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

 

 

 

 

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!

# # #

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/

 

 

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!

* * * * * * * *

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.

The Cyber Attacks on America — Today, Identifying Russian Civilian and Military Intelligence Players as the Culprits

December 29 2016

FBI, Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence, the White House — speaking out today on the issues.  The pros and cons are vigorously debated!

by Hank Boerner

The headlines roared forth today:  President Barack Obama’s Administration announcing sanctions on Russian interests — President-Elect Donald Trump saying he’s not so sure the Russians were involved.  Prominent Republican U.S. Senators (John McCain and Lindsay Graham) demanding action against Russia.  Back and forth it went all day and on into the nightly news and the chattering cable class.  Russian leadership immediately chimed in promising retribution for any U.S. action taken against their country.

So what is going on?  We’ll see a flood of comments here in the U.S. (pro and con, certain and questioning) on this and that and whatever, about the Russians hacking, whether that affected the recent election outcome, who thinks they did and who thinks they did not…and on and on.

Take a deep breath.  For context, let’s begin with the official announcements from the U.S. government agencies on the front lines of the attack/defense/retribution. (I know, I know — not everyone will trust the official government explanations!)  To the extent that you trust government agencies and leaders of those entities, at least understand what it is that they are saying on the record.  And what information they put forth to support their opinions.

The President today authorized actions in response to the Russian government’s “…aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election in 2016…”

The President-elect has been communicating (in various ways as is his style) that he is not so sure that it was the Russian government.

Some people are not getting past these conflicting views to get to the rest of the story. (We do know that President-elect Donald Trump apparently bristles at any mention of less-than-a-triumph-for-him-at-the-ballot-box — just watch the tweeting. So the idea that there was outside influence could undermine the confidence in his win – not good.

The White House today emphatically said the cyber intrusions — yes, attacks — were intended to attempt to influence the 2016 election (the main story the media picks up on).  AND they were intended to erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions; and, undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government.  That part should make every American anxious — and angry — and give pause to think about the consequences of this, if true — no matter their political and personal beliefs (left/right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican, etc.)

The Obama Administration is taking action in response, and what we know at least publicly tonight is:

  • Nine Russian entities and individuals are now officially sanctioned. These are the two Russian intelligence services (GRU and FSB); four officers of the GRU; and three “companies” providing support to the GRU.
  • The U.S. Treasury Department identified two Russians who used cyber-enabled means to steal funds and personal identifications.
  • The U.S. State Department designated two Russian compounds (in New York and Maryland) used by Russian intelligence agencies, ordering them shut overnight and entrance barred to Russians.
  • 35 individuals identified as Russian intelligence operatives are declared persona non grata – they are accused of violating their diplomatic duties and must leave the U.S. (and cannot enter if they are out of the country).  The individuals are in the Washington, D.C. Russian embassy and the San Francisco Consulate.  They have to be out of the U.S. (with their families) in 72 hours.
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation released de-classified technical information on Russia’s civil and military intelligence services cyber activity to help American network managers identify, detect and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber attacks.
  • The Obama Administration will deliver a report to the U.S. Congress soon detailing the Russian efforts to interfere in the November presidential election and what the Russians have done in past elections.  This should create more headlines (and cable chatter) as it lands on Capitol Hill.
  • The White House pointedly reminded us today that President Obama, back in April 2015 — long before the 2016 election — signed an Executive Order (#13964) creating a new authority for the U.S. government to more effectively respond to Russian (and others’) cyber threats.  This enabled the U.S. government to harm or compromise the abilities of “entities” attacking the U.S. — this could be via a distributed-denial-of-service (“DDOS”), for example.
  • And, the U.S. government could cause a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain.  Watch this!  There’s three weeks to go in the tenure of President Obama.The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security today issued a “white bulletin” (publicly available information) on “Grizzly Steppe” (Russian Malicious Cyber Activity).  The 13-page document is a “Joint Analysis Report” (JAR) that says this:  Russian civilian and military intelligence services (“RIS”) have been attacking the U.S. government, private sector entities, political entities (the Democratic Party), and attempted to interfere with the presidential election.

Think about this:  Attacked / hacked in the USA:  critical infrastructure entities; think tanks; universities; political organizations; corporations in the private sector.

Today’s document provides detailed information for American network security managers to protect their systems. Watch out for “Energetic Bear,” “Fancy Bear,” “Grey Cloud,” “HammerDuke,” “Tiny Baron,” “SEADADDY,” “WaterBug” — and many more Russian operators in your IT systems!

As for the election season attacks, the U.S. government officially confirms that two different “RIS” actors penetrated the Democratic National Committee systems.  They were identified as “APT 29” and “APT 28” — Advanced Persistent Threats.  The successful attacks started in summer 2015 and continued into spring 2016. The attacks are detailed in the JAR — you can read it (it’s publicly available) here: https://www.us-cert.gov/sites/default/files/publications/JAR_16-20296.pdf

And to make sure the American public understands the Federal government’s position on the Russian attacks, the FBI, Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said the following:  The intelligence community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, and that the disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks are consistent with the Russian-directed efforts.

Government officials said this activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.

As we know, a great deal of information — such as analysis and forensics — related to Russian government activity has been published by private sector security companies.  The U.S. government today confirms that the Russian Government conducted many of these activities as reported by the private sector firms over the recent months. (The U.S. government says the attacks have been going on for a decade or more.)

And so, the U.S. government is now arming computer network defenders with tools to identify, detect and disrupt Russian cyber activities that can do harm.

Over the coming days there will be lots of back and forth on who did what / or didn’t / or who should be tracked down and punished / or “we should move on and forget all this talk about the election, etc. 

Remember that Executive Order 13694: It was issued in April 2015 and updated (amended) today by the President.  This is an Executive Order Taking Additional Steps to Address The National Emergency With Respect to Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities.

The update adds entities and individuals to the “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). Russian individuals are named as well as these Russian entities:

  • The FSB / Federal Security Service of Russia
  • The Main Intelligence Directorate
  • Special Technology Center/St. Petersburg
  • Zorsecurity / Esage Lab / Tsor Security
  • ANO PO KSI — The Autonomous Noncommercial Organization of Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems

Stay Tuned:  Watch the rollout of the activities authorized by the Executive Order — including naming names and related personal financial information that could roil Moscow, depending on the details to be released.

There’s still more than 20 days to go for President Barack Obama to order action. Silent or announced.

You can read the Executive Order update here at the U.S. Department of the Treasury: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20161229.aspx

 

 

 

 

Just The Facts, Ma’am, Said Detective Joe Friday. The Dragnet Cop Should Be Around Today…

by Hank Boerner – August 11, 2016

The brilliant presidential advisors and later, U.S. Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, said it best: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”

As I watch the current presidential campaign, the good Senator’s comments come to mind. So do the comments of Detective Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet (radio and TV) about “facts.” (“Just the facts, ma’am,” he would say.)

Too often, it seems, facts and fiction became intertwined and inseparable in the running commentary of the 2016 presidential election.

Let’s look at some economic facts in the hope that he American voting public can be better informed when watching the television news reports or attending a political rally.

Let’s start with these exciting facts for investors: Today as I write this (August 11) the three major stock market indexes all reached all-time highs, simultaneously. The last time that happened was 1999 – 17 years ago.

Today the most followed market stock market indexes stand at:

  • Dow Jones Industrial: 18,613
    S&P 500: 2,185
    NASDAQ: 5,228

Where were we on January 20, 2009, as the new president was being sworn in? (Recall that was the time of the financial markets meltdown and investment portfolios were heading to 40% losses.)

  • Dow Jones Industrial: 7,949
    S&P 500: 805
    NASDAQ: 1,140

This week’s market news is pretty encouraging for 401-k and IRA owners, eh?

Let’s look briefly at national unemployment rates:

  • July 2016: 4.9 per cent
    January 2009: 7.8% (would rise to 9.9% by December)

The web platform Politifact (published by the Tampa Bay Times in Florida) provided a scoreboard of the economy under President Barack Obama in June 2012 as he neared the end of his first term.

Fact: Overall inflation was 4.3% in 2008 / “Zero” was at in 2009

In the months leading up to the start of the Obama Presidency in January 2009, layoffs were peaking and the number of jobs lost — according to the U.S. Department of Labor — exceeded an estimated 7 million jobs…going, going gone as the Great Recession took the national economy into the abyss.

In December 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor described the situation this way: “…unemployment rose to 7.2% (from 6.8% the prior month); employment [fell that month] by 524,000; 1.9 million jobs were lost in the last four months of 2008; job losses were large and widespread across major industry sectors.”

There were 2.6 million jobs lost just in the year 2008 alone (fact source is CNN Money). The job losses in the U.S.A. were astronomical as the stock market cratered in 2008 and into 2009.

Consider: In September 2008: some 400,000-plus jobs were gone. In November 2008: 800,000 jobs lost. Layoffs continued into 2009, into the early months of the new administration in Washington (April 2009: almost 700,000 jobs disappeared).

Think of the ripple effect — if one industrial job was lost, economists’ rule of thumb was that three or four or more other jobs were disappearing, too.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported on August 10, 2016: Employers have added nearly 200,000 jobs each month since early 2010. (Remember: early in 2009 Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.)

After going deep into non-growth GDP territory in 2008, 2009 and toward 2010, we moved back into positive growth in 2010 and pretty much stayed there until today.

Check out the interesting charts at: http://www.cbpp.org/research/economy/chart-book-the-legacy-of-the-great-recession.

Last month — July 2016 — the country added 255,000 jobs.

Whether you believe the White House records or not, in March 2016 that was the source for this set of data:  The private sector had added 14.4 million jobs over 73 straight months of job growth.

There was not all good news of course, and you can check out the full report with its data and charts here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/04/01/employment-situation-march

Look at the job gains as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor this year (2016) alone:

January:168,000
February: 233,00
March: 186,000
April: 144,000
May: 234,000
June almost 300,000
July: 255,000

And let’s not remove from our memory the preservation of an important industry employing hundreds of thousands of men and women in this country: vehicle manufacturing and marketing. Politifact noted (September 2012) that employment for car makers and their suppliers was up 250,000 jobs from 2009, with sales rising for Ford (13%), Chrysler (14%) and General Motors (10%) in 2011.

That’s a long way from 2008: GM out of cash to pay bills, Chrysler reeling as well; Ford in better shape financially having mortgaged literally all of its assets just before the financial meltdown on Wall Street. (The New York Times, November 27, 2006 — USD$19 billion as factories, equipment, offices, patents, trademarks, ownership in Volvo and other businesses were mortgaged.)

The rescue of the auto industry began under the presidency of George W. Bush, using TARP funds in his last months in office (fact), and continued under the presidency of Barack Obama. The heart of U.S. industrial power, the auto & truck manufacturing industry, was rescued by the Federal government with U.S. taxpayer money — which has been paid back for the most part. And jobs were protected.

“Make America Great Again,” the apparently trademarked slogan for the 2016 campaign (should we put a “TM” or “patent pending” or “R” here?), does have a certain resonance. In economic reality terms, however, it does not reflect the true condition of the economy after eight years of the current occupant of the White House. (He-whose-name-may-not-be-mentioned-in-certain-circles. OK, it’s Barack Obama.)

We as voters are entitled to the facts – -not fear mongering, not the offering up of misleading “facts” or the rhetoric of provocateurs. Having facts we can make better informed decisions as part of our civic responsibility — that is, when we enter the voting booth.

This probably comes across as a partisan commentary, favoring one side or the other. My intention is to present facts — the word descending down to our time from the ancient Latin, meaning “…the thing that is done, the thing known to be true…” vs. factitious, descending as well from Latin “…imagined, made up, artificial, not real or genuine…”

As fictional detective Joe Friday used to say on the popular television series “Dragnet”: “…just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”

Or in the expression of this era…just sayin’.

“Values” And Political Candidates — How to Evaluate What You See and Hear This Election Season

 

by Hank Boerner

Back in May, as the primary season was in full roar, the two main contenders were steadily emerging in the leader position —  Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton. Tonight the two square off at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York (about 20 miles east of Manhattan).

Are you tuning in? Estimates are that perhaps 100 million people will be watching on broadcast, cable and social media. We are along, long way from the first televised presidential debate, between Senator John Kennedy and VP Richard Nixon. That was a very polite and real debate, with issues front and center and the two contenders exchanging compliments (about the other).

The two contenders today are absolute opposites and lightning rods in their own right  for serious criticism — and at the same time heaped with praise by their fiercely fervent followers.  So how do we cut through the bombast and probably the insults and barbs and snide-ery to take the true measure of each of the contenders?

For sure, both are intelligent, strong-minder, powerful personalities who first names are front-of-mind in every corner of our country.

Back in May, as the two contenders were moving ahead in the polling, I shared thoughts on how to judge the “values” of the Republican and Democratic front-runner.

Update: Here is my May 2016 commentary — hope that it is helpful for you.

The nation is being perceived at home and abroad perceived as being deeply divided on many issues. Labels abound — signifying “I’m right/you are wrong” on many issues.

Labels:  Right-Left. Liberal-Conservative. New York City & Hollywood and the rest of the USA. The One Percent and the rest of us (the 99%).  Republican-Democrat, or at least by the labels of what that used to mean.

Look at the messages: Put up a big wall (a beautiful wall, 60-feet tall with a beautiful door) to keep “them” out vs. a more liberal immigration policy. No Muslims allowed vs. we cannot discriminate and the basis of religious or ethnic origin. (Remember that powerful First Amendment!) Tear up NAFTA vs. those advocating for free trade polices. Free tuition – for all in public universities. No more student loans. Vs everyone should pay their own way.

And on and on and on. If you own stock in ABC-TV (that is, in parent Walt Disney Company stock, the corporate owner)– or perhaps CNN (parent Time Warner) — or MSNBC (Comcast) or Fox (News Corp), you should be pleased. The ad campaign dollars have been flowing in and the best is yet to come in the general election cycle.

If you are the “average” American (whatever definition that is today), and you are trying to decide who to vote for, perhaps volunteer for, maybe click the payment button on the candidate web site to send money…well, you are not alone if you are anxious, confused, angry, disappointed, disgusted, hopeful, and more.

So I will briefly share some of my coaching techniques here that may help you to better evaluate “who” is deserving of your support and vote. (And DO vote this November; a lot is at stake!).

“The Rhetoric” — Not a Bad Word

We often toss around the term, “rhetoric” (as in, oh, that’s just political rhetoric) but the concept is very important. Here’s why.

Over the years in my professional life, and even in my personal dealings with leadership (when I volunteer to do so), my coaching for speech-making and more effective campaigning goes back about many centuries, to Ancient Greece and in the years of  300’s B.C.

We owe thanks to Ancient Greece for introducing us the first western concept of democracy. Think Demos in Ancient  Greece  the People. Greece was a direct form (not representative form) of democracy.  Rhetoric was as a system devised by the wise men to help the citizens (and not everyone was one) to understand politics and politicking (Polity, derived from the Greek word for citizen…politics should be all about the work of citizens in governing themselves in the democracy. )

The perfecter of the system of rhetoric was the great teacher,  Aristotle, He was born about 384 B.C. and died at age 62 in 322 B.C. He is credited with greatly influencing western philosophy, Islam and Judaism, and many philosophers and deep thinkers who would follow.

Aristotle is often credited with being the first tue scientist; creator of “logic” as we know it; was one of the most honored citizens and teachers of his time.

The important teaching relevant to this essay is about rhetoric  —  in the the Ancient Greek, the making of magnificent orator, a teacher. Here are brief highlights of what my partners  and I  adopted in our leadership coaching from the Aristotle’s teachings on rhetoric.  Aristotle believed there were three means of persuasion in the democracy:  reason, character and emotion.  These are all on display in 2016 in the U.S.A.

Ethics and Values Come First

First — consider ethos – from this our modern day term ” ethics” has descended. It’s about the values of the orator. What are his/her personal values, beliefs, actions, ethical behaviors? They are on display in the speaker up there on the podium, derived in great measure from the actions (walking the talk) as well as the pronouncements.

Second — consider pathos — from this we get modern day sympathy, empathy. It is about the connection with the audience (“hearer,” receiver of the oration]. Is the speaker connecting with the audience? Are they feeling connected with him/her?  Do they share values?  Do you share the values of the candidate(s) that you prefer in 2016?

Third — consider logos — the word from the Ancient Greek. We think of “logo” in terms of the familiar corporate branding but it means more. It is the word/words — the signs — coming from the speaker to the audience.  And other signals, some silent. (Doe she look you in the eye?  Does he seem uncomfortable up there?  Do you have a feeling that what the speaker is saying isn’t ringing true with you?)

Putting It All Together

So simply put, does the orator (1) demonstrate the values that the audience appreciates, agrees with, shares with the speaker? Is the speaker connecting with the audience in powerful ways? (The best of our preachers know well how to do this on Sunday mornings.) And are the words coming forth (the logos) resonating…creating empathy…”ringing true” with those listening?

This is the system of persuasive rhetoric. And in the end, if all this works, we achieve mythos…a powerful, memorable, moving story that will ripple out way beyond that immediate audience. In the Ancient Greek, it was about a teaching a fable. But we clearly remember childhood fables, don’t we? The turtle and the hare. Jack and the Beanstalk. LIttle Red Riding Hood and “grandma” Wolf.

And the mythos created by a candidate is very powerful. Think of President Ronald Reagan — the Great Communicator. President Theodor RooseveltSpeak Softly and Carry the Big Stick.  President Franklin RooseveltWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself!  President John KennedyAsk Not What Your Country Can Do For You!  These logos became the enduring legacy of many presidents.

And so whether conscious or not of the power of the system of rhetoric, we the listeners will no doubt be making up our minds on candidates in 2016 based on their rhetoric. The two front runners now — Donald Trump and Secretary Hillary Clinton — have mastered rhetoric, whether by conscious means or not.  You like them or not based on the system of rhetoric I’ve just set out for your use.

I am writing this summary for you, dear friend and voter, not the candidates. They have their own advisors. I’m sharing this so that you can watch and listen to the candidates and the campaigns as these unfold, and put the ethos-pathos-logos together and see if the mythos (story) adds up and matches your own story. (Every one of our lives and those of our loved ones, near and departed, is a story, right?  A story we tell over and over in various ways.}

It may be that you have to hold your nose or avert your eyes and cast your vote. Or, happily, a candidate may really touch you and their mythos resonates.

So far, the two political party outsiders — Senator Bernie Sanders and The Donald — have done a really good job of creating their stories, mostly anti-establishment, anti-status quo. Their rhetoric is resonating with enthusiastic, cheering audiences.

What are your issues? What keeps you up at night? What are your daily worries? Think about the ethos — the values of the candidate(s) — and think hard: do they match your feelings about key issues, etc.?

Having coached corporate executives, public officials, heads of activist organizations, and others in the Aristotlean method of the rhetoric, I must listen to the candidates through this lens. And so can you.

And, (sigh) since we are a very divided nation on so many issues, I am finding it challenging to nail down the mythos that most appeals to me. I think that many Americans are in the same boat.

As my colleague and friend Larry Checco (a brilliant essayist) writes, this year it’s not about political party anymore — it’s about COUNTRY! in this election cycle.  You can see his essay at:

And the 40% of the electorate that is reputed to be “independent” of party label or affiliation will be the determining factor in November.

When you hear “rhetoric,” keep in mind now that it is an ancient yet very powerful system to motivate you, the voter.  Use this guide in evaluating who should get your very precious gift in November – your vote!

Good luck to us all!

 

Personal footnote: My growin’ up hometown is Hempstead, New York (and semi-rural East Hempstead). How great it is for this hometown boy to see Hometown Hempstead and Hofstra University in the headlines ’round the clock!

Candidate Bernie Says – Free College Tuition — The Appeal is to….Seniors?

by Hank Boerner – May 2, 2016

Feel the Bern” — and many younger voters or would-be voters like what they hear and see when Senator Bernie Sanders called for “free tuition” to public colleges and universities. So what’s not to like if you seek a higher education and get your ticket stamped to enter the world-of-work with credentials and a solid education? Without a great debt burden?

The total student debt outstanding in the USA now exceeds $1 trillion. The debt-burdened can get relief in federal bankruptcy court from most of what they owe — but not student loans debt. These follow you to the grave! Seriously.

Bloomberg Business News magazine had a focus on this in the December 27, 2015 issue: “Hey, Pops, My Student Loans Are Due.” Now you would think that meant a young adult was letting Mom and Dad know the rent owed for living at home in the basement apartment was not coming forth. No. This is something very different. And something that may be really resonating with the Bern’s message.

You see, the story was about the escalating student debt of the SENIOR population! According to the non-partisan [federal] government’s Government Accountability Office (GAO), the education-related loans owned by those over 65 years of age totaled $2.8 billion in 2005 — and grew to $18.2 billion in 2013 (the latest data available). This was their own and their offsprings’ education and related school expenses.

In 2013, says the GAO, 155,000 seniors lost part of their Social Security payments to government seizure to repay student loans. (the government can also grab your tax return money to repay loans.)

More than half of the student loans owed by those over 75 years of age were in default. Talk about student loan debt follow to the graveyard.

To get debt relief (almost impossible, expert say) seniors would have to prove that without relief their life is hopeless.

One borrower profiled by Bloomberg BW writer Natalie Kitroeff was Robert Murphy of Canton, Massachusetts. his story sounds like it could be that of many other Americans in the middle class who “did all the right things” and got shafted in the end. (Which makes The Bern’s arguments ring true with so many other people of all ages, not just the young.)

He was educated, served as CEO of a manufacturing company, encouraged his kids to pursue a college education, signed up for loans (Parent PLUS loans that are federally-assured), and lived well. And then. His company moved overseas (sound familiar, out there in manufacturing-land, USA?). He lost his job and then his house. and owes Uncle Sam $250,000. Which he cannot pay.

And so — free tuition at public colleges and universities sure sounds like a really good deal for students of ALL ages, doesn’t it! If Mr. Murphy or his wife (a teacher’s aide) want to go back to school to prepare for another career, Senator Saunders’ message sounds like it fits their situation.

And so it is not just the young who are responding with enthusiasm to The Bern’s messages.

And The Donald’s message — I will bring back American manufacturing jobs — is very appealing as well.

This is an interesting presidential campaign for parsing out issues (and messages about issues) that are really resonating with voters (at least in primary season).

Watch the seniors (remember they vote in great numbers) and the call for (1) free college tuition, and (2) bringing middle class, higher paying jobs in manufacturing back to the American nation. The realities may be elsewhere (who pays for all of this public largesse and how to actually yank back the millions of jobs that moved out of the USA?).

Next time you hear Senator Sanders repeat (again, yes, again) the call for free tuition — think through how many older Americans may be struggling under the burden of student loan debt, incurred for themselves and for their children. Something following you to the graveyard sounds awful scary!

Governor Mario M. Cuomo – A Complex Man Serving His State in a Complicated Time

by Hank Boerner

On New Year’s Day, former New York State (three-term) Governor Mario M. Cuomo passed away. We  were sorry to hear that news and offer our condolences to his family — as we offer this brief remembrance of this fascinating public servant. Like the governor, I was a product of Queens County, New York and in fact, the bustling merchant village of Jamaica.  We grew up just a few blocks from each other.

When I sent him notes later in our lives I would sign off, “that other kid from Queens.” It was a favorite line of mine to personalize the note and he told me that it brought a smile when he saw the quip.

He was a man of modest means; born to an immigrant couple from Southern Italy, he grew up in a grocery store where he watched his mother and father struggle keep their neighborhood store going and to pay bills. (Governor Cuomo was born in 1932 at the outset of the Great Depression. He worked in the store from a very early age.)

Mario Cuomo was very bright and demonstrated confidence, full of energy to go along with the quick intellect.  Early on the local parish priests apparently noticed his abilities and got him into the much -respected St Johns Prep School in Brooklyn. From there he would progress to St. John’s University in Jamaica, and on to St. John’s Law School (class of 1956), and into the law profession. He taught Constitutional Law at St John’s for many years; this his beloved alma mater, which gave him the intellectual foundation and grounding in Roman Catholicism that would serve him the rest of his life.  (St. John’s is the home of the famous Red Storm sports teams.)

Some of my friends who were his law students remember their Professor Cuomo with great admiration; he would often take members of his class to the local pizzeria for continued discussion — with much passion, they said — about matters of law. He cultivated a great respect for the Rule of Law, and for public service, in the young students in his care.

Early in my career I worked in state government, in the administration of four-term N.Y. Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller (a moderate, Eastern-liberal Republican who probably would be very out of place in today’s national party, but not necessarily in his home state). Nelson Rockefeller thought and acted “big” — he created a modern public transportation system, a state university system, and thousands of affordable housing units for middle and lower economic strata. He actively campaigned for the presidency, and while not reaching the top rung, would be President Gerald Ford’s vice president.

Mario Cuomo, succeeding in the governorship less than a decade later, would not be able to build “big” systems and outstanding legacy items for future generations to admire. When he assumed office, the bills had come due for lots of past projects — gleefully bonded for putting shovels in the ground and generously rewarding unions on the job. Governor Cuomo would struggle with the state budget awash in red ink.

I first engaged with Mr.Cuomo when he was battling to save the homes of the “Corona 69,” mostly Italian-American families who in the early 1970s were about to lose their homes to a massive development project that would force them to move. (You may be familiar with parts of the Corona area; it’s home to Citi Field, and the New York Mets; LaGuardia Airport is on the northern border; the 1964-65 World’s Fair was staged in the neighborhood.)

In the early 1960s, as the World’s Fair plans were being drawn up, an industrial complex adjacent to what is now the ball field was home to numerous auto salvage businesses. The businesses hired Professor Cuomo to battle powerful forces — think, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who always got what he wanted. Lawyer Cuomo won the day; the businesses were saved; the fair grounds did not include that piece of Corona, Queens County (part of Greater New York City).

When the residents of Forest Hills, Queens (a planned community of the early 1900s, and home to American tennis tournaments for many years) felt threatened several years later as a low-income housing project was planned, New York City Mayor John Lindsay (another moderate Republican) appointed Professor Cuomo to negotiate and reach a settlement approved by all interests. He did that — and wrote a book (in 1974) about those hectic days and evenings (“Forest Hills Diary – The Crisis of Low Income Housing”).

While shunned by most prestigious brand name law firms — he attributed that to his Italian-American background and decidedly “ethnic” and “street smart” personality — Mario Cuomo definitely was noticed by the political powers.  Governor Hugh Carey appointed Mario Cuomo to be Secretary of State — a post that had oversight of the real estate profession.  And at the time, there was blatant “red lining” going on in New York — including America’s Melting Pot City — with people of color being discriminated against in many ways (by banks, mortgage lenders, real estate brokers and sales staff).  I was newly in the issue management consultant business and a local board of Realtors engaged me to work with Secretary of State Cuomo and his staff to help settle  disputes.

Mr. Cuomo was tough and demanding and fiercely focused on the rights of minority buyers and renters and drove a hard bargain; in the end, he got most of what he wanted and the tearing apart of neighborhoods where white and black and brown populations were neighboring slowed considerably.  (Rogue brokers would target white neighborhoods and raised fear to drive anxious buyers to list for sale.)

Governor Carey invited Secretary Cuomo to be his running mate as Lt. Governor.  Bit by the political bug and eager to serve in public office, Mr. Cuomo would run for post of Mayor of New York and the governorship; he won his first term as governor of the Empire State  in 1982 and took office in January 1983.  He would serve until December 31, 1994.

Working on various client engagements I would meet with the governor on this and that issue, and in 1984 when the New York State Wine Grape Foundation was created (I had worked on the legislative concept), the governor appointed me to the board of directors, where I would serve as board member, corporate secretary, and head of marketing committee. I am grateful to him for giving me the privilege of serving my state as we began the concerned effort — continuing today — to boost the fortunes of New York’s fabulous wine makers in the four regions where grapes are grown.

I was also privileged to assist with several projects on a pro bono basis.  As the governor was considering a run for the presidency (which considered twice), he decided in summer 1987 to travel abroad (he had not done so previously — he was a “New York” home state and city kind of guy).  His destination:  the USSR / Moscow…to polish his foreign affairs credentials…just in case.

As he planned the landmark trip abroad I prepared for him suggestions for connecting with Soviet leadership and the ordinary Russians.  No surprise — as he got around Moscow, he was on the steps of churches challenging the “God-less) USSR leaders to grant more religious freedom to the Russian People! (That was not in my list of suggestions.)

You’ll see many references in his obituaries to his on again/off again “run” for the presidency. He flirted with the possibility but in the end decided to stay in New York, in the service of the People as governor.  He was a complex man and there probably were many reasons why he decided against campaigning for the highest post in the land.

Governor Cuomo was elected to three terms in office and was defeated in his fourth try.  He was prominent as a Liberal (big and little “l”) and progressive, and admired by many in America in both parties for his soaring oratory.  Remember his inspiring keynote rhetoric at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco?  (If you have not heard this, there are copies on line — it is well worth watching….what he had to say about inequality and other social issues is very relevant today.)

In 1992, the Democratic Party brought its presidential convention to Governor Cuomo’s beloved city.  I got a call from the staff to come to the Silvercup movie studios in Long Island City (across the river from Manhattan in Queens County) where the governor was hosting delegates the evening before the opening of the convention.  The governor was in his glory, moving around, greeting everyone, making them feel at home in New York (of course a “foreign” city to many who came from other states).  Then, in an astonishing performance, the governor mounted the podium for a “few welcoming remarks…”  Wow!

You see, the governor was going to preview his nominating speech (for William Jefferson Clinton, his fellow Democrat governor of Arkansas).  Without notes, he ran through the points to be made to rally the small crowd that evening.  I heard one Midwestern delegate turn to his companion and say, “why the hell aren’t we nominating this guy!”  Perhaps that was the point.  The governor was a magnificent speaker and speech maker.  But he often remarked about how difficult it was to convert the “poetry of campaigning” into the “prose of governing.”  He gave it a good try during his career in public service.

The governor did not fade away in his post-governorship; he wrote books, lectured, and took great pleasure in seeing his son, Andrew, first become Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs (and a champion of affordable housing and fair lending) and then governor of his and his father’s beloved New York State.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo was inaugurated for his second term,  the first Governor Cuomo passed away in the presence of his loving family at home in New York City.

His was a remarkable life.  He inspired many of the people that he touched over four plus-decades in public service; he was a champion for the downtrodden and the poor, a leader who fulminated against rising inequality — and spoke out with eloquence on behalf of those who could not.  As I said up top, he was a complex man and during his time in office things in New York State and America were, well, complicated.  While he had many admirers, he also had his share of detractors.  You will see and hear comments on the plus and minus side of Mario Cuomo.

As for me — I will remember the man with great admiration and fondness, and feel great sadness at his passing.  And I’ll be sure to “touch base” with the ideas that he advanced 40, 30, 20 and even 10 years ago. It’s amazing how prescient he was to anticipate the earnest debate on important societal topics and issues going on today!

“Excelsior!” — that’s the official motto of New York State and the line with which the governor signed his notes and inscribed his books.  It means “higher or lofty” as in aspirations, from the Latin root, excelsus.  Law professor Mario Cuomo knew its meaning, and the power of the word, and embraced it as his personal motto.  It fitted him well. It serves to sum up his life and contributions to The People that he served.

Governor Mario Cuomo was a unique man and leader — and we — and I — shall miss him.

* * * * * * * *

Governor Mario Cuomo’s speech – nominating Bill Clinton. http://www.shabbir.com/nonmatchbox/cuomo.html

Governor Cuomo’s 1984 “Two Cities” speech at the San Francisco convention: http://news.yahoo.com/the-legacy-of-mario-cuomo-s-1984-%E2%80%9Ctale-of-two-cities%E2%80%9D-speech-150348324.html

 

 

Saying Au Voir to a Great American Leader – Thank You For Your Service, Secretary Chuck Hagel

by Hank Boerner

Early in 2015 we will be saying farewell – au voir — ‘tlll we see you again (we hope) in public service…it’s so long soon to a great American public service leader: former US Senator and departing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

Secretary Hagel assumed office at the Pentagon as the 24th leader of the world’s most powerful armed services on February 27, 2013 and announced his resignation after less than two short years on November 24, 2014.

News articles noted that no President of the United States since Harry Truman’s day (1945-1953) had to have four defense secretaries. (Hagel was preceded in relatively quick order by Leon Panetta, and Robert Gates in that order – his replacement at Defense will be the fourth of the Obama Administration.)

Which prompted the chairman of the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee to suggest that the President examine his own foreign policy struggles rather than looking for still another turnover at the Pentagon. Media commentators posited that White House staff interference, Secretary Hagel’s lack of rapport with the President’s staff, disagreements with the top military brass, failures of policy in the volatile Middle East region…and other factors served to undermine Secretary Hagel’s leadership.

May be. But as we bid this outstanding public servant adieu (for now, we hope), it is worthwhile to highlight the extraordinary life and contributions to our American Society of the man….lest they be lost in the welter of negative news reports about his departure (expected soon).

Chuck Hagel was born to a family of modest circumstances in a small town in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. As a boy he rose in the dark hours of morning to deliver newspapers (to help support the family). One the lessons of his childhood was the concept of “service.” It was never a question for the man; this is what “my people did,” he explained. “Service means that when your country calls, you answered the call.”

At Christmas time, 1967, Chuck Hagel found himself in combat in the jungles of Viet Nam, He finagled a way to serve alongside his brother, Tom, and they supported each other under fire. The future US Senator was wounded several times (he holds two Purple Heart medals). After short stays in hospital, he was back in the field. Friends dropped all around him, his brothers-in-arms, killed or wounded.

For the rest of his life Chuck Hagel has kept the lowly grunt in mind, remembering his experiences in war time, and questioning the motives of those who would order men (and now women) into combat. Including President George W. Bush (#41) and VP Richard Cheney (who himself served as Secretary of Defense, March 198-January 1993, in the first Bush #43 presidency). .

Senator Hagel questioned their decision to rush to war in the Middle East and was critical of the unquestioning support of fellow lawmakers as the war drums sounded.

Asked Senator Hagel: “Why are we going to war? Is Saddam [Hussein] really a threat to America? Who will govern after Saddam? How are they going to govern? What is our role to be? How would Iraq be stabilized after the invasion? Why are so few troops going in? What does this have to do with terrorism?” He was called unpatriotic for his views. How many Americans today would have (looking back) wanted those questions answered!

Chuck Hagel received his B.A. from the University of Nebraska and worked in broadcasting before entering government service.  He was also a successful entrepreneur, co-founding Vanguard Cellular Systems in 1984 (it was one of the nation’s first independent cell companies; it was a publicly-traded cell phone company later acquired by AT&T Wireless).

Senator Hagel had a long and distinguished career in the US Senate. He was elected in 1996 and served to 2008. He served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, becoming an expert on world affairs and U.S. foreign policy. He became expert on and had strong opinions about China, Russia, Israel, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and America’s relationship to these countries and regions.  His was a respected voice of reason in the nation’s capital.

If you are with me so far, I’d like to share pieces of the wisdom expressed by Chuck Hagel before he was Secretary of Defense and the number two decision maker next to the president on military matters.  What he believed in and eloquently expressed  in his 2007 memoir – “America – Our Next Chapter…Tough Questions, Straight Answers” — is impressive.

Some of the things he wrote that impressed me….

“In my mind, patriotism is about asking tough questions, not avoiding them.”

“Governing by timidity and fear and giving offense to special interest groups and sources of money is unacceptable, and begins to explain the disappointment with the political process that people are feeling today.”

“We must strengthen our commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership with NATO and the European Union so that it remains the central alliance in our global strategy. NATO will require a new strategic doctrine for the 21st Century and it seems logical that this will take place in concert with the EU…the USA and EU can benefit from teaming up to address global issues, probably including the 2.5 billion people left behind in the world economy.”

“America is still the core of the world economy; however, the rate of change occurring in every marketplace is rapid, intense, and challenging.  We must address the deficiencies in our laws and tax and regulatory codes…”

There’s much, much more in his very readable book, which I suggest would be a good new year read.

As this well-qualified leader leaves the public stage in 2015, we say to him, “well done” and express our thanks for his years of service to the nation.  We are all in his debt.  And we hope that Chuck Hagel will remain on the national stage, sharing his wisdom and experience with the rest of us.  We need him!

 

 

 

The Roosevelts – Remarkable Americans Whose Thoughts and Actions Shaped Our Nation

By Hank Boerner

In this space I often suggest you “tune in” – and that’s what my commentary is about today.  Ken Burns, documentarian extraordinaire, brings us a new PBS series that educates, informs, entertains, opens our minds. This is his focus on the key Roosevelt larger-than-life family members — Teddy, Franklin, Eleanor…and some others of the clan (such as the outrageous and entertaining daughter of Teddy, Alice).

The Roosevelts, descendants of early Dutch settlers of what is now New York City (“New Amsterdam”) and New York State, made their fortune in real estate, trading and other businesses. New York City was a business town, and the early family members were very good business people. (A key ancestor bought up Manhattan Island farmland when his neighbors suffered through periodic economic downturns.) The early days’ fortune built enabled later generations to devote their lives to public service while trust funds flowed to support them and their families.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1858-1919) shaped the modern presidency during his 8 years in the White House (which he named; it was the “President’s House” before). He created our modern navy, the foundation for our national parks system, led the campaign to eliminate child labor and (for) “pure” food and drugs…and more.

He was elected VP in 1900, at the dawn of the 20th Century, and left the office in 1909, after serving a full term of his own and almost four years of the presidency he moved into after the assassination of President William McKinley. “Now that damned cowboy is in the White House,” his party leader supposedly exclaimed. He was a cowboy and a lot more.

His younger cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) was elected governor of New York (as was Teddy), and won the 1932 presidential election as the country slid deeper and deeper in to the Great Depression. Our American democracy seemed at risk; one of every four households had no income; fascist leaders rose to power in Europe and Japan.  He mastered the use of “radio” and urged his countrymen on to meet the great challenges of the day.

He led the country as Commander-in-Chief in the darkest years of the first half of the 20th Century, during World War II, and was “The Soldier of Freedom” (as described by historian James MacGregor Burns), leading the 15 or so “united nations” that opposed the regimes of Germany’s Nazi conquerors and Japan’s war cabinet. He dreamed of today’s United Nations and paved the way for that organization to be created just months after his death.

His wife, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), was Teddy Roosevelt’s brother’s daughter; longest-servicing First Lady, moving out of her shell, she became one of the most admired women of her time, both in the US and around the world. She was on point fighting the good fight for civil rights, women’s rights, and other causes. She was ambassador to the United Nations and one of the most popular commentators (newspaper columns) in the country after she left the White House.

As described in the headline, a remarkable and fascinating family of political, social and cultural progressives.

Do tune in to the series on your local PBS station; do buy the book and DVDs of the series; do think about the brand of leadership displayed by all three Roosevelts…and what they might have done if they were confronted with the issues facing our country, in our time.

Both President Teddy (#26) and President FDR (#32) through their strategies, policies, actions, commanding rhetoric, shaped the nation for decades after their White House years…and continue to shape our world today.

I live near to Theodore Roosevelt’s home – Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, New York — and visit the home (a national park museum) from time -to-time. I find his progressivism inspiring.

If you would like to know more about how TR’s actions continue to shape our world, and our business environment, you can read my July 2011 commentary in Corporate Finance Review (Thomson-Reuters) — “Teddy Roosevelt and the Creation of the Modern Presidency — With Focus on Large Corporations and Corporate Behavior.”

It’s at: http://www.hankboerner.com/library/Corporate%20Finance%20Review/Teddy%20Roosevelt%20and%20Creation%20of%20the%20Modern%20Presidency%20-%20(07&08-2011).pdf