My wife and I and our daughters have been to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico many times, always to enjoy the beautiful beaches, those delicious Pina Coladas and most importantly the wonderfully warm people. It looks like we will not be returning to these US territories any time soon- Irma and Maria have destroyed the American paradise.
Like typical American tourists we often spent our time at the centers of sun-bathing, dining and of course shopping. But in walking around St. Thomas, St. John and San Juan we made a point of going off the beaten path to walk around the neighborhoods that are less frequently visited.
What we saw in those walks is the stark economic reality of these islands. Our Caribbean possessions are more than tourist paradises, they are home to thousands of people who are just making a go of it. Cinder block shacks with tin roofs on dirt roads are commonplace, men and women sitting around idly because they can’t find a job,and kids begging for dollars in front of a J. Crew outlet are proof that all is not well on the islands.
Watching the reporting from the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico confirm that it will take years to rebuild the islands. But because so much of these dots on the map are dependent on the tourist trade, the poverty endured by the people will only deepen. The spirit to make the USVI and Puerto Rico a tourist destination again is present among the people, but it will easily dissipate as aid falls off, unemployment skyrockets and international attention turns elsewhere. Already some of the interviews of hurricane victims bemoan the fact that the Americans only care about these possessions during the tourist season and view the people as put on the islands to care for their vacation needs.
It is truly sad to see the devastation of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico – two truly magical places on the planet. One can only hope that our government and the private sector do not forget these paradises and the wonderful people who live there, after all they are Americans like us.
Ever since Pastor Joel Osteen of the Lakewood mega-church in Houston gave lame excuses for not opening the doors to flood victims ( the church was flooded and later the city never asked him) the Twitter universe has been up in an uproar. Osteen later did open up the doors but the critics continued their verbal onslaught.
Amidst all the fury over Osteen’s $10 million dollar mansion, his custom suits and his net worth estimated at $ 56 million, most of the Twitter attacks focused on his so-called gospel of prosperity, a bastardization of the real Gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John that chronicled the life of Jesus and his message.
A close reading of Osteen’s message in his books and televised sermons show little reference to Jesus and the early Christians. That’s not by accident. Osteen and many of his evangelical preachers do not want to talk about Jesus who befriended the poor, who lambasted the arrogant rich, who asked his followers to give up everything and follow him, and who gave comfort to the tax collector, the prostitute, the sick, and the dying.
The evangelical movement and its front line pastors like Osteen, Falwell, Swaggert and Graham are really not followers of Christ, but enormously rich charlatans who promise a better life with more money if people would just give them their hard earned cash. The Jesus who lives a life of poverty and throws the money changers out of the temple does not fit in with the gospel of prosperity that claims to be Christian but is just the scam of false prophets.
Being a true follower of Jesus is really hard as it is based on sacrifice, support for the downtrodden and the outcast, and a denial of wealth, which is why being a true Christian is not a terribly attractive religious lifestyle. If Pastor Osteen and the other charlatans want to promote the gospel of prosperity that is their right, and if their followers want to help these guys live in the lap of luxury, that is their right as well. But to call themselves Christians is the ultimate lie. Jesus would have come to the aid of the homeless in Houston and he would have told his followers to do the same. No lame excuses.
If anything good can come out of the Houston catastrophe maybe it will be a clearer understanding of how a real Christian behaves, not one whose net worth is $ 56 million and who lives in a $ 10 million mansion. Instead of trying to pry money out of his followers, Joel Osteen should read the real Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and acquaint himself with Jesus, the champion of the poor and the neglected.
As 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.
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.
Remember that song by Bobby McFerrin from 1988, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. It won the Grammy for Song of the Year and got listeners humming it’s simple optimistic words. Well this is 2016 and there is no equivalent song to get people feeling good about themselves. For those depressed about the victory of Donald Trump there is Alicia Keys’, Holy War, while those who are overjoyed about the new president bringing change and draining the swamp there is The Weekend’s Star Boy. And for those who are in the category of let’s wait and see, there is the Chainsmokers Don’t Let Me Down.
Popular songs, no matter what the message and the connection to our political life, may just be the antidote we need these days. Music has often been the way we relax and enjoy the wordsmith of our favorite artists. Yet every day, if you pay attention to the machinations of electoral politics, music now competes with our crazed politics. We live in a time that is a confusing downer with hacking, post-truth, charges and counter-charges, and those damn Russians. This is supposed to be the quiet interregnum after the election when we pay attention to the joy of the season, familiar songs, family, and burning a hole in our credit card. We should not be bombarded with constitutional crises, Internet conspiracies, blowhard pundits and those damn Russians.
I would suggest that we all crank up those FM stations and listen to the songs of the season – O Come All Ye Faithful, Santa Claus in Coming To Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Silent Night. These traditional songs may not win a Grammy Award like the work of Alicia Keys, The Weekend and the Chainsmokers, but we need a break from all the political noise.
Sadly though, political life in this country is not going to get any quieter. The noise will become deafening. We all need a break before January 20th and music whether popular or traditional is absolutely necessary. I’d like Don’t Worry, Be Happy to get a new lease on life because Donald Trump for good or bad will be the 45th President of the United States and we need to do our best to make our lives and our country whole again.
We all have sung the national anthem hundreds of times in our lifetime. Most of us don’t need to be reminded of the words by looking at a huge electric board at a sporting event; we hold our hand to our heart and belt out our beloved anthem.
But just as a reminder, I want to zero in on the last two lines of the anthem. We as citizens of this great country pride ourselves on living in the ” land of the free.” Then the anthem ends with the most powerful claim, the ” home of the brave.” Too often we accent the ” land of the free” statement at the expense of the ” home of the brave.”
I get the love of freedom part of the anthem since it defines our core value, and what separates us from so many other countries and peoples. But I do worry that many Americans don’t really respect and appreciate the ” home of the brave” charge made in the anthem.
Being brave is not just for the members of the armed forces, our police and fire officers, EMTs, and those under the radar agents who risk their lives gathering information in foreign lands. No living in the “land of the brave” means that all of us take an oath by singing this anthem to be brave, to stand up to terror, to refuse to be intimidated by those who threaten our domestic tranquility, to stand up for what we believe even in the face of danger.
We have heard a great deal of fear-mongering in the last few weeks that would suggest Americans need to take cover and protect their families and homes from some sort of civil war or internal collapse. Maybe I missed it but I didn’t hear the reminder that we as Americans live in the “land of the brave.” If we are to believe in the national anthem and sing it with gusto, then we need to show our bravery and not succumb to those who would suggest we cower in the face of violence and external threats.
So next time we sing the national anthem, let’s put the emphasis on ” land of the brave” and more importantly live our lives as brave Americans.