In God We Trust by Al Sikes

Mostly I avoid reading columns, which makes me especially appreciative of the feedback I receive from my scribbling. Yet, there was a time when I was an avid reader of political commentary; now, most pundits wear team jerseys and are predictable.

David Brooks is one columnist I continue to read. When he was first with the New York Times he was thought of as their symbolic conservative writer. Yet, several years ago when I would send a link to a Brooks’ column to certain Republican friends they treated me like a heretic. They wanted a cheerleader, not a thoughtful person trying to make some sense of the world.

Continuing with my heresy, I invite you to read a recent Brook’s column which I believe reveals persistent and troubling truths.

I served in both the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations and not infrequently found myself among true believers to whom capitalism, regardless of how practiced, was right and true. Their church was the corporation and hyper-profit seeking was a righteous act if it inured to the monetary benefit of the sole legitimate claimant—the shareholder. Morality, in their view, was either maximizing short-term stock value or best left to the confessional.

While Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I became a not infrequent target of an entertainment industry that argued that any FCC influence on content was wrong. Attacks reached their loudest when I commented negatively on Fox’s “Married With Children” and took actions against Howard Stern’s morning radio show. If you are unfamiliar with those shows, Google will quickly lead you to critiques.

A hands-off stance was supported by “hard market conservatives” on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the left. The ACLU took an absolutist view of the protection of “free speech”—speech was their flag regardless of its content.

Program content alone, almost regardless of how degrading, will not alter civilization nor will a hyper-concentration on profit. But, both are telling and damaging symptoms of the collapse of societal norms—norms that said “don’t go there.”

Norms must have reciprocal power; business leaders must honor an invisible line or the outliers will prey on the acceptable and norms will change. I don’t know when the perverse, maximize profit at all cost tipping point was reached, but reached it was. Maximizing profits, regardless of societal costs, in too many industries became the price exacted to be among the most competitive enterprises. Indeed, for most business leaders societal cost calculators were preempted by rate-of-return calculators.

In the past I have written about enduring truths. In my view it is those truths that provide civilization’s ballast. If there are no eternal truths—well, you can finish the sentence.

Eternal truths overcame economic advantage and political inertia to rid America of the heinous practice of enslaving people for economic exploitation. While there were many religious figures that contorted scriptures to apologize for slavery, the Quakers, in particular, were animated by the divine truth; it overwhelmed hypocrisies from the pulpit.

As the civil war was winding down the United States government added to our currency the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Today, as images of opulence flit through the minds of those in charge, too often their deity is the currency.

In a diverse country, religious and scriptural differences are organic. Yet, for over 200 years in America we have woven a beautiful fabric from common threads—threads informed by sacred texts and estimable philosophers.

When everybody’s sense of truth becomes truth, nothing will endure. An absence of truth is fertile soil for the predator and autocrat and they don’t care about truth.

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. 


In the Name of Beauty by Al Sikes

Several different phenomena are used to explain delightful winter temperatures. All I know for certain is that this winter has featured some wonderful opportunities for hiking or biking or just walking along our beautiful pathways.

But, there is a very unfortunate blemish, litter. Bottles, cans, fast food containers, discarded household goods—the list seems endless. Litter is a fact of life. Living with it shouldn’t be.

Warnings and fines and admonitions seem to make little difference. Talbot County law, for example, states: “It shall be the duty of every person as owner, occupant, lessee or agent in charge of land lying within the unincorporated areas of the County, …………, not to allow litter to be deposited or to accumulate, either temporarily or permanently, on such lands…………….” And we have all seen those signs that promise $1,000 fines for anybody caught littering. If law enforcement regularly penalizes either litterers or those that allow it to accumulate on their rights-of-way I am unaware of it.

Recently I became aware of actions in a county not too far from ours. Harford County has an active local program including Adopt-a-Road. Its web site claims that the Adopt-a-Road initiative has accomplished the following: “Total Signed Contracts: 145; Road Miles Serviced: 800; Pounds of Solid Waste Collected: 72,575; Pounds of Recyclables Collected: 18,600 pounds.” There is a State program called Adopt-a-Highway that includes Talbot and Kent counties (a few signs are evident) but when I asked about local government involvement in Talbot I was told there was none.

Many of us have been involved in pickup litter efforts. I am always amazed at how much is picked up and how quickly litter begins to show up along those same rights-of-way. Can you imagine our museums with their exhibits of the images we value allowing litter to despoil the galleries?

And I am convinced litter begets litter. Threatening signs don’t seem to curb littering—what about clear evidence that our neighbors value the natural beauty that has drawn many of us to the Eastern Shore. I think it would have persuasive effect.

As 2019 begins and a new county council and commissioners take office in Kent and Talbot County, please add an active litter program to the priorities. I feel confident that a mix of public and private initiative can allow natural beauty the showcase it has chosen.

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. 

Looking Beyond 2018 by Al Sikes

Recent data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showed that life’s longevity in the United States has declined for a third year in a row. While opioids as a killer had declined slightly, suicide was up. And, increasingly, I am reading articles about a growing incidence of depression, sometimes the precursor to suicide.

The overarching message is clear: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, while a profoundly important gift from this country’s founding, is not enough. The underlying questions that echo from the lives that are mere statistics in the CDC report must be understood.

Let’s begin with the words: what do they mean? Life? Liberty? Pursuit of happiness? Liberty for what? And what is happiness? Have we shaped a world where many convert happiness to now—the next hour, day or week?

What about medical progress? I am not a scientist and bear no burden to cast a more encouraging future in terms of new medicines or treatments. But, I doubt that the CDC statistics reflect insufficient progress by medical professionals.

What is on offer from a disruptive society? Too often the disruption takes dead aim at humanity.

While driverless cars might save some lives, what about all the people who drive for a living who will have to look for new work. Indeed, technological advances are often a part of a larger problem. Philosophers and theologians insist we need work—endeavors that provide something of value to mankind and ourselves. Are advances too often meeting our wants while working against our needs?

And what about our social entanglements? What is the cost of exchanging our privacy for being connected? Is social media all that social? Unfortunately many are pulled into compulsive use and new and often hurtful measures of self. How many friends do I have? What is my image? How do I measure up? Networked smart phones seem incandescent. They overwhelm as they wedge themselves, with our compliant assistance, between relationships.

We know that social media preys on time and works ceaselessly on the vulnerable. And it is said that the phone screen has provided pornography beyond anything imaginable just a generation ago. Again and again inferiority complexes are an all too frequent offspring of sexual attraction and performance. An article in The Economist reports that re-shaped buttocks and vaginas are increasingly a part of the cosmetic surgery industry. Imagine minds entangled in self-defeating imagery to the point of a surgeon’s knife.

Insecurity goes way beyond the sex industry; the detritus of obsolescence is everywhere. What jobs cannot be overtaken by robots and artificial intelligence? We wonder, are humans obsolete? Are we caught in that Brave New World that Aldous Huxley forecast?

Certainly technology can save us time and labor; often that leads to more entertainment. As Neil Postman warned, we risk “entertaining ourselves to death.” Entertainment is not free; it works on the mind.

Much of entertainment is underwritten by advertising and its constant call for us to buy. The narrative is simple. Many ads create a feeling of inferiority and then tell us what will make us happy.

Perversely, we underwrite disruption while forgetting foundational truths. On the practical level the foundation is education. On the spiritual level it is eternal truth—the importance of love—both receiving and giving.  Modernity is too often at war with both.

Education and distraction are enemies. I know; much of my early education seemed less important than girls and sports. I majored in the latter. Fortunately 21st Century technology did not further disrupt my life. I had the impression that I could shape my career, not have to hold on for dear life.

In the slipstream of lingering Christmas feelings, let me take a quick look at eternal truths. Today, it is said, truth is relative. We can’t kill our neighbor, but we can pursue a zero-sum game without penalty. When life is a zero-sum game—winners and losers—society loses; indeed the winner ultimately loses.

It is certain that scientists and sociologists will parse the CDC data looking for a way to reverse the trajectory. I suggest they look beyond the easily measured data. Scientists need to collaborate with philosophers and theologians; answers will necessarily go beyond medicine. God is in the details.

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. 


That Was The Week That Was by Al Sikes

A mostly forgotten comedy show called That Was The Week That Was aired first on the BBC and then on NBC in the 1960s; it skewered the high and mighty. The title sums up my timeline. While many are writing end-of-the-year columns, I can’t escape the last week or two.

I find interesting that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated Congressman Joe Crowley in a Bronx Congressional District to be one of four hundred and twenty-five members of Congress, is now celebrated in article after article, many devoted to her various socialist causes.

It was said often in the venture world of dot com startups, circa the turn of the century, that this or that entrepreneur was “smoking his own dope” or “breathing his own exhaust.” If the Democrats are inebriated by the hard left agenda, we might well have another four years of Trump inebriates.

Many (myself included) wonder whether the world has gone mad. While most media gush over left-wing proposals that we cannot afford even if they made sense, we have a President that is engaged in performance art diplomacy. He should be briefly introspective: Trump to Trump, “how would I feel if I was presented with one loud public proposal after another from an adversary that if accepted would cause me to lose face?” Politicians—democrats and autocrats alike—put a 5-Star value on face.

President H.W. Bush was celebrated because he was able to influence real or potential adversaries with quiet diplomacy aided by principled resolve. I hope, but doubt, that the acclaim Bush received will influence the President. We can only hope that it sets a benchmark for future leaders.

And now a word on last week’s ruling that the Affordable Care Act, as altered by congressional and judicial actions since its passage in 2010, is no longer constitutional.

I am not a constitutional scholar (understatement) but my brief review of Judge O’Connor’s decision causes me to conclude that it is tenable. Some have dismissed it as politically inspired; I agree with Chief Justice Roberts that branding judges and opinions as politically inspired is mostly wrong and certainly corrosive.

My suggestion: Congress has a great opportunity to renew “regular order” and a new healthcare law should become the “poster child” of a healthy legislative branch. Regular Order anticipates a thorough Committee process with public hearings and the holding of multiple votes which accommodate minority points of view that can be both revealing and helpful.

According to the most recent CNN poll, just 18 percent of voters approve of Congress, while 75 percent disapprove. We need both a bipartisan health care law and a healthcare process for the Congress.

And now a brief look into the crystal ball.  The fact Donald Trump won the Electoral College is instructive—learn the lessons. The fact he is burdened with intense disapproval in all the polls is instructive—learn the lessons. A wise friend of mine noted: “Look to your values. Over time, values are more potent than power.”

Two lessons should be evident. The next President will depart from his Party’s script. Leadership is not scripted by the Party’s special interests. Character seeks out its own space and it is not found in the grubbier reaches of politics.

And the next President won’t be Trump because most Americans are embarrassed by him. He fails an essential test; they don’t know how to explain him to their children. Those who reflected on President George H. W. Bush, yearn for steady and respectful leadership. 2020 is the year!

I have been reminded. The reminder is to let you know that you can still buy my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow. Biased opinion, great Christmas gift.

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. 


President H.W. Bush and Garth Brooks by Al Sikes

Garth Brooks performing for 85,000 at Notre Dame Football stadium in a cold rain was quite remarkable. It was carried by CBS last Sunday night.  I watched, in part, because Brooks had a special relationship with President George H.W. Bush. My wife and I last saw the President at his Presidential Library in 2014, the 25th Anniversary of the beginning of his term. I served in his Administration.

The reunion was quite interesting and in true Bush-style no time was spent critiquing the President then in office, Barack Obama. There was some talk about the possibility of Jeb Bush running for President, but mostly a bunch of out-of-power persons discussing what worked and didn’t.

The celebratory centerpiece was a birthday party for the President under a tent on the grounds of the Bush Presidential Library located on the Texas A&M campus. The co-star of the evening turned out to be a surprise, Garth Brooks. He had flown in to be with the President. What a privilege; it was warm, not raining and we were feet from the stage. Brooks was sensational as he brought us to our feet with Friends in Low Places and showed loving warmth toward the President and Mrs. Bush, by then in wheel chairs.

My wife and I had an earlier Garth Brooks sighting. He performed for hundreds of thousands in Central Park in New York just several blocks from where we lived. We watched from our window on the 14th floor. Two days before we were in the Park walking our dogs when a couple from Alabama, carrying a cooler and other gear, asked where the Brooks concert was to be performed. They intended to camp out for two days to get the best seats. Remarkable.

Music is often discounted as a cultural influence. We do that at our risk. While I am not familiar with a lot of Brooks’ music, I particularly like the song he credits with being his favorite, Enjoy The Dance.

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. 

He Said, He Said by Al Sikes

Political disputes are often so parochial that few follow them with any sustained interest. Perhaps that will be the fate of one that features two Talbot County Republicans, with excellent Party credentials, facing off. But, at least for now, it is reasonably topical and very instructive.

In the latest salvo the Republican Central Committee Chairman, Nicholas Panuzio, accused Talbot Spy columnist, David Montgomery, of being a RINO.

According to Wikipedia, Republican In Name Only (RINO) is a pejorative term used by conservatives to describe Republicans whose political views or actions they consider insufficiently conservative.

Now I don’t read everything David writes, but what I have read suggests that he is not insufficiently conservative. Indeed, until September of this year, he was Chairman of the Republican Council. But, lest I get caught up in somebody else’s dispute, let me close with two observations.

In my view local elections should not be contested by candidates of the two political parties. We should open up the process by having non-partisan elections. There are no Republican or Democrat views on noise or short-term rental ordinances, for example. Dividing a reasonably large population by two results in radical over-generalization. And, I believe it would be a good idea to have Independents welcomed in local governance.

Finally, partisans should keep in mind that ideological purges result in small tents and they only accommodate one ring circuses.

Climate Change Re-visited

I have expressed myself on climate change and why it is a bad idea to not treat the threat seriously. If you are interested, this is the link.

Mostly climate change projections or policy has fallen into a words and phrases battle. Politicians and their spear-carriers throw around phrases like “Medicare for all”, “gun control”, “free college for everyone”, “climate change” and the like anticipating the bases of their Parties will be animated by the underlying insinuations. Any regulation of guns, for example, becomes gun control. I wonder how often the phrase “Medicare for all” has been used as an actual starting point for a practical discussion on how it would work or be funded.

Thought fragments are sometimes followed by bullet points. Persons who are very concerned about threats attendant to climate change, for example, urge the exclusive use of renewable energy (solar and wind) and the enactment of a carbon tax. In order to get any sense of whether either approach offers consequential reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, you have to get into what news people call the “weeds” (suggesting we should avoid).

Mostly politicians avoid comprehensive proposals on how to counteract a warming climate. The economics of either all-renewables energy or a carbon tax would call for sacrifice and virtually all candidates avoid attaching sacrifice to anything they propose (unless, of course, it is taxing the rich).

Enter Bill Gates. In an interview by Axios, aired by HBO, Gates said “people who are laser-focused on solving climate change with renewable energy only — chiefly wind and solar — are just as bad as those blocking action (i.e., Trump)”. To read Axios summary of the interview go here

Gates himself is investing in early stage companies that have business models organized around small nuclear power generation, carbon recapture and other technologies that would reduce carbon in the atmosphere.  

What can we do? A useful step would be to require politicians, who control the levers of power, to cease being glib (“fluent and voluble but insincere and shallow”) about such an important issue.

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. 

New Year Wishes on the Eve of Thanksgiving by Al Sikes

The words of Abraham Lincoln to honor the soldiers that sacrificed their lives in order “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” were spoken at Gettysburg. Now you know the answer to the Jeopardy question asked of three very bright high school students who were quickly responding to a wide range of questions about more topical subjects.

But, when it came to this answer the buzzers in each of their hands were silent. Unpredictably, the virtual buzzers in my wife and my minds sounded quickly. While we were lagging or striking out all together on most of the questions, Lincoln’s words were indelible.

I guess it is a generational thing. It shouldn’t be. If I was a member of the Parent Teachers Association in the contestant’s school districts, I would want to know why they failed such a basic yet profound test.

Debate Should Be a Basic Course

My good fortune: I was intrigued by high school debate and joined in.

As many of you know, debating in a school setting requires the debater to be able to argue both sides of a proposition. My first “Be it therefore resolved” was the proposition that Americans should elect their President by a direct vote rather than through the Electoral College. In debate competition across our high school conference, I had to be prepared to make the case both pro and con.The judges at the outset of each debate would tell you which side you had to take.

My experience today is that far too many people can’t fathom the other person’s position. Polarization is often the result. Disrespect is evident. Anger frequently follows. My suggestion: every student should in one way or another be a part of the debate experience.

Communications Ethic

A Reuter’s news story stated that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Agit Pai in a letter demanded that the major telephone service providers and associated companies launch a system no later than 2019 to combat billions of “robocalls” and other nuisance calls received monthly by American consumers.

This action is welcome, if too long delayed. The bombardment of consumer phone numbers is more than a nuisance it is fundamentally altering human relations. Infrequently does the person you call answer. Now most calls go to voicemail and the ultimate back and forth from voicemail to voicemail not only consumes time but it drives the use of new technology, such as texting. The potential richness of conversation devolves into fragmentary words and phrases. Technology should not subtract humanity.


Christmas is intended to celebrate the birth of a baby who grew up to urge that we “love our neighbor.” Whether a savior or just a “good man,” he celebrated the downtrodden over the rich and powerful. A Dictionary of the Bible summarizes the Beatitudes spoken by Jesus as presenting “a new set of ideals that focus on love and humility rather than force and exaction; they echo the highest ideals of Jesus’ teachings on spirituality and compassion.”

We all have our cultural concerns about what is increasingly called the Holiday Season. It is excessively commercialized; the numbingly repeated message is “BUY”, it is the theme. When I say “Merry Christmas” it is not intended as a wish that you buy more. I wish for you peace on earth and encourage us all to extend goodwill to all. And if you have a different faith and celebratory season, please include me in your expression of good wishes.


Thank you. I have been blessed by so many who let me know they have read a column I wrote. Many nod their own agreement and some engage with a dissenting tone. Regardless, to all Happy Thanksgiving!

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. 

Reflections on the Buy and Sell Side of Politics by Al Sikes

Politics past, and especially the recent past, recall the overriding law of the jungle—eat or be eaten. Predators prevail.

C.S. Lewis, in Chronicles of Narnia, wrote his youthful protagonists into the jungle where they encountered many perils along with the lion, Aslan. While Aslan’s appearance was ferocious, his temperament was graceful. He led them beyond their indiscretions.

The world’s greatest leaders were, when needed, ferocious but all had at least a modicum of grace. I recall quickly: Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, and Anwar Sadat. Apologies for leaving out your preferred example for I suspect each of us has a list; that is a good thing. We always need to hold on to what might be.

President Trump decided to make Tuesday’s election about himself. He is incapable of doing otherwise. His exploits are always the “best ever.” He subtracts humanity, and as he belittles, he makes himself small. Fortunately in America, every two years we get to vote.

Tuesday proved once again that small is not enduring. To be somewhat more precise, Trump’s stance caused an increasingly widening gap in the female vote as many women who might be predisposed to conservative approaches disdain him or for that matter a Party in his image. Thank you for reminding us that ferocity without at least a touch of grace is not enough. If Trump remains graceless, he will lose.

Talbot and Kent Counties

In both Talbot and Kent counties, Governor Larry Hogan won overwhelmingly; he topped out in Talbot with 77.9% of the vote. At the same time Jesse Colvin, running for Congress as a Democrat, won both counties. In Talbot alone, Congressman Andy Harris received 5,134 votes less than Hogan. Unsolicited advice to Harris: the next insurrection, which might occur in your Party, could be politically fatal.

It is also apparent in Talbot County that there is a sizeable swing vote that pivots on smart growth. Republican Laura Price and Democrat Peter Lesher finished one and two in the balloting and the face of less restrained growth, Jennifer Williams, lost, polling 1,670 votes fewer than Price.

Split Congress

There was a time when I thought a split Congress was a bad thing. No longer. Most politicians seem incapable of “working across the partisan aisle” unless forced to do so. I am still not sanguine as most elected officials seem to have no higher purpose than to be reelected. Only when voters begin to reward authentic efforts at bi-partisanship, on intractable issues, will members of Congress come around. We have some intractable issues; why not start with a timely budget that takes a chunk out of the projected trillion dollar annual deficits.

Jesse Colvin

Jesse Colvin prevailed in Talbot and Kent Counties in part because he understands honor. He served his nation as an Army Ranger and now has served his nation in maintaining an honorable campaign, even after President Trump took him on in a robocall. Jesse is poised to be a generational leader, and I look forward to following what I know will be a success.

Kudos to the Much Maligned Media

The Talbot Spy and Chestertown Spy publications gave voters an intimate view of each candidate. Kudos to Dave Wheelan for letting each candidate turn to video to make his or her case.
And to the Star Democrat, thank you for investigative reporting on what turned out to be a heated and at times quite deceptive campaign for the Talbot County Council.
Democracy’s linchpin is the news media and when their job is well done the Republic is much stronger.

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. 

Chemistry is the Answer by Al Sikes

Chemistry is the answer. No not the chemistry DuPont talks about, but the chemistry that serves up damnably complicated politics and governance in the 21st Century.

How has the political chemistry changed as the Super Bowl of politics looms?

Notwithstanding President Trump’s boasts, if I was his political advisor, the light in the White House would be yellow not green.

The Democrats captured the House of Representatives, a far more representative picture of voter preference. The US Senate map could not have been more favorable for Republicans; the truer test of popularity was in the House races.

And, I presume the Mueller investigation will wrap up soon and while I don’t anticipate findings that will lead to impeachment, the report will not be a valentine to the President. In the House leadership, newly formed, will be a number of Members who will use the report to maximum advantage unless they overplay their hand, which is quite likely.

Final thought on Republican chemistry. Mitt Romney was elected to represent Utah in the Senate. He will not be just another Senator. Watch the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, when it comes to confirmation fights. Listen to Romney and Nicki Haley and Ben Sasse when it comes to voices aimed at the Party’s brand in 2024, if not earlier.

The Democrats certainly didn’t win in the way they hoped. One very positive development for Trump is that the makeup of the Senate is more favorable for getting his nominees confirmed. In this regard, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is the loser. He worked hard to enforce caucus discipline on the Judge Kavanaugh vote and the red state Senators who yielded lost their seats in Indiana, Missouri, Florida, and North Dakota.

Also the Democrats got a look at coastal progressive dogma in more centrist States. In Florida the progressive message lost on the State level as it did in Texas and other red States. In Texas Beto O’Rourke was a much better US Senate candidate than the incumbent Ted Cruz, but couldn’t overcome his “progressive” message.

The Democrats were as Winston Churchill observed “a pudding without a theme” unless being against Trump is a theme. In the next few months they are going to have to choose between hard left and left of center narratives. If their most aggressive and vocal leaders—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and others define the “pudding” then I would bet on Trump in 2020.

The Republicans need to find the chemistry that allows them to be more than the Trump Party. The enormous gap the Party faces among female voters points to the Party’s downfall if it is all in on Trump. And that is just in the short-term; long-term being all in on Trump points to the Party being a minority party because it will have no purchase with the majority when it is made up of minorities.

The Democrats—well they have to find a theme that does not remind voters that social engineering incurs enormous expense and mostly doesn’t work. And both Parties have to figure out how to solve the fiscal debacle that is forecast by the enormous deficits we face. Commentator after commentator said the economic news was Trump’s greatest advantage. At some point commentators have to learn that balance sheets are important.

Finally, polling tended to be all over the place and frequently wrong. The industry faces profound problems. People don’t answer phones any longer. Voting in most States precedes polling forecasts by weeks. And as people learn more and more about their loss of privacy, I suspect fewer and fewer are interested in one more window into their private affairs.

The one thing that is certain is that the next Presidential election will be entertaining, but not edifying. And chemistry, well, expect a mixing of combustible elements that scare the hell out of us.

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. 

If You Are Tired of Politics Read On by Al Sikes

Warning: I am biased. Warning #2: This is good news. Offer: if you are tired of politics read on.

Four years ago I was given a close-up tour of Rocking the Boat with Easton friends. It is on the shores of the Bronx River, north of Manhattan. What we saw was remarkable and its founder Adam Green was rightly enthusiastic. We were so impressed that we introduced Robbie Gill, Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA of the Chesapeake, to the program.

We saw a preponderance of Latino and African-American youth building classic wooden boats. On the occasion of a later visit, we joined with them in rowing up the Bronx River. We were the only ones on the River. My guess is that most that lived in the high-rises along its shores saw it principally as something that delayed traffic; bridges have that effect in big cities. They saw the river as an object, not as a waterway opening up a vast world of wonders to be explored and enjoyed.

Along with the boat builders were young people who were in Rocking the Boat as boaters, not builders. They were gaining an entirely different perspective as hundreds rowed or sailed in boats their peers had built. The Bronx River had become a source of recreation—restoration and preservation became important.

Now, four years later an update is timely. Inspired by what a number of community leaders who visited the program experienced, Easton’s YMCA has its own growing Rocking the Boat program, called Take the Helm. It too invites the distant to become personal as Take the Helm’s youth take to the water to row boats they have built and begin environmental programs. Youth have been going to YMCAs for 174 years, often to play sports or participate in after-school or camping programs, now there is one in Easton that offers a new kind of experience–an experience that offers important lessons in mathematics, tools, and through teamwork, character.

In the Bronx River, an initial environmental focus of Rocking the Boat was building a mussel reef. Mussels like oysters are filter feeders, and the river had plenty to be filtered. At Take the Helm, working in partnership with Shore Rivers, the initial environmental focus is litter and especially plastics that are fouling the waterways. Lessons learned from a boat, not a textbook.

This year Take the Helm brought over two hundred youth face-to-face with our creeks, rivers, and bays. An especially thrilling moment was the launch of the second classic Bay skiff (note picture).


Inspiration can be infectious; it made its way from the Bronx River to the East River to the Atlantic Ocean and back again into the bays and rivers of the Chesapeake watershed to the Tred Avon’s Easton Point, a stone’s throw from the Easton YMCA.

If you would like to learn more about Take the Helm, please visit here

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.