Counter-Culture Bowl and Thoughts on Alabama by Al Sikes

I thoroughly enjoyed the Counter-Culture Bowl last Saturday! Army won by a point.

My Dad and I watched the Army-Navy game together for years. As I recall, during a few of those years, it was the only game in its time slot. Dad had been in the Army. He had been conscripted and undoubtedly found some of the West Point graduates he served under overbearing but he passionately rooted for the cadets.

While the production quality of the game is much more advanced, many of its characteristics are just as Dad and I experienced. There was no hot-dogging then or now—sportsmanship was the honorable way. There was not the incessant chatter about whether some player will, as they say, “play on Sunday.” These young men will be defending their nation each Sunday.

It is hard not to notice the absence of player identity on their jerseys. They are playing for the team. And the service academy gridirons and jerseys are not converted into display spaces for sports brands.

Conference compensation (largely spent on sports facilities) and distribution monopolies, purchased by television networks, have robbed amateur sports of integrity. Schools jockey for league slots based on revenue potential. Geography used to define the Conferences. No more.

Maryland moved to the Midwest league (Big Ten) and my earlier home state team, Missouri, moved from its Midwest moorings to join the Southeastern Conference.

The distribution monopoly (availability on one network only) has resulted in advertising overload. The school tribe must watch the assigned channel and sit through advertising timeouts which interrupt the rhythm of the game.

Dana Jennings, a New York Times reporter, wrote an article headlined: “Sacked by the Media Blitz.” He spent an afternoon watching an NFL game or mainly the advertisements. He came up with a new acronym: ACS (Ad Concussion Syndrome.) He reported that there were well over one hundred ads “spliced into each game.”

Jennings’s bottom line in sport’s event advertising: “male insecurity.” He noted the ad narratives use cars, trucks, beer, erectile dysfunction products, and the like as objects that will help men overcome their insecurity. If they would like to reclaim their insecurity they might check out #MeTo.

Sports provide our cultures most frequent metaphors. We often talk about our life in baseball terms: strike out, singles, home runs, and the like. My assessment is that the fusion of sports with greed has put us behind the eight ball.

Is There a Character Vote

Is there a character vote? Yes, with thanks to Alabamans who just gave us and particularly politicians a vivid reminder.

We could use some character in governing. It is said that most problems elected officials encounter cannot be predicted, making the character dimension, as we assess candidates, especially important. It will not be clear for some time whether incumbent politicians understand the character dimension as something beyond keeping your hands to yourself.

My test of character is, in part, what those with a vote or veto do when reality crowds in on their predispositions. Two examples.

After the Sandy Hook school shooting the lines and arguments regarding gun control hardly changed. High capacity magazines, for example, were said to be protected by the constitution. When children and their teachers are slaughtered by a single shooter using a high capacity magazine, falling back on a badly outdated understanding of the Second Amendment is characterless.

More contemporarily the Party of fiscal discipline seems unconcerned with adding $1 trillion plus to the national debt over the next ten years. Its leadership argues that dynamic scoring, by the Joint Committee on Taxation, of its tax bill does not fully capture the projected growth spurt.

My space and your time do not permit detailing Arthur Laffer’s curve, but to my Republican friends I would just note that Laffer is not Moses.

Reading the papers after the victory in Alabama by Doug Jones reflect many opinions on its meaning. Idealistically, and probably naively, I hope that it might awaken the character dimension in more so-called leaders. America needs real leadership!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Trigger Warning: Christmas Should Be Remembered by Al Sikes

Trigger Warning: This column is about Christmas, not Holidays. If you are likely to be offended by Merry Christmas, read no further.

To those Trumpians who sense I am going to embrace his pugilistic insistence on Merry Christmas, you will be likewise offended. Trump’s personal behavior is antithetical to his stated belief.

Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870. Calendar dates become Federal Holidays to recognize iconic figures (Presidents), or sacrifice (veterans), or national independence, or a transcendent figure. A nation’s ultimate health and continuity turns on not just what is recognized as important, but also an understanding of its meaning. Too often today polls and interviews show that many have little or no understanding of why they get a day off.

Importantly, we celebrate Christmas spirit. What is its source? Capitalism? Advertising? Or the word Holiday, which for most means a day off from work. Symbols and marketing aside, failure to understand Christmas diminishes us.

It is argued by some that greeting a person with Merry Christmas risks offending non-believers Yet, only a thoughtless person is not offended daily by cultural and related commercial excess. When a nation becomes unmoored from its history, yes even myths, it’s citizens become victims of unrestraint. Freedom becomes more theoretical than real as exploiting appetites replace serving needs.

Most who do not believe in the biblical Christ nonetheless acknowledge and welcome his message of love and sacrifice for his principles. Plus, our nation enjoys the inspirations that resulted in the American Red Cross, Young Men’s Christian Association, Habitat For Humanity, The Salvation Army, and tens of thousands of organizations and churches that educate and care for humanity.

So, please forgive me if I offend you. Forgiveness is central to Christmas, and I don’t want any of us to forget why it is celebrated.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Facebook: On the Edge by Al Sikes

My Facebook experience began in February of 2016 just ahead of the publication of my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow. I was looking for promotional channels.

As I have watched Facebook’s evolving position as a major news source and for some, the only news source, what began for me as a publicity option has become an object of more interest.

Since at one point I was involved in communication’s regulation I get questions like, “should the Federal Communications Commission be regulating it?”; I always say no and note the comprehensive shield of the First Amendment. This is just one more instance of a commercial offering that will ultimately be shaped by the cultural force of its users.

Facebook now recognizes it is a magnet for bad actors. A recent Wall Street Journal article noted it is using artificial intelligence to screen for terrorist postings. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management commented, “A beheading is easier to enforce than hate speech. Certain policies are easier to enforce than others.”

Brian Fishman, lead policy manager for counterterrorism at Facebook, commented: “One of the dangers there is that we’re dealing with a nimble set of organizations that frequently change the way that they behave……We need to keep training our machines so that they stay current.”

Facebook’s core business is in relationships. It is the star of a sub-set of businesses known as social media. So while machine learning can filter out the egregious, it will take talented people to create a relationship sensitive news service of any consequence. Politics today is not very social and is especially harmful when Russians trick the political tribes into becoming propaganda partners. The Russian elite recognized that Facebook was a news medium before Zuckerberg would acknowledge that fact.

Facebook has a market value of $531 billion and an annual cash flow over $16 billion. Financially it is positioned to be a powerful force. So where does Mark Zuckerberg direct his energies? Is he interested in what is a more complicated stage in his rapidly evolving business? He, after all, has the controlling interest in Facebook.

Zuckerberg is said to be interested in running for President. He has a far more consequential opportunity. Facebook can use artificial intelligence to discern shared concerns and interests that both cross and bridge ideological differences and use the findings to shape a news service that is truly “fair, balanced and unafraid.” But, and this is crucial; it will take probing and discerning reporters and editors, not just machines, to succeed.

New York to Des Moines

While on the subject of news let me betray my Midwestern sensibilities.

My first trip to New York City, where I eventually lived, was in 1970. It seemed like I was in the center of the news universe. I can recall the CBS building, the home of Walter Cronkite. I remember walking past the residence of Time magazine, an important source of my news at the time.
Today Time magazine, indeed all the Time Inc. magazines, will soon have a new owner, Meredith. It is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa and its brands are a strong presence in the home and family categories.

Meredith’s headquarters building is adorned by a giant spade sculpture. Not a bad symbol. Advice to Mark Zuckerberg, good journalism requires a lot of spade work.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Democracy on the Cliff’s Edge by Al Sikes

We are in the center of the bulls-eye. Micro-targeting, shaped by the details we reveal, comes full circle in the offers we receive.

Micro-targeting is also a favored tool of the politicians and advocacy organizations. The National Rifle Association, much in the news these days, can with great specificity push the hot buttons of its members right down to the household level. And, when they decide to target a political candidate they don’t confuse their member with any extraneous information like his/her position on the deficit, or foreign policy or anything other than a hyped emotional expression used to provoke not inform.

Conversely, significant parts of the public are content with broad political narratives that too often drive tribal clustering.

Bernie Sanders said that Hillary Clinton was a captive of Wall Street and even though a Socialist from Vermont might well have beaten her on a level playing field. Imagine the Democratic Party manipulating delegate selection to protect the favorite candidate of Goldman Sachs.

Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” and “make America great again.” The swamp was made up of, well almost everybody who worked in Washington. So in the swamp category was John McCain and others of independent views and dispositions. And making America great, well who knew what that meant. Trump careened around the issues like a pig on ice except he let everybody know that Mexico would build a wall a few feet from its boundary line and that every trade agreement was a disaster. Our President, sensing emotional vulnerability, speaks only in hyperbole. So while those who sell products and positions construct increasingly specific profiles, we are all too prone to overlook the detail.

America is at great risk if lack of discernment among candidates, issue positions and the like are dealt with at an emotional level while those who sell to us proceed with amoral marketing pitches.
Democracy works when people are well informed and at least intuitively discerning. Otherwise, it doesn’t, and overtime democratic nations that are shaped by message makers using our physical and psychological profiles will be fatally weakened unless we are to assume that the marketing class is patriotically constructive.
We should know as much about the Clintons or Trumps or Sanders or Romneys as they and their marketers know about us. A logical question is how. How can we live our lives successfully and still spend significant time learning about political candidates? The answer is we cannot.

Over the centuries we have had a surrogate—journalists. Our forefathers even gave the journalists a series of protections including freedom of the press to make sure they were able to play that role well.

In recent decades what we call the press (providers of news regardless of its format) has too often failed us. Some are guided by marketing analyses that tell them which markets (points of view) are underserved. What is now called the mainstream press did such a poor job balancing their coverage that it opened up counter-programming opportunities for conservative outlets like Fox and talk show ones like Rush Limbaugh.

Those on the left have tried to repeat those successes but found that many on the left feel well served by the mainstream media. Too bad. America needs true journalistic balance produced by networks that employ superior production values. No longer will boring news coverage, regardless of accuracy and balance, survive.

But true balance is only recognized by the actively curious. If we yield to micro-targeting, while skating through life, we will clearly be on thin ice.

The icons of journalistic expression are celebrated in a Washington-based museum called the Newseum. I was there in its opening week and was quite impressed. But, the Newseum is operating at a serious deficit and is at risk of being closed. Perhaps it is no wonder when polls find confidence in America’s news media disturbingly small and traditional media doesn’t generate enough cash flow to keep its own museum open.

Inevitably industries celebrate the past. What will the news media celebrate in 2050? If they are not celebrating a dramatic turnaround in confidence, our nation itself will not have much to celebrate. We need curious citizens served by balanced journalism; without it, our constitutional guarantee of free speech will be principally used to protect the outrageous.


Climate Change Denial by Al Sikes

Denial can be encapsulating—totally so. It, not infrequently, is an emotion that takes over our brain and sometimes destructively. The hard right of the Republican Party is in denial on the subject of climate change. Those who populate that branch regard scientific findings as polemics from the Democratic National Committee. To put it another way, “if Democrats are for it I am against it”—almost regardless of what the “it” is. Democrats often suffer from the same myopia.

I lack the necessary background knowledge to delve deep into the science behind the various and sometimes conflicting claims about the trajectory of our climate. While I have read quite a few articles and essays on the subject, I never pose as an authority.

I am probably more of an authority on the dynamics of people and groups who convert a narrow set of facts into political causes—they are never wrong. To admit being even a little bit in doubt seems tantamount to heresy with punishment to soon follow. Many climate change activists are absolutists. The problem with absolutism is that it fights science—inquiry is no longer needed.

But, to me climate change is personal. Are we insuring the future for our children, grandchildren and their progeny? Are we leaving the earth better off than we found it? Are we meeting our obligation to be better stewards?

Some of my hard-nose friends will say I have gone soft and perhaps that is right. I know that the weather at any given point is a consequence of colliding patterns. Chaos Theory examples often start with the weather.

A study just published in Geology by Michael Toomey of the United States Geological details a survey of sediment cores collected off the coast of Florida. The study suggests that “hurricanes which struck Florida during a cool period 12,000 years ago were more powerful than those during a subsequent time of warming.” This finding is contrary to the oft-stated (and if you state it often enough it becomes fact) conventional wisdom that warming translates into more powerful hurricanes.

But then I come back to the question of insuring the future, after all, many more scientists believe climate change is affected by our carbon emissions than not.  We buy insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of unpredictable possibilities. The patterns in my life suggest I will not need automobile insurance this year, but I have it. When I was young, I would buy term life insurance even though mortality tables said I was very unlikely to die in the covered period. In fact, caution is probably our most conservative impulse.

So, what kind of insurance premium should we pay as it is clear that engineering a more rapid transition away from carbon-based fuels will carry a large price tag? In the world of insurance, there are actually “catastrophists” who specialize in the mathematical modeling of extreme risks. In our political system, we ultimately decide how much economic disruption we will bear—what insurance price we are willing to pay and how it might be mitigated.

The question does not give way to easy political solutions. Predictions, regardless of how skillfully modeled, are still predictions. Plus, we know that America alone cannot fix anything—the result, complexity squared.

And when there is an honest debate about alternatives, we find that the use of alternative fuels is riven by what else, environmental considerations. Environmentalists fight coal generation under any circumstances but also the nuclear generation which offers the most scalable carbon-fighting alternative.

Ultimately we must do what we are no longer good at doing. We need an honest debate, not overwrought polemics. We need to debate, not just weather change but insurance policies. In short, what environmental and economic policies will fulfill our obligation to protect the future? Or, are we prepared to go uninsured?

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, and mathematician argued that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. He said if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss, whereas they stand to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses if they bet on God and are right. Seems to me taking rational steps to lessen our real or even theoretical effects on the weather is a sound wager.

Virginia Election

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you; the doctor is in!”

This comment by Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, a doctor, sums up what America needs. Issue specifics aside political healing is needed, and the Virginia electorate has just sent a strong message.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.

Explosive, Compelling, Tender by Al Sikes

Elvis Presley has been revived and will appear at The Avalon theatre on November 18th and 19th. Now that I have gotten your attention, please give me a minute of your time.

Too often performers on their umpteenth farewell tour eclipse marvelous new performers and performances. So, Elvis Presley is not returning, but a far more compelling musical event will take the stage of The Avalon on November 18-19.

I struggle for the most persuasive words to describe the musical event of the year—well maybe any year on the Eastern Shore or maybe most places. The event is Modern Warrior Live and it will occur at The Avalon on November 18th at 8:00 pm and 19th as a matinee at 2:00 pm.

Dominick Farinacci and Retired Staff Sgt. Jaymes Poling

Modern Warrior Live is a theatrical music experience co-created by United States Army veteran Jaymes Poling and musician Dominick Farinacci. This dynamic production explores the psychological weights of war, the challenges of reintegration as a civilian, and the potential for positive personal and communal growth.

Narrated by Staff Sergeant Poling, who spent three years in Afghanistan as an infantryman with the 82nd Airborne Division, the autobiographical production details his time in the military and his subsequent transition to civilian life back home. It’s complemented by dynamic musical performances led by Dominick Farinacci. Modern Warrior Live will, I predict, find its way to Broadway.

Retired Staff Sgt. Jaymes Poling began his service in the Army at age 17 and to use an old theatrical reference has been to “hell and back.” He takes the audience both places.

Co-Creator, Dominick Farinacci’s resume includes such iconic names as Wynton Marsalis (Lincoln Center Jazz Ambassador) and Juilliard, where he studied jazz. As many will recall, he is one of the favorites of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.

In Dominick’s latest CD, Short Stories, all of his songs have a narrative that any listener can relate to, from an enchanting melody that takes over your life to the tremendous empathy that can come from seeing someone else overcome an unimaginable personal struggle. Blending with Jaymes’ narration and Dominick’s instrumentalists will be the sensational vocalist, Shenel Johns.

Modern Warrior Live provides Easton with a distinctive first. While it will be staged first in Dominick and Jayme’s home town of Cleveland, Modern Warrior Live will then debut in Easton. Chesapeake Music is excited to offer such a remarkable experience.

Tickets can be purchased by going to or calling 410-822-0380

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 



Che Guevara and Steve Bannon by Al Sikes

Che Guevara’s father said of his son, “In my son’s blood flowed the blood of Irish rebels.” Perhaps Steve Bannon, the son of an Irish Catholic family, has a similar emotional core. Anyone want a Steve Bannon t-shirt?

Che Guevara, the Argentine-born revolutionary who is said to have been the intellectual energy behind Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, has had his experiment–fifty years’ worth. Guevara’s thoughts, animated by Castro’s leadership, impoverished the island.

Bannon with his initial proxy, Donald Trump, will have a similar effect on the Republican Party.

Today the ideological battle plays out on the East side of the congressional grounds as the United States Senate plays its role as a legislative bottleneck. This drama pits Bannon against the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell is short on assets.

Bannon is colorful; McConnell is dull. Bannon is strategic; McConnell is tactical. And so history once again plays out through personalities.

Bannon has created an interesting new engine—it makes rip tides, cross-currents that tear apart. McConnell, being from a non-tidal state, Kentucky, fails to understand the power of tides. He bobs around in an unnatural state—a relentless ebb tide. And so goes the Republican Party. Its putative leader, President

Trump, being a transactional politician, only wants wins—bills presented to him for signature. Alternatively, executive orders.
Today’s dynamic will ebb and flow. Bannon’s brigade will attack almost everybody who is an elected Republican, although many of the Bannon proxies are losers. McConnell, who is in a leadership position, has been given an even higher profile by a President who periodically trashes him and key members of the Republican majority in the Senate. Why build, the President must think when demolition feels so good? Having demolished the establishment in the Party, it would seem to be a good time to build but Trump, who can build hotels, has no philosophical core which might serve as a foundation.

In the meantime, Republicans, who continue to think, have actively begun floating the possibility of a third party. Hooray, because the Democrat party of Bill Clinton ceased to exist a long time ago and for most right of center voters is not an option. Centrism is a half continent away from the leftist takeover and coastal dominance.

Bill Kristol, who has impeccable Republican and Never-Trump credentials (yes that is possible) recently floated four pairings of candidates for President and Vice-President in 2020. The two that received the most votes in a Twitter poll paired Republican John Kasich and Democrat John Hickenlooper, Governors of Ohio and Colorado. Coming in second in the poll were Mark Cuban, the owner of lots of assets and a reality TV show role along with Niki Haley, the United Nation Ambassador, as his running mate. The names and standings are less interesting than the fact there is active discussion about other than fringe candidates.

Poll after poll for decades have shown the decline of the Democrat and Republican parties. And as the leaders of each Party have increasingly been scripted by their left and right movements, the decline, if anything, has steepened. Polls regularly show that most people are most comfortable around the center. Yet, it seems that the passion that stirred Guevara’s blood and now seems to stir Bannon finds its source in the latest revolution against the latest establishment with compromise being especially detestable.

The United States was born of revolution. The founders then designed a profound framework to avoid the pathology of most revolutions—tyranny. I would suggest the next revolutionary needs to come from the Center where the limits of humankind are understood.

While I am in the unsolicited advice business, let me also suggest to whoever might want to try and revive the Republican Party, a governing core. Only Party leadership that embraces Lincoln’s passion for equality and union and that can, in the 21st Century, translate Theodore Roosevelt’s insistent battle against concentrated power, and give voice to Reagan’s optimism about freedom, have a chance. The rhetorical and public policy blend that captures their contribution to the Party, articulated with understanding and passion, will be enormously persuasive. The pinched and often harsh public policy and rhetoric that thrives on division is both anti-Republican and American.

America’s greatness does not come from a large central government with its inevitable appetite for human engineering. Greatness will also not be sustained by the power of a wealthy oligarchy using its wealth to manipulate the levers of authority. We need a better way as a movement, not a slogan.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.


To Kneel or Stand by Al Sikes

We have been, for several weeks, greeted each morning by news of which athletes at what game refused to stand during the National Anthem. Most recently the Vice President, Mike Pence, decided to make the body’s posture an even more fractious political stance. It was as if he said, “If you disagree with President Trump and me, you should knell.”

Generally, the anthem divide is racial and began with Black Lives Matter protesting police killings of black men. As the initial reason for the protest has morphed, it is hard to know whether the current expressions are driven by heartfelt belief or politics.

In church each Sunday, the spiritual leader leads his or her congregation in both personal and global prayer. This past Sunday the theme of the global prayer was for the families of the Las Vegas shooting victims. The theme of the sermon at Christ Church in Easton, Maryland, was the divine guidance to honor God, not our chosen gods.

The Las Vegas shooting featured a white shooter who had concluded that he was a god and for reasons obscure would kill as many as his weaponry would allow. A man humbled by an understanding of the evil within us and connected with forgiveness and redemption would not have sprayed bullets on concert-goers or anybody else.

The theme of evil within us and opportunity for redemption is the sacred text of the two most important spiritual hymns we sing. And you certainly do not have to attend church to have listened or sung either song. They, at least tonally, are a part of our culture. I suspect after the Star Spangled Banner and America they are the two most familiar songs. The songs: The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Amazing Grace.

The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe at the outset of the Civil War. She reflected: “I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, ‘I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.’ So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

Howe’s song is woven into our culture. The lyrics of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” appeared in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermons and speeches, most notably in his speech “How Long, Not Long” from the steps of the Alabama State Capitol building on March 25, 1965, after the 3rd Selma March, and in his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on the evening of April 3, 1968, the night before his assassination. In fact, the latter sermon, King’s last public words, ends with the initial lyrics of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Amazing Grace was written by John Newton. He had been a soldier and then a slave trader and redemptively, a pastor. The first two verses reflect his humility and his understanding of the gift of grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Music for many of us, no for most of us, is often our translation key—an emotional expression of what we have come to believe. I stand for our National Anthem, and I do that recognizing that our collective use of weaponry has not always been warranted whether in police shootings or global wars. But, I also understand that for the overwhelming majority of people our anthem is an iconic expression of national unity—“out of many one.”

The President and Vice President look for opportunities to express their faith in Jesus Christ. They should, in His spirit as captured by John Newton, strive for a more graceful presence. It would indeed be a “sweet sound.” A contrary sound suggests exploitation whether by athletes or elected officials.

Historical material sourced from Wikipedia

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Contrarian Thoughts on Conservatism by Al Sikes

Authentic Conservatism is Careful

“Regular order” is a new technical phrase to most people. It is also a pivotal dimension in making law the right way. It simply means that the Congress will handle bills that are proposed with hearings, mark-up (amendment process), and debate in a public forum.In the Obama Administration the Democrats evoked Republican anger by not following “regular order” in passing what has become known as Obamacare. The Republicans, less cohesive, have tried to do the same thing but failed. A key Senator, John McCain, refused to go along and was pilloried by a wide range of so-called conservative pundits. I will miss Senator McCain.Do conservatives prefer disorder or backroom deals guided by lobbyists? A failure to follow regular order is anti-conservative.

Equipping a Small Army

The Wall Street Journal reported that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, was not on any law enforcement radar. It is shocking that a person can assemble enough weaponry to start a small war, without a trace, at a time when Amazon, Google and Facebook know the details of our private lives. Conservatives should, by nature, be cautious. Blocking attempts to track gun sales is not conservative. When Paddock’s purchases hit a high-risk tipping point, he should have been on the radar.The second amendment to the US constitution says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  Paddock was not buying a musket so that he could become a part of a “well regulated militia.”

Tax Cuts and Deficits

The prospective tax cut plans have been dribbling out for the last several months. It is no surprise that the debate is quickly becoming polarized, even though details are in short supply.I happen to believe we are in need of tax reform and applaud reform initiatives. But, reform will not be conservative if it adds to the national debt. And, as noted above, if it is not shaped by a rigorous public process, the American public will be right to believe that the K Street crowd (tax lobbyist hangout) will have subordinated the public by having more influence than its representatives.

Current River

Last week my wife and I returned to my home state to canoe the spring- fed streams that flow through the federal and state forests of south central Missouri. The weather was stunning and the spring flows were undeterred by the drought. The quiet, only interrupted by otters, waterfalls and a variety of ducks and herons was restorative. My advice: don’t fly over Missouri to float the streams of the West. Stop there and then go west. By the way, there are no fires in the Missouri forests.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 


Mississippi River Blues by Al Sikes

I grew up just miles off the Mississippi River, blissfully unaware of the vast economic consequences of living or farming in or close to a flood plain. I do, however, remember my father telling me that we lived in an area which once had been a swamp. The drainage ditches that crisscrossed the farm land just outside of Sikeston, Missouri had been part of “land reclamation” (euphemism for fighting nature), and I enjoyed both hunting and fishing in them.

Awakenings happen; mine was early and occurred in Missouri’s state capitol which was on the banks of the Missouri River. It was circa 1973 when the newly minted gubernatorial administration of Kit Bond found itself face-to-face with widespread flooding shortly after the new governor took office.

My awakening happened because the Department of Community Affairs, my responsibility, had among other programs statewide land use planning.  After the flood waters receded, we began to plan for lessening damage potential by restricting building or rebuilding in the Missouri river floodplain.

Landowners were outraged as were the construction, agriculture, and real estate industries. It seemed at the time that every state legislator, regardless of which river valley they were in, was incensed. Cautionary planning was not a hit in 1973.

This was not my only brush with political extinction. Later on, my responsibilities included statewide implementation of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. If a river, and there are well over a dozen spring fed ones in the Ozark region of Missouri, was designated under the program then a land buffer was required along its shores, and the State had to enforce it. Many landowners fought each river’s inclusion.

In short, Americans, or should I say most who either live on or exploit environmental features, do not want to be restricted. They do, however, want the government involved in their affairs. They want financial protection to lessen their risk. All other Americans pay the bill through a broad spectrum of reclamation, insurance, dam building, flood relief and water quality, programs.

Now I know this sounds unsympathetic to those who have just suffered damage. But, all those who are concerned about America’s balance sheet, and that should be all of us, need laws that don’t fight nature. America’s private and public relief organizations are often heroic—better that we don’t need quite so many heroes while actively reducing avoidable and unfunded risks.

We cannot afford, through a range of subsidies, to shore up lands that often redefine where shores stop and start. Attention needs to be paid to natural sponges such as marshes, swamps, and bogs which have often been paved over to make way for the latest development. And, the problem is not limited to flooding; in the West this summer wild fires have been especially destructive to homes built on the edge of the woods.

President Trump is a real estate developer whose properties populate environmentally sensitive areas including the island of Manhattan. I would not expect him to take leadership on this issue. But, I for one find a Trump hotel in Washington much less threatening than the ownership of much of the political class by those who have an economic stake in fighting nature.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 



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