In Memory of Senator Robert Kennedy, 50 Years On

By Hank Boerner

The awful memories are awakened…again.

The call came at 3:00 a.m. from my close friend and colleague at American Airlines, the late Harry Parson. I was awakened and stumbled to the phone at that wee hour in New York City in June of that fateful year, 1968.

It was very sad news he had to share: U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just won the California Democratic Party nomination for his candidacy for the presidency and was celebrating with the 2,000 supporters in the hotel’s Embassy Room.

The senator was just 48 years old. His older brother, President of the United States John F. Kennedy, was tragically slain in Dallas, Texas just five years earlier (in November 1963). The slaying of JFK cast a dark pall over the United States in the months that followed.

Now it was 1968 and more sad news.

A 23-year old Palestinian born in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and now working in the hotel kitchen in California used a .22 caliber pistol to shoot the senator several times in the head and wounded five others. That man, Sirhan Sirhan, sits in jail today.
The wound caused grievous damage to Senator Kennedy’s brain. There was no coming back.

As the senator lay on the hotel kitchen floor, one of his close friends, Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier pried the gun out of Sirhan’s grip. Rosey was a football great, a huge tackle for the Los Angeles Rams football club. Rosey and Olympian champion Rafer Johnson held the gunman down.

Senator Kennedy’s wife, Ethyl, mother to their 10 children, was with her husband. (Another child was on the way – a daughter. Rory Elizabeth, was born in December, after his death. She is a well-regarded documentary filmmaker, including Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and Last Days in Vietnam.)

A devout man, he was given the Roman Catholic Church last rites and rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital where a team of surgeons worked on him for several hours. He passed in the intensive care unit a day later (at 1:44 a.m., June 6, 1968).

The media reported that night the third Kennedy brother – the youngest, Senator Teddy – was at the LAX airport and being rushed to the hospital.

The American Nation Grieved

The grief felt on his passing wide deep and wide. I stood on Fifth Avenue at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the funeral. I remember looking up at tall buildings all around and wondering if perhaps there was a shooter that would target one or more of the dignitaries outside of the massive church.

So much was unknown about the killing of the senator. And his brother, the president, was shot at a distance from a tall building in Dallas.

I returned home and watched TV in silence and sadness, as the days’ events were reviewed again and again. The train carrying the senator casket moved slowly from New York City through New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland, into Washington DC.

Two million people lined the route to pay respects and say goodbye. His 14 year old son Robert, Jr. moved through the train thanking people for being there and helping the family to cope with the loss.

Back in 1964, as a young reporter, I covered the former attorney general when he ran for office in New York State (he was not a resident, which caused some issues). He challenged popular, long-time Senator Kenneth Keating (Republican) and won.

He became a prominent advocate on key societal issues, including ending the war in Vietnam, human rights issues, ending poverty, addressing the needs of African-Americans and minorities, labor rights issues, and other social justice concerns.

I had numerous interactions with Senator Kennedy over the following years. In 1967 he intervened to help the  Stony Brook NY Jaycees and me bring a 13 year old Montagnard to America for education. When I explained the situation, Senator Kennedy had to threaten the reluctant South Vietnamese government to let the boy come to our country – and he did that with great vigor.

That boy from the Highlands of Vietnam got to the U.S.A., got his education and today is a social counselor in Rhode Island – he is my friend, Ha Kin Lieng.

Senator Kennedy took on tough issues that were at that time – and some, still boiling in this country – such as racial discrimination, inequality, conditions in inner cities and in Appalachia, immigration, the war in Southeast Asia.

The roots of the events of 1968 are again in focus with the 50 year point reached (1968-2018). The killing of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy set the course for riots in many inner cities that year, a tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago, escalation of the war in Asia, draft protests, campus takeovers by students…and in November, the election of the right-leaning “law and order” candidate, Richard M. Nixon.

Four years later, during the 1972 campaign, D.J.R. Bruckner, writing in The Los Angeles Times, would comment on January 6, 1972:     “…what is gone [now] is the popular passion for [dealing with] issues. Possibly, hope is gone. The failure of hope would be a terrible event; blacks have never been cynical about America. But conversations you hear among the young now, suggests the birth of a new cynicism.

“…you might expect young blacks to lose hope in the power elite, but this is different. A cold, personal indifference, a separation of man from man. What you hear and see is not rage, but injury, a withering of expectations…” (Bruckner was a columnist and social critic; he was on the list of President Nixon’s “enemies”.)

The Vietnam war would drag on until the last of the U.S. troops left the field in March 1973, five years after Senator Kennedy raised the issue of American involvement. Two years after that, South Vietnam would fall to the Northern communists, to become today’s “one nation”.

There has been much speculation about “what if” Robert Kennedy had become president in 1969.

Would the war have ended sooner, saving the lives of many young Americans? Would the nation have veered right socially and politically?

Would he have defeated Richard Nixon in November 1968? (The nation would have avoided Watergate and the fallout from that scandal and the diminishing trust in government.)

The Watergate scandal and Nixon resignation led to election of Governor Jimmy Carter to the presidency. With Bobby in the White House would we have seen turmoil in the Middle East (including the fall of Iran) and perhaps a lasting peace in the Holy Land? (Bobby was a tough negotiator.)

Perhaps…the civil upheaval in the U.S.A. that we see today might have followed a different course.

We can only wonder. But today, we should say a prayer in remembrance of a peacemaker, Senator Robert F. Kennedy. He is missed.  He made a difference. One day another man or woman will be inspired by his example and take up the torch for social justice as Bobby did.  He or she may be among us right now.

Remembering Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Her Rich Legacy

by Hank Boerner – March 1, 2018

As we watched the news of the tragic events at the high school in Broward County in South Florida, I wondered how many of us connected the oft-mentioned name of the high school with the woman – and her legacy – behind the institution’s name.

It’s a wonderful story to share with you: Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a valiant and heroic pioneer in so many ways on so many environmental and social issues.

She moved to Florida in 1915 from her early roots in Minnesota and New England (she was a Wellesley College grad) when the Sunshine State was in so many ways actually really a very new state. (Miami on her arrival had but several thousand residents and was a pioneer settlement).

Shortly after WW I ended there was a land boom in South Florida, with the Miami area coming alive with entrepreneurial and land and community development activity.

Some pieces of Miami land changed hands 10 times with the owner not even seeing the property “they owned.” The Miami Herald – her father was the founder and publisher — carried more classified advertising (buy my real estate!) than any other American newspaper at that time.

Marjory was born in 1890 and died in 1998 – her life spanned almost all of the 20th Century. She was an accomplished newspaper (The Herald) and magazine journalist, a tireless author and playwright and inspiration for female writers; an advocate for women, for civil rights, for human rights, for public health; a fighters for social justice; and a conservation leader who defended the previous Everglades eco-system for much of her life.

She moved to Miami – the new frontier of the American Atlantic coast in the early years of the 20th Century – and wrote for the city’s signature newspaper. She also wrote many short stories about this and that, for national magazines, and a run of good books. And then, in a defining moment in her life, she was invited by the Rinehart & Co. book publishing firm to contribute to the landmark series, “Rivers in America.”

(The 65 books in the series began appearing in 1937 and continued to 1974, with three publishers helming the efforts of local writers providing essays about their local rivers and the communities surrounding them.)

The editors asked her to write about the Miami River, which was not really a river at all, she cheerfully responded.

But then she began to research the ‘Glades” and there focused on the broad “wet” plains and the Biscayne Aquifer, giant Lake Okeechobee, and the role of the Kissimmee River in the fabled Everglades. The water was of the great stretch of wetlands was…well… moving…like a river.

The ‘Glades — not quite a river there, she explained to her readers, at least not like the Rio Grande or the Hudson or the Missouri and Mississippi – but it could be seen as a river of grass.

The result of her years of extensive exploration and research and working with naturalists and conservationists was her 1947 work, “The Everglades: River of Grass”.

She observed that the water did move, ever so slowly, shaping everything around it. That work awakened her interest in things conservation and environmental.

The Everglades was not just some, well, “swamp” – but a very important and vast and vital eco-system.

Graphics:  Wikipedia Commons

The Rivers series was very successful for the publishing house. I have copies of some of the book here on my bookshelf. Including River of Grass. Which has sold more than a half-million copies in the 70 years since first appearing in book stores. It is often compared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in terms of impact and influence and awakening of the public conscience.

Marjory fought for many years to preserve and protect that eco-system and much of South Florida.

Woe be to the “official” who stood in her way! She became known in the state as the “Grande Dame of the Everglades,” and a string of governors and other elected officials came into her crosshairs — and eventually under her sway.

I had the privilege to see Ms. Stoneman Douglas in action in Florida on several occasions. She appeared quite tiny and frail in her later days. But then she began to speak…and the sparks would fly! Her tiny voice was a megaphone for protection of the environment in Florida!

When I was an editor and publisher of Florida newsletters, magazines and management briefs, I constantly monitored the activities of the great lady, and came to appreciate the many achievements of her lifetime and way beyond (in the beneficial impacts on society today).

Today, thanks to her efforts, the Everglades National Park is a reality, saved from the relentless expansion and growth of developed areas for which Florida is nationally-known. Open space? Pave it over!

The area is also designated as a Wetland of International Significance and an International Biosphere Preserve.

We can all enjoy the Big Cypress area of the ‘Glades thanks to Marjory. Lake Okeechobee is still threatened by industrial activities but it is in much better shape than it would have been had she not joined the battle to push back on the flow of fertilizers, wastes into the lake, and other impacts that threatened this precious natural resource that helps to define Florida.

Well-Intended But In Turns Out, Boneheaded

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late-1930s and into the 1940s made a number of bone-headed decisions for “improving” the Kissimmee River flow and the effects on the Everglades. A series of floods had caused damage to newly-developed and agricultural areas, and the rising complaints by the increasing population moved government officials to “action”.

The river was “straightened out” in the 1940s and 1950s for much of it meandering course – with disastrous results. The little river flows from Lake Kissimmee, from close by to the well-visited Orlando area resorts, 100 miles south to the expanses of the Lake Okeechobee area through a wide and very flat floodplain.

This is home to a rich and wide variety of natural fauna and flora. In 1948, the Corps began building the “Central and South Florida Project” to move the river to a ditch, the C-38 Canal and installed water control facilities that…destroyed the natural river.

In 1992, the “reversal” began, restoring parts of the old natural river. The US Army Corps of Engineers splits the cost with the South Florida Water Management District – which Marjory helped to organize. (Known locally to some as “swiff-mud”.)

Marjory had strenuously pushed back on such modernization and “progress” — and won support for the restoration of the river; the project is still underway.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: The high school being named after her was in honor, we could say, of her quest for learning throughout all of her life. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Building in the state capital (Tallahassee) is home to the offices of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

In her lifetime she was awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom – by President Bill Clinton (1993). England’s Queen Elizabeth paid her a visit. The National Wildlife Federation Hall of Fame inducted her, as did the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.

When she passed in 1998 – 20 years ago at the age of 108! – President Clinton said: “Long before there was an Earth Day, Mrs. Douglas was a passionate steward or our nation’s natural resources and particularly her Florida Everglades.”

The Hall of Fame said of her book: “Her best-seller raised America’s consciousness and transformed the Florida Everglades from an area that was looked upon as a useless swamp – to be drained and developed commercially – to a national park that is seen as a valuable resource to be protected and preserved.”

And as we all know now, the scene of the February 2018 Parkland high school shooting tragedy took place at the high school named after her in 1990, during her lifetime.

Upon her passing her ashes were made part of the land – dust-returning-to-dust, to become part of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness Area of the Everglades National Park.

And now you know more about the great lady of that name, who was a powerful voice that would very much at home in today’s sustainability movement!

She would be railing (I could picture her doing so) about global warming and the rising seas. She experienced the devastation hurricanes that ripped through South Florida in the 1920s and worried about her little house in Coconut Grove – that might be underwater at some point in the 21st Century (the restored house is a National Historic Landmark).

Her advice (according to a biographer, Mary Jo Breton in 1998): “Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at any time. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed (and she was at times in her life), discouraged and disappointed at failure but the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”

# # #

To learn more about this extraordinary woman and fighter for our environment, see the well done profile on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marjory_Stoneman_Douglas

About her work, “The Everglades: River of Grass”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Everglades:_River_of_Grass

About The Kissimmee River restoration project: http://www.ces.fau.edu/riverwoods/kissimmee.php

The Hawaii Missile Alert – Panic on the Island – And Some Thoughts on the Lessons Learned in Crisis Management

By Hank Boerner

The Hawaii crisis story caught my eye.  For much of my career I was the point person in crisis events, preparing, strategizing, managing the response, communicating what was known (and avoiding speculation on the unknown), and working on “solutions” (to avoid this happening again) and then moving to recovery phase.

T’ain’t easy work! I remember reading that about 12% of the population is suitable for leading in crisis situations and I guess I got the luck-of-the-draw in my DNA. I thrived on it.

I was not alone. After a series of corporate crisis events in the 1970s and into the ‘80s, crisis management became a well-organized function within the corporate sector, at least among large-caps.  Crisis consultants flourished!

My “full immersion” began at American Airlines, where I was trained and “manned the desk” on numerous critical incidents and a handful of real crises events. We had a great system at the time, with a rotating 7-day/24 hour “watch” program in our PR / communications department (seven of us rotated through the drill every seven weeks for 24 hour duty).

Then on to state government, as a strategist and communicator for the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the authority’s Long Island Rail Road (busiest commuter line in the nation) and Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Some days we had simultaneous crises events erupting at the same time! And being in the political sphere, things were often complicated; even in those bygone days, political opponents were very vicious.

The New York Stock Exchange recruited me to be head of communications — and just think about the “swirl” of news around the world’s busiest stock exchange. I was part of a “reform” effort to help the NYSE communicate better – and we had a slew of crisis events during my time at 11 Wall Street. Great years! Great training and learning.

The above prepared me for another two decades with the great Rowan & Blewitt consultancy in helping corporate, financial services and even NGO clients in crisis management matters (including crisis planning, response, training, drills, on-the-spot crisis management services, recovery implementation).

And so my constant curiosity about what other folks do when a crisis whacks their organization.

One of the lessons I learned was that the crisis trigger (“the damned thing”) is never the only thing going on; all crises are complicated and a lot of things may be going all wrong at the same time.

Another lesson is that you can prepare/prepare/prepare – and still things will go wrong.  Bad things happen to nice people.

An example of this is a crisis training (“real world scenario”) workshop in Mexico for a corporate client. We had everything lined up – dramatic videos, manuals, check list, actors playing a role, dummy phone calls coming in, everything to make the heart pound and the forehead drip with sweat.

We gathered the participating managers in the room, closed the door, and turned on the TV with simulations of police, fire and ambulances racing to the facility. Suddenly, they all whipped out cell phones and began barking orders to subordinates – the whole facility went nuts! (Yes, we had told them to not use phones – to leave them outside of the room.)

And that brings me to the thorough reporting today in The Washington Post by correspondents Brian Fund and Mark Berman about the recent incident in Hawaii with the false alarm on a missile strike.

The Hawaii January Caper

Think about the environment – the set up: The President of the United States of America, most powerful country on Earth, is Twittering threats to the “Little Robot Man,” the unpredictable leader of what we call, “The Hermit Kingdom”, who is developing and testing atomic weapons and the long-range missiles needed to deliver same. As he says, we can hit you, USA.

Stated targets of Robot Man: the island of Guam (with U.S. military bases); nearby Japan (our ally we are pledged to defend); South Korea (just across the 38th Parallel, and the target of the north’s attack in June 1950 on Seoul); and…the State of Hawaii!

Part of whose culture is the long-term remembrance of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 – a sleepy Sunday morning.

An alert in case of an actual attack on Hawaii today would be broadcast locally by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, of hurricane response fame); the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); and the wireless industry – local carriers on point, with the local emergency response center.

Of course, there is thorough planning and practice drills. Drills. More drills. Tests. Drills. Does everyone get the word, though – like, this is a drill / this is real / this is not real, it’s a drill?

Apparently not that January day.

The alert system is all set up and ready to go. The missiles may be coming at any moment. Everyone on the island-state will get the word when there are inbound missiles (giving you 15 minutes or so to do……what?).

So Wot Happened Here?

On January 13th (in the midst of vacation season) according to The Washington Post report on the follow-up FCC investigation, a night shift manager decided to test the incoming day shift workers with a “surprise,” spontaneous test of the alert system.

The day-time supervisor “appeared” to be aware of the test — but thought, well, this was for the night shift workers (not my daytime guys and gals).

So the day shift manager apparently was not at all prepared for the morning shift drill to be sprung. Got it so far?

The daytime drill begins — and an employee on the day shift thought the situation was real, not a drill, not a test, but an attack coming at him – he quickly looked at the Alert system’s computer pull-down menu and hit…the wrong button.

The message sent to everyone’s cell phone: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Remember that 15-minute time period for “doing something”. Some 38 minutes went by before the “forgetaboutit” message went out.

Three minutes in, the day-shift manager sees a “false alarm” message on his cell phone. The governor is alerted (he will do something – later – see below). Seven l-o-n-g (very long!) minutes go by – hey, guys, there is no plan to manage a false alarm like this – -what do we do now!

Minutes tick by…tick, tick, tick. There’s widespread panic reported. Chaos. Then 26 minutes the managers come up with a way to do an all-clear (really!) and they started working on it.

Tick, tick, tick…14 minutes later the “correct” message gets broadcast. (Remember that, if you were there, maybe in a hotel room or on the beach or in a school, in a real attack you have 15 minutes warning!).

The standing drill protocol includes playing a recording by the U.S. Pacific Military Command  — the recorded message is for drills by the emergency workers to warn them of the FAKE threat: “EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE.”

(Wonder if FAKE NEWS! chitter-chatter had any bearing on what happened?)

And, most important, the line — “THIS IS NOT A DRILL” – only to be used for real time incoming missile attacks. Makes sense then for Army, Navy and Air Force personnel to know: This is NOT a drill. The attack is coming!

The night shift manager played that recording for the day shift staff as part of the drill (he was setting up a realistic scenario, of course) – with the word “Exercise!” up front, and then “…this is not a drill – not a drill..”

Alas, the daytime worker pulling down the menu did not hear the first part – “exercise,” three times stated — but did hear, “this is not a drill”…and so, the warning went live at once.

The FCC investigation found that only that employee didn’t get the word, or didn’t understand that this was a drill.  News reports tonight say that worker was dismissed.

# # #

The news out of Hawaii is that there are today no new emergency drills scheduled; there will be more warnings before drills; a second person (how smart!) will be assigned to confirm “yes or no” (is it the real deal or not); and the computer programs and menus will be adjusted.

In all of the planning, apparently there was no difference in the “user interface” for (1) test alerts and (2) sending an actual alert that a missile is inbound. We hope that the “Are you sure you want to send this Alert” on the drop down menu will be adjusted in some way.

Among the news items that Hawaiians saw during 2017 was…that the Cold War sirens of yesteryear’s scary days were being re-instated. That’s comforting…right?

Oh, and about Governor David Ige and his actions taken – The Washington Post story said it took a while for him to intervene and calm things down because…he forgot his Twitter password. Really.

And In The Aftermath

Every state and local emergency responder will be looking at their own plans and drills and applying the lessons from this escapade. That’s the good news for today. The FCC is going to order new approaches for cell phone alert systems. The State of Hawaii will take the steps to improve their alert system.

And so, dear friends and colleagues – remember what I said about things going wrong are usually not a single development that occurs but many things going whacko-all-at-once, complicating response (or even gaining an understanding of what is going on!).

Perhaps if the two heads of state taunting each other and hurling insults across the Pacific Ocean reaches would…refrain…the fear levels would subside.

On the Korean Peninsula, in Japan home islands, in the Pacific Basin, on Guam, on Hawaii. And inside the emergency response headquarters of Hawaii.

Yes, we have to be prepared for a crisis event including a missile attack. Yes, we have to plan and drill. Yes we have to give as much warning time as we can.

But mistakes do happen – all the time. Imagine that drill in a U.S. missile silo or worse – in the North Korean nation. Twitchy operators, nervous fingers…poised…God help us all!

We recall something the military leader Napoleon Bonaparte said: “There are not bad soldiers, only bad officers.” Hmmm.

The 21st Century Company – And You — Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the Now Very Familiar… Disruption!

Theme-setting Comments at the Skytop Strategies’ “21st Century Company” conference, early-November 2017 in New York City. This was my third time opening the conference to set the theme of the day…

By Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

There are three words that I think define the concept of these 21st Century Company gatherings. The approach was conceived more than three years ago over lunch with Chris Skroupa, my partner Lou Coppola and I. And the words keep ringing true ever since.

The first word is Iteration — from the ancient Latin: again…and again…and again. Science and Discovery is about iteration — it is the basis of our scientific theory and practical application of scientific advances. We hear these days about “science-based” and “evidence-based” progress being made. At least from most of us.

The second word is Innovation — also from the Old Latin — the new. Something, everything — new. Most of us are interested in the new; some are anxious, others enthusiastic.

The third word is Progress — also from the Latin roots and with us with the same meaning for many centuries — it is the story of humanity — forward! Moving forward.

Interation / Innovation / Progress. Think of the great inventions of the later years of the late 18th and 19th Centuries that made the 20th Century so very different in so many ways in our personal and business lives. In finance — in public and private governance — and other aspects of our lives.

Our lives in Century 20 were very different from the experiences of generations before us. And will be in Century 21 thanks to the great progress of prior decades.

We can see all of this at work in these Inventions.

First, Electricity – the “Dynamo” (as it was called) that harnessed the power and changed nighttime dark to daylight at any time!

Telegraphy, the Wireless and Telephony….over time leading to the broad-bands of our internet and our cell phone. Everything is powered by electricity.

And the internal combustion engine – providing reliable, portable, movable power — today, cars & trucks and airplanes on the move dominate our lives, don’t they? Speaking of the last….

In the early 20th Century, The Great Tinkerer, Henry Ford brought together many scientific advances in glass, metallurgy and development of materials such as plastics, instrumentation, rubber for tires, the internal combustion engine…and more… to mass produce cars & trucks.

Henry Ford invented the efficient modern factory with his idea of bringing the work to the worker. His advances in the innovations related to motor cars brought about great progress. He was also a…farmboy at heart.

And thanks to the farmboy in him — Ford Motor Company has been making certain parts out of soybeans. This is both a 20th Century and 21st Century story.

Founder Henry Ford planted 6,000 acres of soy on the company farms. In the 1930’s he worked with soybeans to develop early versions of plastics, paints, and other products familiar to us today.

He actually made very sturdy car fenders out of soybeans and was photographed banging on such a fender with a sledgehammer — more than 70 years ago. Those old, collectible brown Ford stick gearshift knobs? Oh, yes — they are a soybean extraction!

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Henry-the-Tinkerer pounding away at a fender made of soy — he wanted to make a whole vehicle out of the wondrous plant!

One thing he invented in his laboratory for us to use every summer — the charcoal briquette. This came out of his “Industrialized Barn Concept,” his idea that future farmers might use their barn for production in the cold winter months!

And now to 2017 — in mid-October, Ford Motor Company celebrated the 10-year anniversary of using soybean-based-foam in its car seats. That practice saved 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere — equivalent to CO2 consumed by 4 million trees in sequestering carbon emissions.

You can see the soybean seats in Ford Mustangs of the last 10 model years. More than 18 million vehicles produced in North America have soy-derived foam seats, proudly notes Great-Grandson / Ford Chair William Ford – an MIT grad. And he is Great-Grandson as well of Harvey Firestone, the rubber tire innovator. And he drives a Mustang with soy seats. And Firestone tires!

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Photo:  William Ford, Chair of the Ford Motor Company with a Mustang — with soybean seats!  20th Century meet the 21st in technology!
Tinkerin’ away: The Ford Company’s lab tinkers today with such materials as wheat straw; rice hulls; trees; coconut; kenaf; tomato peels; chopped up US dollars; dandelions; algae; agave…you know, the stuff of tequila! The derived materials may be going into tires and gaskets.

That is truly 21st Century Corporate Sustainability in action!

The Spirit of Old Henry-the-Tinkerer & Innovator lives on. As does the Spirit of Thomas Edison. And Alexander Graham Bell. And many other tinkerers.

This is for us clear demonstration of the spirit at the heart of science, of scientific discovery…and of Innovation. And the outcome: the Progress we make!

Another great 19th Century invention I mentioned was the harnessing of Electricity: This new power source drove wired transmissions; think of the telegraph as electrons whizzing through wires to carry dots & dashes. Then telephony evolved with voice-over-wire; then came electrons driving radio waves, then television waves, then wireless telephones. What comes next?

Think about the little and very powerful cell phone, our wire-less telephone that we take for granted — we carry the device around and depend on it for many things every day. The amount of processing power far exceed the capacities available to “tinkerers” like the early space astronauts in their space-borne vehicles.

Speaking of Innovation and Interation…remember Radio Shack? Kids-in-the-garage of Silicon Valley invention fame shopped at Radio Shack for parts — the Steves, Jobs and Wozniak of Apple fame. Radio Shack is gone. Apple thrives. There is great irony here for us…

The fourth word for us to keep in mind for the 21st Century is very important: Disruption.

Iteration, Innovation, Progress…leads to Disruption.

Economist Joseph Schumpeter described the concept of creative destruction almost 80 years ago.

This is the process in our Capitalistic society of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, destroying the old / creating a new structure.

Applying this to Radio Shack: Technology writer Steve Cichon in Huffington Post in March 2014 mused about the February 1991 Radio Shack ad that highlighted electronic items from the ubiquitous storefront – well-known for several generations as “America’s Technology Store.”

This was before the debut of the World Wide Web (in 1994, by tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee), tiny cellular phones and other goodies in our lives that we take for granted today.

To explore the pace of innovation / and the resulting disruption – and the impact on our everyday lives, please do think about right now:

• The pioneering Tandy 1000 personal computer in the 1980s;
• the little “microthin” calculator;
• home telephones (copper wires!);
• stereo player;
• tape recorder;
• CD player;
• phone answering machine;
• earphones;
• microphone;
• speakers;
• photo camera,
• camcorder/video camera;
• weather station;
• AM-FM clock radio.

All that was listed in an ad at about $3,000 in 1991 dollars. That is $5,400 in 2017 dollars.

And all of those electronic miracles of 26 years ago are right here in the 4-oz Apple iPhone! At in one hand, at a fraction of the price, all portable, all in your pocket.

Think about the progress that is made, step-by-step, an iteration or discovery (one at a time), that lead us to miracles in our lifetime. There is such an exciting future ahead for the Millennial Generation, isn’t there.

I’ll leave it here for now. We will be exploring all through our day together the marvels and miracles — and hard work — that leads us to ….

Iteration / Innovation / Progress! And the now very familiar… Disruption!

This is what the 21st Century will be all about.

Independence Day – July 4th – The Special Meaning of This Day

by Hank Boerner

Happy Birthday, USA Independence!

Every year by order of the U.S. Congress we set aside this day to celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by the courageous leaders of the 13 original states along the Eastern seaboard of this continent.

This was an action taken by the Second Continental Congress of the 13 “United States of America” gathered in Philadelphia — [a]n unanimous decision by “the Founding Fathers.”

The First Continental Congress had met in Philadelphia in September and October 1774 to arrange for a mutual resistance to British rule.

The first skirmish would be in April 1776 at Lexington and Concord and the War of American Independence was on.

In May 1776 the Second [meeting of the] Congress would instruct the individual states to start putting new constitutions together for self-rule.

Meeting in Philadelphia in July (2nd to 4th), the Congress would declare American Independence and adopt the Declaration.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Declaration’s text boldly states,”that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain un-alienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

The text noted that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their Just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…56 representatives from the various states would sign their names.

Some of course familiar: John Hancock. Thomas Jefferson. Robert Morris. Benjamin Franklin. William Floyd. Richard Stockton. Samuel Adams. John Adams. Roger Sherman…and many more.

The first major battle of the war would be in what is now Brooklyn, Long Island, New York (Kings County), the Battle of Long Island — with masses of British army and naval forces coming close to defeating the small Revolutionary American Army, and the long and brutal War of Independence (from the rule of England) would ensue, continuing until 1781.

Early in the war, the Delegates of the States assembled (November 15, 1777) to agree to a “confederation” of the 13 states and to a “Perpetual Union” between the states.

The War of the Independence of America would end at Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781. The Treaty of Paris would finally end the war in September 1783.

On March 1, 1781, the members of the American Congress would agree to “ratify” The [1777 drafted] Articles of Confederation (13 in all), to officially create these “United States of America.” The powers of the Congress are spelled out in these pages.

And then came one of the most momentous of documents of humankind: The adoption of the Constitution of the United States of America, with Articles hammered out and set before the assembled Congress on September 17, 1787 and on March 4, 1789 the Constitution was formally adopted in the new nation’s capital, New York City.

Along with certain Amendments (which we know as the Declaration of Independence) — Amendment #1 being that Congress will make no law regarding [establishment of] religion; nor prohibit free exercise of religion; or abridge freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble; or to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.

These are echoes of the 1776 grievances embodied in the Declaration of Independence firmly “amended” to the Constitution. Over the years the first 10 have been expanded to 27, the last adopted May 7, 1992 (dealing with Congress establishing compensation for the members).

How bold/courageous/inspiring:  “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union…”

When I was in grade school, after World War Two ended and the peacetime returned to the United States, the State of New York assembled many of the important documents that explained the long, arduous steps to American (and state) freedom, and took these around the Empire State by train.

The railroad cars that I visited in my hometown station had facsimiles of state charters, minutes of the legislature over the years, letters of leaders (like Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman), and the New York State ratification of the Constitution of the United States on July 26, 1788 — with the first 10 amendments which were suggested by the state (not included in the Constitution but also as the first of the amendments).

We youngsters were shown the Federalist Papers; the original draft of the Pledge of Allegiance (1892); documents relating to the Freedom of Religion (the Flushing Remonstrance); the transcript of the Trial of printer John Peter Zenger (1734 – helping to establish the principle of Freedom of the Press in New York City); the newspaper published in 1849 in Seneca Falls, NY by Amelia BloomerThe Lily — the first to be owned, edited and published by a woman…lending support to the fight for equality in voting by women); the document from the legislature in March 1799 — AN ACT FOR THE GRADUAL ABOLITION OF SLAVERY, taking effect the following July 4th, 1800!

And more: the documents establishing Freedom of Education (in New York State); others advancing Science and Manufacturing (which included establishing Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); Freedom of Labor (establishment of Civil Service Law; 1945 anti-discrimination law signed by Republican Governor Thomas Dewey, who would stand for election as President of the United States two times).

The idea for the New York State Freedom Train began in November 1947, when the National Freedom Train came to Albany, the state capital city. The National Train was on tour with its collection of important documents and in the city for one day only.

The state librarian was so impressed that the office began assembling the collection of Freedom Documents that would be put on a bright blue and gold, 6-car state train and taken all over New York State beginning in January 1949 (three cars were full of the documents). As I said, we school age children were taken for our “official tour,” and reading the many documents was something quite impressive and that I remember to this day.

How many children in America — or adults! — are exposed to these important documents that are related in so many ways to the Declaration of Independence, whose signing we celebrate today with fireworks displays?

How many families would go visit the assemblage of such documents – or on a national of state basis – in these busy times?

Maybe…we need another Freedom Train (where rail lines still exist) to help to tell the story of American Freedom, and the part that each of the original 13 states played in establishing these great United States of America.

Happy Birthday, America!

# # #

Postscript from Hank Boerner – July 6, 2017 – the Washington Post on July 5th:

“Some Trump supporters thought NPR tweeted propaganda. It was the Declaration of Independence.”

The story:  As it its tradition on July 4th, the staff of NPR’s “Morning Edition” program tweeted out the Declaration of Independence, Since 144 character is a challenge, this took 113 consecutive posts for the entire text. Then the blowback began, explains Post writer Amy B. Wang. Quite a few people took issue with the “propaganda,” thinking it was about President Trump.

Hmmmm….very interesting!  The parts that attracted real blowback included…

…He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.”

,,,”A Prince who character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unit to the ruler of a free people.”

Was this about Trump?  NO — King George III of England was the subject of the Founding Fathers’ complaints in the Declaration!  The Post writer points out that the text and purpose of the Declaration would likely be recognizable by those who have applied for U.S. citizenship — since questions about the document are on the naturalization test.  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has a list of study materials in case you or someone you know might be interested.

But a lot of people seem to be un-familiar with our foundational documents (that’s why I took the documents as the theme of my commentary on America’s Birthday).

The Post had four thousand-;plus of Tweety-bird responses to the story and NPR staff said “the tweets were shared by thousands of people and generated a lively conversation.”

My post above is based on facts — the actual document (our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution with our Bill of Rights — and I guess some might consider this propagandizing.  Guilty as charged.

You can read the Post’s story and some of the responses, and comments on the  the NPR Tweets at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/05/some-trump-supporters-thought-npr-tweeted-propaganda-it-was-the-declaration-of-independence/?utm_term=.14470aa78db8&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

 

 

 

 

United Air Lines – The Bad News Continues to Dribble Out

By Hank Boerner
April 12, 2017

United Air Lines, need we say, is in the midst of a serious brand and reputational crisis. Social media chatter is replete with those awful loops of passengers’ cell phone videos of “brutality” on a UAL aircraft — and are spreading the bad news worldwide, in a flash!

Broadcast and cable channels had a good run of the story with passenger videos as the highlights of the report on the goings-on in Chicago on Sunday night. Love those ubiquitous cell phone cameras.

How both alarming, and mesmerizing: Who could turn away from the video clips of ham-handed airport security staff dragging a 69 year old paying customer out of his window seat, slamming his head against the seat post, knocking off his glasses, bloodying his face, dragging him down the aisle in front of other passengers. No wonder it went viral – worldwide!

While he (Dr. David Dao) apparently tried to explain at the start of the incident that he was a doctor and needed to get to his patients in Kentucky, airline staff and airport security officers ignored him — and got on with the job.  And so we saw them in action.

Oh, those resulting headlines:

Facebook: (“Man Violently Dragged Off Plane After United Airlines Overbooks Flights!”)

Also reported with the passenger videos on The Huffington Post. “Dragged like a rag doll,” a witness posted on a Twitter account.

Facebook: (“United Airlines CEO Says Cops Will Never Remove a Booked Passenger Again…Will Use Common Sense.”)

A passenger watching the incident told the media: “He said, more of less, I’m being selected because I’m Chinese…”)

All of this is certainly not good news for the airline on the China mainland, where there is wide public outrage being expressed. The doctor clearly being brutally yanked from his window seat – which he paid for and thought he was entitled to — and was apparently of Chinese or Asian origin.

(The devil is in the details; have you ever read the fine print of the Airline Contract of Carriage, which sets out the rights, rules and procedures governing your relationship with an air carrier? Here’s United’s, in case you are considering a flight: https://www.united.com/web/en-US/content/contract.aspx )

United and its China Market

United has scheduled flights between the USA and China cities — Chicago/Beijing; Chicago/Shanghai; Denver/Zian; Houston/Hangzhou..,and more city-pairs. United has flights to five mainland China cities from various U.S. cities. In all, UAL has cities to 14 different Asia/Pacific destinations. Not a market to have branding issues in, especially this, with discrimination overtones.

What are the Asian customers of the airline thinking about today? There were almost 300 million immediate “hits’ on Chinese social media — and the story is still “new” and in the current news cycle. A boycott was part of the chatter.

And those passenger-provided cell phone videos continue to play in endless loops on television news media around the world.

As Fox Business reported, “Horrifying Video Threatens United Airlines’ Big Investment in China.”

Speaking from Experience

I’ve worked a good number of years during my career as an airline corporate citizenship manager, spokesman, issues and crisis manager, and marketing strategist. I can’t fathom what would move airline personnel to conduct themselves in such a manner when it comes to dealing with their customers. ( “The flying public,” as one would say,)

Yes,working with passengers, things can get tense. Perhaps the cabin crew was exasperated due to a series of incidents (the “now what”!); maybe the ground crew just wanted to get customers off/employees quickly to avoid criticism (what? you didn’t get the flight crews to Louisville on time?).

Of course, all manner of operational issues come up with an airline company having so many moving parts. Fleets of giant airliners moving through the skies, leaded with passengers; landing and taking off at various airports, large and small; the task of people-scheduling to make sure employees (including flight crew) are at their assigned post for “go on time”; fuel loading; baggage loading/unloading; dealing with changes in weather…and more.

Airlines train and train again to make certain their employees are prepared for “anything.”

And then in an instant it hits the fan and we find out if all that training paid off, are we really ready. Or not! United clearly was in the “not” column this weekend.

The Crisis Details Dribble Out

The details continue to dribble out (the worst scenario in a critical issues situation, of course). The Sunday evening Chicago-Louisville flight (3411) was ready to go and then came the announcement: the plane is over-booked and four passengers need to get off.

The airline’s explanation was that the flight being overbooked (again, not uncommon) meant that four people had to yield their seats. Money was offered (again, not uncommon — it’s the way carriers coax passengers out of their seats).

What happened next? The Washington Post played the story big in the nation’s capital. Where lawmakers, employees of regulatory agencies and other key players could take it all in.

This is an example of where the right or wrong language used is Important — especially in critical incidents.

The Post reported that the airline told the local newspaper in Louisville that the situation was “an involuntary denial of board process.” (Is that clear to you now?).

Apparently no one on the Sunday night flight home to Louisville quickly volunteered to leave their seats. (If you were headed home, would you have gotten up? Maybe – people do that when the price is right.) That’s when the airline “chose” passengers to leave the flight to accommodate four UAL personnel who “had to fly” to get to other aircraft to meet flight schedules.

So, the airline staff selected by some means four people to leave the aircraft.  Three people agreed to leave. When a fourth passenger would not leave his seat, the crew summoned Chicago Department of Aviation security and the man was violently dragged out of his seat and down the aisle and off the plane.

Somehow he got back on the plane, blood on his face, glasses back on, howling it was said, and then was dragged off again. He eventually left the terminal on a stretcher. (The flight will not leave until everyone is off, the cabin crew evidently barked to the passengers.)

When the four crew members came on to fill the vacated seats they were reported to have been booed. Aren’t you ashamed to work for this company, people shouted to them.

The airline began to communicate, sending conflicting messages to the employees and media. (The flight was overbooked; or, the passengers had to make way for United employees. The passenger was belligerent end unruly. The removal was established procedure. The man ran back onto the aircraft in defiance of both our crew and security officials. )

EVERYONE was taken off the plane and after a while re-boarded as the man left on a stretcher. Some did not re-board (they were high school students and their chaperone, the Post said).  The CEO issued an apology to the passengers who were re-accommodated!

Fall Out – Death by a Thousand Cuts

As The Washington Post put it: “It’s a story that has shaken a global air carrier worth billions of dollars – and one that people around the world can find nothing right in at all.”

Investors reacted on Monday, sending the UAL stock downward at once. (CNN: “How to make a PR crisis a total disaster.”)

At the daily news briefing the White House press secretary was asked if a federal investigation was warranted. The U.S. Department of Transportation was looking into the situation, we learned. The late night comedians had new content to add to their stand up routines.

Finally the CEO apologized to the passenger who was “forcibly removed” and to all customers on board the fight. “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”

Another oops moment the media had fun with: Oscar Munoz, the CEO, was named “Communicator of the Year” by PR Week for “transforming the fortunes of the beleaguered airline, galvanized the staff, and set the airline on a smoother course…” (This after a year-and-a-half on the job.)

Systemic Failure?

Over my four decades of crisis management, one of the things learned early on is that it usually is not a single “thing” that goes wrong. Whatever issues bubbling just beneath the surface can suddenly erupt to complicate the response to the (initial) single incident.

The information from the local scene (usually distant from the where the leaders who have  to respond is ) can be scant; the news reports can be conflicting; the standard comments prepared in advance can sound hollow and uncaring as the details of the incident become more widely known. (“This is standard operating procedure?”   Really?)

Unhappy employees can react to situation irrationally and even violently; local managers can make very “wrong” decisions and then try to correct, making things worse at times.

This was a Sunday evening; management was not likely to be at the office and equipped to move quickly to address the situation and begin communications (not in either the HQs or the airport).

Lessons Learned?

What are the lessons learned? We hope for the Chicago Department of Aviation, it’s don’t go dragging and injuring passengers off a plane because a long-time hometown airline asked you to. The aviation authority had moved quickly to put the security officers involved on administrative leave.

For the airline leadership: Best to always think up and down the value chain about actions taken and communications needed with key constituencies.

Employees (we hope they are viewed as team members and not just numbers in an organization as it grows larger).
Customers (especially those in physical proximity, at the curb, at the counter, boarding the plane, in their seats, during the fight, as they leave the cabin, getting their luggage).
Potential customers (what are they thinking today about their intention to fly United).
The public-at-large (who as they continue to fly in greater numbers and frequency have come to think of airlines as un-caring, faceless bureaucracies that take advantage of the public with planes that are cattle cars in the skies).

Regulators (yes, airlines are still regulated entities).

As for not flying United, we must remember that they have 50% or more market share at some key cities (Newark, New Jersey) and considerable share of market at Orlando, Boston, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston. (In 2010 United and Continental merged, creating one of America’s largest airlines.)

Perhaps then we should re-examine the structure of the American airline industry: have the dominant carriers become too big to manage?

Should we explore public policies that would begin to return us to the days of robust competition within the U.S.A. industry to try to ensure greater competition and more “customer-friendly” service?

More accountability by large carriers? Should we devise consumer protection measures that would help to reduce the perception that airlines don’t give a damn about their customers?

These and other questions will likely be raised by public policy experts in the days ahead, as the United situation calms down…and another airline crisis erupts. United meantime is the poster child for everything Americans hate about the airline industry.

# # #

Author Post Script:  July 6, 2017 – ABC News Report

Well, it happens again — United Air Lines accused of abusing a customer today.  A mother traveling with a 27-month old son, en route to Boston from Hawaii, had to hold the boy on her lap for hours of the final leg of the flight.  She bought a ticket for the son — two tickets for the flight, money in the United till.  So what!  Hey, we are overbooked – so hold the kind on your lap. (As unsafe as that is – note, please, federal safety regulators.)  A standby passenger took the boy’s seat.

Later United evidently learned that the boy’s ticket was not properly  scanned.

The woman did explain the situation to the crew.  We wonder what is missing in common sense, good judgment, customer-first (should be) thinking at the carrier.  Oh, and the woman appears to be of Asian background.  United is counting on the Asia market – on China flights — to assure its future.   A small note to think about as you Stay Tuned top United’s passenger treatment.

 

Mr. V – The Mysterious Pilot – For Your Distraction & Entertainment

March 7, 2017

A story as told to Hank Boerner

The daily news and tweets got you down?  Here’s some light stuff for you.  May or may not be fake news.  Do Stay Tuned – to Mr. V. the Mysterious Pilot…

by Hank Boerner

Back in the day, when I was a young pilot and aviation journalist, I met Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot. In this era of fake news (2017), which is the taking of tiny facts and factoids and made up stuff and then weaving distortion around these, and sharing with other babbling idiots on the social media networks…well,. you may or may not believe the story I about to tell you.

This was 50 years ago, when all-things-aviation were the grist of hot news stories, print and broadcast features, many columns (like mine that ran in various print media), and most enjoyable, “hangar-flying.”

That’s when the weather was too risky to fly and so private and commercial pilots would gather ’round in the hangar and radio shack and swap tales.  Fake news?  Maybe.  Exaggerated experiences?  Par for the course.

In my continuous rounds of large and small airline offices, commercial & private aviation offices, hangars-upon-hangars at airfields-upon-airfields, I met a lot of interesting characters.

Some were world famous: the courageous General Jimmy Doolittle, who led the 1942 raid on Tokyo; Roscoe Turner, the 1930s pilot who flew with a lion cub in the cockpit. Women who were buddies of disappeared flyer Amelia Earhart; Mrs. Charles Lindbergh (herself a pilot, navigator and great author); astronaut Jim Irwin; the fabulous pilot “Jeeb Halaby, US Navy, former CEO of Pan Am and my partner in aviation business adventures, His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan, who flew me around in his helicopter over the Arabian Peninsula deserts; my flying buddy, Fearless Freddie Feldman, the WOR-Radio ttraffic and news pilot in New York City.

And VictorV-the-Mysterious-Pilot. This is his story. Shades of James Turber’s “Walter Mitty” character and his fantasies: Instead of the pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the tiny engines of the old bi-wing aircraft, this evening at dusk there was the vrooom, vrooom, vrooooom of the single-engine aluminum craft, running up before take-off at the small, out-of-the-way airfield not far from the city-center.

The usual run of 800 feet down the runway to lift off was now three times that distance. Because Mr.-V’s fuel load was several times that of the normal capacity. (He had installed extra gas tanks where seats were previously bolted down, all around him!)

Later tonight he is flying off the radar and long, long way off, he tells me.

The planned flight will head out to the deep blue waters of the North Atlantic Ocean…and then east/southeast a bit aiming towards Bermuda. Refuel there and then on to the Canary Islands. And then…nearby Lisbon, Antwerp, and then…destination secret.

What is this? The fiftieth flight, I’m told, by Mr. V, flying across the Atlantic, and his last in this single-engine small airplane, he says. Too risky. Not as sure-footed, he explains, as the un-marked vintage bombers he’s been flying to distant civil wars, like the one (going on back then) in Angola, Africa. The long-time Portuguese colonizers were battling “freedom fighters,” who seemed to be battling each other.

Mr. V. had a kind of mittle-European accent, claimed to be British, or at least was born in the”British Isles”; had a patch over one eye; was always clad in a flying suit (sort of fancy with trim) with shiny jodhpur boots — or — sometimes he showed up in a dashing blue blazer with flying insignia.

And that traditional, lovely flying silk scarf. Looking somewhat at times like “Flying Jack” or perhaps Terry-and-the-Pirates (remember those comics strip of your youth?).

This particular1960s flight was to deliver the new (and very very small) single-engine aircraft made in America to some un-named purchaser in Eastern Europe. Or the Caucuses; or the Middle East…or Turkey….or…who knows where.

The bombers? Mr. V. said these are surplus World War Two aircraft of the U.S. Army Air Corps and later, the succesor US Air Force. Painted over (no insignia). Often decked out in gray or desert camouflage paint with darkened windows. Bomb bays still intact.  Radio gear and radar updated.  No machine guns (yet) pointing out of the windows.

Now, most trans-Atlantic flights of the day (this was still in the early years of jet airliners) were out of Idlewild / New York International — renamed Kennedy International after the assassination of the young President of the United States in 1963. There at JFK were located the weather briefing rooms, FAA offices to log your flights, radars, services, and so on. Mr. V’s flights avoided JFK.

He preferred little, out-of-the-way strips, preferably with unmarked hangars for flight preparation. That’s where I would usually meet him.

He would pilot neat little B-25 light bombers (twin engines, vrooom, vroooon); a B-26 every now and then; a C-46 (cargo version of the ubiquitous DC-3 on the 1940s); an aging DC-4 (four engine, very old airliner with piston engines); a more modern DC-6 four engine airliner…and more, many more types of aircraft civil and military. Cargo craft; seaplanes; passenger craft; bombers; fighter aircraft; private aircraft of all types.

An “amphibian” (capable of land or water landings) was taken to Norway. A small airliner flown out to the west coast of Africa. A light bomber winged its way to Formosa (Taiwan) over Pacific Ocean waters, with many island-hopping stops for fuel. Maybe, just maybe, some of the aircraft being readied for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Communist Cuba. Maybe.

Mr. V. claimed he was raised in the USA, joined the U.S. military after Pearl Harbor was bombed in December 1941, and during the war flew “everything” — fighters, bombers, transports. He held the “Air Transport Rating” of the USA — one of the toughest to win as a pilot. He said, anyway.

Who were the clients? These and those. Sometimes they were “airlines,” or ” new aircraft owners in Europe or Latin America” … And others..

Well, to me he always seemed to work in the shadows with periodic appearances in regal gear to swap stories and quietly boast of new adventures.  Real? Dunno.  Fake news?  I don’t think so.

These were mysterious times with mysterious combat going on here and there in the world.  The Cold War was on!

His mission often was down-to-earth (at the end of the flight) — supplying unmarked old bombers to un-named folks in both real and fantasized faraway countries. That were at war internally or with neighbors. Or with colonizers.  Or maybe getting ready to go to war. Or maybe they were very early terrorists.

One of these old bombers, Mr. V. told me when he was preparing it for that ocean flight (and I did see the real aircraft and sat in cockpit!), was stored for a long time at a secluded airport alongside a large factory in upstate New York where military aircraft were manufactured. A long time ago (remember, this was in the 1960s that I met him in hangar-flying bull sessions). How many were still there? A few. Many. Just enough to satisfy customer demand.  Maybe he didn’t know. Maybe they were not really there but somewhere else, like in the Southwest desert.

As I think back: So was Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot “real?” That is, was he “real” in today’s era of fake news? Were his missions real? Dunno.

He shared little “proof” or evidence (beyond me seeing various aircraft about to fly off). And this was long, long before Google searching, when searching out such information would have been difficult.  I did not find anything on Mr. V. today in searching.  Just the facts here in my notebook.

I enjoyed his tall stories until…  One day, there was no more Mr. V. No one seemed to know where he had gone with the un-marked twin engine Mitchell B-25 light bomber with two engines and lots and lots of high-octane fuel — the last flight he prepared to go off to… as far as I know.

Maybe a spark over the deep ocean set off a catastrophe? Maybe he was captured at a jungle landing strip?  Crashed into the Pyrenees between Spain and France?

So there you have the story as I remember it, and from my notes of the day. Shades of Walter Mitty in his imaginary yellow WW I biplane…pocketa, pocketa, pocketa…

CAVU to you, Mr-V-the-Mysterious-Pilot. Clear skies and unlimited visibility, where ever you may be today.

And for you dear friends, I hoped you liked his story, and that it took your mind away from the unhinging and lunacy that’s descended on our capital city.

The Presidents and the Press – a Contentious Relationship

By Hank Boerner

The relationship between the President of the United States of America and the free press of our nation is very often a contentious one. Print me good news, and spare me the bad is often the wish of the nation’s leader (and we should include this as views of corporate CEOs and others not sitting at the Resolute Desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

As the Founding Fathers debated the future government of our country, and shaped our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the man who would become POTUS #3 — Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, observed: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the People, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter…”

Of course, even President Jefferson (serving 1801-1809) had his issues with the press of his day. And that has been a constant tone for most-if-not-all of our heads of states for yea, these many decades back to the time of our Founding Fathers and Mothers.

The man credited with creating the modern presidency, President Theodore Roosevelt (#25, serving 1901-1909) was a writer himself, a prodigious book author and magazine contributor, and he used the technology of the day (the printed press) to get his points across to friends, allies and enemies.

Behold, The Muckrakers!

Five years into his presidency, and beginning the second year of his second term, the Crusader-in-Chief (fiercely battling monopolies, Big Business, fraudulent food and drugs, and more) delivered a speech in which he targeted the media of the nation.

This was April 1906, as “TR” celebrated the setting of the cornerstone of the Cannon Office Building up on Capitol Hill. President Roosevelt famously termed his position as the nation’s highest office holder as having possession of the “Bully Pulpit” — bully at the time meaning something of celebration and victory rather than today’s popular meaning as a bully picking on the vulnerable.

And so from the Bully Pulpit, TR held forth, targeting the media of the day who (he charged) made up stories and dug and dug for “dirt.” These, he said, were the “muckers with rakes,” a takeoff of the description in the Pilgrim’s Progress (a late-1600s Christian allegory by English author John Bunyan). The allegorical “muckrakers” were (men) who looked down at the bottom of the bay, rake in hand, tackling the muck at the bottom.

Sounding eerily reminiscent of January 2016 and the lively dialogue going on about the President and The Press and their relationship: These men (TR charged) were selling newspapers and attacking mean and women and society should not flinch from seeing what is vile and debasing. Wow!

The journalists of the day were mostly delighted by this! They began to call themselves muckrakers (the term comes down to us today) and their ranks grew as these investigative writers poured out magazine articles and books.

You may know some of their names and certainly know of their works: Ida Tarbell, and her crusades that led to the breakup of the monopolistic Standard Oil (the Rockefeller interests); Lincoln Steffens (also taking on Big Oil interests); Jacob Riis (a Danish immigrant and chronicler of the fate of poor immigrants in New York City); S.S. McClure (an immigrant), publisher of the populist magazine of the day, McClure’s. And, Ray Stannard Baker, Edith Wharton, Finley Peter Dooley. Later came such muckrakers as the legendary I.F. Stone, the nemesis of president-after-president.

And even later (more recent, that is) successors to their legacy include the CBS team of “60 Minutes“‘ the writers at Mother Jones; at The Nation; at The Progressive; of Rolling Stone (like Matt Taibbi).

Master of The Media – Especially The Radio

One of the Masters-of-the-Media residing in the White House was the sixth cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, the four-term President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).

There’s an important point to make here: the media covering the White House has leveraged the technology of the day to communicate the news (and opinion) to the masses. And so have presidents.

President Donald Trump’s expert use of social media (call it “citizen publishing” to be correct) is a parallel to the expert use of “The Radio” by #33, President Franklin Roosevelt.

Upon taking office, FDR delivered his first “Fireside Chat” from the White House (the media applied the name soon after).

On March 12, 1933 he spoke to the nation on :”the Radio,” — the nation was deep into the crisis of the Great Depression (with one-of-four households having no income). He began….”My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the People of the United States about banking…” (He was declaring a “bank holiday,” a wonderful phrase about shutting every bank in the US to determine which ones could open later with solid finances to protect customers.)

Keeping the Words Flowing from the Chief

FDR would deliver some 30 chats (the number is disputed with some saying 27 or 28 is more accurate). He spoke to the nation during war time, when his administration was taking steps to address this or that crisis of the day, such as why we had to be the Arsenal of Democracy to save democracy around the world, and more. Commercial radio was created in 1924, so “The Radio” was as new to FDR as Twitter is to President Trump.

And press conferences — FDR would gather “the boys” around his desk to chat about this and that. Some 337 press conferences in his first term and more in the second term.

Earlier in the 20th Century, President Teddy Roosevelt used the media of his day — especially mass readership magazines. (He himself often wrote for “Century,” the influential thought leadership mag of the day.)

Press Freedoms – Guaranteed

It’s January 23rd today (in the glorious year 2017, approaching 229 years since that day in June 1788 when our beloved and very durable U.S. Constitution went into effect with the vote of the ninth state, New Hampshire).

The very first Amendment, we all have to remember, was this: Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…

And so, these many years on since the first president assumed the office (George Washington, April 1789 in New York City, then the capital), the to-and-fro of the media-White House relationship continues in time-honored tradition of each party!

And so back to President Thomas Jefferson, who long after leaving office observed publicly: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

And privately he complained to a successor, President James Monroe (#5): “”From forty years’ experience of the wretched guess-work of the newspapers of what is not done in open daylight, and of their falsehood even as to that, I rarely think them worth reading, and almost never worth notice…”

In composing this, I thought about the communicators-in-chief and their origins. New York is considered to be the Media Capital of the nation. And Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and now President Donald J. Trump — all New Yorkers. Maybe it’s something in the water here….

Let that be the last word for today!

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If you want to hear a magnificent orator addressing the nation, tune in to President Franklin Roosevelt’s radio speeches, courtesy of his library at Hyde Park, New York. Link: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/collections/utterancesfdr.html

FDR’s “Chats” are here: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/fireside.php

Teddy Roosevelt’s famous speech launching the Muckrakers movement is interesting: The Man With the Muck Rake: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/primary-resources/tr-muckrake/

 

 

We March Again Today to Honor Dr. King

On this day each year we celebrate the life and considerable contributions to the American society of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Next year it will be 50 years that we lost this great American pastor, civil rights leader, thought leader, and conscience of the nation.

This year as we celebrate his life and contributions we also think about what he might be preaching in a Sunday sermon, or speaking about in the halls of power, about the state of racial relations.

Could he have imagined the day when an African-American could serve eight years as President of these United States of America? I think so.

Could have imagined the frequent “showdowns” between people of color and police officers? Yes, but judging by his calls for nonviolent protest and for peace and harmony for the nation, he would be greatly disappointed that in some instances we have not moved far from the 1960s…his prime years as the nation’s leading civil rights advocate.

As we await the ceremonies — and protests — scheduled for January 20th in the nation’s capital, I think back to a day in 1963 (August 28) when Dr. King and the era’s civil rights leadership called for a public demonstration and 250,000 people showed up, including many white citizens showing their support.

On the great mall, those gathered heard the “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They also heard the voices of prominent entertainers, as we are hearing today, in support of the appeal for justice and harmony. (Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Bob Dylan, now a Nobel Laureate, and Joan Baez, among them).

“Now is the time,” Dr. King proclaimed. Time to make justice reality for all of God’s children. Time to make real the promises of democracy. Time to rise to the solid rock of brotherhood (out of the quicksands of racial injustice).

Across the nation today tens of thousands marched again, in Dr. King’s memory and both mourn his loss and celebrate his life.

May we keep in mind the power of the People when they march for righteous reasons. When they protest against injustice.  In March 1965, peaceful marchers going from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, were beaten by troopers and police.

The young civil rights leader and mentee and colleague of Dr.King, John Lewis, now a distinguished Member of the U.S. Congress, among them, still weak from his beating. A week later President Lyndon Johnson announces that his Civil Rights bill is on the way to the Congress. And Federal troops were in Alabama to protect the marchers this time — and 1,000+ clergy flocked to Selma to join the march. And as we said, the courageous young Lewis was back on his feet after his beating by troopers and marching with his brothers and sisters in the call for voting rights..

Today in Miami, Florida, Congressman Lewis delivered a powerful reminiscence of the day he was clubbed on the bridge over the small river at the start of the first march from Selma.  He is among those still among us from the early days of the civil rights movement (along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson.)

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The Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. was the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1960, his son, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. joined him as co-pastor. This was his important home pulpit as he traveled the nation and the world (receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts) speaking truth to power.

Congressman John Lewis, representing the great city of Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives for many years now, is today a member of that historic church.  He remains a greatly-respected civil rights icon. And he is as outspoken today as he was as a teenager in the Deep South questioning the racism of the day.

Love is better than hate was his important message for us today.

Jan 2017 – As We Await the Arrival of the New President…

by Hank Boerner

As we await the arrival of our new president and vice president, cabinet members, and  welcome the new members of House and Senate in the 115th Congress …

All eyes will on this nation’s capital on Friday, January 20th as a new President of the United States is sworn into office in the peaceful transfer of power that marks one of remarkable and unique qualities of this great nation. #46 in the long line of Chief Executives and Commander-in-Chiefs will be Donald J. Trump of New York.

We’ll say our (temporary) goodbye’s to President Barack H. Obama and depending on our point-of-view, this will be in the spirit of “thank you and well done” with tears in our eyes — or something quite different!

There was great excitement and expectation when Barack Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. His was expected to be a transformative presidency for many reasons. The nation was reeling from a series of interconnected critical issues that seriously impact many, many of our citizens. Some of those issues remain to be addressed and resolved (if at all possible).

And so back in November 2008, soon after the election results were clear and we could think about what was ahead under the new administration, and a new (Democrat-controlled) U.S. Congress, I thought about the promise of an earlier age, with a new president at the helm, and the progressive movement that was coming into full flower. At that time, a Republican was in the White House.

With discussions about our country being left/right, liberal/conservative, a 50/50 divide in America and so on, it’s worth looking again here in January 2017 at the past for lessons for the future — looking again at the Progressive Movement and the many benefits that we all derived from that era.

Here (below) is my original commentary back in 2008 just after that November election and the results were known: A “transformational” chief executive officer was coming to the White House in January 2009.

Ah, I’m thinking today, and so here we are again, with another tumultuous presidential election behind us and another transformational head-of-state coming in January 2017.

What kind of chief executive officer will President-elect Donald J. Trump be? What kind of transformation might he bring about? What can we expect from the 115th Congress, now convened and announcing bold moves? Will we move left or right — progressive or regressive? Backward, forward, in progress terms?

What lessons should we take forward from the past, in the Progressive Era for application in this 21st Century — if not to be taking literally, then as wonderful inspiration for doing the right thing for all Americans!

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WHO WERE THE PROGRESSIVES – WHAT CAUSES DID THEY ADVOCATE? AND, ABOUT THEIR ENDURING, POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE…
originally posted November 14, 2008 by Hank Boerner

During the 2008 primary campaign season at one point U.S. Senator Hillary Clintonwas asked about her political leanings — wasn’t she a true liberal as charged by the Right?. Her reply resonated with a number of people: I am a Modern Progressive, she told the interviewer.

That got me thinking – so what’s wrong with being a progressive…isn’t it the fundamental drive of the American Dream to make “progress” and be all that we can be, to borrow from the great US Army marketing slogan…as a society…and as individuals?

As we consider how (liberal) or (left-leaning) or (middle-of the road) the incoming [Obama Administration] and factions of the new (114th) Congress might be, I’d like to put the question in the context of my belief that we are likely at the moment of dramatic societal change.

This is shaping up to be one of the fundamental, once-in-a-generation shift of American politics and culture – from the dominance of right-leaning (more conservative) politics of the 1980s (and things cultural) to the center-left … and maybe even more left than that.

The perilous state of the economy has a lot to with this – consider the several millions of manufacturing and related industrial jobs lost in the US in recent years; the ongoing chaos in the capital markets.

The seizing up of banking and business, government and commercial credit markets; the consequences of our military affairs (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going on longer than the years this nation fought in all of WW II).

The erosion of all-white dominance of institutions; the increase in the nation’s non-white populations; the foreclosures that are mounting month-over-month in too many neighborhoods (10,000 US homes-per-day are now being foreclosed!).

The growing wealth and income gaps as the middle and lower economic rungs become ever more slippery for American families …as the wealthy get wealthier-still…and more issues than that to address!

Where does Modern Progressivism fit into these issues?

The era’s “Robber Barons” — wealthy interests and strong men who monopolized and controlled the railroads, Wall Street institutions, banking, large corporate enterprises, and numerous monopolies, a/k/a the “Trusts” — were under fire for their practices and ways of doing business.

At many levels of society there was growing displeasure about business monopolies, price-fixing and other practices of the big businesses of the era.
Common factory workplace conditions for many Americans were about the same as [those] social investors today criticize certain US companies for condoning far off in their overseas supply chain.

When one of the era’s Robber Barons’ companies took a strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, owner Andrew Carnegie took a trip to the British Isles while his hired strikebreakers, the Pinkertons — who with the looking away of local and state officials, savagely attacked the workers, injuring many and killing nine.

Union leaders were charged with murder and treason. The company broke the back of the movement workers to organize and the early concept of collective bargaining. Such was the state of labor-management (or “owner”) relations as the new Progressive Movement began.

This was the ending of the “Gilded Age” (described by author Mark Twain in his book of that name), delightful times for the elites and the wealthy and super-wealthy. (And as he penned this, Mark Twain was living an era full of business and political corruption. For many in big business firms, working conditions were more like those in Charles Dickens’ novels, such as Ebenezer Scrooge (the owner) and Bob Cratchit (his employee), in the scene from that Christmas Eve in “A Christmas Carol.”

TR: Enter the President as Chief Crusader

As the progressive thinkers in the American society reacted to conditions that they believed had to be changed for the nation to fulfill its promise of social and economic equality, in the White House, an [seemingly] unlikely champion took center stage to dramatically change the way things were: Ambitious, young, action-oriented, and very bright, Teddy Roosevelt had been governor of New York, and was elected William McKinley’s VP in 1900, mostly to get him out of the way of the Republican big bosses.

He had too many radical thoughts about upsetting the system that benefit the wealthy ownership class. Upon the assassination of President McKinley, “TR” became President of the United States (September 14, 1901). Throughout most of his presidency he was a dogged, committed crusader — especially against corruption in both the public sector and the private sector.

In the era of giant corporate enterprises rapidly (and rapaciously) consolidating power and influence on a scale never seen before, President Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement provided a very effective counterbalance.

Seeing threats to the American Democracy and the unique capitalistic system of the USA if things weren’t changed, TR took action and the progressive movement grew to support the concepts advanced.

He was an unlikely leader of reform of the system because Teddy was born into the wealthy class and easily could have been an elitist leader. He used what he called “the Bully Pulpit” of his presidency to rally support for change. (“Bully” in those days was a cheering call — bully for you!)

Through the pressure building – especially from the population below, and broadening media coverage – eventually blew the lid off the American Society, and the reforms flowed forth over two decades:

Consumer Protection – advocates drove adoption of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (resulting in today’s FDA protections; many of today’s food supply protections; regulation of medicines, and more).

Protection of Workers – workers got the right to organize; the 8-hour workday became the norm; there was protection of worker health (such as in the coal industry where many suffered from black lung disease); unsafe factory conditions began to be eliminated.

Child Labor was controlled – eliminating tiny children working alongside adults in industrial facilities.

Urban Residents began to be protected – reforms of the day began eliminating crowded tenement housing, which often led to sickness, including widespread tuberculosis; water supplies were regulated and protected, probably the greatest single factor in health advances in the early 20th Century.

Education – Progressives encouraged wider access to education for children, especially in the cities, to eliminate crime and the cycle of poverty, and to begin to build a larger, more educated middle class. Citizens were to be broadly educated in public school systems.

Political Corruption Battles – included direct election of member of the US Senate; encouraging closed (secret) ballot elections; addressing the power of political bosses in the big cities; addressing voter fraud.

Progressives addressed the root causes of poverty – especially urban poverty, with millions of immigrants flowing to port cities, and then crowding in to work in the steadily expanding universe of factories. The plight of immigrants were top-of-mind for progressives, including encouraging immigrants to move out of over-crowded cities, and address their health, job, education, and other social needs.

The Progressives’ work protected your parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents!

Protecting the Nation’s Natural Resources – President Teddy Roosevelt was in the lead here, setting aside about 100,000 acres a day for the future generations throughout his two terms! He created sanctuaries and reserves of various kinds by executive order. (The National Park System would come about a few years after he left office, in one of the Progressive Movement’s finest moments.)

Treatment of the Nation’s Veterans – encouraging health care for veterans, and pensions for military retirees

Encouraging Fair TaxationSpreading the Burden – the adoption of a progressive / fair tax system (the personal income tax came during the Progressive Era; before that, the primary means of support the federal government included tariffs on goods.)

Encouraging Social and Economic Justice – addressing the situations of Native Americans, and tens of millions of immigrants pouring into the USA – your ancestors and mine!

Regulating Industry – curbing the runaway power of large corporations; curbing large business monopolies in key sectors; first President Roosevelt and then successor William Howard Taft led the battle to break up large industrial trusts, such as the Sugar Trust, Steel Trust, Beef Trust, and the Oil Trust (the Rockefellers’ sprawling Standard Oil Empire was broken into individual operating companies — today’s Exxon, Mobil etc..)

Progressivism – A Broad Societal Movement

Note that what we’re describing here was in ways a political movement, yes, but the progressives were not necessarily organized only as a political party movement (such as “the Democratic Platform”).

This was a society-wide, mostly national social movement at many levels of the culture working to make America a better place…a kinder and more caring society…and more inclusive society…yes, a society which encouraged the spreading of wealth beyond the handful of powerful elites who commanded the apportioning of capital, the means of industrial production, and the transport and distribution systems necessary for truly national commerce.

* * * * * * * *

A combination of forces brought progressivism to the center of American life: as author A.J. Scopino, Jr. writes:
“…Historians agree that in the first two decades of the 20th Century [reformers] employed a scientific approach when addressing social problems, No longer content to accept and explain the miseries of life through fatalism or sheer luck, progressives were eager to utilize new tools, strategies, methods, and discoveries of new academic disciplines (especially sociology), to correct social maladjustment.

“Examining workers’ wages, living expenses, housing conditions, family size, working conditions, diets, and other data, progressive reformers studied, analyzed, and then offered measures to correct inequity and insure social justice…

“As firm believers in the American democratic process and in American institutions, reformers called on the government to legislate against political, social and economic wrong doing…”

* * * * * * * *
And the Progressives wielded mighty clubs – the era’s hot new media such as mass circulation magazines, as well as daily newspapers (New York City had a half dozen or more dailies) were their communication outlets.

This was the time of the muckrakers – whose words were eagerly awaited as the uncovered corruption in business and government. Today’s “60 Minutes” on the CBS Network  continues the tradition begun a century ago by Ida Tarbell (nemesis of Standard Oil), Upton Sinclair (whose novel about big oil was recently made into the movie, “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day Lewis), writer Lincoln Steffens, and others.

The progressives brought about a better country with their reforms. Their work was instrumental, I believe, in creating the conditions that led to the rise of the middle class – the engine of our GDP (2/3 of the US economy). Millions of Americans were the beneficiaries of the progressive thinking of 100 years ago.

* * * * * * * *

Of course, conditions are different in 2008 and 2009, aren’t they? OK, let’s admit we’ve made tremendous progress as a society since the early 1900s. Thank the progressives for that.

The problems and challenges and issues of our age will be addressed in different ways, it appears, after January 20, 2009.

The early 20th Century progressives were united by a number of forces. Based on what I have been seeing in recent months – one example was the Barack Obama campaign fervor – this Millennium Generation, approaching positions of influence and power – may revive the spirit of the early Progressive Movement, especially if they unite to bring about important changes.

Stay Tuned to the shift taking place in public opinion, the shift from right-to-center or even center-left, and the drive for a better quality of life in this great nation. We may be on the verge of something really exciting – with expanding (not contracting) opportunity for most Americans! The best that our nation can be…may be just ahead of us.

Your thoughts?

(for more details on the Progressive Movement, read “The Progressive Movement, 1900-1917,” by A.J. Scopino, Jr; 1996m Discovery Enterprises Ltd.)

Photo: Crowded cities: The original Progressive Movement came together more than a century ago.  Under conditions that include several sounding a bit familiar in 2008.  Immigrants were flooding into the US (the late-1800’s waves came from Italy, Eastern Europe, Russia, and other lands) and many of the recent arrivals were living in terrible conditions as they landed and remained in the crowding cities.