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.

 


Don’t Worry, Be Happy?

December 12, 2016

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.

 

 


Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

July 28, 2016

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.

 


Politics Go

July 14, 2016

If I had any tech savvy or marketing skills I would try and develop an app to mimic the widely popular Pokemon Go, which is getting people out on the streets chasing those odd looking figures down alleyways and into buildings. But my app would be called Politics Go and would take the players on a trip across this country to find real Americans, real Americans who are struggling with serious economic, social and personal challenges that the political system is either ignoring or refuses to face.

The Politics Go app would take players to search for a veteran of our two recent wars who are suffering from post traumatic syndrome and contemplating suicide because there is little help available from the Veterans Administration.

The Politics Go app would take players to find the 43 million people mired in poverty in urban and rural areas in what is claimed to be the richest country in the world.

The Politics Go app would take players to meet those honorable police officers who risk their lives everyday to bring safety and order to a divided society.

The Politics Go app would take players to the mansions of the rich and well born who hide their wealth offshore to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

The Politics Go app would take players to a gun shop to purchase an AR-15 long rifle that has no purpose other than to kill people, a lot of people.

The Politics Go app would take players to Washington D.C., the center of our democracy, to find just one statesman or stateswoman willing to work with those they disagree with in order to fix our decaying country.

Sadly, my Politics Go app would be rejected as not interesting or exciting. The new world of augmented reality is about fun not about finding out about American reality. It would be great to see Americans walking the streets of this country trying to find veterans, poor people, police officers, tax dodgers, gun fanatics and failed politicians but a Politics Go app just wouldn’t sell; it would be too depressing.


In the Bunker

June 27, 2016

My wife Carol recently signed up for one of those complete dinner programs from Blue Apron with all the ingredients included in the UPS delivered box.  All the meals were simply delicious and easy to make, if you can follow directions.

The delivery of the latest box of dinners got me thinking about how we have begun to live these days and what the future may hold in terms of contact with the outside world. Just think about it, we can now work from home using our latest tablet or smart phone; we can have our clothes delivered by Amazon Prime; we can have our furniture sent to our door from Wayfair; we of course can have our pizza delivered hot and juicy with the new Domino’s “oven car”; and we can sit in our easy chair and watch the world of politics, sports, movies and music with just the flick of our clicker, or now by just talking into our clicker.

If you take this trend forward into the future we will not have to leave the house and stay protected from the challenges and dangers of the world in our cozy bunker- no need to interact with strangers, no need to drive in traffic, no need to dress for success, no need to go anywhere but the other rooms in the bunker. Add the fact that in perhaps twenty years each bunker will have a robot to do the mundane work of keeping everything ship shape and we are certain to be the definition of couch potatoes.

This bunker mentality likely will not be for everyone, especially those who get a feeling of joy and fulfillment by interacting with another human being, but the foundation is in place to build a better bunker, particularly if evil and violence lurk outside the door. Let the UPS driver deal with the evil and violence as we stay calm in our bunker.

Orwell in 1984 worried about Big Brother watching every move we make, but in the new brave world of the 21st century Big Brother will be joined by the Big Bunker. The sad part of this prediction is that many of us will buy into the Big Bunker mentality as we change our lifestyle from social interaction to social isolation. Got to go now, the UPS driver just pulled up to the door.


Have a Little Faith

July 6, 2010

We live in an age of faithlessness; there isn’t much that we believe in anymore. Although we claim we are a religious people and that there is a God out there who we talk to and believe in, we too often don’t act like we are a people of faith. For most of us our faith is for show, practiced on Sundays and then forgotten the rest of the week.

As someone who has struggled with his faith, I was overjoyed to read Mitch Albom’s new book Have a Little Faith. Albom, of Tuesdays With Morrie fame, has written a love story about the faith of two men, a rabbi from his hometown in New Jersey and an ex-con minister from the mean streets of 
Detroit.

The rabbi, Al Lewis, is an unabashed champion of faith; he believes passionately in God, knows there is a heaven, and is convinced that what happens in this world is the work of a Supreme Being, who has given us free will with the hope that we won’t make a mess of things.

The ex-con minister is Henry Covington, who runs a homeless shelter out of a broken down church. Henry also is a man of deep faith, but his conversion to God came after he spent the night with a shotgun waiting for drug dealers to take their revenge. Henry’s transformation is the direct result of a pact made with God. Times are tough for the Reverend, but as he says, God will provide and God is looking out for him and his congregation.

I could not help coming away from the book with a sense of envy as these two men put their lives and their careers in the hands of God and never wavered in their belief. Like Mitch Albom, most of us have a ” little faith” but not the kind of faith of Al Lewis and Henry Covington; these men just knew that they were part of God’s plan and that God was guiding them through life with all its ups and downs.

The three great virtues of the Judeo-Christian tradition are faith, hope and charity. For many of us the hope and charity part are pretty clear – we hope that good will overcome evil and we take care of our neighbor. It is the faith virtue that we often fail to understand and appreciate. In this world of science and narcissism it is hard sometimes to believe that seomone else is  the center of the universe, guiding us, saving us, hoping the best for us.

I came away from Mitch Albom’s book with a renewed sense of faith, unfortunately not the faith of Rabbi Lewis and Reverend Covington, but enough faith to be convinced that I am not alone and that someone, some force, some being is with me, and that I owe that someone, that force and that supreme  being a  profound thank you for watching over me.