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.

Shiva

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.

Conelrad

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

Downsizing

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 ( https://tinyurl.com/mkrhx9g ) “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.

Declutter

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: https://tinyurl.com/kxtpwbq ).

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 AIRLINES
  • TRUMP BEVERAGES
  • TRUMP: THE GAME (a board game in partnership with Milton Bradley)
  • TRUMP CASINOS
  • TRUMP MAGAZINE
  • TRUMP MORTGAGE
  • TRUMP STEAKS
  • TRUMP TRAVEL SITE
  • TRUMP COMMUNICATIONS CO.
  • TRUMP TOWER TAMPA
  • TRUMP UNIVERSITY
  • TRUMP VODKA

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?

the-white-house-mess

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:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/03/04/trump-accuses-obama-of-nixonwatergate-plot-to-wire-tap-trump-tower/?utm_term=.c01cf19816cf

Dan Rather’s commentary  http://occupydemocrats.com/2017/03/04/dan-rather-just-said-thinking-trumps-wiretap-scandal/ 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? 

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.

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.

Give but Give Wisely

we-make-a-life-by-what-we-give

Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration.

Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving.

Yet most people make their decisions to give to charity based on little more than bumper sticker slogans and carefully spun information from professional and volunteer spokespersons trained to appeal to us in the hope that we will reach for our checkbook even without thoroughly vetting the worthiness, impact and relevance of their cause.

So how can we become better informed and more responsible donors? It may require a little work, but it is really not that difficult to pull the curtain back and let some much needed light shine in on charities.

use-your-resources-to-help-the-world

Perhaps the single most reliable and comprehensive source of information about a charity comes from its annual IRS Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax) which most charitable organizations are required to file each year. Religious organizations such as synagogues are not mandated to file a 990 but most other 501(c)(3) organizations are. To find a 990 for a charity, go to www.guidestar.org and sign in if you have used Guidestar before or create a free account for instant access to their database of tax returns on more than 1 million charitable organizations.

The IRS partners with Guidestar to make all 990s available to the public for examination. Charities are required to provide the public with a hard copy of their 990 upon request, but looking online is fast, convenient and free.

What will you find on a 990? Just about everything you could possible want to know. The form includes extensive information about an organization’s demographics, mission and purpose, financials (revenue, expenses, assets and balance sheet), fundraising expenses, cost to raise a dollar, program services and accomplishments, board of directors and management, compensation of key employees, compliance with policies and procedures that help determine the organization’s willingness to be transparent, how they use their money, and much more.

donate

Donors should spend as much time researching the performance and impact of charities as they do evaluating the performance and features of their next smartphone.  As with all consumer choices, the watchword for charitable giving at all times is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.  And with resources like Guidestar and other tools that help donors make wise choices, there is no excuse to send money to any but the most effective organizations, which fulfill missions that touch the hearts and the minds of donors. For the sake of those who truly need your support, please give – but give wisely not just on Giving Tuesday but every day.

thanks-for-charitable-giving

Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast

The shouting and screaming is over. The mean spirited commercials are gone. The daily animus has ended. The vitriol is finished. The nastiness, ugliness, lewdness and demeaning has stopped. At least for now. And hopefully we won’t see it return this way in our lifetimes.

In a matter of hours we will have a newly-elected President.  We will begin the peaceful transition of power.  There will be time enough for celebrating by the victors and their supporters, grieving by the losers and their followers and moving on by all of us.

But for now these two musical numbers put me in a better place and I hope they will for you, too.

Enjoy Israel Kamakawiwo’ole singing OVER THE RAINBOW & WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD 

and Leonard Cohen singing HALLELUJAH

‘Twas the night before the election

Twas the night before the election
When all through the land
All the pundits were spinning
With projections so grand

Campaign bunting was hung
From the rafters with care
By staffers who hoped that
The choice would be clear

No surrogates were nestled
Anywhere close to their beds
Too many visions of pollsters
Were filling their heads

People were glued
To their TV’s all night
Hoping the finish line
Soon would be close or in sight

The networks were frantic
To fill time with their chatter
About candidates some felt
Were like Alice and The Mad Hatter

Remotes were clicking between
Each of the channels
To see what was said by the
Talking head panels

It was dark in the East
And light in the West
America waited
To learn who’d be best

Red states and blue states
With their R’s and their D’s
Were counting the votes
To see who’d be pleased

The commercials were over
No more ads would be run
TV watching would return from
Frustration to fun

Analysts and catalysts were
Whipping up their crowd
Provocateurs and raconteurs
Were competing to be loud

Now Wolf
Now Anderson
Now Brokaw
Now Holt
On Pelley
On Kelly
On the bright ones
And the dolts

The hate and the anger
The nastiness and rage
Exhausted us all
No matter our age

Would it be him or be her
We wanted to know
Would it be left or be right
Which way would it go

Would we get gifts in our stockings
Or a big hunk of coal
Would our fav come up short
Or would they reach for their goal

Would we cheer as a nation
Despite who had won
Would we all come together
With the new era that’s begun

Will there be grace and humility
Will love of country prevail
Despite the hurt feelings
And the pain and travail

Will civility and pride
Be the rule of the land
So the nation can move forward
With a sincere outstretched hand

The campaign was contentious
And some said pretentious
So let’s abandon behavior
That’s demeaning and licentious

A new leader will be named
After the last vote is in
The losers will lose
And the winners will win

The nation’s not perfect
But it’s best among others
It’s time now to rejoice
My sisters and brothers

That power will transition
Without intimidation or gun
Democracy is the winner
It’s freedom that’s won

Let the past be the past
Give the new leader a chance
To start bringing us together
After the last inaugural dance

When the TV’s go dark
And the radios are off
When the last post has been posted
And the last vote has been voted

Sleep well America
Tomorrow’s a new day
The process has worked
There’s no more to say.

Except God bless our nation
And our President-elect
We can hold our heads high
And stand proudly erect

The peaceful transition of power
Is the price that some gave
So we might live peacefully
In the land of the free and
The home of the brave

And one thing’s for sure
Through the smiles and the tears
We can count on doing it over
In just four more years.