to determine who had posted it.”

My guess is that if the YouTube post had been made by a person with a Middle Eastern name and the stated intention was to plant a bomb, the FBI would have located the person who made the post.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, predictable arguments underscored how feckless our leaders have become. The lack of better gun control was cited as the problem. Mental illness was a close second. We can agree that if the shooter had been weaponless or stable this would not have occurred. We are, of course, constitutionally barred from emptying America of guns. And, taking signs of mental illness as sufficient evidence to put people into protective custody would fail on both legal and operational fronts.

After the shooting President Trump said several things, but this sentence captured, perhaps, a thin thread of hope: “Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorneys general where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority. It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make that difference.”
So what should the public expect—a show of concern without a plan or the intention of concentrated and coordinated work? Or worse, another in a long line of debating moments about guns and mental health? Or just perhaps, the kind of resolve that followed September 11, 2001—an action plan?

America has top flight intelligence resources. They can, if intensely focused, predict and act. But without top rank intelligence, no plan will succeed.

It is hard for me to imagine a more important goal than securing our nation and its schools, churches, workplaces and public gathering spots. It is not acceptable for these all too frequent events to be relegated to debates and calls for prayer. American intelligence and law enforcement agencies can be smart and must be.

And if they need better information on gun ownership, then those that seek to block such access should not hold public office. Social media activists can undoubtedly shine an intense light on the blockers.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Outrage Costs by Al Sikes

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Oxygen is life-giving. When somebody remarks that a given person’s dominant personality “takes all the oxygen out of the room” they mean that the others in the room become lifeless.

Most American journalists and especially pundits have become lifeless — outrage has consumed them. Fighting Trump seems almost the only animating stimulus.

The Afghanistan War— little is said, even less is reported from the field. And the tax bill reporting tended to be binary with the wealthy pitted against everybody else. If Trump was for it then per force it’s inner-workings had to favor the rich. Yes, there are reporters who dig and dig and then write objectively, but you have to search them out.

But, let me return to the now 17-year war in Afghanistan and begin with a simple question. What do we expect from a free press when the nation is at war?

On a visceral level, have more soldiers been killed or maimed because journalistic assets have been misallocated? How many billions of dollars have been spent because our national civilian and defense leaders have not been sufficiently scrutinized?

There are a lot of government programs that defy outcome measurements. War is not one of them. We can ask and answer whether the enemy is diminished. Likewise, we can measure territorial gains or losses. We can also measure the health of our principal ally; how is the Afghanistan government doing today?

Most importantly, any government that chooses to wage war must be held accountable for the why.

But this is not a column about the Afghanistan war, but one about journalism. Suffice it to say, the human and financial costs of the Afghanistan war have been enormous.

We know in retrospect that the press eventually played a large role in ending the Vietnam War. Hard questions were asked and answered and even those who believed in the domino theory—if America lost in Vietnam, Communism would sweep over Southeast Asia—began to disfavor the war.

Wikipedia lists 47 war correspondents who covered the Vietnam War. Peruse the list, and you will find a wide range of print and broadcast journalists. Names like Peter Arnett, Ed Bradley, Bob Simon and David Halberstam are memorable names to those of a certain age.

We certainly know that some journalists dig deep while others shrink from comprehensive reporting and still others can’t leave their biases out of their reporting. And knowing this, it is clear that if only a few journalists cover a subject, the risk of incomplete and/or biased coverage is pronounced.

If there is one subject today that is comprehensively covered, it is Donald J. Trump. The outrage is palpable. The disproportionate weighting is equally palpable. But beyond outrage, one motivation is clear. Trump sells — it is entertainment masquerading as news. It is reality TV on the cheap. Trump’s tweets provide daily fodder — a reporter can grab the days narrative early in the morning. Even reporting from the security zone in Kabul is risky and costly and often encounters the opaque. Why risk life and brain when covering the ever-colorful President is so easy?

Obviously, the White House needs to be covered and especially this one, but what about the outcome of the programs heralded by the White House? Unfortunately, in the Trump era, the storyline is all too often binary. If Trump favors “it,” whatever the “it” is must be wrong.

There has rarely been as challenging a moment for both the nation and news organizations. Most news organizations have seen dramatic staff reductions as conventional media-business models have suffered from digital media competition. And foreign coverage is certainly expensive.

Realities are often uncomfortable. A reduction in resources requires ingenuity. At least to this writer the almost mono-thematic news coverage of Trump does not reflect well on the nation’s assignment editors.

My frustration peaked several Sundays ago while watching Martha Raddatz anchoring “This Week” on ABC. Ms. Raddatz is ABC’s Chief Global Correspondent. She has earned that title in her probing reportage on our Middle-Eastern wars. Yet, Raddatz on that Sunday morning was relegated to anchoring political panels on this and that Trump outrage.

My frustration has nothing to do with the content of Trump’s comportment. It is terrible. But, his constant provocations have become boring. So what if he bashes a critic? So what if he publicly berates a cabinet member? So what if he settles a claim against him by a porn star? Report it and move on.

The content of his Presidency is more important than his considerable personal deficiencies. And no content is more important than what he does or doesn’t do as Commander-in-Chief (CC). The CC has wide-ranging discretion, and his ways and means can place both the nation and its defenders in harm’s way.

I end with this unsolicited advice to the managers and editors who make news decisions. Trump is, if anything, titillated by his dominance of the news cycle. Why else would he serve up the days script in pre-dawn tweets? As you consider news priorities and assignments, don’t forget the ethos of good journalism — help people understand what they need to know.

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Footnote: President Trump has decided that the nation’s top intelligence, law enforcement, and judicial institutions are the enemies and many of his supporters seem gleeful when he attacks them. To those who find this conduct appealing, please understand the ultimate price—cynicism. History chronicles the illnesses bred by a cynical public.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Enduring by Al Sikes

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I can still remember neighbors—ones that helped and whose neighborliness is still remembered. Thank you again.

My mind recalls quiet streams and my fishing bobber being pulled under. What is it about quiet streams—if somehow we could use them prescriptively?

Family dinners? Mine were almost every day. Many lessons were learned, yet the most important one was that family was important and cared. When societal forces tear at the family, what have we lost?

And then there were the talks, father to son. Father talked, son listened and knew the penalties of not doing so would bite. He talked sense before I knew sense. Where have fathers gone?

When we leave home and the councils of Mom and Dad, selling is non-stop. The noise level is deafening. Advertising urges us to do this and that—acquire more. Celebrities have eclipsed philosophers and priests. It is no wonder Ringling Bros. has shut down; the circus is at our fingertips.

Life’s wellspring is polluted. Quiet streams—their runs and swirls and eddies–have become sluiceways of excess informed by the latest rock lyricist or advertising copywriter or social media phenom.

Politics—today’s practitioners have largely yielded to money and polemics. The formula: make people mad and then exploit them.

Now the President is Donald Trump. Partisan polemics are the discourse and the government is shut down.

This is not just nostalgia. I was reminded of the way back and forward by a first time book author, Karen Crouse, who is also a sportswriter for the New York Times. Her just released book is “Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town’s Secret to Happiness and Excellence.”

Ms. Crouse writes about a town of “roughly 3,000 residents” that has accounted for a number of Olympians and three medals without damaging the children who have athletic gifts. In Norwich, said an Olympic runner, Andrew Wheating, “it’s not survival of the fittest. It’s survival of all of us.”

We live in a time when appealing or responding to the appetite, has become our all too frequent exercise of freedom. Where self is the hub of our feelings and too often reasoning.

Our only escape is local—where we began and where we are. Families, communities, neighborhoods. And hopefully, over time, those that leave a nurturing environment will take lessons with them into the world of ambition–leaders who, recalling Wheating’s words, are informed by the “survival of all of us.”

Incivility is like a fabric tear—mend it or it will destroy. Enduring values should be our inspiration.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Appetite or Reason? By Al Sikes

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What happens when big data and artificial intelligence tools dominate humanity? Will a super-rational world result as leaders, with the resources, use the tools? We are in the midst of finding out.

Count me a skeptic. The early stage of the experiment started years ago in politics. I had a front-row seat and believe the results are not encouraging.

In the 1970s and 80s, I worked with some very gifted political pollsters, strategists, and tacticians who were pushing the boundaries of targeted politics.

My collaborations were in Missouri helping friends who were campaigning for the U. S. Senate, and later Governor. My closest relationship was with Bob Teeter who founded Market Opinion Research and subsequently took the lead in campaigns for Presidents Gerald Ford and George HW Bush. Peripherally, I got to know George Gallup Jr and spent time with him talking about the predictive power of polling.

Political science had been my major and I was quite fortunate in going beyond academics into the practical application of data science in winning elections. But, I shudder to think of where today and tomorrow’s tools will take us.

The essence of political targeting is mostly exploitative. Passions are discovered and fed—moderation is left out. And when I use the term moderation I mean moderate voice.

Some years ago, Lay’s Potato Chips issued a tongue in cheek challenge: “Bet you can’t eat just one!” There is a political corollary. Once discovered, emotional positions are mined over and over.

Former U.S. Senator John C. Danforth

In a campaign I managed for John C. Danforth, then Missouri’s Attorney General who was running for the U. S. Senate, I worked with Richard Viguerie, a fundraising specialist. Viguerie was right when he said Danforth would have limited success because he wouldn’t use inflammatory language or imagery. Danforth was pro-life but refused to use an image of a fetus floating in a bottle of formaldehyde.

This 1970s story, in today’s world, seems antique. Our current President specialized in inflammation and he won.

At the risk of brevity, The Philosophical Dictionary notes, that “According to Plato, a person who has the virtue of moderation subordinates the desire for pleasure to the dictates of reason. For Aristotle, all virtues are to be understood as the mean between vicious extremes.”

Today the word moderation is used by the political immoderate to mean, unprincipled. Striking a balance is somehow heretical. In a nation of 325 million very different people, the politics of division weakens politics and society.

Abortion, unfunded public employee benefits, school choice, immigration, and guns are atop the hit parade of political combat. On issue after issue the center, often a voice of realism, is shouted down.

Two generations ago political research firms mainly used demographic patterns to predict responsive political groups. Catholics, it was thought, were likely to be pro-life. Urbanites more anti-gun. Etcetera.

Today political research and targeting is done at the granular level. The public is trolled and then sold. Relatedly, it is why candidates are tightly scripted. Political debates have devolved into a war of scripts, and the debate loser is often the victim of a gotcha moment.

In most competitive debate, debaters have to be able to take the side the judges assign. Perhaps the best question at a presidential debate is to ask each candidate to make the best case for the other side’s position.

But, regardless of how the rules of campaigns and their funding evolve, we need to understand that our appetites, not reason, are the first line of persuasion. We will be told that the other candidate (attack seems now the first line of attack) is pro this or anti that and the language used will not be moderate. This, all too successful tactic, eliminates the fondest dream of all democrats—governable consent by a well-informed electorate.

But, let me leave the final word to Irish born philosopher, Edmund Burke.

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites… Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Christmas Humbles or Should by Al Sikes

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Most writing has an autobiographical dimension—sometimes disguised but always there. This essay was triggered by a brief moment in my life which was recalled by an obituary last week.

The obituary was about Cardinal Bernard Law whose last real job for the Vatican was as Archbishop of the Boston diocese. Law was found to have covered for priests who in one way or another preyed on young boys. He was disgraced, removed and given a nominal position in Rome.

I spent some time around Bernard Law in the middle of the 1970s. Pope Paul VI named Law Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield–Cape Girardeau in Missouri. At the time I was practicing law in Springfield and was periodically in community settings with him. He was in many ways a charming, larger than life character.

His talent and charm moved him along quickly. He went from a backwater in the Church to one of its most important positions; he became Archbishop of the Boston Archdiocese.

That position became more important than what I assume were biblically informed principles–power became more important than the Church; at least if the Church is an organization of believers and followers.

Where I grew up, religious leaders were culturally important. Journalists didn’t poke around their lives and positions to find errant conduct. Today there is a journalistic swagger that follows an outing of a religious hypocrite. We are finding that the clerical calling attracts about as many hypocrites as any other career pursuit. Too bad.

We all need moral leadership—true north. It is unlikely to come from pursuits that celebrate success almost regardless of how achieved. The celebrated have a hard time avoiding the magnetic force of riches and fame at any cost.

In Christianity, the most important speech Jesus gave was the Sermon on the Mount. Most recall this counterintuitive pronouncement: “the meek will inherit the earth.”

We should also recall this metaphorical truth: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” Matthew 7:15-17

The New York Times in its Christmas Eve edition, ran a quite lengthy story on Vice, a media company and its co-founder and Chief Executive, Shane Smith.

The writer, Emily Steel, in her profile of Smith wrote, “Along the way Mr. Smith regularly mocked traditional media companies as stodgy and uncreative. But in recent years he set about courting conglomerates like the Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox, which were eager to profit on Vice’s cachet with millennial audiences. The latest round of investment gave the company a valuation of more than $5.7 billion.”

She continued, “People involved with Vice during its early days described a punk-rock, male-dominated atmosphere in which attempts to shock sometimes crossed a line.”

In a 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Mr. Smith recalled his earlier days with Vice. “I would be at the party and would just want to get wasted, take coke and have sex with girls in the bathroom.”

Ms. Steel concluded: “A media company built on subversion and outlandishness was unable to create “a safe and inclusive workplace” for women, two of its founders acknowledge.”

Diseased trees? Bad fruit? I wonder what Walt Disney would think?

If the lessons of Jesus define your true north, then yielding to the pull of power is destructive on more than just a personal level. The Catholic Church was harmed irreparably by the actions of a few who persisted in covering up a wrenching departure from the covenants of faith.

In the last several months, friends or acquaintances of mine who regarded themselves as evangelical Christians have backed away from that adjective as too many so-called evangelical leaders have been lured by political power into the orbit of Donald Trump.

I have been blessed and inspired by a quiet spiritual missionary and friend who was often in the presence of secular power but found the words to quietly warn against its downside. And, while living and working in New York, I joined a small group that was taken on an extraordinary tour of the Bible by Tim Keller who founded and led Redeemer Presbyterian. Beyond the biblical lessons, we were given a very human lesson in humble constancy.

But let me return briefly to the present. Christmas, even in a secular society, inspires probing explorations of the other side—the transcendent.

And my guess is that Pope Francis chose to go public around Christmas with these words to the Curia (the Vatican-based operational arm of the Church). He warned them of being corrupted by “ambition or vainglory.”

But easily the most compelling of the pieces written around the underlying story of Christmas was penned by Kim Phuc and appeared as an Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. She began: “You may not recognize me now, but you almost certainly know who I am. My name is Kim Phuc, though you likely know me by another name. It is one I never asked for, a name I have spent a lifetime trying to escape: “Napalm Girl.”

In these words she relates, “I was photographed with arms outstretched, naked and shrieking in pain and fear, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance.”

Kim Phuc goes on to tell of a salvation experience on Christmas Eve in 1982 and then expresses what should be the essence of both Christmas and every other day: “Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather, it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human flesh and given to us by God.”

As we anticipate a new year we should all, leaders and followers alike, update Jesus’ most famous speech by re-reading Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg or recalling the words of Albert Einstein: “Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind.”

“What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living.”

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Net Neutrality is Dead by Al Sikes

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Net Neutrality is dead—“the world as we know it will fall apart.” Overwrought is humbled by the frenzied reactions to the Federal Communications Commission repeal of Net Neutrality.

Basically what the FCC, led by its Chairman Agit Pai (appointed to the Commission by Barack Obama) did, was to revert to pre-June, 2015 rules.

The Obama Commission, pushed by the White House, in 2015, decided to regulate the prices internet carriers could charge at the urging of the “Bigs”—Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Facebook. Downloads from the Bigs, use well over half of network capacity. And, when prices are regulated innovation suffers.

The Bigs did not want to compete against each other by purchasing network elements that would enhance user experience. In short, the networks, the life blood of transmission quality, were not incentivized to improve because they couldn’t earn a return on investment.

The Bigs used late-night comedians and excellent branding (neutrality) to scare people who had thought little about telecommunication’s networks and their configuration. In recent weeks the untethered emotion got so bad that Chairman Pai had to have a security detail and his children had to endure hateful demonstrators and their signs.

Currently, the United States is well behind in delivering bandwidth speed to homes and businesses. Wikipedia reports that as of the fourth quarter 2016, South Korea had the fastest average internet speed in the world. The U.S. was 11th. In part, this disparity has resulted from controls on providers. Plus, in South Korea, the government invested heavily in communications infrastructure. In the U.S., with modest exceptions, we have depended on market forces for our communication’s infrastructure quality.

Indeed, there are wide disparities across the wireline and wireless network spectrum. One of the fastest internet networks is supplied by Google Fiber in several rapid-growth cities. My digital subscriber line (DSL) service provided by Verizon is only 1.6% the Google Fiber speed of 1 gigabit. Admittedly, I live on a farm.

A generation ago, when I was helping to prepare Secretary of Commerce-designate, Robert Mosbacher, for his confirmation hearing, I analogized network links to oil pipelines. Mosbacher was in the oil business. In essence, the larger the pipe or communication wire or wireless link (sped by ingenuous use of electronics) the more rapid the flow of oil or data. Many Americans only have a slow service option.

Net Neutrality, if applied to our highway system would have allowed truckers to use the highways without extra charges regardless of how they beat up the road. The Heavy Highway Vehicle Use tax generates several billion dollars in annual revenue. Anybody for a Heavy Broadband Use Tax?

Turning from oil pipelines and highways back to communications, consider the generational changes in Apple’s iPhone. The first generation was priced at $499, and the just-released iPhone X is priced at $999. Apple, beginning with the iPhone 4, marketed each succeeding generation by bragging on “blazing fast processor speeds.” Packaging and marketing services and devices by wireless network companies brought down the device cost for most consumers. But, Apple’s newest feature-packed smart phone is just one option of many with prices varying accordingly.

Returning to the implications of the repeal of Net Neutrality, the public needs to keep in mind that there is enormous headroom for network improvement. But, we must depend on market incentives that will provide the revenue streams for research, development, and deployment.
The repeal of Net Neutrality means market incentives and disincentives will happen. There is a powerful disincentive for network providers to charge more for the service we now get. On the other hand, there will be powerful incentives for both network and service providers to offer new high-speed services that will accelerate growth.

And, to put it mildly, there is absolutely no incentive nor would there be any political support for network owners to censor service providers.

I began my career in the communications business as a radio broadcaster in 1977. Measuring today from yesterday’s experiences, progress seems almost miraculous. But I know because I was there, that on numerous occasions the incumbent companies wanted to use regulation to protect their market positions.

Net Neutrality was a brilliant marketing campaign to protect giant companies like Netflix and Google (parent: Alphabet).

The only way forward for us is the American way–to let market forces advance America’s future. Along the way, there will be work for the government, but it will need to be surgical—Net Neutrality was a blunt instrument.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Counter-Culture Bowl and Thoughts on Alabama by Al Sikes

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I thoroughly enjoyed the Counter-Culture Bowl last Saturday! Army won by a point.

My Dad and I watched the Army-Navy game together for years. As I recall, during a few of those years, it was the only game in its time slot. Dad had been in the Army. He had been conscripted and undoubtedly found some of the West Point graduates he served under overbearing but he passionately rooted for the cadets.

While the production quality of the game is much more advanced, many of its characteristics are just as Dad and I experienced. There was no hot-dogging then or now—sportsmanship was the honorable way. There was not the incessant chatter about whether some player will, as they say, “play on Sunday.” These young men will be defending their nation each Sunday.

It is hard not to notice the absence of player identity on their jerseys. They are playing for the team. And the service academy gridirons and jerseys are not converted into display spaces for sports brands.

Conference compensation (largely spent on sports facilities) and distribution monopolies, purchased by television networks, have robbed amateur sports of integrity. Schools jockey for league slots based on revenue potential. Geography used to define the Conferences. No more.

Maryland moved to the Midwest league (Big Ten) and my earlier home state team, Missouri, moved from its Midwest moorings to join the Southeastern Conference.

The distribution monopoly (availability on one network only) has resulted in advertising overload. The school tribe must watch the assigned channel and sit through advertising timeouts which interrupt the rhythm of the game.

Dana Jennings, a New York Times reporter, wrote an article headlined: “Sacked by the Media Blitz.” He spent an afternoon watching an NFL game or mainly the advertisements. He came up with a new acronym: ACS (Ad Concussion Syndrome.) He reported that there were well over one hundred ads “spliced into each game.”

Jennings’s bottom line in sport’s event advertising: “male insecurity.” He noted the ad narratives use cars, trucks, beer, erectile dysfunction products, and the like as objects that will help men overcome their insecurity. If they would like to reclaim their insecurity they might check out #MeTo.

Sports provide our cultures most frequent metaphors. We often talk about our life in baseball terms: strike out, singles, home runs, and the like. My assessment is that the fusion of sports with greed has put us behind the eight ball.

Is There a Character Vote

Is there a character vote? Yes, with thanks to Alabamans who just gave us and particularly politicians a vivid reminder.

We could use some character in governing. It is said that most problems elected officials encounter cannot be predicted, making the character dimension, as we assess candidates, especially important. It will not be clear for some time whether incumbent politicians understand the character dimension as something beyond keeping your hands to yourself.

My test of character is, in part, what those with a vote or veto do when reality crowds in on their predispositions. Two examples.

After the Sandy Hook school shooting the lines and arguments regarding gun control hardly changed. High capacity magazines, for example, were said to be protected by the constitution. When children and their teachers are slaughtered by a single shooter using a high capacity magazine, falling back on a badly outdated understanding of the Second Amendment is characterless.

More contemporarily the Party of fiscal discipline seems unconcerned with adding $1 trillion plus to the national debt over the next ten years. Its leadership argues that dynamic scoring, by the Joint Committee on Taxation, of its tax bill does not fully capture the projected growth spurt.

My space and your time do not permit detailing Arthur Laffer’s curve, but to my Republican friends I would just note that Laffer is not Moses.

Reading the papers after the victory in Alabama by Doug Jones reflect many opinions on its meaning. Idealistically, and probably naively, I hope that it might awaken the character dimension in more so-called leaders. America needs real leadership!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Trigger Warning: Christmas Should Be Remembered by Al Sikes

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Trigger Warning: This column is about Christmas, not Holidays. If you are likely to be offended by Merry Christmas, read no further.

To those Trumpians who sense I am going to embrace his pugilistic insistence on Merry Christmas, you will be likewise offended. Trump’s personal behavior is antithetical to his stated belief.

Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870. Calendar dates become Federal Holidays to recognize iconic figures (Presidents), or sacrifice (veterans), or national independence, or a transcendent figure. A nation’s ultimate health and continuity turns on not just what is recognized as important, but also an understanding of its meaning. Too often today polls and interviews show that many have little or no understanding of why they get a day off.

Importantly, we celebrate Christmas spirit. What is its source? Capitalism? Advertising? Or the word Holiday, which for most means a day off from work. Symbols and marketing aside, failure to understand Christmas diminishes us.

It is argued by some that greeting a person with Merry Christmas risks offending non-believers Yet, only a thoughtless person is not offended daily by cultural and related commercial excess. When a nation becomes unmoored from its history, yes even myths, it’s citizens become victims of unrestraint. Freedom becomes more theoretical than real as exploiting appetites replace serving needs.

Most who do not believe in the biblical Christ nonetheless acknowledge and welcome his message of love and sacrifice for his principles. Plus, our nation enjoys the inspirations that resulted in the American Red Cross, Young Men’s Christian Association, Habitat For Humanity, The Salvation Army, and tens of thousands of organizations and churches that educate and care for humanity.

So, please forgive me if I offend you. Forgiveness is central to Christmas, and I don’t want any of us to forget why it is celebrated.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Facebook: On the Edge by Al Sikes

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My Facebook experience began in February of 2016 just ahead of the publication of my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow. I was looking for promotional channels.

As I have watched Facebook’s evolving position as a major news source and for some, the only news source, what began for me as a publicity option has become an object of more interest.

Since at one point I was involved in communication’s regulation I get questions like, “should the Federal Communications Commission be regulating it?”; I always say no and note the comprehensive shield of the First Amendment. This is just one more instance of a commercial offering that will ultimately be shaped by the cultural force of its users.

Facebook now recognizes it is a magnet for bad actors. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted it is using artificial intelligence to screen for terrorist postings. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management commented, “A beheading is easier to enforce than hate speech. Certain policies are easier to enforce than others.”

Brian Fishman, lead policy manager for counterterrorism at Facebook, commented: “One of the dangers there is that we’re dealing with a nimble set of organizations that frequently change the way that they behave……We need to keep training our machines so that they stay current.”

Facebook’s core business is in relationships. It is the star of a sub-set of businesses known as social media. So while machine learning can filter out the egregious, it will take talented people to create a relationship sensitive news service of any consequence. Politics today is not very social and is especially harmful when Russians trick the political tribes into becoming propaganda partners. The Russian elite recognized that Facebook was a news medium before Zuckerberg would acknowledge that fact.

Facebook has a market value of $531 billion and an annual cash flow over $16 billion. Financially it is positioned to be a powerful force. So where does Mark Zuckerberg direct his energies? Is he interested in what is a more complicated stage in his rapidly evolving business? He, after all, has the controlling interest in Facebook.

Zuckerberg is said to be interested in running for President. He has a far more consequential opportunity. Facebook can use artificial intelligence to discern shared concerns and interests that both cross and bridge ideological differences and use the findings to shape a news service that is truly “fair, balanced and unafraid.” But, and this is crucial; it will take probing and discerning reporters and editors, not just machines, to succeed.

New York to Des Moines

While on the subject of news let me betray my Midwestern sensibilities.

My first trip to New York City, where I eventually lived, was in 1970. It seemed like I was in the center of the news universe. I can recall the CBS building, the home of Walter Cronkite. I remember walking past the residence of Time magazine, an important source of my news at the time.
Today Time magazine, indeed all the Time Inc. magazines, will soon have a new owner, Meredith. It is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa and its brands are a strong presence in the home and family categories.

Meredith’s headquarters building is adorned by a giant spade sculpture. Not a bad symbol. Advice to Mark Zuckerberg, good journalism requires a lot of spade work.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.