Breaking Takes on the News by Al Sikes

Breaking Takes on the News

Supreme Court Nominee

A fair number of my Republican friends voted for Donald Trump because of a Supreme Court vacancy and the likelihood of retirements. Their rationale has been affirmed by the President in the orderly and temperate manner in which he has nominated two very ab|e judges.

The Constitution is both enabling and limiting. At the risk of over simplification, the Left stresses the former and the Right the latter. The Left, often frustrated by the messy and difficult job of passing laws through State Legislatures and the Federal one, prefer a Court that finds new rights and thus national laws. The finding of a right to an abortion in the Constitution, in the case of Roe v Wade, is instructive.

We live in intemperate times. President Trump approached the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice in a temperate manner. Trump should study the Trump of recent weeks and seek to emulate him.

Democrats have regularly, and often rightly, criticized Trump’s various intemperate actions. It appears that they intend to become intemperate as they attempt to destroy Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Con Job

It is hard to know what the President knows and thinks.

At one point when his intellect was challenged, he bragged about having a degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — certainly an impressive business school. Trump has an undergraduate degree.

I am going to take a leap. If you are a Wharton graduate, you must understand Martin Feldstein’s (a Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Reagan Administration) comment in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “the trade deficit reflects the reality that Americans
consume more than we produce”. Mr. President, if you understand that truth, then you must realize that much of your trade agenda is a con — an inflammatory one.

There is a strong case to be made against China for stealing technology and protecting strategic industries. If that were the focus, Wharton might be inclined to celebrate its most famous alumnus.

Game On

It is now widely said that the Republican Party is President Trump’s. Perhaps; he has certainly influenced it — straight jacket orthodoxy has been cashiered.

Yet, the next election for President is 29 months off. A victory in 2020, after contested primaries, would be at least a medium term recognition of his primacy.

It should be noted that Mitt Romney won his U.S. Senate primary election race in Utah over State Representative Mike Kennedy with 73% of the vote. Most won’t recall, but Romney had been forced into a primary election because he lost the delegate count at the State Republican convention.

Romney’s opponent fought him on two fronts. Romney was, he said, insufficiently supportive of Trump’s agenda. Earlier criticisms, some harsh, by Romney of Trump were used to prove the point.

It was also said that Romney was a carpetbagger. You will recall that Romney had been Governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s overwhelming victory in his adopted state was impressive.

A clash between Romney and Trump is inevitable and at some point it will be measured electorally; then the “Trump capture” or not will be clearer.

Taxes

I will spare you the dismal status of U.S. accumulated debt, projected annual deficits and underfunded entitlement obligations. Look them up, but not when you are trying to come back from one drink too many.

We are now being told the contest within the Democrat Party for supremacy will be contested over expanded health benefits and free college tuition.

My suggestion: ask all candidates which taxes will be needed to pay down some level of debt, more fully fund the entitlement promises and pay for any new programs. Require the candidates to do the math.

High risk debt eventually bites. In 2008, it brought down major financial institutions; they either failed or were bailed out. Likewise, millions of homeowners lost their homes because of ill- considered collateralized debt.

America’s economic scale and the international primacy of the dollar have allowed politicians to accumulate debt and over—promise benefits. Fiscal recklessness has become a narcotic; withdrawal a need. If we don’t begin withdrawal, our economic strength will be the victim.

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 Failing by Al Sikes

Mara Liasson, the National Political Correspondent for National Public Radio and often a co-panelist with Charles Krauthammer on Fox News, called him a “gift to the world” and characterized his death as “a huge loss for conservatives.” Liasson and Krauthammer didn’t always agree, yet were friends who respected each other’s opinion. Friends, how quaint that seems in the pit bull politics of today.

Charles Krauthammer’s evolution from liberal (he was a speechwriter for Walter Mondale) to conservative was expressed in terms first defined by Irving Kristol: “a liberal mugged by reality”.

In the last few months I have been sent links to a purported column written by Krauthammer expressing support for Donald Trump. In the parlance of today: “fake news”; Krauthammer’s intellect and reputation were not on offer. We live in a swirl of pretenders and their pretensions. We just lost an important voice for clarity, objectivity and respect.

Instead we have a President, now a lame duck one, who continues to choose outrage over leadership. Attacking ones adversaries is not the first stage of a successful negotiation. And we have a Congress incapable of performing its constitutional duties.

President Trump’s remaining strength over domestic issues goes with the Office. But, as Barack Obama learned, governing by executive orders means the next person in line can undo the orders.

In a few months we elect a new Congress. But, regardless of which Party prevails, it is highly unlikely that either Party will have a large enough caucus of Members to govern without some level of bi-partisanship. The power of partisanship is often hollow.

Power is often misunderstood. Trump is certainly in charge of depthless power. His image and words are omnipresent. Since media coverage tends to confer importance, Trump is very important. And in Washington importance, as conferred by rank or media attention, is often thought to be power and held onto tightly.

Real power is set out in the United States Constitution and most especially in Article 1, Section 8. Simply stated, this section gives Congress the power to make laws, tax and spend. In just over three months real power will be conferred again. Will the winners be just another contingent who elevate self or Party over nation?

In many ways the most important question to be asked of each candidate is what they will do to make the most important branch of government work. It only works when there is some level of bi-partisanship. The existing power vacuum has elevated executive orders and attack politics. Present day realities have nullified the Congress.

But lest I understate the magnetism of President Trump to his followers, let me return to his power.

The one thing most can agree on is that Trump rather brilliantly used “Make America Great Again” to brand his candidacy and presidency. Many, of course, would quickly reject “Again” believing that America’s health is just fine. I am not in that number. On the other hand, retreating to the past to find greatness inevitably leads to this question: if America was so great, in say the 1950s, why was racial discrimination so ubiquitous? Certainly our views and laws about equality have improved dramatically.

At news conferences, interviews, town hall meetings and the like I would like to see each candidate be given the opportunity to compare and contrast. What, the question might be, would you propose we do to Make America Great? In short, require candidates to think beyond slogans.

Candidates should be asked what they think about our country’s financial health. If they believe it weakens the country, extract a pledge of action. One of the more successful political pledges was the “no tax” pledge. Fiscal hawks should craft a pledge to fix our nation’s balance sheet. And younger voters should insist that candidates tell them how the entitlement programs, which are actuarially bankrupt, will fulfill the promises made.

What about roads, bridges, airports, mass transit, waste treatment facilities, public water supplies? If the central government should play a role, what should it be? The recent Supreme Court decision requiring on-line sellers to collect State sales tax is likely to raise State tax revenues significantly. This might be a particularly fertile moment for the central government, with a modest contribution (it cannot afford more), to stimulate needed infrastructure work.

One final question: ask each candidate whether they pledge to return home after they no longer serve. Retirement from Congress often results in lucrative lobbying jobs aimed at protecting government conferred advantage.

When the Congress is failing, democracy is failing. And when the Congress allows a power vacuum to exist the occupant of the White House is empowered, well beyond constitutional intentions.

I want to leave the last thought for Charles Krauthammer who in a C-Span interview said he grew up attuned to the “tragic element in history”. “It tempers your optimism and your idealism. And it gives you a vision of the world which I think is more restrained, conservative, if you like. You don’t expect that much out of human nature. And you are prepared for the worst.” We are not going to change human nature, but voters have the power to change Congress.

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. 

For Men Only by Al Sikes

Oh for the chance to have one more back and forth. Too often our intrinsic treasures are only truly treasured when they are gone.

I can recall of course. The union card. Walking on my knees, picking cotton. The adventure in Alaska. So, let me give you a son’s perspective.

Dad wanted, no insisted, that his sons experience life’s needs, not just its wants. The need to work hard for a living and to appreciate those that did so. The need to go well beyond your comfort zone. The need to understand education as a privilege.

William K. Sikes with his son Al Sikes

Thank you, yet only on reflection, for that job at Scott County Milling Company. It was there I learned to plow out boxcars which arrived by rail from grain producing regions; offloading them was part of my job. The grain was converted to feed and I was in the middle of the process—and a dirty, dusty process it was. The dust was so thick that Dad urged me to wear a face mask.

I refused; it was hard enough being a kid among men. On the third day, I didn’t show up for work because of a respiratory infection. On my next day at work I wore a face mask and as I would remove the filters it became apparent to my fellow union workers that they too needed protection. My moist breath had converted dust to a muddy look; not a pretty site. Face masks and filters were required in the next contract.

But, perhaps the perfect fusion occurred when Dad convinced a friend of his to hire me to work in Anchorage, Alaska, at Elmendorf Air Force Base. I drove to Alaska—what a trip, the last thousand plus miles took me on unpaved roads through British Columbia and the Yukon.

Alaska introduced me to homesteaders, jack hammers, tar paper roofs and King salmon. Men, even in their teens, can profit from a Hemingway experience. Yes, I learned to tar paper roofs and handle a jack hammer, but the really important lessons were learned on the Russian River access trails and in the relationships at work.

Today’s summer jobs for youth are often in fast food or staffing camps, or, for those in college, internships that might lead to post-college jobs. On the camping front a recent Wall Street Journal article noted camps to teach young people to invest. Several names: “Camp Millionaire, MoolahU, Financial Investors Club of America and WhizBizKids”.

We need to better understand each other. Yet the military is now volunteer, most summer jobs are clean hands affairs, and frequently that last pre-career summer begins the gap year and foreign travel. And now, camps with financial missions.

Father’s Day is mostly a commercial event. But, I would urge today’s fathers to consider how their sons will recall their relationship–what kind of reflections their sons might have when Father’s Day appears on the calendar. I recall wisdom.

Writ Small, But Important

In recent years it has become apparent that most political lives are scripted and dictated. Our central government has become so large that the number of wealthy stakeholders now overwhelms even the most principled. And lest you think I mean just individual wealth, I am talking about all manner of self-interested groupings that occupy every wing of every Party. If a political figure says no to them, they will do all they can to punish him/her.

In Talbot County, where we can make a difference, we will soon be electing a County Council. I have a friend who is running for the Republican nomination. This is her first run for office. She is very much in the Jeffersonian tradition; she is informed not by a political life, but by one rich with experiences. She will bring fresh eyes and insights to the government that has the most direct impact on our community. Her name, Lisa Ghezzi.

You Give Me Fever by Al Sikes

You Give Me Fever

“You give me fever, when you kiss me
Fever when you hold me tight
Fever in the morning
Fever all through the night”

Little Willie John sang the original version of Fever released in 1958. A year later the sensual Peggy Lee did a cover version that skyrocketed into the top ten songs worldwide.

Ordinarily, fever is not a welcome sense—it is often a symptom of illness. But, fever is also characteristic of passion and in today’s overheated political jargon, the swamp.

At the risk of over-extending the metaphor, fever and incoherence are first cousins. Whether it is the fever of a passionate love affair or malaria, it works against reason. Fever and rationality often are at cross-purposes.

In the United States, the election of Donald Trump produced a fever. The news became feverish. Political debate likewise. And nowhere is our feverish behavior more pronounced than the commentary surrounding the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The President has been poked and probed by every imaginable adversary for over two years. First, the Clinton campaign. Then, after his election, the full array of denouncers kicked in—the news media, social media, and the variety of organizations he offended and offensive he has often been. This swirl of investigation and accusation was followed by House and Senate Committees and then the Special Counsel and his staff.

If there is the proverbial smoking gun of criminality, it should have, by now, been revealed. And if Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is as good as advertised he has certainly had enough time to put together a case. To-date Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and several minor functionaries have been charged and presumably have or will reveal what they know to lessen their penalties. One is left to wonder why Mueller cannot isolate the culpability of the President, announce his findings in that regard, and continue against the minor actors as warranted.

I will not cite the litany of important issues that require minute to minute attention from the White House, but there are a large number. It is time to “fish or cut bait.” As a former Assistant Attorney General in Missouri, I know that a criminal investigation opens up many avenues of inquiry and that it is hard not to prolong an investigation, but we are talking about the President.

We elect each President knowing that we are not electing an angel. One President in my lifetime, Bill Clinton, was impeached by the House of Representatives. Richard Nixon would have been, but he resigned. Another, Lyndon Johnson, stood aside from the nomination battle when his popularity sunk to the basement. And we have a mid-term election coming up which gives voters a chance, if they choose, to make Trump the lamest of lame ducks.

In the meantime, the work of the Special Counsel that deals with the President should be wrapped up in the next sixty days, a report given to the Congress and, of course, the public, and then if warranted action taken.

In 1974, President Gerald Ford, understanding the potential divisiveness of a criminal trial of Richard Nixon, who had resigned under the dark cloud of Watergate, pardoned him. It probably cost Ford the Presidency, yet historians often point to the pardon as the most farsighted and courageous act of his Presidency. They, on reflection, understood how debilitating it is for the nation to be caught up in the incoherence of a fever.

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. 

Guns Revisited by Al Sikes

“Impossible.” In early April in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, I recommended requiring password controlled trigger locks on guns—think smartphone. One Letter to the Editor called such a plan impossible.

Outrage can convert impossible to possible. The pivotal question is what it takes for a strong majority of voters to be outraged. If the Parkland tragedy was not sufficient, what about the Santa Fe school shooting? Or, the ones to come that will further numb our minds? Can society be so deadened as to become supine?

According to an article in the Washington Post, there has been more loss of life as a result of school shootings than soldiers killed in our several wars during 2018. Is this a possible tipping point? And, what happens at the tipping point?

Guns have a mythological and practical imprint on the minds of a majority of Americans. And, as day-to-day living appears to be more hazardous, many believe a gun is necessary for defense. Also, guns cannot be taken away without a constitutional amendment, and that is truly impossible.

Sure, we can tinker on the edges with stronger permit requirements and place limitations on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, but that will not eliminate the gun as the weapon of choice. We should keep in mind that the most recent Texas shooting, which left ten dead, was carried out with a pistol and a shotgun.

Years ago a Polish-American friend told me of a recent trip back to visit relatives in Poland. He was a cigar smoker, and while there pitched a plastic lighter, he had been using into a waste can because the gas capsule was spent. His relatives were alarmed, retrieved the lighter and said they would find a way to put it to productive use. Poland, in the 1970s, was not a throw-away economy.

Yet in America, we queue up to get the latest generation of a smartphone, or hot toy, or an opening night ticket to a just-released science fiction movie. In each instance, we pay a premium price. But, when it comes to gun safety technology, there will be no queue absent a government initiative.

When it comes to the military, we spend billions each year on research and development to protect ourselves from foreign threats. What about a modest investment in gun safety?

We spend billions each year (through tax subsidies) on a range of environmentally friendly technologies. What about creating demand for gun safety technologies? Demand drives innovation and lowers costs. We might add to any gun safety initiative free installation of a safety device along with a law that protects those who use a safety device from liability.

As we awaken to the latest mass shooting, most people are aghast at the nihilistic spawn of our popular culture. But here we are; embarrassed, befuddled and regretful yet subordinated to the culture and an echo chamber of advocacy.

Cultural cycles have long tails. Nobody knows how long it will take for a true counter-culture to gain momentum or what that movement will look like.

Nihilism says that life, and living itself, is meaningless; certainly killing innocents and then yourself is mirror image conduct. An opposite culture would have as it’s bedrock a belief that life has inherent meaning. The critical mass of cultural signals would be life-affirming.

In the meantime, those who read talking points from the National Rifle Association should not disguise impotency with loud talk.

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. 

Lies, Reactions, Consequences by Al Sikes

“If everyone always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but that no one believes anything at all anymore — and rightly so, because lies, by their nature, have to be changed, to be ‘re-lied’, so to speak.”  Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt, born a Jew in Germany in 1906, fled Hitler and the observation above quoted reflected her struggles as her identity was used against her and then denied to her.

I repeat, “……..lies, by their very nature, have to be changed …..” Last Sunday, after watching several interviews about Trump, Comey, Mueller and Giuliani, I recalled this Arendt line. One talking head noted, in reference to the Trump-Giuliani swirl of conflicting statements, “We now see damage control of damage control.”

In the world of damage control, this is not new. To borrow from Ms. Arendt, damage control by its very nature is intended to obfuscate.

But, Trump is President. He is not one more celebrity caught in the wrong bedroom. He is the country’s chief executive who, among other things, is responsible, ultimately, for the nation’s annual operating statement and balance sheet.

And figuratively, we (the voters) are the final signature on the nation’s payment obligations. The nation’s founders, underscoring our importance in spending taxpayer money, placed the exclusive right to begin appropriations in the House of Representatives—each House member must earn our votes every two years.

This is the point in the article when I am supposed to recite our cumulative debt and an array of underfunded “entitlements”. I’ll simply note that we are now on course to add a trillion dollars to that debt each year. America’s youth should become familiar with our unfolding fiscal disaster. My generation will likely skate through to the finish.

Or, are the financial data lies? Statistics are certainly susceptible to being the content of deception. Historically, we have depended on a wide variety of news outlets to keep us informed. Is the truth discoverable? Do reporters have the knowledge and insight to discover the truth?  After all, we are dealing with numbers, not our various programs to reshape the way people act.

Rather than trying your patience, with more detail on our fiscal affairs, let me suggest several questions that should be asked and answered often — truthfully to the extent possible.

Do our growing deficits threaten our international credit rating and foretell rising borrowing costs?

Will our growing national debt have a negative effect on the widespread use of the dollar as the most important international currency? Consequences?

The national debt is over 100 % of the 2017 gross domestic product (GDP). In the 2018 budget cycle the annual cost of that debt is projected to be $310 billion. What are the debt cost projections for future budget cycles?

It is never a good thing for our nation’s President to be caught up in a house of mirrors. But, our nation’s year to year and decade to decade economic strength is of far greater consequence. Economic strength or weakness translates into jobs, home equity, revenue for public initiatives and the like. We need truth — at least as close as we can get to it.

Final thought. Journalists, with economic training and insight, need to populate more than business media. They need to see their stories each day in the top papers and shows and they need to translate what they know into accessible and interesting stories. Truthful stories.

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. 

Up, Up, Up by Al Sikes

Revenue surged at Amazon, up 43%, at Facebook, 50% and at Google’s parent Alphabet, 73%.

Good news? Well certainly for stockholders but what about the rest of America. What about Easton and Chestertown and the rest of the Eastern Shore of Maryland?

While I don’t often quote from my book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow; these headlines took me back to my beginning in business and to a chapter called Free Markets.

“The visuals were just as important as the words. My introduction to business remains vivid and timeless. In those early years, I cleaned up and then clerked in my grandparents’ hardware store. It followed the small-town pattern of carrying way more than hardware and was on Front Street in Sikeston, Missouri; population 12,000.

The store’s most distinctive characteristic was a large glass front. My grandparents, Leah and Alfred Sikes and then later their two sons, John and Kendall (my father), were often on the first floor helping customers. In the jargon of today, their business was transparent to their customers.

There was also an unusual gathering spot in the store. Most of the customers built and fixed things and carried pocketknives. There was a horseshoe counter around the stairs that led to the store’s basement and on the counter were sharpening stones. Men would pause to sharpen their knives and exchange the latest stories and opinions—social media, circa the 1940s and ’50s.

Their customers didn’t need to navigate a bureaucracy or call an 800 number to offer their opinion or criticism about merchandise or service. The owners were available and approachable. Business success turned on their customers’ satisfaction and, as my Dad would often say, “being a part of the community.”

Two generations after clerking in the family business, I arrived in New York City to create a new business, in a new technology, on a big stage. As Dad noted at the time, “Son, you are in tall cotton.” Tall cotton means a rich harvest. But having picked cotton, I knew that walking on your knees through the rows of cotton plants obstructs vision. You could see the next plant, but little else.

In some ways, global business is not much different. As I learned in New York City and other citadels of commerce, customer relationships are represented by a stream of data. Our demographic profile, daily buying patterns, viewing habits and social media engagement comprise our profile. Profit-center executives track these profiles and translate them into supply and demand detail and findings.

While a cotton picker could not see much beyond the next cotton plant, executives choose not to see much beyond their data sheets. I worry less about the loss of privacy—today’s primary focus—than about the loss of humanity. What happens when a culture is abstracted by data by those who feel no cultural responsibility?

The CEO routine in New York is to walk out the door of an apartment building or a home in the suburbs and into a company car with a driver. Often, overnight files of new customer sales data await the CEO as he travels to the office building, gets on an elevator and rides to, let’s say, the 46nd floor.

The 46nd Floor C Suite, which houses a company’s executive leadership, is an important symbol. Its occupants have arrived. Their business acumen rewards them with luxurious offices, spacious boardrooms, and elegant private dining. This is most often on top of seven-figure or eight-figure salaries plus stock or option grants. In 2013, CEO pay for the top 200 companies averaged $20.7 million consisting of $6.8 million in cash and the rest in stocks and options.

Granddad had an office as well. When he left the merchandise floor, he retreated to a small space adjacent to the stock room, where inventory was stored. In community retailing, there were no “Chateau Generals,” as George Marshall called World War II generals who spent their time at headquarters.

Okay, I know sentimentalism is often blind. The world of my grandparents had its robber barons, and retailing is different than making and distributing things. But, and this is the central point, fewer and fewer of the people who command banking or media or manufacturing or service industries have any connection to the actual customer. The customer’s life is largely an abstraction, a data profile, continuously updated by optical scanners and online purchasing. There is nothing wrong with following supply and demand data unless nothing else is followed.

How many retail bankers who initiated zero down-payment home loans knew the newly minted debtors? And of course, none of the investment bankers who securitized the loans knew them. Their obtuseness, along with government guarantees, helped tank the economy and the well-being of millions who saw the value of their most important asset dramatically reduced. Home values in all but the most prosperous zip codes fell precipitously.

The customer’s family is another piece of data summarized by demographers, surveyors, and untold numbers of commercial sociologists. When that data also reveals the social pathologies of a society shaped by consumerism, it is all too inviting to retreat to the 46th floor and read trade journals that highlight the wonders of your industry.”

We should do our part to help preserve our community. Our community includes its merchants. And after family, neighbors are the first to help.

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. 

Lost in America by Al Sikes

This last week is illustrative. Preparation is underway for a summit with Kim Jung Un, Congress appears to be in the final stages of a new banking bill, teachers are on the march from Oklahoma to Kentucky, but everything is about the President. Well not everything, but given the salacious nature of much of the associated content, I would guess that the national conversation is not about budgets or taxes or education or healthcare or much of anything but President Trump.

Generally, I have avoided writing about the President, but the force field is too strong to avoid. The Trump presidency is revealing and not just about his sexual appetites. It reveals a great deal about democracy in America, 2018.

Last week the “breaking news” revolved around James Comey and Michael Cohen, both lawyers with quite different slants. Comey sees himself as the enforcer and Cohen once called himself the “fixer”.

Comey, in an interview, said Trump was bright enough but not moral enough to be President. Moral enough is an interesting phrase. We begin by asking by whose standards?

Certainly, by the standards of Judeo-Christian values, which have been crucial in nurturing America, he is not. Unfortunately, the standards of the marketplace have largely displaced expectations voiced in churches and synagogues. America’s narrative in recent generations has been re-shaped from opportunity to expectation. The overwhelming narrative of mass entertainment and advertising is about acquisition and its purported pleasures. Indeed much of the new media is underwritten by targeted advertising—appealing even more persuasively as data schemes search for and find our weaknesses.

Now, if the dream is to acquire and the economics of acquisition are in some regards highly unequal, what should we expect? Populism. Most in America see themselves as working hard but barely keeping up. The entertainment media is constantly showing the accoutrements of outsized wealth and the relatively small percentage of people who enjoy it.

In the last election, Republicans offered up a wealthy man who gleefully broke the china of conventional politics while pledging to lift up those who perceived that their burdens, at least in part, were caused by unfair trade practices and immigrant laborers. And, if you lost your home equity in the recession or your job had been shipped overseas or your community had been ravaged by a disruptive economy, you didn’t pay a lot of attention to intangible values—the tangibles trumped the intangibles.

The Democrats offered up Hillary Clinton who when out of office regularly gave speeches to Wall Street firms for very large sums of money. Bernie Sanders pointed this out. Additionally, she regularly shared her thoughts while Secretary of State using the same unsecured networks that are regularly hacked. Many who normally voted for the Democrat decided they had had enough.

I imagine a great majority would like to have a reset button for our central government’s elected leadership. It is not available. Democracy is messy and hard work. Informed and discerning citizens are needed more than new ways and times to cast ballots. Also, leadership is not a natural fruit of the political party trees. And it is getting harder and harder for more insightful leaders to use the political parties as a necessary vehicle to ultimate success. Indeed President Trump fought his Party; he had the money to do so.

If the Republican Party is to avoid becoming the party of Trump, somebody will have to seize the initiative to move it in another direction. The ensuing electoral battle will be more about leadership than checking ideological boxes. Trump, after all, had often associated with the Democrat Party and had frequently taken positions on such subjects as gun control and abortion that were at odds with Republican orthodoxy.

The Democrats need a leadership contest and it must go beyond the state-of-affairs that led it to forfeit the White House to Trump. A combination of favoring a bigger and bigger government while embracing the most aggressive agendas of its identity groups is not a winning formula.

Today the Republican Party leaders with only a few exceptions have become compliant. This is not the universe from which the challenge to Trump’s supremacy will come. It is also my guess that the Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democrat party will not produce a transformational leader.

My advice to potential candidates, stand apart while articulating new directions—scripted orthodoxies reveal a locked not agile mind. And most importantly, put away the politics of polarization; it might appeal to your base but will ill-serve you and your country.

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. 

Barbara and Millie by Al and Marty Sikes

Admiration quickly comes to mind. Barbara Bush was a singular personality and much loved by the public. Inside the walls of the White House, I suspect she was given a wide berth. Her mind was quick and razor sharp and always protective of her husband.

My role in President George H. W. Bush’s administration resulted in periodic visits to the White House, but I was well outside of the day-to-day intrigue. But I have one enjoyable memory best told by my wife, Marty.

We were at the White House for a State Reception for the President of Hungary, Arpad Goncz. As we were going through the receiving line, the President pulled me aside to visit with Hungary’s leader as I was leaving the next day on a diplomatic trip that included Hungary.

As I visited with the Presidents, the line stopped as Marty was face-to-face with Barbara. And now my co-writer continues:

When I realized that I was going to be visiting with Mrs. Bush, I was quickly thinking, what we will visit about! Fortunately, a few days prior to this evening, Al and I had been watching the start of the 1990 World Series game between the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics. Mrs. Bush was sitting with the owner of the Reds, Marge Schott, who was known for her controversial behavior. We watched Barbara Bush throw out the first pitch.

As we shook hands, I told Mrs. Bush that Al and I had watched her pitch at the opening game of the World Series. She laughed and then said to me: “You know, of course, they first asked George, but he couldn’t do it, so they asked me. It was actually quite interesting because Marge Schott wanted me to take her dog, Schottzie, with me to the pitcher’s mound and I didn’t want to. Mrs. Schott had been drinking and was very insistent and starting to cause a bit of a scene when I finally thought to tell her, I am so sorry Marge, but I just can’t because Millie (the Bush’s dog – famous for the book Mrs. Bush wrote) loves to watch baseball and is watching the game and will be very jealous.”

Mrs. Bush was so easy to visit with; she put me completely at ease, and I smile every time I tell this story. As we are all aware, she was a very special person – very real and down-to-earth and someone everyone could admire.

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. 

What Price Privacy? By Al Sikes

It was the beginning, 1994. I was in Dallas for a meeting of magazine editors and publishers and met with Jim Clark who was raising capital for a company called Netscape.

Clark had recruited the technology group headed by Marc Andreessen at the University of Illinois. Andreessen and colleagues had invented the first web browser, and Clark was eager to have “content companies” publish on what was then referred to as the World Wide Web.

My job as President of New Media for the Hearst Corporation aligned with what Clark was doing. I was working on digital expressions of what Hearst did so well in the traditional media world.

Hearst invested in Netscape, achieved a very high return on that investment and became a leading “traditional media” company offering digital content.

Netscape had a short-lived run before being bought by AOL. Netscape depended on users purchasing the right to use its browser. Microsoft launched its own browser and, feeling threatened by Netscape, gave it away. Free won, Microsoft blew up Netscape’s business model.

1994 foretold the future of the Internet. In one sense, the unfolding realities in 1994 paralleled George Orwell’s novel 1984. But the developments of 1994 pointed to dominance by a business oligarchy, while Orwell pointed toward an all-pervasive controlling government.

In 1994 newspapers and magazines sold ink on paper for dollars. Today, Facebook and Google sell information, entertainment and social connection for personal information that they convert to targeted advertising inventory.

If I were to write a book, looking back, the title might well be The Seduction of Free. Free search, social connectivity, customer reviews, shipping.

The founders of Google, Facebook, and Amazon, saw the future and with copious amounts of capital delivered it. Each did what it did very well. Now the seduction is over and the morning after is not without regrets.

Rather than speculate about or repeat the lessons of others, my source will be me. One slice of life we all share is health concerns. I have researched cataracts, lower back pain, knee replacement and orthotics over the last few years. Google has a more complete profile of my health concerns than my doctors.

In this Faustian bargain, Google and its peer companies deliver. To use a marketing term: we find ourselves in a sticky relationship. Businesses love sticky relationships–repeat customers are the best. How many of you are leaving your Facebook friends?

Pre-1994 I was in the regulation business (so to speak) as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. This experience compels me to be wary about regulating Google, Facebook, and Amazon. On the other hand, we should understand what is being asked of us and how the information is used. And we should not be deceived or beaten down by pages of small font legalese.

Each company has brilliant designers of customer user interfaces. Put them to work on an interface that reveals the offer to us and presents options. The number of words used should not exceed one hundred and must be in at least 14 point type.

Also, each company has brilliant chief financial officers. Put them to work on assessing the market value of their unfettered use of our information. Convert this market value into an offer that allows each prospective user to make a choice. The choice: what price privacy—information or dollars.

And finally, the Congress should in one hundred words or less tell the two antitrust agencies that they would like to see a proposal to update our unfair competition laws. Facebook, Amazon, and Google (now Alphabet) began when venture capital was flowing, raising money in public markets was relatively easy and when the steady erosion of privacy was opaque. Scale and network effects now enjoyed by the big three give them an almost unassailable dominance. Dominance inevitably leads to excess.

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.