The Day That Cable News Died

We’ve all heard the expression: “The day the music died”.  The date was February 3, 1959.  The place was a field in Clear Lake, Iowa where a small plane carrying music greats Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper fell out of the sky killing all aboard.  It wasn’t literally the death of music.  It wasn’t even really the end of the emerging music genre in which these three young Rock and Roll pioneers excelled.  But it sure felt that way.

The Day the Music Died

Two decades later another pioneer, Ted Turner, launched the Cable News Network with a flourish that would put him atop the news broadcasting industry just like those three music pioneers taken too soon sat atop their trade.

Ted Turner

Turner’s bold idea was to create the first all-news television network in America.  And while it got off to a shaky start, CNN together with its shorter format affiliate CNN Headline News soon became the go to place for late breaking news from their bureaus and correspondents around the world.  If there was a story to be covered or authentic breaking news to be reported you could count on CNN to deliver it to your television.  Turner’s experiment evolved into one of the most dependable sources of immediate journalistic excellence available.  If you wanted to know what was happening in the U.S. or abroad all you needed to do was turn to CNN or its Headline News cohort.

Bernard Shaw

And because imitation is the highest form of flattery, MSNBC came along in 1996 to emulate the Turner model with another 24/7 new cable news channel.  And it too was a respectable source of information both domestic and foreign.  Early anchors like Jodi Applegate, John Gibson and John Siegenthaler brought the nation and the world right into our homes with their world-wide cadre of reporters, photo journalists and producers.


Even through the sordid stained blue dress event that ultimately led to impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, CNN and MSNBC continued to cover the nation’s and the world’s most important news stories.  In fact from the time they first launched you could always depend on these cable news networks to keep many journalistic balls in the air and juggle a multitude of stories simultaneously.  Cable news was the place to turn for the latest information about:

  • Terrorist attacks
  • Wars
  • Coups
  • Nuclear threats
  • Space exploration
  • Technology and science
  • Medicine and health
  • Popular culture
  • Environmental issues
  • Societal changes
  • and much, much more

Unlike the tragic crash in Clear Lake, Iowa that killed three American music celebrities it’s hard to point to a specific date or event when cable news died.  Oh, I know, it didn’t really die any more than the music died in in 1959.  But it has certainly felt that way.

When did cable news devote virtually its entire broadcast day to the repetitious coverage of politics and the sordid and unseemly events that inevitably grow and multiply like germs in the petri dish of modern American politics?  When did reporters with superb journalistic credentials become talking heads repeating the same narrow story lines over and over again from dawn till dusk and beyond?  Where have assignment editors gone who would have previously ensured that important events would be covered in depth?  When did cable news feel compelled to take the path of false equivalency by having surrogates and spokespersons delivering predictable talking points and over talking their counterpart from the other side? When did Americans thirsty for information about what’s happening in far flung corners of the world feel the need to turn to foreign news sources like the BBC, DW News, Sky News and others?

Death and famine are rampant in the world.  Natural disasters are wreaking havoc and changing lives and landscapes.  Conflicts are raging in more than 20 nations taking thousands of lives but many of those war zones are never discussed on cable news.

Ongoing armed conflicts

News does not always take the form of death, destruction and tragedy.  There are events and happenings going on around the globe that should be celebrated and which will positively change the quality of life for the citizens of the world.  Yet they largely go uncovered by American cable news channels that give us almost nonstop politics.

CNN and MSNBC have drastically reduced their resources for news gathering and reporting.  They have taken what were previously respectable all news channels and turned them into a news version of so many sporting events where the attraction is less about the sport than it is about the carnage caused between competitors.

The music didn’t actually die in that 1959 plane crash.  And the news didn’t really die on a date of less certainty.  But it sure feels that way.

America Needs More Courageous Servant Leaders


In October 2015 Pope Frances made his first official visit to the United States as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church.  Shortly after his departure I published the following commentary about the Pontiff’s visit in which I wrote about his modest charisma and the lessons he taught about the true meaning of servant leadership.

I have thought a lot about this article over the last year as I have watched the human train wreck that is the Trump presidency.  Yesterday’s comments by Donald Trump in which he used vile and racist language to once again show his hate and disdain for black and brown people in the U.S. and throughout the world should be a tipping point for this wholly unfit occupant of the Oval Office.  But it can only serve as a tipping point if we see unprecedented courage from leaders in government, industry, clergy, and the nonprofit sectors who are willing to speak truth to power and condemn with a united voice Trump’s indefensible actions, comments and attitudes.

I could write volumes about what is wrong with a society that would elect a Donald Trump as its President with the full knowledge of his history of misogyny, xenophobia, and racial animus.  Rather than one more commentary on what most enlightened people know to be the problem I thought it would be helpful to offer a possible solution.  And the best way for me to do that is to re-publish my October 2015 commentary about the meaning of and the need for courageous servant leaders to step up and help re-direct the moral compass of the nation.

Here is my commentary written more than two years ago which I believe is as relevant today as when it was first published more than two years ago:

(The following commentary was first published on October 21, 2015)

The security barriers have long been taken down, the Vatican flags and banners have been folded and stored, and the Popemobile and Papal Fiat are garaged waiting to be sold or auctioned to benefit the poor. Pope Francis may be back in Rome, but the lessons he imparted during his first U.S. visit continue to inform and inspire not only the Catholic faithful, but all who had the opportunity to hear and see him.

Pope visit

So what exactly did the pope teach that was neither religious, spiritual, moral nor ethical (which is, after all, what we expect to hear from the head of the Roman Catholic Church)? Simply put, the pontiff taught us through his words and deeds the important lesson of servant leadership. Every organization and institution has a titular or nominal leader, but too few are led by authentic servant leaders as exemplified in the way we got to know Francis in Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Pope Francis

In his book, “The Culture Engine,” organizational consultant S. Chris Edmonds defines servant leadership as “a person’s dedication to helping others be their best selves at home, work and in their community.”

Edmonds says that all servant leaders share two fundamental beliefs about the people they lead, and engage in five practices that put these beliefs into action. He describes servant leaders as those who believe that:

  • Every person has value and deserves civility, trust and respect;
  • People can accomplish much when inspired by a purpose beyond themselves.
  • According to Edmonds, the five practices of servant leaders include the following:
  • Clarify and reinforce the need for service to others;
  • Listen intently and observe closely;
  • Act as selfless mentors;
  • Demonstrate persistence;
  • Lovingly hold themselves and others accountable for their commitments.

Characteristics of Servant Leaadership

Jeffrey Krames, a Jewish American business author and son of Holocaust survivors, in his book “Lead with Humility: 12 Leadership Lessons from Pope Francis,” offers a practical guide for how any leader can take these same principles to become an authentic and humble leader. Krames sums up the four characteristics that he believes make Pope Francis a model of servant leadership:

  • Be authentic;
  • Advocate for the least among you;
  • Lead with humility;
  • Avoid insularity.

Those who shoulder the important responsibility for selecting and evaluating leaders of communal organizations would do well to measure current or future staff and volunteer leaders to determine if they embody the characteristics and practices of a true servant leader. At the end of the day, it will be genuine servant leaders who do more than lead their organization. Instead, they will contribute to leading an entire community to change for the sake of shared greatness and the common good.

What we saw from Pope Francis during his U.S. visit was the very best example of a quiet, authentic and humble servant leader who offered lessons worthy for us all to follow.


I fervently hope that the time may have come when we hear those who are devoted to America’s values that enough is enough.  A time when people of good will and good faith can set aside their self-interest and political agendas to begin to talk more about what’s right and less about who’s right.

Monday is the annual commemoration of the life of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is fitting that we remind ourselves of the words of 19th century clergyman Theodore Parker which were often spoken by Dr. King:  ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’”

But that arc does not bend by itself.  It only bends toward justice guided by the moral compass of courageous servant leaders and not by those who believe that America’s best days are behind her.

Arc of the moral universe

America’s Annus Horribilis

On November 24, 1992 Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech at Guildhall to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession. In it The Queen referred to recent events as part of an annus horribilis.  In typical understatement The Queen said: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

Annus horribilis

The unpleasant events which happened to the Royal Family in 1992 included:

  • Prince Andrew, Duke of York would separate from his wife Sarah, Duchess of York.
  • Anne, Princess Royal divorced Captain Mark Phillips.
  • Diana, Princess of Wales’s tell-all book revealed the unhappy truths of the princess’s marriage – particularly, the affair between Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles.
  • Scandalous pictures of the Duchess of York being kissed on her feet by her friend, John Bryan, were published in Daily Mirror.
  • Intimate conversations between the Princess of Wales and James Gilbey from a tape recording of their phone calls were published in The Sun.
  • The affair between the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles was confirmed by a transcript of a recording of their phone calls published in the Daily Mirror.
  • Windsor Castle – one of the Queen’s official residences – caught fire and was extensively damaged.
  • John Major, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced to the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales had decided to separate.

While they were admittedly sad events, 1992 represented a year of personal tragedy, personal embarrassment and personal loss for The Queen.  None of these events, as upsetting and traumatic as they were to the Royals, brought into question the future of the Monarchy and certainly none of these events rocked the United Kingdom to its core.  Not one single event or even all of them combined came close to calling into question the viability of the U.K.’s democracy.

What was an “annus horribilis” for The Queen was little more than fodder for the tabloids and gossip sharing for many Brits.  It did not represent a constitutional threat nor did it threaten the values, freedoms and lives of The Queen’s subjects.  In the final analysis it was a very personal annus horribilis” and not one that created upheaval and division throughout Great Britain.

Contrast The Queen’s year of personal misery with the kind of year the U.S. has had since January 20, 2017 when the 45th President took the oath of office on the West Front of the Unites States Capitol. As 2017 draws to a close many are asking if this past year has been America’s “annus horribilis.  It was a year of shameful and divisive language, hostile and racially motivated acts, misdirected economic and social policies, and dangerous rhetoric and threats on the world stage by the first President to be so widely characterized as wholly unfit for office.

From the moment the Presidential oath of office was administered by the Chief Justice, a dark cloud appeared over Washington and it has grown wider and darker throughout the year.  We were shocked that our new President’s questionably disingenuous statements gave way to documented and well proven lies.  We watched suspicious activities increasingly become supported by facts and evidence.  We experienced what was hoped to be just an overactive political ego become dwarfed by the severe and continuous manifestations of chronic and consuming narcissistic personality disorder.  We became frustrated when our hopes for transparency regarding his tax returns and allegations of previous sexual harassment and abuse were answered with angry defensiveness and obfuscation. We hoped against hope that the campaigner’s vile language, racial slurs, humiliating words directed at and about minorities, people with disabilities, women, and those with different lifestyles or gender choices would, once he was elected,  give way to the chief executive’s more moderate and inclusive attitudes.  Such was not the case and we were left to learn to live with yet more disappointment.

The Queen called it “annus horribilis” but for the more plain spoken Americans who have been outraged by what we’ve witnessed since the inauguration it was just a damn horrible year.  A year of shame, humiliation and fear about the true State of the Union.  And even greater fear for the irreparable damage that will be left behind when the reins of power eventually transfer to more responsible hands.


The anger and frustration with the President has divided family members and torn friendships apart.  He has been one of the most divisive figures in American political history.  He has been the butt of nightly attacks by late night comedians in a way that no other President has ever been so consistently lampooned. He has changed cable news from media outlets that carry world-wide news events to virtually 24/7 political shows.  And his predictable twitter rants that follow reports about him on television or by political opponents has changed social media more than anything since the first major commercial Internet Service Providers hit the scene in the early 1990s.

For the first time in modern history the American President is no longer universally regarded as the “leader of the free world”.  Many have relegated him to a second tier leader with German Chancellor Angela Merkel often identified as the most influential world leader.  Extreme American nationalism and exceptionalism have served to wear out the U.S. welcome around the world.

Mt. Rushmore

As the president becomes increasingly isolated by world leaders it only follows that he will see a growing movement by members of his own party moving away from him as the 2018 mid-term elections approach.  His coat tails will likely not be seen as an advantage to those Republicans seeking election in 2018 but instead he will feel like an albatross that they will fight to rid themselves of.

The old saying “with friends like that who needs enemies” could not be any more true than when the President’s former close and trusted adviser Steve Bannon makes public statements such as:  “Trump is like an 11 year old child.”  Or, “He’s got a 30% chance of finishing his first term either because of impeachment or the 25th amendment.”

With the lowest approval ratings after his first year in office of any previous President it is hard to understand why he believes that the way out of his political predicament is to try to dig himself out of his hole.  Two thirds of Americans view him unfavorably and the CNN poll shows that voters favor Democrats over Republicans in 2018 House midterms by widest margin in years with 56% favoring Democrats and 38% favoring Republicans.  This could result in a seismic shift in the political balance in Washington with a real possibility that Democrats might have a chance to re-take both the Senate and House.  The underlying reason has as much do with Trump’s style, personality and demeanor as it does with his policies.


Such is the report card for year one of the Trump presidency.  The real question is what will year two bring.  Only time will tell.  But the one thing that seems clear to so many is that 2017 has been America’s “annus horribilis or less eloquently put, a damn horrible year.


Many Americans will undoubtedly be glad to see the end of 2017 hoping against hope that 2018 will help restore dignity, admiration, trust and confidence in their government and in their President in particular.  But hope is not a plan.  It will take increased and unrelenting activism to regain the government we deserve.

Change may be just around the corner

The Silver Lining in Houston’s Dark Cloud

Silver lining

Twelve years ago today Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans.  The Category 5 storm ravaged the area with particular death and destruction in the Lower 9th Ward.  More than 1,800 people died.  Most of them were poor African Americans whose lives were largely ignored because they were not fortunate enough to have been born privileged or live in the more attractive neighborhoods of New Orleans.  The loss of life in Katrina was in large part a result of racial injustice by a community made up of far too many who lacked sufficient empathy, care, compassion and basic decency to work to save ALL of their fellow New Orleanians not just the ones that looked like them.

New Orleans 9th Ward

Fast forward to August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA when the ugliness of racial animus and hatred reared its head in the shadow of the home of the author of the U.S. Constitution.  The images of neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members marching, battling, beating and ultimately murdering set off renewed conversation about the myth that we live in a post-racial period in our history.  Nothing could be further from the truth as demonstrated by the vile and hideous comments of the 45th President who failed repeatedly to put a stake in the heart of racism and to unequivocally lay blame for the Charlottesville tragedy where it belonged.

Charlottesville 1   Charlottesville 2

But the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey and the unfathomable devastation caused by the flooding of the Texas Gulf Coast ironically revealed the proverbial silver lining from within a very dark and tragic cloud.

Goodness often comes in the wake of grief, anguish and loss.  I know this to be true having lived through two floods.  Watching the horrific scenes of the Texas floods brings back the terrible memories of the 1959 and 1961 floods in my hometown of Hull, MA. Our home was seriously flooded twice in 13 months with water from the Bay during two violent Nor’easters. During the first flood I was just 11 years old and I was home alone when the flood waters started to rise through the floor boards. Eventually I was rescued by the Coast Guard but their amphibious boat was not able to get close enough to the front door because of a chain link fence in our front yard. I had to wade through neck high freezing water to get to the boat. Everything in our home was lost and we were displaced for nearly a year. And then 13 months later, after having been back in our home a very short time, the same thing happened again. This time I was home with my parents because it was the day of the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Once again everything was lost including our car. Those memories and images are seared into my mind like it was yesterday.  But as awful as those events were I am to this day grateful to the local Hull families who took us in and let us stay with them for very long periods of time.

The memories of basic goodness I experienced as a child victim of floods are refreshed now as I watch the extraordinary acts of humanity by so many ordinary people in Houston who are risking and sacrificing much to make repeated efforts to rescue those stranded in rising flood waters.  It is hard not to be moved by the scenes of endless trips by a flotilla of privately owned watercraft piloted by citizens who are determined to reach those in need with no regard to the race, faith or beliefs of the people they are helping.  Whites saving blacks.  Blacks saving Latinos.  Christians saving Muslims.  It is a tapestry for compassion that has been color blind by the words and actions of community leaders and folks who just want to extend a hand of friendship and humanity.

Flood rescue 1

Rescue 2

White guy Black guy

The relief efforts are not just the silver cloud for Houston and South Texas but a show of unity that is needed now more than ever.  No one wishes for a disaster but if one is to come it is heartening to know that something good can come out of what is so bad.  The efforts of cable news reporters to not just cover the story but repeatedly become rescuers themselves is proof positive that that the media is more often part of the solution and not the problem.  We didn’t need Harvey to convince us that journalists do not deserve to be painted as “Fake News” by the President.

Cajun Navy

Houston will re-build.  It will survive and eventually thrive again.  And when some sense of normalcy returns, which may take months or even years, Hurricane Harvey’s legacy may best be remembered not for the devastation it caused but for the message of unity and harmony it has sent.  Disparate parts of a community who, without even knowing it, have beaten back racial and religious tensions and intolerance at a time when their help was needed not just by the local flood victims but by an entire nation.

Love Houston

We should all feel a deep debt of gratitude to every first responder, community leader, faith-based and charitable organization and ordinary citizen who has shown their true mettle and humanity.  Their actions during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey far exceeds what has been done to heal the local community.  They have helped to heal an entire nation.

Thank you

Sitting Shiva for the American Presidency

Most mornings these days I feel like I’ve awoken in a shiva house (Jewish house of mourning).  Why do I refer to a shiva house? Because it feels like I’m grieving for the death of the American presidency as I’ve known it and studied it for my entire life. The numbing sense of loss is as though I’ve experienced a death in the family. The difference is that the initial period of Jewish mourning, shiva, lasts a week. Sitting shiva for the American presidency may not be able to be accomplished in the span of a mere week.


I grew up as a child of the 50’s and 60’s in the post-World War II and Korean War era when there was enormous pride and unity in our nation energized by our military successes and ironically by our fear of nuclear annihilation.  Civil Defense shelters were everywhere.  You could barely walk through the streets of an American city without seeing the ubiquitous signs directing us to bomb shelters.


Our AM-only car radios had two logos showing us how to find the Conelrad station where we would hear emergency broadcast information in the event of enemy attack during the Cold War.


And of course, none of us who grew up in that period can ever forget the “duck and cover” drills in school which naively taught that in the case of an enemy attack crawling under our small wooden desks would keep us safe.

Duck and Cover

It was a terrifying but unifying time for a nation that turned to its President for a calm and steady hand and voice to bring us together and allay our worst fears.

Without doubt we had, and still have a long way to go as a nation to fully deliver on the promise of the founders that “All men (and women) are created equal”.  And we still had much to overcome in terms of racial and religious animus and bigotry; violence that would assault neighborhoods and eventually assassinate a president and civil rights leaders.  But despite it all we were able to feel as one nation under God thanks to respected leaders in The White House, in Congress and in our own communities.  Under all of the debris of civil unrest and injustices there was still a sense of pride and respect if not always agreement.

As a child I remember feeling the unbounded pride and respect for the Office of the President.  I was born when Truman was president but it was Dwight David Eisenhower or Ike as everyone liked to call him that are my earliest memories of a U.S. president.  The admiration and affection that the nation had for Ike was something I remember vividly.  And in my hometown of Boston it was demonstrated daily by a most unlikely group of patriots – young school children.

Bob Emery was an enormously popular Boston after school TV host known as “Big Brother Bob”.  Every day upon returning home from school I turned on the TV to watch Big Brother look into the studio camera directly at me and all the kids in his viewing audience and then ask us to raise our glasses of milk in a toast to the President. On the wall of Big Brother’s set was a portrait of President Eisenhower.  That sign of respect is seared in my childhood memory.

Toasting Ike with milk

As the years went on I developed a passion for the American presidency.  No doubt that was in large part because by the time I was maturing Boston’s favorite son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had become the nation’s 35th president.  So beloved was JFK that you could barely find a Boston home without something on the wall of the kitchen or living room that paid tribute to him and his wife, Jackie.

JFK & Jackie

There have been 13 presidents in my lifetime.  None were perfect men.  Some were decidedly better than others.  Even the one who resigned his office in disgrace was, before the scandal that brought him down, generally credited with having achieved many important accomplishments for the nation.  Yes, even Richard Nixon, reviled by so many, was able to achieve a long list of achievement for the American people.  Among them he:

  • Opened relations with China
  • Ended the Vietnam War
  • Ended the draft to create an all-volunteer military
  • Founded the EPA and signed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act
  • Dedicated $100 million to fight cancer creating national cancer centers
  • Signed Title IX opening doors for women collegiate athletes
  • Signed a civil rights act preventing gender bias in universities and colleges receiving federal funding
  • Lowered the voting age from 21 to 18
  • Gave Native Americans the right to tribal determination ending a policy of forced assimilation and returning their sacred land

But we now live in frighteningly different times.  Though there has always been an active or latent threat to the nation from outside our shores we have never been as threatened from within.  And by within I mean specifically within the curved walls of the Oval Office.  And the prospect of anything good or positive springing forth from this president is an extremely remote pipe dream.

I won’t attempt to enumerate or re-litigate the countless offenses of our 45th president both legal and moral.  That long list has been the focus of non-stop attention by news and social media reports and commentaries.

It is the cumulative impact on our national psyche that is most alarming, disturbing and dangerously insidious.  Fanning the flames of hate and intemperance as Donald Trump did in his comments following the events in Charlottesville and soon thereafter at his Phoenix rally embolden and empower those who support an agenda that does anything but make America great(er).

The most worrisome part of Donald Trump is that he demonstrates no positive leadership qualities whatsoever.  He is not LEADING us to hate and division as much as he is REFLECTING it. The hate and division that has been waiting beneath the surface for Trump’s clarion call are like millions of 17-year Cicadas that emerge when the environment is right for them to break through the earth and blot out the sky like locusts.

Cicadas 2

Trump empowers and enables the ugliness that has always been a part of our society.  Not until leaders from politics, business, clergy, NPO’s, and others universally and courageously denounce him, marginalize him and hopefully pressure him to vacate his position do we stand any kind of a chance to effectively swat the insects that are spreading the disease of hate in our country.

The unkindest cut of all is that even when Trump leaves office those that wore the red ball caps at his rallies and blindly supported him even against their own self-interest will retreat below the surface like the 17-year cicadas waiting to re-appear when the next Trump-like figure comes along.  While we nervously wait to see what the fringe produces as its next champion we will watch the most revered and awesome office in world democracy die a slow death.  Oh, we’ll continue to have presidents and there will be an Oval Office in the West Wing.  But the bar will have been lowered so far by the current occupant that the presidency will perhaps no longer exist to be admired and respected in the future as it was in the past.

The presidency may not be dead though it surely feels like it is.  Maybe it is just so irreversibly diseased that like a patient devastated with Alzheimer’s Disease it is unable to remember how it is supposed to behave.  And as was said about a former president who actually died from Alzheimer’s, for the patient and those who love him or her, it is a devastatingly long goodbye.

We may now be witnessing that long goodbye of the institution of the American presidency which has become infected by its incumbent with the least, not greatest, of the virtues he inherited from his 44 predecessors.

So, I mourn for what has been lost.  Was the loss of righteousness of the presidency caused by a self-destructive fire starter who self-immolated himself leaving the heart of the presidency extinguished along with the dumpster fire that was the Trump era?  Or was it incinerated by extreme right wing flame throwers in an act of unwitting arson?

Whatever the cause, the shadow of death has blanketed our democracy.  So as for me, I sit shiva for the noble design which the founders crafted and which most of our first 44 presidents lifted up, though a few let down, but none of whom let die.  As with most mourners, I pray that there will be an end of the grieving period and as is Jewish custom, I will arise from shiva, go outside for a walk around the block to symbolize re-entry into the day-to-day world.  For Jews, that shiva period typically lasts a week.  I’m afraid this period of mourning may need more time before normalcy will return.

Lady Liberty crying

It should be easier to repurpose household goods for those in need


One of the many challenges faced by those who care for aging family members who are downsizing their home, moving to assisted living facilities or who pass away is the overwhelming task of sorting through and disposing of unneeded or unwanted furniture, furnishings, household goods and clothes.  Most of us spend a lifetime acquiring “stuff” with little or no thought to what will become of our belongings when they are no longer needed or when they simply won’t fit in a dramatically smaller living space.  When our elderly relatives face a move or when they die and all but a few sentimental items and family mementos need to be emptied from the home and disposed of a frantic search often begins for a suitable way to repurpose a relative’s property.

I’ve been dealing with this challenge as I take responsibility for helping an elderly family member move from her current home to a nearby assisted living community and into a space one third the size of her current home.  The task has been even more difficult because I live 2,600 miles from my family member.

Downsizing 2

After dozens of phone calls to thrift shops, consignment stores, charitable groups, religious organizations, downsizing advisors and estate liquidators I learned to my dismay that it is very difficult to give away someone’s households effects either for cash or donation.  As Richard Eisenberg writes in his recent article:  Sorry, Nobody Wants Your Parents’ Stuff ( ) “the hard truth is that nobody wants the prized possessions of your parents — not even you or your kids.”

So what’s a caring family member to do?

There are businesses in many cities which will come to a home and clear out everything that is not bolted to the walls.  These entrepreneurs may try to place some of the more salable items on their showroom floor for consignment.  Despite the excellent condition of some furniture the reality is that many items are just not appealing to buyers.  I discovered that the table and chairs of a dining room set in absolutely perfect condition could be sold but the china cabinet is an anachronistic piece of furniture that hardly anyone wants.  The firms that clean out granny’s house may only consign for sale a handful of items.  They will arrange to donate rest of the furniture and household goods to charities with whom they work in exchange for a donation receipt.  But where those donated items wind up is anyone’s guess.  And those items which can neither be sold nor donated are likely to find an eternal home in a nearby public dump.

But what about the many individuals who are in desperate need for clothing, household goods and furniture?  Why is it so difficult to get those items from a vacated residence into the hands and hearts of new immigrants, refugees, or others living in poverty?  The sad reality is that there are precious few charities willing to take it all and then triage the items for distribution to those in need.  Most charities will select very few items and often don’t even have the facility to pick up things from the house.  They’ll accept what they have an immediate need for to put in the homes of a needy family.  But they have no capacity to warehouse items for those in the community to come and help themselves to clothes, furniture and household goods.

Charities that are in the business of providing social services would do well to collaborate and develop a shared facility and service capable of clearing out homes of ALL unwanted and unneeded personal effects making all usable goods available to anyone in their community in need of clothes, furniture and household goods.  By sharing the costs of warehouse space, trucks and personnel the burden can be shared and the costs spread among many faith based and secular organizations in a true co-op serving the poor and underserved.  It could be the ultimate Leave-a-Penny/Take-a-Penny system but on a much grander scale.  People with home goods and clothing to donate could bring the items to a central warehouse or have the items picked up.  And those with need for any of the items at the warehouse could receive what they need and either pick up the items or ask that they be delivered.

It shouldn’t be so difficult for donors to give and those in need to receive.  Give what you can; take what you need.

Take penny dish

Immigrants, refugees and others in our communities are in need and many of us have the ability to make things available to them that are no longer needed by our families but which could make a world of difference for someone else.  It’s time for the nonprofit community to step up and meet these needs in an unprecedented model of cooperation.  Private nonprofit organizations and faith-based houses of worship throughout the community should use this as a way for genuine ecumenical and interfaith collaboration, cooperation and service that no single organization could accomplish by itself.

Too much stuff

So what is the best advice for families who want to prepare themselves for the inevitable downsizing of a loved one or ultimately the final disposition of their property?  Immediately begin a process to dramatically pare down and get rid of items now that have not been used in a long time.  Don’t wait until you are under a deadline to reduce what is in your loved one’s home.  Repurpose items by working with charities, thrift shops and consignment shops.  As difficult as it is to convince a family member to let go of some of their belongings talk with them about whether many of their unused items can serve a higher purpose by giving them to others rather than by holding onto them.


The transition of a loved one, whether to a new and smaller location or the inevitable and ultimate transition at the end of life can be physically and emotionally challenging.  Change is difficult.  Letting go of personal items is hard.  But the satisfaction that comes from repurposing personal items for the benefit of those in need can be very satisfying.  The knowledge that the lives of others can be made easier and happier with the gift of items of a family member can provide joy and happiness to both the donor and the recipient.

Items that are not wanted by trendy or kitschy consignment shops, or rejected by charities that have no immediate need in site, could make individuals grateful and happy.  But the burden and responsibility of creating the right kind of co-op environment for all of your loved one’s rummage which could be turned into someone else’s treasure should be a shared priority for every community.

Ann Frank

The time has come for single payer universal health care

Health care 4

The failure of the Trump administration and the House of Representatives to Repeal and Replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) should be a clarion call for a different approach to bringing the United States into the community of developed nations which provide universal health care to their citizens.  The time has come for a single payer universal health care system to cover all Americans.

Health care 7

Now, here’s an approach that should get support from those on both sides of the aisle.  Those who want to see universal health care coverage for all.  And those who would like to give a giant economic shot in the arm to American businesses.

In 2015, the average company-provided health insurance policy totaled $6,251 a year for single coverage. On average, employers paid 83 percent of the premium, or $5,179 a year. Employees paid the remaining 17 percent, or $1,071 a year.  And for family coverage, the average policy totaled $17,545 a year with employers contributing, on average, 72 percent or $12,591. Employees paid the remaining 28 percent or $4,955 a year.

The U.S. is the only developed nation where most health care costs are absorbed by employers.  Imagine the economic impact to American businesses if the responsibility for health care costs was removed from their financial statements.  Those savings could be used to reinvest in corporate expansion creating the resources for the largest job creation initiative in modern history.

Health care 2

So who would pay for the health care costs for the majority of Americans who currently receive health insurance through their employers?  The answer is the same way that health care costs are paid on behalf of citizens in all other developed nations…a single payer universal health care system paid for in large part by the U.S. government.  In short, a Medicare for all program with limited financial participation by citizens for basic health care coverage and the opportunity for supplemental insurance coverage paid for by Americans who want additional levels of coverage just as optional medigap policies are purchased from private insurance companies to pay health care costs not covered such as co-payments, deductibles, and prescription drugs.

Health care 5

Medicare gets universal high satisfaction grades from seniors who, it should be noted, consume a disproportionately high percentage of health care services.  The individual payment for basic Medicare coverage together with the optional costs for supplemental policies require far less investment by individuals 65 and older than the out of pocket costs for premiums, deductibles and co-pays by those on traditional employer sponsored health plans and even less than the costs of those whose health care premiums are not covered by their employer.

Individual contributions to help pay for a nominal portion of the cost of health care coverage should be means tested.  Those living in poverty would not be expected to contribute to the costs of their health care coverage.

Health care 8

For those who think that such a plan would cripple the insurance companies nothing could be further from the truth.  In the same way that insurers sell Medicare recipients supplemental policies that could sell similar optional medigap policies.  But it is likely that the exorbitant health insurance company CEO compensation may be flushed out of the system.

Health care 3

It seems to me that a social contract with all Americans to provide comprehensive health care coverage is part of the basic rights which is implied in the words of the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In the modern era, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best:  “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Seven years ago, the passage of the Affordable Care Act represented the greatest contribution to the health of the American people since the first attempt at healthcare reform in the post-war era occurred during the administration of President Harry S. Truman.  President Truman recommended to Congress a proposal for universal health insurance coverage, administered and paid for by a National Health Insurance Board. (The article: “A Brief History on the Road to Healthcare Reform: From Truman to Obama” is an excellent resource for those interested in tracing the path of health care reform over the past 72 years.  This article can be found at: ).

The ACA is clearly an imperfect provision.  It was flawed in many ways from the time it was signed into law.  But it may also be one of the most politicized social reforms in the history of the nation.  Congress and the new administration had no appetite to fix what was broken.  They wanted it gutted, repealed and replaced.  But they were not able to get that done.

So now is the time for a bold approach to health care reform which will ensure that every American will be treated fairly, equally and humanely with the assurance that they won’t die because they cannot afford health care and they won’t go broke because they get sick.  A simple compact that embodies the spirit of the Declaration of Independence…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Now is the time for America to adopt single payer universal health care because NO ONE SHOULD DIE BECAUSE THEY CANNOT AFFORD HEALTH CARE AND NO ONE SHOULD GO BROKE BECAUSE THEY GET SICK!

Health care 6

My offer to write Donald Trump’s resignation letter

Signing a document

Let me say from the start that as much as I would like to see Donald Trump impeached and removed from an office he has disgraced and which he repeatedly disrespects I don’t believe that is likely to happen.

To bring articles of impeachment against a President requires a majority vote in the House of Representatives. When the case is tried by the Senate, a vote of at least 2/3 of those present is required to convict and remove the president from office.  The political reality suggests that this is an unlikely way to remove Trump from office.

I believe it is far more likely that Trump will resign the Presidency rather than suffer being ousted through impeachment.  As hard as it is to believe, my theory is shared by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) who has said: “Donald Trump is going to get himself out of office soon.”  Senator Feinstein suggested the President would quit before he was potentially forced out of office after anti-Trump protesters in Los Angeles demanded to know why more wasn’t being done by Congress to remove him from office.  And Senator Feinstein is not the first to suggest that the billionaire tycoon may decide to quit the White House of his own volition.

So when the day comes that the thin-skinned Trump ego can no longer endure the daily pummeling he gets from Members of Congress including members of his own party; the media (fake or real); the endless commentaries and memes that daily spread virally over the internet or the criticism and barbs he gets from foreign leaders it will be at that point that I believe he will decide to quit his part-time job as POTUS and retreat to his gold man caves in Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago.

And when that happens he’ll need a well-crafted statement explaining and spinning his reasons for giving up the most coveted and powerful political job in the world.  And that’s where I could help him out.  And by out, I mean way out.  But out in classic Trump style which would enable him to leave The White House with his reputation and image not only intact but actually embellished.  After all, that’s the real end game for Trump – to burnish his brand.

I’ve served as the public spokesman for many major organizations which, from time to time, required me to issue very carefully written statements that were designed to say a lot without saying much.  So I am happy to offer this suggested draft statement for Mr. Trump to use when he inevitably decides to resign as President:

My fellow Americans: 

While I am proud and honored to be your president nothing is more important to me than my children, grandchildren and my dear wife, Melania.  And as much as you may need me to lead our country I have discovered that my family needs me even more.  It has been especially difficult to be away from Melania and Baron.  The prospects of uprooting them from the home and community they love to move to Washington would be a very difficult transition for them.  It has also been very difficult for my adult children and grandchildren to not have the head of the family close by and involved in their lives.

 I am happy that I was able to win The White House, bring victory to the goal of a Republican led Congress, and advance a nominee for the Supreme Court that will strengthen the conservative values on the bench.  I’ve laid out a clear agenda and put in place mechanisms which will return the government to the party of Lincoln with a strong conservative agenda.  So I think I’ve done as much for you as you need from me.  Now it is time for me to return to my family and business, both of which need and depend on me to be present.

 I am confident that Vice President Pence will succeed me admirably and capably and he will make an excellent 46th President.

 Thank you for the honor you have bestowed upon me.  Now that I have set the nation on the right path I feel that my work in Washington has been completed and I have done all I can do to assure the future success of our country.

 Thank you and God bless the United States.

 Donald J. Trump

Now it is worth noting that the only other American President to resign while in office was Richard Nixon whose letter of resignation famously only included eleven words:

Nixon resignation letter

Trump loves to set records so he could one up Nixon with an even shorter resignation message should he choose to just say these six words: “You can’t fire me, I quit.”

But that’s just not the Trump way.  Walking away from a failed project or suddenly shutting an enterprise down is his way.  He has abruptly shut down many of his businesses leaving behind vendors, employees and others stakeholders with nothing but an Out of Business sign and a padlock to remember him by.  Here are some of the Trump businesses from which he has walked away:

  • TRUMP: THE GAME (a board game in partnership with Milton Bradley)

So if Donald Trump needs a resignation letter written I’m his guy.  I’d be very happy to do it.  And by very happy I mean ecstatic.  And because Trump always likes a deal or is unphased when he stiffs his vendors I’ll make it easy for him by waiving my usual fee.

Mr. Trump, the letter is ready for you as soon as you are ready to order the packing boxes and call the moving vans.  And one more thing, sir, for the sake of the nation, the sooner the better.

Trump Moving Van

Is the Ship of State sinking?


On September 27, 1995 I had the honor and privilege to be invited by President and Mrs. Clinton to a black-tie dinner at The White House.  It was an evening to celebrate the generosity of major philanthropists who had supported the leading children’s hospitals in North America.  I was asked to bring along to be recognized our hospital’s largest donor, David Packard, founder of Hewlett-Packard, whose contribution dedicated the new hospital for his late wife, Lucile.  During the cocktail reception I sat with Mr. Packard and we chatted for a while about the evening.  I told him that I knew of course that he had served in the Nixon administration as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense and that he no doubt had been to The White House for countless dinners.  As a life-long Republican and no stranger to The White House I asked Mr. Packard why at his advanced age and with obvious physical difficulty getting around had he decided to travel from California to Washington for a dinner at the Clinton White House.  I assumed that because of his obvious political differences with Clinton that he would have declined the invitation.  Packard told me that indeed he had been to more black-tie dinners at The White House than he could count and that yes, he was also not a fan of Bill Clinton’s politics.  But, he told me, I have reverence for the Office of the President.  And when the President invites you to dinner you set your political differences aside and accept the invitation out of deep respect for the Office.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson from Mr. Packard.

And yet, while I too revere the Office of the President, I don’t think that the worst of its previous occupants have so stained and shamed the office in such a short period of time as Donald Trump.  Clearly I will never be invited to dinner at the Trump White House but even if that were to happen I would respectfully ignore the lesson David Packard taught me and never cross the threshold at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue while Trump was in residence and while he occupied the Oval Office.  There are just too many smells there that even a pinched nose prevent you from breathing.  The rot that is underway by the current President is a stench I just could not stomach.

The Washington Post’s coverage of Donald Trump’s Tweetstorm in which he accuses Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower is a comprehensive account of Trump’s most recent and bizarre child-like meltdown:

Dan Rather’s commentary seems to sum things up on what I thought could not be yet another colossal embarrassment by Trump.  But I was wrong.  He never fails to plumb new depths of self-humiliating, paranoid, and disgusting comments.  Read Rather’s commentary and see if it resonates with your own thoughts about today’s pre-dawn Tweets from Trump.

And then, read this commentary by Robert Reich:

This morning Trump went berserk, tweeting a series of bizarre accusations charging that former president Barack Obama orchestrated a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall in the run-up to the election. Citing no evidence, he said the former president was a “Bad (or sick) guy!”

Folks, we’ve got a huge problem on our hands. Either:

1. Trump is more nuts than we suspected — a true paranoid.

2. Or he’s correct, in which case there’s probable cause that he committed treason. No president can order a wiretap. For federal agents to obtain a wiretap on Trump’s phone conversations, the Justice Department would first have had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence that there was probable cause to believe that Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

3. Or Trump’s outburst was triggered by a commentary on Breitbart News reporting an assertion Thursday night by rightwing talk-radio host Mark Levin suggesting Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team’s dealings with Russian operatives. If this was the source of Trump’s ravings this morning, we’ve got a president willing to put the prestige and power of his office behind a baseless claim emanating from rightwing purveyors of lies.

So there you have it — either he’s paranoid, he likely committed treason, or he’s making judgments based on rightwing crackpots. Each of them is as worrying as the other.

What do you think? 


1. Trump is more nuts than we suspected — a true paranoid.

2. Or he’s correct, in which case there’s probable cause that he committed treason. No president can order a wiretap. For federal agents to obtain a wiretap on Trump’s phone conversations, the Justice Department would first have had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence that there was probable cause to believe that Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

3. Or Trump’s outburst was triggered by a commentary on Breitbart News reporting an assertion Thursday night by rightwing talk-radio host Mark Levin suggesting Obama and his administration used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team’s dealings with Russian operatives. If this was the source of Trump’s ravings this morning, we’ve got a president willing to put the prestige and power of his office behind a baseless claim emanating from rightwing purveyors of lies.

The stain and stink on the Presidency created by Donald Trump will last for generations just as Richard Nixon’s desecration of the Office of the President created by Watergate.  Nixon and Trump have and will have soiled the Presidency.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  I hope Americans will learn a painful lesson from the behavior of this current President and will never be duped again.

I wish I could look at the current President the same way David Packard looked at Bill Clinton in violent disagreement with him politically but with respect for the Office.  But for me, that’s just a bridge too far so I’ll have to wait until the next occupant of the Office of President comes along before I can look at the Presidency again with respect and admiration even though I may not care for or agree with the holder of that sacred office.

When leaders become the square peg in their organization’s round hole

Square Peg in a Round Hole

Why was it so predictable that in such a short period of time Donald Trump would become the lightning rod for so much criticism from the media and the public?  Why did he trip so many political land mines in in the first few weeks of his Presidency?  And why did a man who many credit with having built a successful business empire have so much difficulty transitioning from the gold plated environs of Trump Tower to the Oval Office in the People’s House?

The answer is found in the old idiom…a square peg in a round hole.

Trump, like so many other entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, self-employed professionals (i.e. physicians, attorneys, accountants, real estate investors, etc.) may have excelled in their business or professional life but when thrust into an environment when accountability is required and where process is as important as product these individuals fail as leaders.  Such is very often the case when an executive of a privately held company finds her/himself at the helm of a publicly owned business and even more so when they are expected to lead government or nonprofit organizations.

The CEO of a privately owned enterprise has no responsibility to a board of directors or shareholders.  Decisions are typically made by taking one’s own counsel and not taking or even spurning advice and input of others.  This is the person who manages rather than leads.  This is the person who projects his own views, opinions and policies in an autocratic style without taking counsel from others.  The consequence in a private business environment is typically limited to personal gain or loss and not the benefit or harm to others.

These are the people that expect and often demand complete obedience from others.  They may be an imperious or domineering person who is most comfortable holding absolute power.  They often believe that their point of view and their opinion is always correct.  Hubris, arrogance, and narcissism often characterize those who have only themselves to answer to.

But when these individuals assume a leadership role in the public or nonprofit sectors they often fail to adapt to a new way of doing business.  They bristle at the idea that they need to include others in their decision making process.  They struggle when confronted by resistance from the loyal opposition. They can’t understand why when they say jump their followers don’t ask “how high?”.

Trying to lead in the public or nonprofit sector the way one has led in their own closely held enterprise is when they often find themselves as the proverbial square peg in a round hole.  Their business practices, behaviors, personality and business style may have worked when they called all the shots without push back.  They can’t and won’t accept their mistakes or foibles.  And their lack of compassion, humility and dedication to others more than themselves make it impossible to force their sharp edged peg to fit neatly and comfortably into an environment which favors smooth and round edges.

Donald Trump is the most notable and visible example of a square peg trying to hammer himself into a round hole.  But he is not alone.  Too often, volunteer leaders of nonprofit organizations ascend to the head of the board table with either a lack of experience in a very different environment or an unwillingness to learn from the new playbook.

Inexperience is not a fatal flaw. What one doesn’t know can be learned when a leader is open to coaching and counsel.  The unwillingness to modify old ways of doing business and the failure to adapt to the necessary group process that is required by publicly controlled business, government or the nonprofit organization is a prescription for failure.  Success without change in one’s leadership style is often a bridge too far.  Leaders fail when ambition overreaches capability.  And the biggest possible sledgehammer will never force a square peg to fit neatly into a round hole.