Are Democrat Leaders Nuts? By Al Sikes

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Stripping away any veneer that might still cling, politics is now overwhelmed by emotion, completely.

The national government is in charge of over $4 Trillion dollars (much of it funded by debt) in annual expenditures and many services that touch our lives daily. It is also in charge of our foreign relations and national security. The President is Commander-In-Chief.

There are a few challenges. They relate both too big strategic questions and day-to-day tactical ones. On any given day the White House will engage questions related to budgets, monetary policy, trade, North Korea, Venezuela and on and on.

Now, as I have made clear, I am not a Donald Trump fan. But I am a fan of America and what it is and can be. This latter affection makes me mad at today’s cage fight.

We have one President at a time. And this President has now been stripped down to bare wood. There is no veneer. There is nothing that even toadies like Sean Hannity can do to make the President look other than as he is. But, and this startles especially Democrats, he continues to have around 40% of the nation’s citizens support. His supporters wanted a President who was prepared to “give them hell,” almost regardless of the tactics.

The President is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and prosecutors at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. And in the past two years, Trump has been investigated by committees of the House and Senate.

Now various Democrat-led committees in the newly organized House of Representatives have decided that he has not been or being sufficiently investigated. Politico’s headline summed up what is going on:  “House Democrats prepare fusillade of Trump investigations.”

People know, voters know, Donald Trump. But, he remains the nation’s President. Putting the nation’s President in a further swirl of charges, subpoenas, hearings, and all the mechanisms of trial by fire will ill-serve America.

Make sure the investigations that are underway are not impeded. In the meantime, make the case for turning out Trump in November of 2020. The first primary to choose the Democratic nominee for President is less than a year away. If more independent voters see the House investigations as an extension of 2020 politics, the Democrat Party’s chance of winning goes down.

Let me offer what I am sure will be a second unwelcome recommendation. Democrat legislative leaders should begin hearings on various calls for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Such hearings would do their Party a favor. They would be led by persons not running for President and would provide detail and argumentation about the way forward.

At present, there is a growing caucus attempting to convert their Party into the Utopian Party. The leaders, who have been elected, represent a minuscule population—Vermont and three or four Congressional districts. A Utopian Party candidate will not win.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who is assessing an independent run, knows that and is waiting in the wings. Yet, the hard left of the Democrat Party seems not to want anybody with moderate views or any persons who at some point in the past have uttered or written what is now deemed unacceptable. Joe Biden, take notice.

It should be remembered that we are all human. And, a review of history chronicles the failure of utopianism, often in a conflagration. Similarly, a look back saddens us all as we note how few people transcended the culture of their time. It would be ironic indeed if the Democratic Party purged electable candidates because they erred in the past. Remember, millions of voters in 2016 were willing to vote for the President, notwithstanding a parade of regrettable statements and actions.

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. 

Creative Destruction by Al Sikes

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I was in the front row. The first act of a three-act play had begun. The newspaper industry was coming face-to-face with Craig’s List and other online classified services that were syphoning off crucial business. Realtors had begun to deploy three-dimensional ads, job seekers were searching out online postings and auto buyers were turning to online sites for both information and negotiation.

My role was to represent the Hearst Corporation as its board member in a start-up called the New Century Network. The year, 1995. The investors were the major newspaper companies. Essential to its success was collaboration in turning local and regional news assets into a compelling online service. The first to withdraw its support was the New York Times company. To the New York Times the New Century Network felt like a potential challenger. The start-up was stillborn.

Act Two began as newspapers either closed, were sold to vanity purchasers, or reduced their news coverage to diminishing levels. And now the question is what will replace newspapers as we have known them? What development, in fact gathering and reporting, will make “fake news” a clear contrivance?

Karl Marx was sure capitalism would eventually fail because of what Joseph Schumpeter, an Austrian economist, in the middle of the 20th Century called “creative destruction”. Schumpeter’s vision of capitalism saw “innovative entry by entrepreneurs as the disruptive force that sustained economic growth, even as it destroyed the value of established companies” and, I should add, their employees. Schumpeter, like Marx, was pessimistic about the sustainability of capitalism.

America’s history is one of adaptation. Business leaders adapt or they fail. Government leadership is no different. If government leadership had not provided support to the millions of employees who lost their jobs in the Great Depression, revolution was possible. And to lessen the impact of the Great Recession of 2008, massive amounts of public capital was used to help industries and provide liquidity.

Realistically, job loss, because of creative destruction, does not provide the political propellant for decisive action. Jobs are shipped overseas to take advantage of lower wages. Check. Computers prey on manual work. Check. Networked computers close down retailers. Check. Streaming music wipes out much of the record industry. Check. And of course with these and other acts of destruction, people’s lives, indeed their worldviews, are ripped apart.

And when the worldview is assaulted, what psychologists call a key “anxiety buffer mechanism” is compromised or destroyed.

When a force is powerful and destructive, incremental responses seem inadequate. Donald Trump was elected because business as usual would not do. Hard left calls for socialism, to some, provide a worldview that is attractive. If you don’t know history, socialism cloaking itself in “free this and that” seems like the answer.

But, let me go back to those “anxiety buffer mechanisms” (ABM). Where do people go when their lives have been disrupted or destroyed by market forces beyond their control? Psychologists point to the ABMs; in my lay mind they can form a virtuous circle.

Working alongside worldview are self-esteem and relationships. If, your worldview about your career is destroyed, do you have a support network to shore up your self-esteem? In what is sometimes called a hyper-individualistic society, often the answer is no.  

I am now at the edge of knowing what I don’t know, so let me turn back to how I translate what I see in today’s political world.

Often a company’s response to disruption is denial or avoidance. But the best company leaders see disruption for what it is and adapt. Without adaptive leaders Marx will finally be right; creative destruction will undo, in one way or another, our capitalist underpinnings. The same dynamic operates on government.

In our next President we need an adaptive leader, regardless of gender or ethnic mix. We need a leader who has successful experience in re-shaping government institutions and policies to confront the world as it is, not as we remember it. America needs a leader who can turn dynamism into a compelling agenda, indeed a winsome one. Only dynamism will re-shape our institutions and ultimately become the immovable object that defeats or at least lessens the consequences of creative destruction.

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. 

 

AOC as Superwoman by Al Sikes

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) is everywhere; it is as if she found a phone booth (doubt they exist anymore) and then reappeared as Superwoman.

AOC seems to be the leading advocate for the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and the provocateur who caused Amazon to reverse course on its planned expansion in New York. AOC has the attributes that populate the media—good looks, and quick-tongued. And I might add, an absence of deep knowledge that might inform or even pre-empt the quick tongue.

In reaction to her comment about a three billion dollar tax credit that was a part of the Amazon deal to establish a second headquarters in New York, the New York Times columnist, Andrew Ross Sorkin, commented: “There is a financial literacy epidemic in America. Quick lesson: NYC wasn’t handing cash to Amazon. It was an incentive program based on job creation, producing tax revenue.” AOC had said the $3 billion could be better spent on other things.

Now lest I be taken to task for being anti-good looks paired with a quick-tongue, there are persons in that category that are thoughtful. Amy Klobuchar, for example.

As a Republican who has decided well in advance of the next presidential election to vote for someone other than President Trump, I decided to begin to pay attention to the center-left candidates seeking the nomination to run for President. In pursuit, I watched CNN’s coverage of a New Hampshire town hall meeting featuring Amy Klobuchar, a U.S. Senator from Minnesota who is in the race. My wife, after all, is from Minnesota and we have gotten along for over fifty years; a testament to her tolerance.

Predictably, the first questions of the Senator pertained to the Green New Deal and Medicare For All. She skirted an answer by calling both aspirational but impractical in some respects. She was not full-throated in her objections, but I guess that is to be expected when rationality is on the defensive.

Adding to my angst as a potential voter for the Democratic nominee are polls that show Millenials infatuated with Socialism and the immediate leap to the top of the polls by Democrat-Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders after his announcement last week. All of this has caused one friend who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 to say he is likely to vote for Trump this time around. As painful as it would be if the Democrats nominate somebody from the hard left, I might join my friend.

Okay, I know the election is twenty-two months away so there is a lot of time to vet candidates. But it is probable that in several months the candidate slates will be fully formed. It is also probable that a culture of slogans will persist. Afterall it is hard to take back an endorsement of a slogan in the age of gotcha politics. Make America Great Again (MAGA) anyone?

Having posed the problem as I see it, let me simply ask several questions and close.

Is there a more benign version of capitalism where stockholders pay attention to stakeholders, like workers, on offer? Perhaps Bill Gates and Warren Buffet can create a movement toward a more equitable distribution of business revenues. Is there a Republican who can support regulations when companies pursue profits at all costs?

Are there examples of socialism, defined as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods,” that actually work? I for one do not regard safety net programs as socialism, they are just inadequately funded.

Are there examples of large government agencies that are not corrupted by self-serving interests and/or ambitious bureaucrats?

Are there center-right reformers who have not been either co-opted or silenced by Trump? If so, what do they stand for? Who are their advocates?

Are there center-left reformers who have not been intimated by the hard left? If so, what do they stand for? Who are their advocates?

Or, have we descended into an era of personality politics and performance art that makes these questions seem woefully out of date, indeed irrelevant?

We live at a moment when history, as the content of databases, can be tapped to find efficacy, as in what has worked or not? Is there anyone up for attempting to discern practical solutions in our age of disruption?

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. 

 

 

Dissension by Al Sikes

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Proverbs 16:28: “A perverse man speaks dissension.”

Leonardo da Vinci: “As every divided Kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.”

Solomon and da Vinci’s words are wise. It is not, however, necessary to retreat to centuries-old biblical verses or genius commentary.

Division is a daily headline. It often shows up in business or sports stories. Thousands of words are used to assess an organization’s uniting purpose and management—conclusions are expressed in terms of culture, morale, or chemistry.

Yet, our nation’s most important enterprise — governance — fails on any measure of effort to achieve unity. We optimists must fall back on the brilliance of the constitutional framework of separation of powers across branches. Yet, we all know that intense and intractable division among government leaders is debilitating.

Today we have a President whose attacks are berating and endless. No wonder he has no true allies and frequently falls back on his daughter and son-in-law for White House duties. He is even unwilling to give his latest Chief-of-Staff a permanent title. We don’t have an emergency at the border; we have an emergency in the White House.

The Constitution’s most expansive delegation of power was to Congress. Today they are incapable of timely budgeting and appropriating and frequently are so mired in heavily fertilized muck they cannot even keep the government open.

The dysfunction in the White House and Congress results in the federal courts being clogged with cases to sort out the constitutionality of Executive actions without Congressional approval. The centrality of the courts has become so pronounced that politicians fight to near fatal results over who gets confirmed.

America is often characterized as exceptional; indeed it has been. Today it has exceptional assets — our Constitution, for example; but a nation so emotionally wrought that it can’t operate successfully is not exceptional. If America were a sports team, it would be well down in the rankings and much of the blame would be attributed to player morale and poor locker room chemistry.

This is not, of course, the only time government division has undermined “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Our nation’s founders were unified on some things and deeply divided on others. We fought a civil war. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became so exasperated by the Supreme Court he tried to pack it with more justices.

Yet, our nation today faces unique and complex challenges. Let me give brief voice to one. The centrality of network computing threatens people, infrastructure they rely on, and their governments in untold ways. America’s history recalls that it has been protected by oceans and its military. Today, however, critically important networks can be seized, interrupted, and manipulated by a handful of clever people with ill-intent. China, for one, is organizing its computing assets to stifle dissent, steal secrets and incrementally compromise the networks of other countries.

Network computing, as the hub of a business or government enterprise, is capital intensive and artificial intelligence (AI) superiority is fed by large-scale data. Autocracies well led, that capture and utilize global computing assets, are a threat. Perhaps a clever politician can come up with a three word slogan to draw attention to this menacing reality facing the world’s democracies.

Freedom is a wonderful gift, but we should keep in mind an exchange with Benjamin Franklin, who after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a Republic or Monarchy?” Franklin replied: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

A Republic is “a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their representatives”. America is at an emotional boiling point. The domestic and foreign sources of emotional heat are not going to turn down the temperature. Regardless of your partisan pre-disposition, vote for candidates who talk unity and have shown they will “walk the talk”.

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. 

Double Espresso Anyone? By Al Sikes

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Axios, the online news service, quoted Philippe Reines, said to be a confidant of Hillary Clinton, “Howard Schultz is a jackass……He’s arrogant and wealthy—and those people tend to not see the world as it is.” The criticism of Schultz, founder of Starbucks, became even more hard-edged after he revealed his exploration of running for President as an Independent on 60 Minutes.

Schultz is a registered Democrat and has supported many of the Party’s candidates over the years. In the 60 Minutes interview, specifically mentioning “Medicare for All,” a slogan increasingly used by Democrat candidates, he spoke of the Party’s abrupt turn to the left and to policies that in his view would bankrupt the nation as the reason for considering the race.

Now let me step back from the intra-Party feud and assess the prospects of a Howard Schultz presidency. The prospects are not good. In my lifetime the best third Party finishers were George Wallace and Ross Perot and neither came close to winning. Perot, it is felt, kept George H.W. Bush from winning a second term. Likewise, it is felt by some that Ralph Nader, who ran as a Green Party candidate in 1996, kept Albert Gore from defeating George W. Bush. Thus, people who make money on politics are busy suggesting that Schultz would tip the election to Donald Trump.

There is a more important question than one of political calculus. In increasingly divisive times would a strong independent run help America? My answer: yes.

21st Century campaign methods and technology serve polarization. Computers, with their early version of artificial intelligence (AI) software, define us by computer number with associated socio-ethnic characteristics and government predispositions. Then the wordsmiths, working on the candidate’s tongue, contort and distort their way to campaign revenue and ultimately votes. Our international adversaries have joined in the game.

Plasticized candidates, some who start out as idealists, are shaped by the masters of the political game, scripted and then controlled. Trump’s victory owes to his breaking out of the scripted candidate mold. Clearly, although in a much different manner, Schultz is saying to  Democrat Pols, “I am not going to become your version of a robot.”

Now, I have no idea how good a candidate or president Schultz might be, although he has three assets integral to such a high-risk venture. He is a true entrepreneur who took a Seattle coffee shop and turned it into a global success. Most business leaders are incrementalists, not Schultz. He aimed high, undaunted by the odds.

Second, he has enough money to fund much of his campaign which includes not just running but creating a third Party. If asked for advice, however, I would advise an active fundraising effort as donors are often motivated to champion their candidate.

Finally, he seems to have the courage to take on the naysayers and they will be plentiful and often downright nasty. Indeed, the two Party’s seem to agree about one thing: they don’t want to share their duopoly status. They like business competition but not the political kind.

If Schultz runs and shows well enough in the polls, then he will be invited to participate in the presidential debates. A three person debate would mean that verbal volleys of well-scripted lines will have to give way to more complex and revealing considerations.

Many of the analysts are concluding that there is really no room for a centrist political movement. I agree because up until now few have articulated what centrist even means, except maybe compromise. Perhaps a true entrepreneur can translate centrist principles into practical solutions. I believe there is a majority for practical solutions. Government shutdowns are not popular.

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. 

 

Trump to Hogan by Al Sikes

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President Trump is leading; the question is where. The answer: to the left because in our system, dominated by two Parties, it appears that will be the only alternative to Trump.

Trump began his political odyssey intuitively. He sensed that many in America felt left behind whether by disruptive forces or Washington interests that outweighed theirs, or a combination of both. He ran against Washington and used two emotional triggers: immigration and trade (a proxy for globalization). His tirades told his supporters that he was ready to shake things up—that he was indeed not just another politician.

Arriving in Washington with virtually no institutional support, he proceeded to trash its institutions and those that led them. Trump didn’t merely thrust and parry, he thrust daily and mainly in derogatory terms. When you dump on those you share power with, count on ultimately becoming the master of the outhouse, not the White House. Tellingly, former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, his first transition head, said the President peopled his administration with riffraff. I will quickly add that several were not.

In the meantime, his ceaseless and antagonistic conduct made enemies of everybody but those who were predisposed to wear MAGA hats. His largest support group – evangelicals – got what they wanted: right of center Supreme Court justices and many now are ready to move on because they find him personally offensive.

Trump, as earlier noted, recognized the voter anger but lacked coherent thinking about what government might do to relieve their unjust burdens. Absent as well was a governing style that could attract gifted thinkers and implementers who are always needed to help turn a slogan into a program. Replace Obamacare, with what?

Now, as Trump begins his second term, he has turned the gun on himself. He has made himself a lame duck, as most do not think he will be reelected. He has transformed the Mueller probe from what could have plausibly been sold as partisan into what will be the most pivotal and objective moment of his last two years. Also his unpopularity weighed on the midterm elections and having lost the House, he is now a participant in the Donald and Nancy show. I am betting on Nancy as she is a more astute politician.

It has also been evident for some time that Trump sees himself as a character in a video game that plays out on cable TV news shows (so-called). He watches the antagonists and Trumpsters. The antagonists provoke him, he fires back, and then rather than being President, he becomes one of them. But, to show them he has real power, he closes the government. Score one for the antagonists. Of course when he is forced to be presidential, the leading Trumpsters turn on him. Washington is a lonely place; the only sympathy will come from the sycophants.

Against this backdrop there are still only a handful of Republican leaders who seem to understand the Party’s jeopardy and might be willing to challenge him for the nomination.

I have twice voted for Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland’s Republican Governor, but neither time did I anticipate his potential to become President. But, being originally from Missouri, I recall fondly told stories of Harry Truman being misjudged by the Eastern Elite and in the parlance of the State, “showing them.” Historians honor the 33rd President as one of the best.

The Republican Party is in urgent need of a reboot. Who might return it to a center-right Party with coherent, workable and saleable programs? The 2020 election will once again turn on those who have been left behind or sense they are on the edge of losing their way. The President, lacking curiosity, an agile mind, and burdened with an inept team of advisors, will not reclaim the opportunity he first seized.

Governor Larry Hogan has both earned support across partisan lines and has a disarming persona. Plus, the first two primary States, Iowa and New Hampshire, are receptive to candidates who think and act outside their Party’s dogmatic box. A boomlet anyone?

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. 

Breaking Takes by Al Sikes

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Socialism at Its Worst

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in speaking to his supporters said “I went to the future and came back, and I saw that everything turned out fine.” Amusing and horrifying. Venezuela has suffered innumerable hardships under his despotic rule and he has run out of pledges affixed to a measurable future. Perhaps this will hasten his departure. When political leaders encapsulate themselves in a forward to the future capsule there is a need for a rocket stage that takes them to Mars where their stupidity will not find people.

Capitalism at Its Best

Jack Bogle died last week. Essentially he invented index funds and sold them to millions who profited from broad stock diversity while enjoying drastically lower transactional costs. Bogle himself was a tireless advocate for his investment approach and lived a relatively modest lifestyle. Thank you, for this contribution to your country. When investment is efficient and productive, capitalism has more friends.

Gridlock

Gridlock is the word; it attaches to polarization, most think. Indeed polarization often results in teeth-baring gridlock. But gridlock can also be associated with goals that are emotionally appealing but illogical.

It is now chanted on the left: “Medicare for All”. What does that mean? Medicare insureds begin paying for this benefit at the start of their work life and decades later begin to enjoy the benefits. It is now projected that the Medicare Trust Fund will run out of money by 2026. In short, it will need increasing allocations from current tax revenues to pay for claims. Is there anybody on the east side of the Potomac who might develop a rational future for US healthcare?

In our country of immigrants we have a President who pillories immigrants without articulating missional and operational alternatives. A subset of his base attacks him yelling amnesty over and over regardless of the details. He shrinks—some leadership.

I could of course go on—indeed maybe I will for another minute of your time. Elites are in love with a carbon tax. Those who live hand-to-mouth wonder where the additional money is going to come from to pay more for their home and automobile energy needs. If you think a carbon tax makes political sense, take a look at France where the Yellow Jackets revolt was first triggered by new carbon taxes.

My suggestion; work on the supply side. If the electric automobile, for example, is our future then alternative fuels to produce more electricity are essential. But, solar and wind solely are not up to the task. Incentivize next generation nuclear power plants. And in the course of our fuel transition, incentivize carbon recapture technologies on a worldwide basis because fossil fuels worldwide will dominate for at least another generation.

Football

I am not a devoted NFL fan, but do watch some games played by my favorite teams. As my emotions took a seat in front of our living room TV last Sunday, I was treated to the Saints defeat by the Rams because of the most outrageous oversight perhaps in NFL history. If you are at all interested, you know what I am talking about. The NFL had much of America glued to their screens; they had four extraordinary football teams competing, yet seemed to have chosen some officials that would be hard put to make a good blizzard at a Dairy Queen. Too harsh, maybe, but I was rooting for the Saints.

Beyond the officiating, we have the puzzle of the over-time rules in which a flip of the coin determines who first receives the kick-off. If that team scores a touchdown they win. In the AFC game between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots, led by brilliant quarterbacks, it was clear that the coin toss winner would have a big advantage. Characteristic of over-time, both teams are tired. The offense initiates and the defense reacts; the latter is at a significant disadvantage.

I remember playing sandlot football; we had more logical rules.

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. 

In God We Trust by Al Sikes

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Mostly I avoid reading columns, which makes me especially appreciative of the feedback I receive from my scribbling. Yet, there was a time when I was an avid reader of political commentary; now, most pundits wear team jerseys and are predictable.

David Brooks is one columnist I continue to read. When he was first with the New York Times he was thought of as their symbolic conservative writer. Yet, several years ago when I would send a link to a Brooks’ column to certain Republican friends they treated me like a heretic. They wanted a cheerleader, not a thoughtful person trying to make some sense of the world.

Continuing with my heresy, I invite you to read a recent Brook’s column which I believe reveals persistent and troubling truths.

I served in both the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations and not infrequently found myself among true believers to whom capitalism, regardless of how practiced, was right and true. Their church was the corporation and hyper-profit seeking was a righteous act if it inured to the monetary benefit of the sole legitimate claimant—the shareholder. Morality, in their view, was either maximizing short-term stock value or best left to the confessional.

While Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I became a not infrequent target of an entertainment industry that argued that any FCC influence on content was wrong. Attacks reached their loudest when I commented negatively on Fox’s “Married With Children” and took actions against Howard Stern’s morning radio show. If you are unfamiliar with those shows, Google will quickly lead you to critiques.

A hands-off stance was supported by “hard market conservatives” on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the left. The ACLU took an absolutist view of the protection of “free speech”—speech was their flag regardless of its content.

Program content alone, almost regardless of how degrading, will not alter civilization nor will a hyper-concentration on profit. But, both are telling and damaging symptoms of the collapse of societal norms—norms that said “don’t go there.”

Norms must have reciprocal power; business leaders must honor an invisible line or the outliers will prey on the acceptable and norms will change. I don’t know when the perverse, maximize profit at all cost tipping point was reached, but reached it was. Maximizing profits, regardless of societal costs, in too many industries became the price exacted to be among the most competitive enterprises. Indeed, for most business leaders societal cost calculators were preempted by rate-of-return calculators.

In the past I have written about enduring truths. In my view it is those truths that provide civilization’s ballast. If there are no eternal truths—well, you can finish the sentence.

Eternal truths overcame economic advantage and political inertia to rid America of the heinous practice of enslaving people for economic exploitation. While there were many religious figures that contorted scriptures to apologize for slavery, the Quakers, in particular, were animated by the divine truth; it overwhelmed hypocrisies from the pulpit.

As the civil war was winding down the United States government added to our currency the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Today, as images of opulence flit through the minds of those in charge, too often their deity is the currency.

In a diverse country, religious and scriptural differences are organic. Yet, for over 200 years in America we have woven a beautiful fabric from common threads—threads informed by sacred texts and estimable philosophers.

When everybody’s sense of truth becomes truth, nothing will endure. An absence of truth is fertile soil for the predator and autocrat and they don’t care about truth.

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. 

 

In the Name of Beauty by Al Sikes

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Several different phenomena are used to explain delightful winter temperatures. All I know for certain is that this winter has featured some wonderful opportunities for hiking or biking or just walking along our beautiful pathways.

But, there is a very unfortunate blemish, litter. Bottles, cans, fast food containers, discarded household goods—the list seems endless. Litter is a fact of life. Living with it shouldn’t be.

Warnings and fines and admonitions seem to make little difference. Talbot County law, for example, states: “It shall be the duty of every person as owner, occupant, lessee or agent in charge of land lying within the unincorporated areas of the County, …………, not to allow litter to be deposited or to accumulate, either temporarily or permanently, on such lands…………….” And we have all seen those signs that promise $1,000 fines for anybody caught littering. If law enforcement regularly penalizes either litterers or those that allow it to accumulate on their rights-of-way I am unaware of it.

Recently I became aware of actions in a county not too far from ours. Harford County has an active local program including Adopt-a-Road. Its web site claims that the Adopt-a-Road initiative has accomplished the following: “Total Signed Contracts: 145; Road Miles Serviced: 800; Pounds of Solid Waste Collected: 72,575; Pounds of Recyclables Collected: 18,600 pounds.” There is a State program called Adopt-a-Highway that includes Talbot and Kent counties (a few signs are evident) but when I asked about local government involvement in Talbot I was told there was none.

Many of us have been involved in pickup litter efforts. I am always amazed at how much is picked up and how quickly litter begins to show up along those same rights-of-way. Can you imagine our museums with their exhibits of the images we value allowing litter to despoil the galleries?

And I am convinced litter begets litter. Threatening signs don’t seem to curb littering—what about clear evidence that our neighbors value the natural beauty that has drawn many of us to the Eastern Shore. I think it would have persuasive effect.

As 2019 begins and a new county council and commissioners take office in Kent and Talbot County, please add an active litter program to the priorities. I feel confident that a mix of public and private initiative can allow natural beauty the showcase it has chosen.

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. 

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