Spy Sunday Essay: Living History by Al Sikes

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Author’s note: A small community church is in the foreground, The Beaverkill Church. It is shadowed by Mount McGuckin in the Catskill Mountain chain. Recently I was recruited to deliver the Sunday morning message.

In speaking of the American Revolution in 1838 (fifty-five years after the last shot was fired), Abraham Lincoln recounted how every family was indelibly joined to the principles of the great struggle. He called it a “living history”.

The Beaverkill Church, Beaverkill, NY in the 1930s.

He went on to say that living history “must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time.” Lincoln added: “In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the Bible shall be read — but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been.”

Lincoln’s speech was delivered before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois on January 27, 1838. He was 28. The context for this speech was mob actions in Mississippi and St. Louis, largely targeting freed slaves and his plea was to honor the political institutions that were created to assure and protect individual liberty.

In re-visiting what is known as the Lyceum speech, I was reminded of the return of Jesus after the resurrection and the fading memory of history lived and then only studied.

You will recall that He first appeared to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples, absent Thomas.

Later Jesus joined the disciples with Thomas present. Thomas, you will recall, said “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”.

Now, before I continue to talk about the foundation of belief and faith, let me quote from a sermon by the great Scottish Minister, George MacDonald, who C. S. Lewis called his “Master”.

MacDonald said “Now, whenever you begin to speak of anything true, divine, heavenly or supernatural, you cannot speak of it at all without speaking about it wrongly in some measure. We have no words, we have no phrases, we have no possible combination of sentences that do more than represent fragmentarily the greatness of the things that belong to the very Vital being of our nature”.

I continue with McDonald’s warning, a recurring echo in my mind.

It seems to me that every several months there is a new poll inquiring whether some universe of people believe in God.

The Gallup organization has been conducting polls on religious belief since 1944. The high water mark of belief was in 1967, when 98% of those who responded said they believed in God. The 2017 poll put belief at 87%, a decline of over 13%. The universe of believers in 2017 included 64% who were convinced that God
exists, 16% said He probably did and 5% believed, but had significant doubts — lets call them the 50/50 crowd.

I would suggest that just as MacDonald was concerned about his own potential errors in talking about God, that pollsters should be doubly concerned about the ultimate accuracy of their surveys. Poll results tum on a variety of circumstances, many bearing little relationship to discovering truth. My guess is that there are many “doubting Thomas’s” among the self—professed believers.

I began chairing The Trinity Forum in 2008 and retired from that position in 2013. Our mission was to convene leaders with those steeped in philosophy and theology to consider and discuss life’s great questions.

The forum also published what I choose to call faith’s living history. The importance of this history, for me, was underscored by Albert Einstein’s observation on the importance of transcendent
values.

“Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application 0f th0se 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 objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength of humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. ”

Einstein understood, indeed we all understand, that liberty — the absence of restraint — when paired with our sinful nature is often corrupted. Einstein placed what he called high moral standards” above objective truth.

Adam Smith, who many believe to be the father of capitalism, wrote explicitly about the need for what he called “moral sentiments”. If you look, for example, at the yawning gap between the compensation of upper management and those who produce products and services, it is easy to see the lack of “moral
sentiments”.

The need for and importance of the environmental movement results from the lack of “moral sentiments” by too many who control the wastes of production and consumption.

An examination of the political leadership of the so-called religious right is replete with examples of choosing power over the values of faith in Jesus Christ. But, I am sure that every political leader, regardless of his hunger for power, would tell the Gallup pollsters that they believe in God.

The Church has a rich living history of witness. While living in Manhattan, I stood behind the pulpit of Redeemer Presbyterian Church one evening and recounted my faith in God. I feel no more adequate today than I felt then. Yet, I have chosen again to reflect on faith.

Einstein’s deism seemed tied to what he called “a well-tuned universe”. The structure of the universe, as proven by scientific inquiry, informed his mind.

Most Christians find their faith through family experience, biblical text and spiritual signals. In my own life, Sundays were religiously and culturally important during my formative years. Today, for many, Sundays are spent in the bleachers watching children and grandchildren do something with a ball.

If “living history” is an important element in belief, curiosity is essential. Lincoln’s point of reference was the Revolutionary War and its aftermath. The principles for which soldiers fought and died were Vivid and influential, at least to a point.

In the world in which we live, 81 generations after Jesus walked the earth, a different kind of living history must inform faith. And, belief without animating faith is hollow.

I have gained insight and strength by understanding the importance of faith in the actions of Lincoln and William Wilberforce, who led the movement to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. And, if you want to understand the importance of faith to Martin Luther King, read his letter from the Birmingham jail.

Or read the prayers of Mother Teresa contained in a book written by my Jewish friend, Tony Stem. Or, study the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who left Germany’s state church and became a key founder of the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer’s courageous rejection of Hitler resulted in his execution.

Or, look around us at the beauty of the Catskills. Or, examine the art of Michelangelo. Or, listen to the music of Bach.

It is hard for me to understand sacrifice and beauty as being separated from intention informed by a divine force. There is light in what is often a dark world.

It is also hard to survey the extraordinary dedication of organizations like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, the Young Men’s and Women’s Christian Associations and not believe that our soul helps inform our brain.

Returning to Abraham Lincoln’s reflection on living history, let me reflect on an updated and revolutionary convergence of faith and music — more recent living history.

John Newton was born in 1725 and during the earlier part of his adult life was a profane slave trader. One night, while at the helm of his ship, he faced a terrifying storm. He later recounted that he prayed for the storm to quiet and it did.

He was certain divinity had touched him and he later expressed his conversion to Christianity in the hymn, Amazing Grace. Listen to the words:

AMAZING GRACE

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

The Lord hath promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

When we’ve been there ten thousand
years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

What most do not know is that the final verse was added by Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was published in 1852 — living history four generations later. Let me repeat it:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

Amazing Grace has been recorded over 7,000 times and was a seminal song in the civil rights movement. Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 version four generations later is a legendary recording.

Amazing Grace later became an anthem in the resistance to the Vietnam War five generations later. Noteworthy recordings of that era include Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie. Living
history indeed. And, of course, Newton’s seminal contribution to living history remains one of faith’s most important anthems.

Now one can say, if God saved John Newton’s life, why doesn’t he intercede to help the innocent? Why does he let bad things happen to good people? Fair questions.

My answer: I don’t know! But at the risk of “speaking about it wrongly in some measure”, I will offer two thoughts. First, we have been given free choice and it is often abused. If every time a wrong action was planned God interceded, freedom would not exist.

Second, we have been given hope that our soul, the essence of our spirituality, will be given a second life. I choose to believe that the innocent will have a heavenly existence.

Now let me close with two thoughts. Regardless of what we believe, we are certain in some measure to be wrong. God is in the details and in our human weaknesses we often get the details wrong.

Maybe it is my more optimistic nature that leads me to believe in a caring God and his son, Jesus Christ. I wonder who I have to thank for that! I believe I know.

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. He and his wife, Marty, are members of the Beaverkill Church in Beaverkill, NY during the summer months where this sermon was originally given a few weeks ago. 

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” by Al Sikes

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The St Louis Cardinal baseball team of 1968 was there. I watched as Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Ozzie Smith, Steve Carlton, Lou Brock and others walked up from the dugout to be recognized. This was a team of Hall of Famers—they won the World Series that year. This was a three generational experience as my wife Marty and I took both children and grandchildren to St. Louis’ Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Phillies.

I bought pretty good seats and as I recall they cost me something over $80 a piece including an online transaction fee. The game was okay, but nothing like that introduction. Parking fees and concession items brought the bill to over $600.

I was brought back to that day and a much earlier one after reading Joseph Epstein’s brief essay in the Wall Street Journal. Epstein was lamenting the cost of going to a Cubs game with a friend who bought the tickets. The ticket cost $172.48.

Epstein in summing up noted: “Being a sports fan, whether die-hard or fair-weather, is these days rather a dubious undertaking. For a long while now, a team’s fans have been more loyal than its players, who, under free agency, depart as soon as a better offer turns up. Nor is it easy for a fan to grasp paying a man who bats in the .220s, striking out nearly 200 times but hitting 27 home runs, a salary of $13 million. Not to speak of paying a pitcher, who works one day in five, and at that rarely for more than six innings, $25 million. All the more demoralizing is it to grasp that a good part of the cost for these wild extravagances are passed on to us, the fans.”

I would add that most of the immensely wealthy owners put economics and ego ahead of the fans.

In 1991, Fay Vincent, then Commissioner of Major League Baseball and I testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of a TV black out rule that was favorable to the baseball teams which were, in essence, a monopoly. I was then Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. I enjoyed talking baseball with the Commissioner, too bad Senators intruded.

Baseball and other sports leagues enjoy legal protections from what otherwise would be anti-trust violations as they organize in part to limit supply, which overtime, means fans must pay even more to go to games.

In my view, any anti-trust protection should be removed but more importantly fans should begin to push back. Sports teams negotiate exclusive contracts for the distribution of sports events. This exclusivity is what allows, in particular, football and basketball to delay games for the sake of more advertising. My research showed little fan pushback although the Toronto Football Club, a Major League Soccer club, gave its fans some ticket price relief after a “fan revolt” in 2010.

Many team owners, player agents and those who control concessions act with impunity. Yet, promotion of professional sports always cites the fans as the team’s highest priority. Baloney! Actions tell a different story, unless the cost of being a fan is of no consequence.

Fans now have the tools to push back. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email networks and more enable and facilitate revolts.
The 1968 Cardinals were very talented. So too the 2018 Red Sox, Astros, Cubs—winners all. There are also fans whose talent in using online tools to push back is world class. Use them.

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. 

Grievance by Al Sikes

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Grievance, overtime, becomes debilitating. It was the translation key to yesterday’s performance of President Trump.

Trump, whose sense of grievance has captured his presidency, was disgraceful in the conduct we know about during his Helsinki talks with Vladimir Putin. He has descended along a dangerous emotional spectrum as his sense of grievance has festered. He doesn’t even trust his appointees. The intelligence agencies are led by his appointees yet he dismisses their findings or pits them against Russian claims as if he is an arbitrator, not the leader of what has been the most consequential country in the world.

Vladimir Putin leads a nation that often feeds on grievance. His responses in an interview with Chris Wallace demonstrated that he can convert grievance into clever propaganda. It is hard to know how most Americans might treat his assertions, as most of us devote little time to actually thinking about Russia. Of course, policy driven by grievance is not helping Russia.

Trump in the aftermath of the talks did an interview with his toady Sean Hannity; illuminating. Putin sat down with Chris Wallace; Wallace’s Dad Mike would have been proud. Within the limitations (sequential translation), Wallace was excellent.

As I type, all of the Trump appointees who have much to do with intelligence collecting and analyzing are still in office. There have been no resignations, even though Trump gave their intelligence work no higher standing than Putin’s allegations.

One of my lessons from working in Washington is that many people who occupy the ranks of the political bureaucracy are just happy to be there. They busy themselves day in and day out with self-important motion and often in the evening are honored guests at dinner parties. They get to read about themselves in the paper and count on the office they hold to burnish their resume. As one friend noted, “what’s not to like.”

America is now headed by a person who perceives himself as a strong man, even as his weaknesses sap his strength on a daily basis. He is largely served by appointees who are so weak that apparently no insult will dislodge them. Jeff Sessions has been publically berated by Trump for over a year yet remains Attorney General. Fortunately, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, is strong and does not cower.

As I have noted before, the Congress makes laws and appropriates money. Trump can do neither. Executive orders can easily be rescinded and agreements with other countries that are not ratified by the US Senate by a two-thirds vote, terminated.

Finally, there are many leadership lessons from the actions of the last several weeks. Trump acted as a responsible President in the selection of a Supreme Court nominee; I encouraged Trump to study Trump’s orderly process. Now I would encourage Trump to study Putin. While I am no fan of Putin or grievance-driven policy, I find his ability to voice grievance and make the best of it a lesson for those who cannot let go.

As our country has survived in the aftermath of assassinations and scandals, it will ride out Trump’s tenure with an assist from those who crafted our nation’s Constitution.

Postscript: Robert Mueller, the Independent Counsel, has taken a number of concrete actions, most recently announcing indictments of Russian agents, who it is alleged hacked into the Democrat National Committee server, among other things.

In my view he has had time to determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians. This charge is the most important and its lack of resolution is toxic.

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 on the News by Al Sikes

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Breaking Takes on the News

Supreme Court Nominee

A fair number of my Republican friends voted for Donald Trump because of a Supreme Court vacancy and the likelihood of retirements. Their rationale has been affirmed by the President in the orderly and temperate manner in which he has nominated two very ab|e judges.

The Constitution is both enabling and limiting. At the risk of over simplification, the Left stresses the former and the Right the latter. The Left, often frustrated by the messy and difficult job of passing laws through State Legislatures and the Federal one, prefer a Court that finds new rights and thus national laws. The finding of a right to an abortion in the Constitution, in the case of Roe v Wade, is instructive.

We live in intemperate times. President Trump approached the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice in a temperate manner. Trump should study the Trump of recent weeks and seek to emulate him.

Democrats have regularly, and often rightly, criticized Trump’s various intemperate actions. It appears that they intend to become intemperate as they attempt to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Con Job

It is hard to know what the President knows and thinks.

At one point when his intellect was challenged, he bragged about having a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — certainly an impressive business school. Trump has an undergraduate degree.

I am going to take a leap. If you are a Wharton graduate, you must understand Martin Feldstein’s (a Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Reagan Administration) comment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “the trade deficit reflects the reality that Americans
consume more than we produce”. Mr. President, if you understand that truth, then you must realize that much of your trade agenda is a con — an inflammatory one.

There is a strong case to be made against China for stealing technology and protecting strategic industries. If that were the focus, Wharton might be inclined to celebrate its most famous alumnus.

Game On

It is now widely said that the Republican Party is President Trump’s. Perhaps; he has certainly influenced it — straight jacket orthodoxy has been cashiered.

Yet, the next election for President is 29 months off. A victory in 2020, after contested primaries, would be at least a medium term recognition of his primacy.

It should be noted that Mitt Romney won his U.S. Senate primary election race in Utah over State Representative Mike Kennedy with 73% of the vote. Most won’t recall, but Romney had been forced into a primary election because he lost the delegate count at the State Republican convention.

Romney’s opponent fought him on two fronts. Romney was, he said, insufficiently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Earlier criticisms, some harsh, by Romney of Trump were used to prove the point.

It was also said that Romney was a carpetbagger. You will recall that Romney had been Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s overwhelming victory in his adopted state was impressive.

A clash between Romney and Trump is inevitable and at some point it will be measured electorally; then the “Trump capture” or not will be clearer.

Taxes

I will spare you the dismal status of U.S. accumulated debt, projected annual deficits and underfunded entitlement obligations. Look them up, but not when you are trying to come back from one drink too many.

We are now being told the contest within the Democrat Party for supremacy will be contested over expanded health benefits and free college tuition.

My suggestion: ask all candidates which taxes will be needed to pay down some level of debt, more fully fund the entitlement promises and pay for any new programs. Require the candidates to do the math.

High risk debt eventually bites. In 2008, it brought down major financial institutions; they either failed or were bailed out. Likewise, millions of homeowners lost their homes because of ill- considered collateralized debt.

America’s economic scale and the international primacy of the dollar have allowed politicians to accumulate debt and over—promise benefits. Fiscal recklessness has become a narcotic; withdrawal a need. If we don’t begin withdrawal, our economic strength will be the victim.

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 Failing by Al Sikes

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Mara Liasson, the National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio and often a co-panelist with Charles Krauthammer on Fox News, called him a “gift to the world” and characterized his death as “a huge loss for conservatives.” Liasson and Krauthammer didn’t always agree, yet were friends who respected each other’s opinion. Friends, how quaint that seems in the pit bull politics of today.

Charles Krauthammer’s evolution from liberal (he was a speechwriter for Walter Mondale) to conservative was expressed in terms first defined by Irving Kristol: “a liberal mugged by reality”.

In the last few months I have been sent links to a purported column written by Krauthammer expressing support for Donald Trump. In the parlance of today: “fake news”; Krauthammer’s intellect and reputation were not on offer. We live in a swirl of pretenders and their pretensions. We just lost an important voice for clarity, objectivity and respect.

Instead we have a President, now a lame duck one, who continues to choose outrage over leadership. Attacking ones adversaries is not the first stage of a successful negotiation. And we have a Congress incapable of performing its constitutional duties.

President Trump’s remaining strength over domestic issues goes with the Office. But, as Barack Obama learned, governing by executive orders means the next person in line can undo the orders.

In a few months we elect a new Congress. But, regardless of which Party prevails, it is highly unlikely that either Party will have a large enough caucus of Members to govern without some level of bi-partisanship. The power of partisanship is often hollow.

Power is often misunderstood. Trump is certainly in charge of depthless power. His image and words are omnipresent. Since media coverage tends to confer importance, Trump is very important. And in Washington importance, as conferred by rank or media attention, is often thought to be power and held onto tightly.

Real power is set out in the United States Constitution and most especially in Article 1, Section 8. Simply stated, this section gives Congress the power to make laws, tax and spend. In just over three months real power will be conferred again. Will the winners be just another contingent who elevate self or Party over nation?

In many ways the most important question to be asked of each candidate is what they will do to make the most important branch of government work. It only works when there is some level of bi-partisanship. The existing power vacuum has elevated executive orders and attack politics. Present day realities have nullified the Congress.

But lest I understate the magnetism of President Trump to his followers, let me return to his power.

The one thing most can agree on is that Trump rather brilliantly used “Make America Great Again” to brand his candidacy and presidency. Many, of course, would quickly reject “Again” believing that America’s health is just fine. I am not in that number. On the other hand, retreating to the past to find greatness inevitably leads to this question: if America was so great, in say the 1950s, why was racial discrimination so ubiquitous? Certainly our views and laws about equality have improved dramatically.

At news conferences, interviews, town hall meetings and the like I would like to see each candidate be given the opportunity to compare and contrast. What, the question might be, would you propose we do to Make America Great? In short, require candidates to think beyond slogans.

Candidates should be asked what they think about our country’s financial health. If they believe it weakens the country, extract a pledge of action. One of the more successful political pledges was the “no tax” pledge. Fiscal hawks should craft a pledge to fix our nation’s balance sheet. And younger voters should insist that candidates tell them how the entitlement programs, which are actuarially bankrupt, will fulfill the promises made.

What about roads, bridges, airports, mass transit, waste treatment facilities, public water supplies? If the central government should play a role, what should it be? The recent Supreme Court decision requiring on-line sellers to collect State sales tax is likely to raise State tax revenues significantly. This might be a particularly fertile moment for the central government, with a modest contribution (it cannot afford more), to stimulate needed infrastructure work.

One final question: ask each candidate whether they pledge to return home after they no longer serve. Retirement from Congress often results in lucrative lobbying jobs aimed at protecting government conferred advantage.

When the Congress is failing, democracy is failing. And when the Congress allows a power vacuum to exist the occupant of the White House is empowered, well beyond constitutional intentions.

I want to leave the last thought for Charles Krauthammer who in a C-Span interview said he grew up attuned to the “tragic element in history”. “It tempers your optimism and your idealism. And it gives you a vision of the world which I think is more restrained, conservative, if you like. You don’t expect that much out of human nature. And you are prepared for the worst.” We are not going to change human nature, but voters have the power to change Congress.

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. 

For Men Only by Al Sikes

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Oh for the chance to have one more back and forth. Too often our intrinsic treasures are only truly treasured when they are gone.

I can recall of course. The union card. Walking on my knees, picking cotton. The adventure in Alaska. So, let me give you a son’s perspective.

Dad wanted, no insisted, that his sons experience life’s needs, not just its wants. The need to work hard for a living and to appreciate those that did so. The need to go well beyond your comfort zone. The need to understand education as a privilege.

William K. Sikes with his son Al Sikes

Thank you, yet only on reflection, for that job at Scott County Milling Company. It was there I learned to plow out boxcars which arrived by rail from grain producing regions; offloading them was part of my job. The grain was converted to feed and I was in the middle of the process—and a dirty, dusty process it was. The dust was so thick that Dad urged me to wear a face mask.

I refused; it was hard enough being a kid among men. On the third day, I didn’t show up for work because of a respiratory infection. On my next day at work I wore a face mask and as I would remove the filters it became apparent to my fellow union workers that they too needed protection. My moist breath had converted dust to a muddy look; not a pretty site. Face masks and filters were required in the next contract.

But, perhaps the perfect fusion occurred when Dad convinced a friend of his to hire me to work in Anchorage, Alaska, at Elmendorf Air Force Base. I drove to Alaska—what a trip, the last thousand plus miles took me on unpaved roads through British Columbia and the Yukon.

Alaska introduced me to homesteaders, jack hammers, tar paper roofs and King salmon. Men, even in their teens, can profit from a Hemingway experience. Yes, I learned to tar paper roofs and handle a jack hammer, but the really important lessons were learned on the Russian River access trails and in the relationships at work.

Today’s summer jobs for youth are often in fast food or staffing camps, or, for those in college, internships that might lead to post-college jobs. On the camping front a recent Wall Street Journal article noted camps to teach young people to invest. Several names: “Camp Millionaire, MoolahU, Financial Investors Club of America and WhizBizKids”.

We need to better understand each other. Yet the military is now volunteer, most summer jobs are clean hands affairs, and frequently that last pre-career summer begins the gap year and foreign travel. And now, camps with financial missions.

Father’s Day is mostly a commercial event. But, I would urge today’s fathers to consider how their sons will recall their relationship–what kind of reflections their sons might have when Father’s Day appears on the calendar. I recall wisdom.

 

You Give Me Fever by Al Sikes

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You Give Me Fever

“You give me fever, when you kiss me
Fever when you hold me tight
Fever in the morning
Fever all through the night”

Little Willie John sang the original version of Fever released in 1958. A year later the sensual Peggy Lee did a cover version that skyrocketed into the top ten songs worldwide.

Ordinarily, fever is not a welcome sense—it is often a symptom of illness. But, fever is also characteristic of passion and in today’s overheated political jargon, the swamp.

At the risk of over-extending the metaphor, fever and incoherence are first cousins. Whether it is the fever of a passionate love affair or malaria, it works against reason. Fever and rationality often are at cross-purposes.

In the United States, the election of Donald Trump produced a fever. The news became feverish. Political debate likewise. And nowhere is our feverish behavior more pronounced than the commentary surrounding the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The President has been poked and probed by every imaginable adversary for over two years. First, the Clinton campaign. Then, after his election, the full array of denouncers kicked in—the news media, social media, and the variety of organizations he offended and offensive he has often been. This swirl of investigation and accusation was followed by House and Senate Committees and then the Special Counsel and his staff.

If there is the proverbial smoking gun of criminality, it should have, by now, been revealed. And if Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is as good as advertised he has certainly had enough time to put together a case. To-date Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and several minor functionaries have been charged and presumably have or will reveal what they know to lessen their penalties. One is left to wonder why Mueller cannot isolate the culpability of the President, announce his findings in that regard, and continue against the minor actors as warranted.

I will not cite the litany of important issues that require minute to minute attention from the White House, but there are a large number. It is time to “fish or cut bait.” As a former Assistant Attorney General in Missouri, I know that a criminal investigation opens up many avenues of inquiry and that it is hard not to prolong an investigation, but we are talking about the President.

We elect each President knowing that we are not electing an angel. One President in my lifetime, Bill Clinton, was impeached by the House of Representatives. Richard Nixon would have been, but he resigned. Another, Lyndon Johnson, stood aside from the nomination battle when his popularity sunk to the basement. And we have a mid-term election coming up which gives voters a chance, if they choose, to make Trump the lamest of lame ducks.

In the meantime, the work of the Special Counsel that deals with the President should be wrapped up in the next sixty days, a report given to the Congress and, of course, the public, and then if warranted action taken.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford, understanding the potential divisiveness of a criminal trial of Richard Nixon, who had resigned under the dark cloud of Watergate, pardoned him. It probably cost Ford the Presidency, yet historians often point to the pardon as the most farsighted and courageous act of his Presidency. They, on reflection, understood how debilitating it is for the nation to be caught up in the incoherence of a fever.

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. 

Guns Revisited by Al Sikes

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“Impossible.” In early April in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, I recommended requiring password controlled trigger locks on guns—think smartphone. One Letter to the Editor called such a plan impossible.

Outrage can convert impossible to possible. The pivotal question is what it takes for a strong majority of voters to be outraged. If the Parkland tragedy was not sufficient, what about the Santa Fe school shooting? Or, the ones to come that will further numb our minds? Can society be so deadened as to become supine?

According to an article in the Washington Post, there has been more loss of life as a result of school shootings than soldiers killed in our several wars during 2018. Is this a possible tipping point? And, what happens at the tipping point?

Guns have a mythological and practical imprint on the minds of a majority of Americans. And, as day-to-day living appears to be more hazardous, many believe a gun is necessary for defense. Also, guns cannot be taken away without a constitutional amendment, and that is truly impossible.

Sure, we can tinker on the edges with stronger permit requirements and place limitations on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, but that will not eliminate the gun as the weapon of choice. We should keep in mind that the most recent Texas shooting, which left ten dead, was carried out with a pistol and a shotgun.

Years ago a Polish-American friend told me of a recent trip back to visit relatives in Poland. He was a cigar smoker, and while there pitched a plastic lighter, he had been using into a waste can because the gas capsule was spent. His relatives were alarmed, retrieved the lighter and said they would find a way to put it to productive use. Poland, in the 1970s, was not a throw-away economy.

Yet in America, we queue up to get the latest generation of a smartphone, or hot toy, or an opening night ticket to a just-released science fiction movie. In each instance, we pay a premium price. But, when it comes to gun safety technology, there will be no queue absent a government initiative.

When it comes to the military, we spend billions each year on research and development to protect ourselves from foreign threats. What about a modest investment in gun safety?

We spend billions each year (through tax subsidies) on a range of environmentally friendly technologies. What about creating demand for gun safety technologies? Demand drives innovation and lowers costs. We might add to any gun safety initiative free installation of a safety device along with a law that protects those who use a safety device from liability.

As we awaken to the latest mass shooting, most people are aghast at the nihilistic spawn of our popular culture. But here we are; embarrassed, befuddled and regretful yet subordinated to the culture and an echo chamber of advocacy.

Cultural cycles have long tails. Nobody knows how long it will take for a true counter-culture to gain momentum or what that movement will look like.

Nihilism says that life, and living itself, is meaningless; certainly killing innocents and then yourself is mirror image conduct. An opposite culture would have as it’s bedrock a belief that life has inherent meaning. The critical mass of cultural signals would be life-affirming.

In the meantime, those who read talking points from the National Rifle Association should not disguise impotency with loud 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. 

Suggested Reading: Is there Honor Beyond Honesty by Al Sikes

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Is There Honor Beyond Honesty?

America at its best is not intensely ideological. Today is not the best of times. Too many in the political and communication’s elite shape their messages or stories to fit their political intentions—knowledge is secondary.

Michael Bloomberg’s address to the graduates of Rice University speaks to a code of conduct that is needed well beyond the campuses of Rice:

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-12/michael-bloomberg-at-rice-university-an-honor-code-for-life  

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.