If We Could All Be Rotarians

June 11, 2018

Recently I became a member of the local Bridgewater, Massachusetts branch of  Rotary International organization. I joined a wonderful group of friends and neighbors who live by the motto ” Service Above Self.” At each meeting after the pledge of allegiance to the flag, a prayer and the singing of a patriotic song, members recite the Rotary’s 4- Way Test- a short listing of  values that guide the work of the thousands of clubs around the world.

The Four Way Test is really quite simple – reminding members of the way they should think, speak and take action as they serve others. The 4- Way Test is as follows:

Is it the Truth?

Is it Fair to all concerned?

Will it build Goodwill and better Friendship?

Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?

As you can see the 4- Way Test accents some key values – truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and service that benefits all  people.

As someone who has taught and written about politics for decades I wondered what would happen if the 4-Way Test were included into the oath of office that our political leaders swear on the Bible. Wouldn’t it be helpful during this time of stress, strain, division and anger if those who are charged with making public policy lived and worked by the Rotary’s values?

Pledging to uphold the Constitution and to protect the United States is certainly the foundation of what political leaders must adhere to as they hold public office, but we have come to a time in our history where simple humane and decent values are either ignored or thrust aside in the quest for a win or a power grab. Political leaders at all levels often refer to themselves as public servants but too often they forget the other half of  the call to duty – Service Above Self.

The over one million Rotarians around the world perform countless acts of service from hurricane relief efforts to planting trees to what our local group does – award college scholarships and donate dictionaries to middle school children. If there is a need in the community or in a country far away, it is certain that the Rotary will be there to provide assistance.

Our country and our democracy is facing a host of domestic and international challenges that will define the future of the United States. One way to ensure that the future of our great nation is secure is to put service about self and to implement the values of the Rotary 4-Way Test in our daily lives – Truth seeking, Fairness, Goodwill, Friendship and spreading the Benefits of our wealth and power to all Americans.

 

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Why is Trump Still Popular, It’s Easy

June 5, 2018

Legions of liberals scratch their heads when they see polling data that show President Trump’s approval rate over 40%. Despite the stupid tweets, the lies and exaggerations, the flaunting of the rule of law, the destruction of presidential norms of behavior, blatant corruption, and the embrace of public policies that isolate the United States and pose real dangers to our future as the leader of the free world, Trump trudges on not just with his base but also with independent-minded voters who are unwilling to denounce him and push for his removal from office.

So what’s going on here with the stability of the Trump approval? It is really quite easy. Trump supporters see more money in their paychecks, and some have seen bonuses or small increases in their salaries, jobs are so plentiful that workers can now pick and choose, the stock market despite regular ups and downs is generally on the uptick, inflation is minimal, and areas of the economy once viewed as dead are no longer on life support. As the Democratic strategist James Carvelle reminded Bill Clinton’s staff, ” It’s the economy, stupid.”

Although some in his administration and certainly those among the punditry have called him a “moron” or just plain “dumb”, Trump knows the current state of American political culture – flag waving patriotism, fear of minorities, militarism, disgust with political correctness, support for small town Americana, and hatred of the eastern and California elite. Somehow the Democrats forgot that our political culture can be defined by what the working class believes is what America stands for, not what the New York Times editorializes. Trump has tapped into this working class culture and is not afraid to use it to bludgeon the left. Few people read the Times but they do listen to the President.

Of course having an approval rating in the low 40% range means that somewhere in the 60% range Americans either despise Trump or have serious questions about where he is taking the country. But if liberals are to make any serious dent in that 40% they have to admit there are now two competing political cultures in our country and begin to make efforts to understand the Trump culture and where possible make efforts to offer realistic alternatives.

What does that mean – “realistic alternatives”? In no particular order liberals must tag Trump with the inevitable increases in health care premiums, offer a better package of tax cuts that puts more money in the pockets of working class people, stop making pro-choice the signature position of the left, forget the big cities and take bus rides to rural America for listening tours, show the American public that patriotism means more than the flag,  and last but not least ask Nancy Pelosi to retire.

The challenge of the liberals as they try to compete with Trumpism is like moving a huge aircraft carrier on a different course; for years liberals have forgotten that they were originally the party of the working man and woman and that their support came from the heartland. If the Democrats hold to their old model of politics the blue wave of November 2018 just may fizzle out as the economy hums along. Trump may yet set himself up for self-destruction, but the liberals must change or face their own self-destruction.

 


World’s Not So Great Democracy

April 19, 2018

Pundits and politicians, largely of the liberal persuasion, have been bemoaning for some time now the threat to democracy and democratic norms since the arrival of President Trump. Language such as ” democracy is under attack,” ” the rule of law is being compromised,” ” the first amendment guarantees have been weakened,” and traditional presidential conventions are being, ” abandoned,” fill the airwaves and print media. And then there is the Russian attack on the 2016 election, our most sacred foundation of democratic life.

And yet despite these outcries about the decline of democracy, President Trump’s popularity – never really outstanding – has not eroded below a consistent 40%; in fact as the economy moves forward, his popularity has picked up a few points in recent polls. Americans appear not to be overly upset about the signs of democratic demise.

So why the disturbing lack of interest by so many Americans in our apparent democratic decline? One possible answer is that the current state of our democracy is suffering from what some call a civic deficit or perhaps a more negative title – political illiteracy. Americans today are shockingly uninformed about their democracy and the democratic values that form the basis for our claim to be the world’s greatest people-based government.

For example, in recent studies researchers have found that only 34% of Americans know that there are three branches of government, a tiny percentage can name only one Supreme Court judge, while an overwhelming majority are clueless, over 200 million of our citizens believe our constitution is based on the Bible, even though God is not mentioned once in our sacred document, and a bare majority can name but one of the four freedoms contained in the 1st Amendment. What a dismal civic deficit scorecard! It is really next to impossible to defend our democracy if the citizenry has little understanding of what our democracy means, or how it runs, or what it stands for.

Correcting these glaring deficiencies in our civic deficit will not come overnight but action must be taken and soon. Here in Massachusetts there is a movement afoot to bring civic education into the classroom and teach the new generation of Americans what their democracy is all about. Through the efforts of organizations like Generation Citizen a bill is working its way through the legislature to begin addressing the civic deficit.  Called an Act To Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement the legislation is designed to direct a modest amount of taxpayer dollars – $ 1.5 million – to develop programs in our schools to promote civic learning in the classroom curriculum and to encourage project based activities to strengthen participation and involvement in the public life of each community. Eventually, civics like math, science and English would be required.

Knowing about democracy does not mean that Americans will automatically come to appreciate and protect their form of government from those who would weaken it. But knowledge can be transformed into power, the power to demand that elected officials never abandon what our founders and those who have died on the battlefield held as a precious gift worthy of protecting.

 

 

 

 


Facebook, Twitter and National Security

March 21, 2018

There are 2.2 billion Facebook users and 974 million Twitter accounts. In the spirit of transparency, I am on both these social media sites. But my comments today are not about who is on Facebook and Twitter, rather I want to go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s and remind people about U.S.-Russian relations and patriotic fears about threats to our national security and national reputation.

When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 it was the first artificial Earth satellite. A few months later Sputnik 2 was launched with a living animal, a dog named Laika, who died a few hours after launch. It was not until early in 1958 that the United States launched Explorer 1, this country’s first satellite.

The launching of the two Sputniks not only embarrassed the United States but initiated a frantic effort to catch up to the Soviets in the space race and win back its reputation as the world’s leader in science and technology. Schools from elementary through college stressed the value of science and math and urged young people to become interested in space. Generous National Science Foundation grants were offered to budding scientists to attend graduate school and create a “technical army” to challenge the Soviets. And the Kennedy administration pledged to win the space race and eventually place a man on the moon.

But the most important result of Sputnik is that it awakened a realization that this country was threatened by the Soviets and patriotic Americans needed to take steps to win the space race and overcome the Russian threat to our economic, educational and governmental system. Space became a national security issue and Americans climbed on board to take on the Russians and beat them at their own game.

Today this country is again threatened by the Russians only  now with cyber security “Sputniks”, well planned and executed activities to hack our electoral system, divide our nation with fake news, and weaken our democratic institutions and democracy itself. But like our naive attitude toward space science and technology during the 1950’s, today our social media companies like Facebook and Twitter were easily duped into being party to this attack on our country.

What is most disturbing is that the patriotic spirit that filled this country after Sputnik is sadly missing from not just the social media giants but too many leaders in our government. Those who head the social media companies and indeed many who work for those companies seem more interested in increasing their bottom line, piling up stock options, buying fancy cars and living the good life.

Far too many of our best computer minds are in the start-up mode as they develop new social media sites, useless apps, and silly games. Of course all this energy is about making a quick buck and becoming an instant millionaire. Few of these bright minds are going into cyber security, government intelligence agencies or the military; there just isn’t enough money to be made in national security and patriotic employment that protects our democracy.

What this country is experiencing is a social media divorced from real world threats and hostile governments bent on weakening our country. It’s not how many friends you have on Facebook or retweets on Twitter but how we are responding to our enemies who are working overtime to play upon our obsession with social media in ways that divide us.

Hacking our elections by the Russians is the new version of Sputnik – science and technology designed to embarrass the United States, show up our weaknesses and threaten our democracy. Just like in the post-Sputnik era what we need in this country is a patriotic push to challenge and quickly defeat the Russian threat.


2017 Was a Terrible Year

December 12, 2017

2017 was a terrible year, and no it was not only because Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20th, although inaugurating Number 45 certainly didn’t help matters. 2017 was a terrible year because of devastating hurricanes and wildfires, senseless mass shootings, grotesque men preying upon women, a further descent into incompetent government, and the loss of some of my favorite celebrities – Mary Tyler Moore, Fats Domino, George “The Animal” Steele, Chuck Berry, and Batman ( Adam West, the real Batman).

2017 was a terrible year because in both the public and private sectors feelings of shame and personal embarrassment took a big hit as people we thought we knew and admired contributed to a decline in our collective culture. Lying became an acceptable form of behavior; cheating on all levels was commonplace; bullying of the innocent was a regular occurrence; anger and intolerance exploded; and the values that we as a nation took for granted began to be chipped away.

2017 was a terrible year because those who controlled the levers of public power saw a need to replace a process of governing based on moderation, consensus, and compromise with mean-spirited partisanship and unnecessary favors for the rich and well born. Rather than building on the past and reforming what didn’t quite work, the mantra was reject and repeal. Meanwhile the gap between the rich and the rest of us got wider and wider.

2017 was a terrible year because the world stood on the brink of war, agreements designed to improve life were ignored or violated, millions of people were displaced, and far too many people and their governments could not muster the courage to open their hearts and their wallets to those in desperate need. Not In My Backyard became more than a slogan, but a way of looking at the space outside our homes, and not caring one bit.

And 2017 was a terrible year because what progress may have been made to create an integrated society took a big hit as racial, ethnic and religous tensions escalated, people forgot who Jesus made friends with, phony patriotism took over sporting events, and those who pump billions into our economy doing work that we shun were told to get out.

I am a big believer in hope as a way of dealing with those people, events and conditions that make our great country less than what it can be. 2018 is right around the corner and one can only hope that it will be a better year as we bring that terrible 2017 to a close. Let’s keep hope alive.

 


Pulaski

May 14, 2017

IMG_1668As the great- grandson of Polish immigrants who arrived on our shores in the early 1900’s it is natural for me to think of my heritage from that starting point. I often express my thanks for their courage and foresight to start a new life in this country, leaving everything behind. But in my expressions of gratitude I sometimes forget that they were not the only ones to leave Poland and make their mark on this country.

Last week my wife Carol and one of daughters, Laura, went to Boston’s Polish Fest to soak up the Polish-American culture, along with delicious pierogis and kielbasa. As we sat and ate and drank a few Polish beers we noticed a statue behind us of General Casimir Pulaski. I of course have been well-schooled in the heroics of Washington, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, John Paul Jones, and Nathan Hale, but I had paid little attention to the Polish connection to our war of independence.

At the base of the statue the inscription lists the enormous contributions of Pulaski  to the war effort- organizer and commander of the first American cavalry, instrumental in saving American forces at Brandywine, Pennsylvania, key participant in the battles of Egg Harbor, New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina, and bravely succumbing to injuries in the battle of Savannah, Georgia.

Although not his war, Pulaski left his native country to fight for freedom and independence and like his countryman, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, who helped build many military fortifications, including West Point, was instrumental in winning the war against the British.  Thankfully, Pulaski has not been forgotten as towns, roads and bridges all around this country are named after him. They are a fitting tribute to the heroism of someone who gave his life for an ideal.

In today’s United States we too often forget ideals, grand principles, and governing values and get caught up in defining this nation in terms of wealth, power and success. General Pulaski’s heroism should remind us that freedom and independence are not just words but require deeds and yes, sacrifices. I thank my great grandparents for their deeds and sacrifices, but now I can also thank Casimir Pulaski.


Branding the USA

March 8, 2017

Americans it is fair to say are brand conscious. Many of us not only know the name of consumer products but we also likely know what the logo looks like, i.e. those golden arches of McDonald’s or the “swoosh” of Nike. Branding becomes important to a company as it is a symbol of a reputation built up over the years. Brands connote excellence, reliability, innovation, creativity and of course market share. Corporations pay a great deal of attention to brand and branding as it is one critical key to profits and growth.

Although we often don’t think of governments and countries having a brand, the concept of a national brand does apply just as it does in the corporate sector. Our brand has in the past been based in freedom, equality, opportunity, tolerance, justice, power and wealth. Now a nation like the United States can’t maintain all aspects of its brand since circumstances change, priorities are reconfigured and most importantly democratic politics can remake a brand.

The United States is currently going through a re-branding process and it is not a pretty sight.President Trump with his 3 am tweets, his choice of advisors and cabinet members, his controversial policies, and his determination to change the rules of politics has changed the American brand, and not for the better.

There is a mountain of evidence that those outside the United States think differently about our brand or at least are confused about what we stand for as a nation. Long time allies are deeply concerned over whether we are a dependable friend, tourists are thinking twice about whether to vacation here, multinational companies are worried about the future of trade and investment, and those new to our country, legal and illegal, are fearful for their futures, if not their lives. It was probably a prank, but the Statue of Liberty went dark for awhile the other day- a symbol of our brand without the promises associated with that beautiful torch.

As any marketing executive will tell you, once you change your brand or worse yet once your brand takes a hit, market share is in trouble. Customers loose confidence; they wonder whether the product of the past is the same today. Branding changes become especially dangerous if the new brand presents a negative image and tells the buyer that all is not well.

President Trump and his minions can be criticized on a number of miscues, false starts and simply stupid policies. But what is most bothersome to me is that they have sullied the American brand and in the process remade this United States into a less attractive country with a less attractive set of values and principles.

Getting back to the old brand of the United States will be difficult and will take a long period of time. Confidence has to be restored, old values and principles have to be re-introduced into the body politics, Lady Liberty’s torch has to shine bright again. Remember when Coca-Cola changed its soda recipe and introduced the New Coke? To say the least it was a disaster. We are going the way of Coca-Cola with a dangerous branding process. Hopefully wiser heads will push the President back to the old United States of America, the country that actually stood for something rather than using the brand to make a buck.