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. 

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. 

Democracy on the Cliff’s Edge by Al Sikes

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We are in the center of the bulls-eye. Micro-targeting, shaped by the details we reveal, comes full circle in the offers we receive.

Micro-targeting is also a favored tool of the politicians and advocacy organizations. The National Rifle Association, much in the news these days, can with great specificity push the hot buttons of its members right down to the household level. And, when they decide to target a political candidate they don’t confuse their member with any extraneous information like his/her position on the deficit, or foreign policy or anything other than a hyped emotional expression used to provoke not inform.

Conversely, significant parts of the public are content with broad political narratives that too often drive tribal clustering.

Bernie Sanders said that Hillary Clinton was a captive of Wall Street and even though a Socialist from Vermont might well have beaten her on a level playing field. Imagine the Democratic Party manipulating delegate selection to protect the favorite candidate of Goldman Sachs.

Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again.” The swamp was made up of, well almost everybody who worked in Washington. So in the swamp category was John McCain and others of independent views and dispositions. And making America great, well who knew what that meant. Trump careened around the issues like a pig on ice except he let everybody know that Mexico would build a wall a few feet from its boundary line and that every trade agreement was a disaster. Our President, sensing emotional vulnerability, speaks only in hyperbole. So while those who sell products and positions construct increasingly specific profiles, we are all too prone to overlook the detail.

America is at great risk if lack of discernment among candidates, issue positions and the like are dealt with at an emotional level while those who sell to us proceed with amoral marketing pitches.
Democracy works when people are well informed and at least intuitively discerning. Otherwise, it doesn’t, and overtime democratic nations that are shaped by message makers using our physical and psychological profiles will be fatally weakened unless we are to assume that the marketing class is patriotically constructive.
We should know as much about the Clintons or Trumps or Sanders or Romneys as they and their marketers know about us. A logical question is how. How can we live our lives successfully and still spend significant time learning about political candidates? The answer is we cannot.

Over the centuries we have had a surrogate—journalists. Our forefathers even gave the journalists a series of protections including freedom of the press to make sure they were able to play that role well.

In recent decades what we call the press (providers of news regardless of its format) has too often failed us. Some are guided by marketing analyses that tell them which markets (points of view) are underserved. What is now called the mainstream press did such a poor job balancing their coverage that it opened up counter-programming opportunities for conservative outlets like Fox and talk show ones like Rush Limbaugh.

Those on the left have tried to repeat those successes but found that many on the left feel well served by the mainstream media. Too bad. America needs true journalistic balance produced by networks that employ superior production values. No longer will boring news coverage, regardless of accuracy and balance, survive.

But true balance is only recognized by the actively curious. If we yield to micro-targeting, while skating through life, we will clearly be on thin ice.

The icons of journalistic expression are celebrated in a Washington-based museum called the Newseum. I was there in its opening week and was quite impressed. But, the Newseum is operating at a serious deficit and is at risk of being closed. Perhaps it is no wonder when polls find confidence in America’s news media disturbingly small and traditional media doesn’t generate enough cash flow to keep its own museum open.

Inevitably industries celebrate the past. What will the news media celebrate in 2050? If they are not celebrating a dramatic turnaround in confidence, our nation itself will not have much to celebrate. We need curious citizens served by balanced journalism; without it, our constitutional guarantee of free speech will be principally used to protect the outrageous.

 

Climate Change Denial by Al Sikes

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Denial can be encapsulating—totally so. It, not infrequently, is an emotion that takes over our brain and sometimes destructively. The hard right of the Republican Party is in denial on the subject of climate change. Those who populate that branch regard scientific findings as polemics from the Democratic National Committee. To put it another way, “if Democrats are for it I am against it”—almost regardless of what the “it” is. Democrats often suffer from the same myopia.

I lack the necessary background knowledge to delve deep into the science behind the various and sometimes conflicting claims about the trajectory of our climate. While I have read quite a few articles and essays on the subject, I never pose as an authority.

I am probably more of an authority on the dynamics of people and groups who convert a narrow set of facts into political causes—they are never wrong. To admit being even a little bit in doubt seems tantamount to heresy with punishment to soon follow. Many climate change activists are absolutists. The problem with absolutism is that it fights science—inquiry is no longer needed.

But, to me climate change is personal. Are we insuring the future for our children, grandchildren and their progeny? Are we leaving the earth better off than we found it? Are we meeting our obligation to be better stewards?

Some of my hard-nose friends will say I have gone soft and perhaps that is right. I know that the weather at any given point is a consequence of colliding patterns. Chaos Theory examples often start with the weather.

A study just published in Geology by Michael Toomey of the United States Geological details a survey of sediment cores collected off the coast of Florida. The study suggests that “hurricanes which struck Florida during a cool period 12,000 years ago were more powerful than those during a subsequent time of warming.” This finding is contrary to the oft-stated (and if you state it often enough it becomes fact) conventional wisdom that warming translates into more powerful hurricanes.

But then I come back to the question of insuring the future, after all, many more scientists believe climate change is affected by our carbon emissions than not.  We buy insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of unpredictable possibilities. The patterns in my life suggest I will not need automobile insurance this year, but I have it. When I was young, I would buy term life insurance even though mortality tables said I was very unlikely to die in the covered period. In fact, caution is probably our most conservative impulse.

So, what kind of insurance premium should we pay as it is clear that engineering a more rapid transition away from carbon-based fuels will carry a large price tag? In the world of insurance, there are actually “catastrophists” who specialize in the mathematical modeling of extreme risks. In our political system, we ultimately decide how much economic disruption we will bear—what insurance price we are willing to pay and how it might be mitigated.

The question does not give way to easy political solutions. Predictions, regardless of how skillfully modeled, are still predictions. Plus, we know that America alone cannot fix anything—the result, complexity squared.

And when there is an honest debate about alternatives, we find that the use of alternative fuels is riven by what else, environmental considerations. Environmentalists fight coal generation under any circumstances but also the nuclear generation which offers the most scalable carbon-fighting alternative.

Ultimately we must do what we are no longer good at doing. We need an honest debate, not overwrought polemics. We need to debate, not just weather change but insurance policies. In short, what environmental and economic policies will fulfill our obligation to protect the future? Or, are we prepared to go uninsured?

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, and mathematician argued that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. He said if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss, whereas they stand to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses if they bet on God and are right. Seems to me taking rational steps to lessen our real or even theoretical effects on the weather is a sound wager.

Virginia Election

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you; the doctor is in!”

This comment by Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, a doctor, sums up what America needs. Issue specifics aside political healing is needed, and the Virginia electorate has just sent a strong message.

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.

Che Guevara and Steve Bannon by Al Sikes

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Che Guevara’s father said of his son, “In my son’s blood flowed the blood of Irish rebels.” Perhaps Steve Bannon, the son of an Irish Catholic family, has a similar emotional core. Anyone want a Steve Bannon t-shirt?

Che Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who is said to have been the intellectual energy behind Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, has had his experiment–fifty years’ worth. Guevara’s thoughts, animated by Castro’s leadership, impoverished the island.

Bannon with his initial proxy, Donald Trump, will have a similar effect on the Republican Party.

Today the ideological battle plays out on the East side of the congressional grounds as the United States Senate plays its role as a legislative bottleneck. This drama pits Bannon against the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell is short on assets.

Bannon is colorful; McConnell is dull. Bannon is strategic; McConnell is tactical. And so history once again plays out through personalities.

Bannon has created an interesting new engine—it makes rip tides, cross-currents that tear apart. McConnell, being from a non-tidal state, Kentucky, fails to understand the power of tides. He bobs around in an unnatural state—a relentless ebb tide. And so goes the Republican Party. Its putative leader, President Trump, being a transactional politician, only wants wins—bills presented to him for signature. Alternatively, executive orders. Today’s dynamic will ebb and flow. Bannon’s brigade will attack almost everybody who is an elected Republican, although many of the Bannon proxies are losers. McConnell, who is in a leadership position, has been given an even higher profile by a President who periodically trashes him and key members of the Republican majority in the Senate. Why build, the President must think when demolition feels so good? Having demolished the establishment in the Party, it would seem to be a good time to build but Trump, who can build hotels, has no philosophical core which might serve as a foundation.

In the meantime, Republicans, who continue to think, have actively begun floating the possibility of a third party. Hooray, because the Democrat party of Bill Clinton ceased to exist a long time ago and for most right of center voters is not an option. Centrism is a half continent away from the leftist takeover and coastal dominance.

Bill Kristol, who has impeccable Republican and Never-Trump credentials (yes that is possible) recently floated four pairings of candidates for President and Vice-President in 2020. The two that received the most votes in a Twitter poll paired Republican John Kasich and Democrat John Hickenlooper, Governors of Ohio and Colorado. Coming in second in the poll were Mark Cuban, the owner of lots of assets and a reality TV show role along with Niki Haley, the United Nation Ambassador, as his running mate. The names and standings are less interesting than the fact there is active discussion about other than fringe candidates.

Poll after poll for decades have shown the decline of the Democrat and Republican parties. And as the leaders of each Party have increasingly been scripted by their left and right movements, the decline, if anything, has steepened. Polls regularly show that most people are most comfortable around the center. Yet, it seems that the passion that stirred Guevara’s blood and now seems to stir Bannon finds its source in the latest revolution against the latest establishment with compromise being especially detestable.

The United States was born of revolution. The founders then designed a profound framework to avoid the pathology of most revolutions—tyranny. I would suggest the next revolutionary needs to come from the Center where the limits of humankind are understood.

While I am in the unsolicited advice business, let me also suggest to whoever might want to try and revive the Republican Party, a governing core. Only Party leadership that embraces Lincoln’s passion for equality and union and that can, in the 21st Century, translate Theodore Roosevelt’s insistent battle against concentrated power, and give voice to Reagan’s optimism about freedom, have a chance. The rhetorical and public policy blend that captures their contribution to the Party, articulated with understanding and passion, will be enormously persuasive. The pinched and often harsh public policy and rhetoric that thrives on division is both anti-Republican and American.

America’s greatness does not come from a large central government with its inevitable appetite for human engineering. Greatness will also not be sustained by the power of a wealthy oligarchy using its wealth to manipulate the levers of authority. We need a better way as a movement, not a slogan.

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.