Days We Will Never Forget. Nor Should We. They Are Burned Deep in Memory…

by Hank Boerner

There are days that we should hever forget. The President of the United States said that after the awful tragedies of September 11, 2001, when thousands of Americans and visitors died and thousands more were injured in the direct attacks against American targets by foreign interests far, far away. And yet, so close.  The attackers were living amongst us, for a time, preparing for the day they would inflict great damage on our nation.

There are four or maybe even five generations of Americans alive at this moment, going back to some who are of the Greatest Generation, the men and women who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought the good fight for democracy from 1941 to 1945 —WW II.  Many are still with us.  They remember “Pearl Harbor Day,” each December 7th.

December 7, 1941, a “date that will live in infamy,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the U.S. Congress and by radio to the nation. That day — December 7, 1941, the naval forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. military forces at Pearl Harbor in the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Almost 3,000 young men and women died in that attack.  All of my young days I was reminded that it was “Pearl Harbor Day” today.

Another day that many of younger ages — the Baby Boomers — will recall was the funeral train that carried the body of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, slain by an assassin in California in 1968. I remember this because I stood in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as his coffin was carried out…and put on a train that slowly wound its way from New York through Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, and on to Washington, D.C. I had done work with the good senator, borther of the slain president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

This was reminiscent, broadcaster noted, of the final train ride for President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated in 1865, carrying his body to burial in Illinois — many miles, along parts of the same route.  Tens of thousands of people lined the route on both occasions.

There is another tragic day to remember for those alive in 1963. Who can forget where they were when the news came on November 22, 1963 that the dynamic young president was shot to death in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.  John F. Kennedy was in office just about 1,000 days — not even completing his first term.

As with other events, everyone would remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the leader of the “New Frontier” for America was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas. I remember watching the most well-known newsman in America, Walter Cronkite on CBS Network announcing the president’s death.

Today, September 11 — Let Us Remember

And so it is today, for many Americans, as we stop what we are doing to remember the frightful, awful, tragic events of September 11th. Four giant airliners were hijacked, from their take off points in the New York region, Boston and Virginia, and flown by fanatic, deranged men into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and what would have been either the White House or the Capitol Building on the highest point in Washington, DC — except for the brave actions of passengers  on United Flight 93 over rural Pennsylvania.

How unbelievable, how frightening to consider even today, 15 years — some 5,500 days — later.

For those not born yet, or too young to remember the events of the day:  American Airlines Flight 11 — Boston to Los Angeles — departing Boston at 7:59 a.m. and then crashing into the WTC (#1) North Tower at 8:46 a.m.

Then United Air Lines Flight #175, departing from Boston at 8:14 a.m. — flying from Boston to LAX — hitting the WTC South Tower (#2) at 9:03 a.m. .  Then American Airlines Flight #77, leaving Dulles International (Virginia) at 8:30 a.m. — heading for Los Angeles,, flying into the Pentagon at 9:30 a.m.

And then the report of the “missing” United Air Lines Flight #93, flying out of Newark at 8:42 a.m. en route from New Jersey to San Francisco — reported down on the ground in Shanksville, PA at 10:03 a.m.  Even today, all of this is very difficult to comprehend.

These were massive passenger jets, with a combined almost 300 passengers and crew members on board, loaded with many tons of volatile jet fuel, carrying innocent passengers (including children) en route to a  happy destination.

It was a bright, sunny morning, you may recall, all along the Atlantic coastline of our continent.  Summer weather was still with us.  New York region schools, schools in Boston, Washington area schools, Pennsylvania schools were open as the new school year was beginning.  The summer break was over (Labor Day was the prior week); and literally thousands upon thousands of men and women streamed into the giant twin towers of the World Trade Center, which dominated the New York City skyline in Lower Manhattan, and other nearby complexes in the financial district.  These towers of the WTC stretched 100 stories into the blue skies.  Giant elevators whished tenants and visitors to the highest levels.

And then, in a few terrible minutes, two giant passenger jets flew directly into the buildings. It is hard even today to divine what was on the minds of the histrackers as those in the cockpit aimed the acricraft into the building.  And even harder to think about the fear on the part of passengers —  “souls” in airline parlance — in the last moments of their lives.

And what of the thousands of people at work as the rush hour was ending, high atop the bedrock of Manhattan Island — what were their thoughts as they heard the crash into their building?  Smelled the smoke?  Understood the threat to their lives?

At 9:59 a.m. unbelievably, the South Tower would fall to the ground, killing those inside and many on the ground, and spread deadly dust (asbestos) throughout the downtown. Throughout the heart of this nation’s vital financial center. At 10:28 a.m. the other tower would collapse. Chaos reigned.

And I think today with tears in my eyes of the brave responders.  Firemanic forces — proud members of NYFD — running to the danger.  343 New York City firefighters would give their lives to save others.  Police officers would die that morning, more than 70, members of NYPD (“New York’s Finest”), the Port Authority of NY & NJ Police Department; and some of the Federal agency officers on duty that day.

Thousands more responders — uniformed and volunteers — would be sickened, and many would die, as they were first responders working on the “pile” to find survivors and pull them to safety. And then, when there were no more, they would work on the pile to clear debris and look for human remains.

And so, today, I stop to pray for the souls of those who lost their lives on Setpember 11, 2001, and for those who we lost in the days and weeks and months after.  I will think about the brave actions of the passengers on Flight 93 who fought the thugs who stole their plane and prevented a huge tragedy in our nation’s capital city.  I will pray for those who lost their lives in the bastion of the nation’s military, the Pentagon complex just across the Potomac River from Washington.

This is personal.  In my hometown here just outside the city, we lost three dozen people.  This morning in Patriot’s Park, they are being remembered.  Across our region we lost hundreds of men and women.  And the bells still ring in churches as brave responders succumb to their illnesses.  My long-time friend, Rep Peter King ascended to the chair of the Homeland Security Committee of the House, and I take pride in the good work that he and many others in government have been doing since 2001 to keep us safe. He is there with head bowed this morning at “Ground Zero.”  His is a police family.

But this is a New Normal for America and especially for the young men and women who grew up after September 11, 2001. It is a different world for them — will any of them — or us — ever feel safe again?

Today, please say your prayers for those who lost their lives on that awful day and in the days thereafter. Including our men and women in uniform taking the September 11 fight to our enemies around the world who did these awful things to us.

May God bless America. And long may the Stars & Stripes wave overhead, a proud beacon to us all. The flags at Ground Zero in NYC, at the Pentagon, in the Pennsylvania field — all have very special meaning to Americans.

Separately today in this space I will share my notes of September 11, 2001, when I was the American Airlines responder in New York City.

Did You Celebrate American Labor — on Labor Day 2016?

by Hank Boerner

Monday, September 5th is Labor Day, 2016. Did you celebrate American labor today? The American worker built this great nation and the day is set aside to remember the men and women of past and present and their contributions to the Making of America.

The origins of the national holiday go back to the 1800s and the beginning of industrialization of the United States economy. The first celebration was in September 1882, organized by labor unions — in New York City.

Cities, then states began to adopt Labor Day legislation. New York State was apparently the first state to consider such a rule; Oregon has the honor of being the first state to adopt the official holiday. After 23 states adopted the holiday, the Federal government declared the first Monday of September to be Labor Day in 1894.

As a young person, I can recall parades of workers — and especially union members, men and women — marching with banners proclaiming their organizations (locals, etc.). No more. We are apparently too jaded for that kind of celebration. And unions are under fire these days; membership is way down from historic levels.

But did you stop today at all to remember — to celebrate – the American working men and women? (That’s pretty much all of us, isn’t it!).

We’ve lost many jobs to outsourcing, downsizing, movement of plants to foreign shores, and more. But we are a resilient people — and American labor is still the most productive in the world, according to some expert sources.

Hope you did.  And now it’s back to work!

Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner – Symbol of Civil Rights Protest or Devotion to Country?

By Hank Boerner

Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner…
Symbol of Civil Rights Protest — or Devotion to Country?

The dust up over the stand/don’t stand situation in the National Football League — when the U.S. National Anthem is played — is disturbing to a lot of people.

Is this about “protesting” the life & death friction between a handful of police officers and African-Americas? About First Amendment-guaranteed free speech rights being exercised? About using a very visible public arena — football is “America’s game” after all — to bring attention to serious social / societal issues? All of these? And more — what about this being a case of disrespecting the treasured American flag (the stars and stripes, which the national anthem honors)?

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…is our flag still there….

And for you, dear reader — how many times have you said these words – probably thousands and thousands, depending on your age: I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

This Pledge – of Allegiance – is to the Flag, symbol of our nation, beloved by our American People.

The flag’s symbolism is powerful.

When I think of the American flag, I try to imagine the conditions under which Francis Scott Key penned his poem (in 1814). He was holed up in Baltimore harbor as British war ships pounded Fort McHenry (his poem was “Defense of Ft McHenry”). In 1931 this poem was  set to music by Stafford Smith and was adopted as our National Anthem. Most of us have probably never read the full four paragraphs (the three beyond the first, which we regularly sing along with).

The British cannons raked the fort. In the morning dawn, the tattered flag is visible. (The original was restored and is on display in the nation’s capital.) Writes Key:

“Tis the Start-spangled Banner: O, long may it wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave…”

For me, another battle, another flag, is closer in time (at least for me) in understanding the conditions under which this symbol of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave was seared into memory. For people who were there, fighting and dying, and for those of us who have since looked on at their sacrifice.

Consider: February, 1945 – on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima: members of the United States Marine Corps are locked in a life & death battle with the entrenched forces of the military of the Empire of Japan. On the tallest peak, on this small, extinct volcano, a group of Marines raise a small flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Cheers go up. The American fighting men are encouraged by the sight.

Later, another group of Leathernecks goes up and photograph Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press takes the photo that has been reproduced millions of times ever since. You can see that act memorialized in a notable structure – erected by private donations – overlooking the City of Washington, D.C.

The Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial, is a military memorial statue outside the walls of the Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. The memorial is dedicated to all personnel of the United States Marine Corps who have died in the defense of their country since 1775.

Photo:  United States Marine Corps, Quantico, VA

This brave act, carrying up and raising a larger more visible 48-star American flag taken from an amphibious LST landing craft back on the beach, was in reality the act of “…six ordinary Americans, half of the them doomed to become casualties on Iwo…”

Consider the sacrifice under the banner raised atop the hill on Iwo Jima: “Thousands of foxholes, draped with ponchos and shelter halves, pocked the island…chilled by sudden rain, harassed by heavy surf, the support and service units doggedly performed their tasks under the constant threat of artillery. On Iwo, every place seemed like the front…”

“…the exhausted Marine divisions slowly eliminated resistance…on March 16 the island was declared secure…” “ Japanese Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 man garrison died in place as ordered, many in caves providing protection against American forces. In the process, the Japanese inflicted 26,000 Marine casualties, 2,798 [U.S. Navy personnel] and 37 [U.S. Army].

Marines stand at attention when composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa’s Marine Corps Hymn is played, and of course when the ode to the Star Spangled Banner is sung – our National Anthem. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardie’s – all are at attention and saluting when the grand song of our Republic is played.

My Iwo Jima source: Semper Fidelis, The History of the United States Marine Corps,” by Allan R. Millett, published 1991 by The Free Press/McMillan, Inc.

The National Anthem and American Sports

In civilian life, especially in professional sports, the singing of the national anthem and display of the flag are very much integrated in the many symbolisms and activities of the National Football League, The American and National Leagues of baseball, and most other sports activities – professional and amateur.

Who will ever forget the powerful performance of the late Whitney Houston signing the national anthem in January 1991 in Tampa at the start of the Super Bowl XXV? Link here to watch if you have not seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lCmBvYMRs

And so these days there are powerful emotions attached to the actions of San Francisco 49ers (NFL) Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down when the national anthem is sung. His first act of protest was at the start of the August 26 pre-season match with the Green Bay Packers; he repeated the gesture shortly after in the pre-season game with the 49ers and San Diego Chargers. Note that was the Chargers’ annual “Salute to the Military” celebration in San Diego, a big US Navy and US Marine Corps base.

Explaining why he “sat” during the song, he explained: “I am not going to stand up [to show pride in a flag] for a country that suppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. there are bodies in the streets and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. ” (Source: NFL Media.)

The NFL also said: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.” Just to be clear about that.

In response the Santa Clara Police Union said it would boycott 49ers games. It might not provide protection at the team’s games.

Reflecting the division on the issue, a #VetsForKaepernick Twitter dialogue.

The team was circumspect in its response (remember, this is San Francisco, by political standards a liberal, even immigrant-protective “sanctuary” city): “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on our great liberties we are afforded as citizens/ Om respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Speaking from China and the meeting of the G20 nations, President Barack Obama weighed in with the comments: “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about.” President Obama said when it comes to the flag, and the national anthem, and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and for those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past [and to hear] what his deeper concerns are…”  (Source: Politico web site.)

I call this column “Stay Tuned” — and so we will, to his controversy, which has inflamed so many people’s views about our flag, our anthem, our display of love of country. There is certainly more to come in all of this during the now=accelerating presidential campaigning.  What are your thoughts on all of this?

The 21st Century Company — What Can We Expect?

by Hank Boerner

When my partner Lou Coppola and I were discussing concepts for a conference with Chris Skroupa and the Skytop Strategies team last year, we talked about the fascination that we all seem to “have with decades and centuries.” And even “Millennia” — we are now in the Third as the calendar changed from “1900s” to “2000s.” . And of course we talked our fascination with “looking ahead” to divine the future.

The musings led to the wonderful event that we had in May 2016 at Baruch College / CUNY, our gracious hosts for the “21st Century Company” conference. I’d like to share my opening comments for that conference with you.

In “decades” we talk about the Roaring 20’s, the 1960’s social and cultural revolution, In centuries we think about traditions of the Victorian Age — taking up most of the 1800s.

Time magazine publisher Henry Luce dubbed the 20th, “The American Century.” And it was, in so many dimensions: economic, cultural, militarily, industrially, financially, and so on.

Remember the discussion about when exactly the 21st Century would begin – in year 2000 or 2001? And how the world’s IT network was about to melt down because we had only two digits for dates in old software? An estimated $100 Billion dollars were invested in “Y2K” programs by business 1995-2001

Y2K was a good example of progress made in the new century based on technology and scientific advances in the prior century. We saw that throughout the 20th Century — tinkerers building on 19th and 18th and even 17th Century advances.

“Tinkerers” create by leveraging the old for the new — and that’s how we advance in our society — how we create value – create new industries — create new wealth for the many. (And, of course, for the fortunate few, the 1%, as well.)

In the 1760s – the 18th Century – Scotsman James Watt tinkered with steam power.
He experimented with stethoscope tubing and tin cans — building on advances earlier in the century.

Watt’s tinkering led to harnessing the power of steam In the 19th Century, tinkerers put the steam engine on a wagon, and pulled carriages behind. The vehicles were “in train,” so they called it “a train” pulled by the steam-powered locomotive. Many of us got here this morning “by train.”

Soon railroads were everywhere, carrying people and freight. The great American prairies of the Midwest and Southwest stretches of flat land (like Oklahoma and Texas) were settled and a mighty agriculture empire arose mid-continent.

The farmland output — the harvested crops — would concentrate in factories and the nation would have packaged foods – think of cereals – as well as abundant pork, beef, buffalo and other meat products.

A tinkerer in the 19th Century – Samuel Morse – put electric stimulation through wires to convey messages. He gave us the telegraph. Recently some observers called the telegraph the “Victorian Internet.” At this point in my presentation at Baruch I held up glass standoff — it’s silicon in nature. The standoff should be familiar to you — you will see it atop the crossbar along railroad tracks; it insulated the telegraphy and later telephone wires.

Silicon was fundamental to 20th Century electronic technology. In the last century there would be a valley named for Silicon because of the importance of the simple “sand” element. Silicon is found in radios, cameras, phones, computers.

The telegraph concept’s success led us on to telephony, radio broadcasts, television, and the global Internet with its wondrous World Wide Web (www.”whatever” you like).  Tinkerer Tim Berners-Lee created the Web – and made it available to all of us with no strings attached.

At the end of the 19th and into the 20th Century, tinkerer Thomas Edison brought forth amazing devices – spawning giant industries! Think of the electric utilities – built on the genius of Edison.

He experimented with 6,000 plant materials to find a light bulb filament that worked and would last for the consumer. Carbonized bamboo was one solution. If you drive around the City of Fort Myers, Florida, you’ll see bamboo plants here and there. And the Edison and (Henry] Ford Winter Estates features family gardens and a research lab. When Thomas Edison bought his property he found bamboo growing there and experimented with that plant for his light bulb filaments. Henry Ford played around with plants to grow a domestic source of rubber (latex) for his auto’s tires. Such in the fascination with the wonders of nature for tinkerers!

Edison’s great insight was that a central generating system — the dynamo — with wires running to homes and business would create a new category of business services.

At the time of his death in 1931 the still expanding electric utility business was a $75 billion business in current dollars!

His tinkering gave us moving pictures (“movies”), the phonograph and other machines that would change our business and personal lives.

Remember James Watt of Scotland and the primitive steam engine? Steam power was soon everywhere — powering railroads, providing power for factories and globe-roaming steam ships, telegraph, electric power to change night-to-day – all marvelous inventions in the 19th Century.

So: How to build on that in the 20th?

Enter tinkerer Henry Ford. He worked in an Edison electric plant in Detroit. He tinkered and developed practical “automobiles” and put Americans on the road and changed our way of life.

Ford built on the legacy and foundation of the prior centuries. On earlier advances in metals, rubber, instrumentation, wiring, steel making.

Henry Ford’s Model T was everywhere. He also revolutionized the workplace, bringing the work to the worker on the assembly line.

His workers had the opportunity to earn $5 per day – two times what other industrial workers earned. This was an important 20th Century economic insight – that way they could buy the cars they made!

Sometimes progress comes slowly.

Here’s a fascinating story: Car and Driver magazine staged “The Race of the Century, Ford Model T vs. Tesla Model S” last year. This was a contest pitting a 1915 “T” Ford against a 2013 Tesla. Guess who won? The route was Detroit to Shoreham, Long Island, just under 700 miles.

The restored Model T had to take all non-expressway roads while the Tesla zoomed along at 68 mph on the interstates. But down time for re charging meant the actual speed over the route was in the 30s for the Tesla.

That was less than the 100-year old Model T — it hit 40’s regularly and even 68 MPH doing down hills. The Ford had numerous pit stops and its battery actually blew up from overuse. The drivers had the windshield down – imagine driving all that distance with wind in your face and no cover (roof) or surrounding windows as you zipped along.

Battery charging stations had to be set up with volunteers along the route for the Tesla Access to 100-AMP service was needed for the Tesla – thank you, Thomas Edison for electric power everywhere!

The Tesla won by a very slim margin.

The final destination was the Tesla memorial, honoring Nikola Tesla, the competitor to Thomas Edison, who built a giant electrical testing tower in Shoreham, New York. (Organizers are trying to create a museum there to honor Tesla and his experiments.)

We can look to 21xt Century “tinkerer” advances in battery power and rapid recharging stations — that will address these immediate challenges.

Tinkerer Henry Ford, meet tinkerer-extraordinaire  Elon Musk!

Tinkerers innovate – new products, new services, new technologies, new approaches – on the foundations of prior advances.

The move from tinkerer’s garage to giant publicly-traded enterprise can be rapid – look at Apple, in relatively quick time attaining the largest market cap in history.

There are challenges: As the innovative product or service grows, how is the venture to be managed? Financed? What will the relationship of company and society be? Relationship of investor and board and management?

For a time, owners – tinkerer owners-cum-capitalists John Rockefeller,  Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford — were virtual rulers. The growth of the capital markets shifted power to the provider of capital.

“Management,” a 20th Century term, over time became more important than “owner.”

Here we are in second decade of the 21st Century – typically, the large corporation is globalized, automated, complex, a dominant force in our society.

The tinker=-owners are replaced by professional managers and the enterprise owned by “atomized” owners — their holdings are 1% or less of the total (and hence, “like atoms” in the words of authors Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means in the 1930s in their work, “The Modern Corporation and Private Property“).

What will be the defining characteristics of the 21st Century company in terms of Company and society relations? Organizations will be flatter — less layers of management, more dispersed responsibility, less command-and-control in the 20th Century sense. There’ll be more automation, more technology replacing people. (More robots / less human hands on control knobs, levers or control sticks of machinery.) More machine-talking-to-machine. that’s happening in industrial settings now, with numerous devices sending data to central databases for analysis and sharing to lead to better best practices at dispersed industrial locations.

In this 21st Century we are in an era of great expectations – stockholders (the atomized owner interests) and stakeholders (the new keys to success for the large enterprise) expect the 21st Century company management to be more sustainable, socially responsible, “good citizens,” Open and transparent. Accountable to stakeholders.

Companies today are in so many ways are viewed to be “citizens” of the nation and world – what does that mean? What are “good corporate citizens?” How will we be defining “corporate citizenship?{ Stay Tuned!

We explored all of that and more in our Skytop-Governance & Accountability Institute co-presented conference at Baruch College.

There’s more information at: . https://skytopstrategies.com/21st-century-company/

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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!

Thanksgiving Day 2015 – The National Holiday to Pause and Acknowledge

by Hank Boerner

Thanksgiving Day in America, 2015  – we have many blessing to acknowledge and give thanks for…on this 152 year old national holiday…

At the White House, Washington, D.C. – October 3, 1863. This was a very troubling time in the life of the nation. Three months earlier, on a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the armies of the divided nation, north and south, clashed in a bloody and grim battle, with the loss of more than 50,000 men (dead, wounded, missing).

Soon after, in just two-minutes time, our 16th CEO — President Abraham Lincoln — would deliver his famous “Gettysburg Address,” summing up the past, present and future promise of the United States of America…all that in just 272 words. Now, on that October 3rd some 152 years ago, a longer worded proclamation would be issued: the Proclamation of Thanksgiving.

A news magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, wrote to Mr. Lincoln in September 1863 urging him to “have a day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union festival.” The future course of the Union was not assured in Fall 1863, as seven states of the south in 1861 had declared their intention to leave the Union of [then] 33 states and to create their own government– the Confederacy. The bloody Civil War between the Union and the Confederation was on — and 600,000 Americans would lose their lives over the course of the four year war.

As a message of hope in dark days, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. The year, he wrote, “…has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. In the midst of a civil war, of unequaled magnitude and severity, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of war…”

The President implored the “interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it…the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. “ He ordered the nation to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise…”

And so for the American nation, the tradition began, of a proclaimed day of pause, for giving thanks for all of the blessings that we as Americans enjoy (and often take for granted).  The holiday persists as an important “custom and tradition” in the words of the editor who wrote to Mr. Lincoln.

President Lincoln’s words should strike a familiar chord today for many of us. These are troubled times around the world. There is civil strife in many parts of the world, and wars of “great severity” being waged, with disastrous results for combatants and affected civilians. There is great “dis-harmony” in American politics, in our public sector, in the popular culture, in our news & commentary in media, and there is a serious inability in many spheres of the American society to “get along.”

President Lincoln sounded positive notes in issuing the Proclamation, enumerating many reasons for being thankful — including for “our continuing freedoms and the great abundance of the American nation.” The Proclamation looks forward to the day of a re-united United States of America. He called on “Americans to have a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwellith in the Heavens…and commend to His tender care all widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife…”

The President ended with: “…[we] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”
And so the order to set aside the last Thursday of November for the national holiday of Thanksgiving.

We were then a nation of 34 million; today we are ten times that population (320 million), the sweeping spaces of our continent from sea-to-shining-sea filled with immigrants, refugees and their many descendants. The spirit of Thanksgiving endures, embraced enthusiastically by generation of strangers coming to our shores.

But Thanksgiving, alas, is not appropriately honored  everywhere in he American nation. And that for me is troubling.

We are inundated with ads on TV and in newspapers this week beckoning us to come to retail stores — or even car dealerships! — in the early hours on Thanksgiving morning. (Or at any time during that holiday that was intended to be set aside for pause and celebration.) I think we should ask ourselves — do we really need to shop ’till we drop on this important national holiday?

I believe that Thanksgiving is day of celebration with important origins — a holiday created in a time when the future of the nation was in doubt…when there were great sacrifices made to preserve this very unique Union. Dark days, indeed — and the Thanksgiving holiday gave the American People hope for the future and pause to think about the unique nature of the Union created just two generations earlier.

The Union held of course, and in the years after the end of battles on American soil, tens of millions of immigrants would flee troubled lands and seek security, safety, freedom and opportunity in the abundance of the U.S.A. They and their descendants enthusiastically embraced the concept of Thanksgiving in America — and gave thanks for being “free” in this nation.

As I thought about this, my attention was called to very different ads with a more sensible approach (I think).  Where we live, here in suburban Long Island, New York, there are two family businesses that over the years have achieved local, regional and even national prominence for their quality of goods offered, the efficiency of operations, for the care and friendliness of their associates, and for the responsibility demonstrated for the communities they serve. I call them out here for their position on the Thanksgiving holiday.  Consider this:

King Kullen Supermarkets — one of the very first of the self-service supermarkets of the modern era in the USA, continuing to be operated today by the Cullen and Kennedy families. Their advertisement in Newsday this week stated the following:

“Giving Thanks — Giving Back is a Family Tradition at King Kullen.” The ad goes on to describe the tradition of giving back that began in the depths of the Great Depression, when the first store opened in Jamaica, NY. The chain’s stores are operating in limited hours for necessities on Thanksgiving Day so that employees can celebrate with their families.

P.C. Richard & Son – a very successful appliance and electronics store founded in 1909 and still operated today by the Richard family (into the third, fourth and fifth generation now). PC Richard’s advertising message is for sure, blunt and to the point:

“Save Thanksgiving. Honor Thanksgiving Day…a True American Holiday.”

Management explains: “Our 2,735 Employees Wish You a Very Healthy, Happy Thanksgiving…a Day for the Celebration of Families, Friends and Loved Ones.”

And this: “It is our opinion that retailers who choose to open on Thanksgiving show no respect to their employees and families, and are in total disrespect of family values in the United States of America. Keep Family First!”

And I think…on this Thanksgiving Day, the men and women in the Armed Forces of the USA are again on the battlefield, as they were in 1863. The nation is again divided, not in armed conflict, thankfully, but in divided in ideology, on social issues, politically, and on important cultural issues. As we were 152 years ago. Some of the same issues prevail, unresolved, ever-debated.

The P.C. Richard message rings true for me — as you see, I am disappointed by the distortions in the national Thanksgiving holiday created major retail chains that stay open and deny their employees the opportunity to be with family around the table of Thanksgiving. (It doesn’t help that financial market players talk on CNBC this week about the importance of staying open on Thanksgiving to help the retailers’ top and bottom lines. That is a variation on “Wall Street vs. Main Street” rhetoric.)

But there is good news to report: on this Thanksgiving Eve  A growing number of America’s major retailers are pledging to close on Thanksgiving so that their employees can be with family.

The names include Nordstrom, Costco, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJs, Burlington, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods, Raymour & Flanigan, Staples, Pier I Imports, Petco, Petsmart, Sam’s Club, Barnes & Noble…and more. Kudos to them!

The actions of the managements of these companies bring to mind President Lincoln’s words: “…I do invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, those at sea and those sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise…”

Remember – there is always Black Friday to shop – when everyone is open.

To all my family, friends, colleagues – I wish you a most Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. We have much to be thankful for this year, despite the issues that swirl around us. It’s a great time to be alive in this great Union…preserved with the blood and treasure of so many young men and women in too many wars since 1865 and the end of the tragic Civil War.

The complete list of stores pledging to close on Thanksgiving Day is at: http://www.theblackfriday.com/stores-closed-on-thanksgiving-day.php

The Lincoln Thanksgiving Proclamation is at: http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/thanks.htm

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Pope Francis Speaks Out Loud & Clear – Why Can’t More Clergy Speak Out on Some Issues?

This week in America – as we saw – The Holy Father certainly makes his views abundantly clear…so people often ask, why can’t or don’t more clergy speak out on some issues that the flock care about?

Commentary by Reverend Tom Goodhue – shared here on the blog by Hank Boerner

HB Introduction:  The Holy Father Pope Francis has been speaking out this week is in the United States for his first official visit.  This is (among other events) Climate Week and Pope Francis has spoken out — quite vigorously — on the subject. His Encyclical Letter — “Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care For Our Common Home” —  will now serve as guidance for the many official bodies of the Roman Catholic Church and almost one billion of the RC faithful.

The Encyclical is much broader than “climate change” as an anchor phrase for some pundits on cable TV and in social media.  The Pope writes on the necessary care of our Common Home; pollution; loss of diversity; water issues; quality of human life; global inequality; the emphasis on some societies on consumption of goods; science and faith…and more.  The Letter is worth reading if you want to understand the Holy Father’s views on important societal, governance, political, financial, economic, and business subjects.

Climate change is of course a “hot topic” in the broader society — and one of the most powerful persons on earth has put forth important perspectives on the topic.

The Pope arrived in New York as the city officially celebrated “Climate Week 2015” (September 21-28).  A wide range of folks, official and unofficial, are of course talking about climate change, as the Pope so eloquently expresses his views.  (On the floor of U.S. Congress, at the big hall of the United Nations, at the 9/11 Ground Zero Memorial site.)

But what about climate change and other societal issues that are on people’s minds, are in the public dialogue, that are dividing folks left/right, conservative/liberal, north/south, east/west, young/old, faithful/agnostic…and so on?  In general, we can ask — here are the clergy views on these in the public dialogue?

In our everyday lives we often hear the question asked — why don’t clergy speak out — when “hot topics” are being discussed.  This is a Guest Commentary by my colleague and friend,  Reverend Tom Goodhue, Executive Director of the Long Island Council of Churches (New York).  The original commentary appeared in the LICC newsletter, The Prelude, July-August 2015. I think you’ll find his views very enlightening.

Commentary By Rev. Tom Goodhue:
Recently at a meeting of our Council’s Public Issues Committee, someone expressed a sentiment that I hear often: “Why don’t the clergy speak out on this issue?” Perhaps, I suggested, clergy wish that those in the pews lead the way on this issue.

Usually when I raise such a question, stunned silence ensues. It has seemed to be so obvious to my audience that pastors, priests, rabbis, and other religious leaders should support their political point of view that they have assumed any failure to do so can only be explained by cowardice.

Which is what many clergy imagine, I suspect, whenever laity want their parson to fight their battles for them.

People often want parsons to put their own ministry — and livelihood — at risk addressing issues on which they [themselves] either have remained silent or have spoken about without any real risk. If you want someone to take a chance of being fired by their congregation or transferred by their bishop to Siberia, and you have not taken a similar risk yourself, who is the coward?

Let me caution, to begin with, that if you get clergy to speak up, you may not like what they say.

Your pastor may not see the problem the way you do — or may think your solution is all wrong. Reasonable people can differ, after all, and both the nature of our most intractable crises and the right way to address them are not necessarily obvious — even if you think they are.

You may want your pastor to denounce high taxes — but she may think we need taxation to be more progressive and simpler to pay.

You may think, as I do, that we should adopt Medicare for everyone, the single-payer model. But your pastor may think that we could make medical coverage affordable by reforming malpractice laws and repealing laws that protect pharmaceutical companies from price competition.

And while clergy sometimes hesitate to address controversial issues out of fear, they often have good reasons to do so. Here are a few:

(1)  The governance of your congregation or denomination may limit their ability to make pronouncements on topics. The rules of the Long Island Council of Churches empower me, our board chairs, and the chair of our Public Issues Committee to issue statements, sign onto letters, and such only after we have studied the issue and reached a position consensus.

And we have a policy that we do not do foreign policy. Clergy who belong to hierarchical denominations may not be free to disagree publicly with the official position of their hierarchy.

Even in traditions such as mine — where clergy enjoy “freedom of the pulpit” — we are supposed to remember that only the General Conference of the United Methodist Church can speak for all of us. If you don’t like this, join another denomination. Don’t pressure parsons to do what they cannot do.

(2) Clergy rightly avoid mucking around in partisan politics. You may think of a burning social issue as a matter of simple justice, but others may see it as an ideological quagmire. Some issues are so thoroughly identified with one political party or another or one wing of a party that it is difficult to tackle them without being seen as wrongly taking sides.

And the fact that some congregations do invite candidates to preach from the pulpit and denounce the shortcomings of elected officials from only one party does not make it any easier to wade into the debate without being perceived as being inappropriately partisan.

You would be wise to always begin any appeal to speak out by first making it clear that you are not asking them to support any candidate or party. Even if you believe that your favorite politician is on the side of the angels, it is good to remember, as the Apostle Paul said, that in this, as all other matters, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

(3) Clerics sometime mistakenly think that America’s separation of church and state means that religious institutions are prohibited by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution from any advocacy on public policy. They may not be clear exactly where to draw the line between encouraging their parishioners to be good citizens and violating IRS rules restricting politicking by nonprofits.

And as someone observed recently at an Amos Project workshop, many Americans also think it is simply impolite in public company to talk about religion and politics.

In our newsletter there is our annual reminder about what faith communities should or should not do–how to be engaged in political issues without being partisan. As the Mahatma, Mohandas Gandhi, put it, “I could not be leading a religious life unless I identified myself with the whole of mankind, and that I could not do unless I took part in politics.”

(4) Clergy may not yet know what to say about any given topic. Preaching is very hard work, particularly if you are trying to do it well. If you doubt this, give it a try yourself.

Those who follow a lectionary or other calendar of Scripture readings for worship may not have yet encouraged a text that speaks to the issue you think is urgent. Or they have not have received “a word from the Lord” on this topic and are waiting for clarity and inspiration. This is the reason I always prefer to offer workshops on how to preach and teach about difficult issues before I expect anyone to follow me into battle.

(5) Last but not least, they may not have heard yet from their flock just how this issue affects them. My colleagues often talk about the necessity of prophetic preaching, but God seems to call many more people to be pastors, priests, and rabbis than to become prophets.

The most powerful sermons I have heard have been from clergy whose words grew out of the pains and joys of those they serve.

People in the pews sometimes tell me that a particular sermon was a stirringly prophetic when I know that God had not planted any burning ember in my mouth: I simply listened to my parishioners. I have rarely felt led by The Almighty to mount the barricades. But I have often reflected in worship the questions, doubts, struggles, and triumphs of the congregation.

If you want your parson to venture into troubled waters, share how something affects you and those you love. If the people lead, as we said in my youth, the leaders will follow.

Shalom/Salaam/Pax/Shanti/Jai Jinendra,

Tom Goodhue

Background:  Reverend Tom Goodhue is the Executive Director of the Long Island Council of Churches (New York).  LICC is the coordinating body for the ecumenical work of churches throughout Nassau and Suffolk Counties [of New York State].  For almost four decades LICC has been an effective center for the coordination, referral and assistance for low-to-moderate income Long Islanders.  LICC mobilizes the volunteer and advocacy efforts of almost 800 faith communities. LICC is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) interfaith organization serving vulnerable populations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York.  Reverend Tom Goodhue is executive director.

Disclosure by Hank:  I am a member of the LICC board of directors.  Information at: http://www.liccny.org/

 

 

 

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.

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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