THE WIT AND WISDOM OF JOHN PEPPER

November 7, 2017

THE WIT & WISDOM OF JOHN E. PEPPER Jr.
(Compiled by my former P&G colleague and good friend, Eugen Mihai)

“Life isn’t always pretty, but you have to put up with ugliness sometimes to get a big job done; and it only happens when very competent people believe in something deeply and act with all their might to make it happen.”

“Tell me what you think and act on what you believe to be true”

“Life is funny. It’s made up of dots that somehow connect”

“My wife and children have been my constant and underlying source of joy, energy and emotional stability and comfort in my life”

“You are making differences in people’s lives today you don’t even know you are making”

 “Everyone counts!”

“When I go to church the one thing I pray for is the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the courage and perseverance to do it”

“None of us are saints. All I can do and what I must do is do my best to fulfill our responsibilities and help other people whose lives we touch do the same”

“Everybody combines self-centered instincts and noble instincts”

“The greatest thing we will leave behind is the influence that we have on others; most importantly, on our family”

“It is MY choice: do I approach this new day positively or not?”

“Don’t stop pushing for an idea if you really believe in it”

“My two most important mandates: to be of service to others and stand out for what I believe is right”

“My three North Stars are: service, leadership and growth”

“Make sure you take vacation and long week-ends because the best ideas will come when you have some free space”

“The qualities of the best leaders I have met are:
-       Empowering vision and their commitment to it. They simply won’t give up
-       Laser-like strategy
-       A maniacal commitment to executional excellence
-       They build great teams.  They help people grow.
-       Character; integrity and courage.  Perseverance; they don’t give up.  They do what they think is right. 
-       They always look for a better way
-       They love what they do
-       They have respect for themselves and for others
-       They are genuine: what you see is what you get
-       They have an incredible zest to continue to learn”

“I want to be anywhere my wife and children are. That’s where I want to be. Nowhere else!”

“A good strategy is:
-        Based on capability (deliverable)
-        Truly choiceful (differentiating)
-        The basis for sustained advantage vs. competition
-        Robust”

“Be on somebody’s ‘If it weren’t for them’ list. It means you did make a difference in that person’s life”

“Be choiceful, strategic and principled in deciding what to do and how to do it”

“Accept yourself as you are even as you work to improve”

“Remember – God will help you if you trust in Him”

“Don’t worry about things you can’t affect”

“Respect, not popularity is what matters”

“We have a life to live – do it fully and authentically”

“Be true to your purpose and values”

“Let us never forget that we are in business to improve the lives of consumers by offering them better performing and better value brands and by giving them information that enables them to make the best use of these brands”

“Our success depends on our personal leadership in all those things that produce accelerated growth in our business and strengthen organizational capability”

“View navigating change as a growth opportunity, not a burdensome challenge (though at times it will seem and be that). Avoid negativism and grousing. Don’t get discouraged”

“Never give up on something you believe in strongly”

“Insist on quality with maniacal commitment”

“Ask what you can do to serve those to whom you owe service”

“Listen carefully and pay attention to your spouse. Keep having ‘first dates’ as years go on”

“Remember: family comes first!”

“Personal leadership makes things happen”

“Effective leadership grows out of LOVE. Love for what you are doing, so you become passionate.  Love takes you out of yourself and makes you focus on the purpose and the people of your organization”

“Our trust and respect are the greatest gifts we give one another.  They can’t be forced.”

“Life is all about relationships”

“Give people the benefit of the doubt”

“Intimacy with the consumer is critical if we are to perceive the true consumer need which we can fill”

“Creating holistic and highly integrated innovation and marketing strategies that make a brand more appealing and harder to imitate is increasingly important today”

“We need to be alert and responsive to changing situations, anchored to only one commitment – doing the right thing to provide superior consumer value”

“We must never give consumers a reason to switch from our brand”

“We are in business to serve all the world’s consumers, not just the rich ones”

“We need to be first and we need to be better in delivering what appeals to consumers and produces greater total satisfaction for them”




WitWisdom_EugenMihai110217

October 23, 2017

AN ACCURATE DESCRIPTON OF MY CONCERN ABOUT PRESIDENT TRUMP –
ANATOLY CHERNYAEV
Anatoly Chernyaev was perhaps Mikhail Gorbachev’s closest confident from 1986 onward.  He was his principal foreign policy advisor.  
In what follows, I want to make it clear.  I am not equating President Trump to Stalin, in the way he thinks let alone what he did.
*****
In reading William Taubman’s excellent new biography of Gorbachev:  His Life and Times, one reads this on Page 260:
Chernyaev’s family was particularly cultivated; he received music lessons, learned French and German from private teachers and fell in love with Gogol and Shakespeare in school.  He studied history at Moscow University in the late ‘30s, fought heroically in World War II (part of the time on skis in an Alpine battalion), then got a Candidate’s Degree (roughly equivalent to an American PhD), writing his dissertation on the topic, “Britain’s Role During the First Years After World War I.”  Unlike so many of his generation, he never worshipped Stalin.  It wasn’t the repressions, he said, “about which we didn’t know much and which we thought might have been mistakes or even justified” or “the terrible losses early in World War II” or “in a revulsion against policies like the 1939 Hitler-Stalin pact.”  For Chernyaev, it was the sense that “a crude, ignorant, completely alien force” was ruling over a culture that cherished Tolstoy and Chekhov and admired foreign writers like Shakespeare and Anatole France.”
So it is for me:  My revulsion against Trump rests on his lack of values and his disrespect for other people, his lack of kindness, empathy and his disregard for the truth. He stands in opposition to the very values which, using his own term, have made America great. 
These are the qualities of this man which have repelled me from the start.  We should not stop calling them out, but nor can we afford to wallow in them with a sense of superiority.  Worse yet, we cannot fall into the trap of believing that our denunciation of Trump’s behaviors is sufficient to carry out our responsibility. We must also act proactively and positively in our own world, in our own way to live those values we hold dear and improve the lives of those whom we can touch. 

THE LAS VEGAS MASSACRE--LIVING PROOF THAT THE PLETHORA OF GUNS IS A MATTER OF "PUBLIC HEALTH"

October 3, 2017

 I AM RE-POSTING THIS ESSAY  WITH SOME EDITS FROM 15 MONTHS AGO.

HOW MANY MASSACRES WILL IT TAKE FOR US TO ACT ON THIS REALITY AS OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE?

A PERSPECTIVE ON REDUCING GUN CARNAGE IN OUR NATION

JULY 20, 2016



 
GUNS, CANCER, TOBACCO AND AUTOMOBILES – WHAT DO THEY HAVE IN COMMON?; 

WHAT CAN WE LEARN ON HOW TO REDUCE THE CARNAGE CAUSED BY GUNS IN OUR NATION?

My reading of an outstanding “biography of cancer” titled The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee has led me to conclude that we should re-frame and attack the issue of the enormous number of gun -caused deaths in our nation as an issue of PUBLIC HEALTH. 
 
One thing guns, cancer, tobacco and automobiles have in common is their association with high rates of mortality, actual and potential.  And with their association with morbidity, automobiles, guns and tobacco have, to different degrees and at different points in time, raised the question of how “causal” the relationship is.
 
The struggle, or more precisely the “fight” (for industry did fight every step of the way) against the ever more evident and deadly linkage between cigarette smoking and cancer was brutal. 
Cigarette smoking skyrocketed during the first half of the 20th century.  In 1870, the per capita consumption of cigarettes in America was less than one cigarette per year.  By 1953, the average adult American was smoking ten cigarettes every day.  (Sadly, as we went into the 1960s, I was smoking at four times that level!)  Not surprisingly, in this same period—the 1950s—a meteoric increase in lung cancer was being observed in the U.K. and the United States.  But was it being caused by the increase in cigarette smoking?  At first, that notion was greeted with more than skepticism. It was disbelief.  One evidence of this: medical journals were routinely carrying cigarette advertisements.  At the annual conferences of the American Medical Association in the early 1950s, cigarettes were distributed free of charge to doctors who lined up outside the tobacco booths.  When I joined Procter & Gamble in 1963, there was an ashtray placed in front of every member of the Executive Committee, with no thought it was carrying a danger (though by then research was amply available to demonstrate that).  Almost everyone smoked, many nonstop. 
 
Ironically but profoundly, and this has great significance to the issue we face on the causal relationship of the availability of guns to increased morbidity,  it was the “rapid, viral ascendency of tobacco that made its medical hazards virtually invisible.”  

Mukherjee points out that our intuitive appreciation of statistical correlations “performs best at the margins.”  When rare events are superposed against rare events, the association between them can be striking.  That had been seen in drawing a link between scrotal cancer and chimney sweeping in the U.K. Both the profession and the disease were uncommon enough that the juxtaposition of the two stood out starkly like a lunar eclipse; two unusual occurrences in precise overlap.
 
However, as cigarette consumption escalated into a national addiction, and the documented incidence of cancer also sky rocketed,  it became harder to discern an association  of smoking with cancer. 
 
Similarly, with the penetration of guns today growing at a rate which like cigarettes in the past can only be described as an “addiction”—over 300 million in homes in the United States, twice the level of 1968—and, sadly, with deaths involving guns also becoming more prevalent day to day, it becomes harder to make direct associations.
 
In time (measured in decades)  and with great difficulty, the causal relationship of cancer and smoking, was irrefutably established.  It happened thanks to the perseverance and courage of scientists and academics.  Prospective trials were carried out, ironically  first among doctors, matching those who smoked and those who didn’t and then documenting the prevalence of lung cancer over many years. The results were unarguable. 

Even then, getting clear warnings on packages and banning televison advertising was resisted by the industry-- and by legislators committed to the industry, just as is the case today with guns.   It took decades to bring regulations which recognized and grew from the knowledge that cigarette smoking is a “public health issue” of the highest magnitude. And it came through the Public Health Administration, not Congress which was beholden to special interests just as  is the influence of the NRA on legislators today.  

I do not believe it would be possible to create the kind of irrefutable " prospective" research to establish the causal relationship of guns and various forms of death that would match the research which eventually documented the causal relationship of cigarette smoking and cancer.  

But there is powerful "retrospective" and "associative" evidence to show the correlation between gun penetration and deaths caused by fire arms. The facts are staggering. Based on 2010 research reported in the Journal of American Medicine, deaths caused by fire arms are (per 100,000):

U.S. 10.2
Canada 2.3
France 2.8
Germany 1.1
UK 0.2

Gun penetration per 100 people:

U.S. 112.6
Germany 30
UK 6.6
Russia  8.9

The death which a gun can cause in a domestic dispute or mass public shooting of the kind we have just witnessed in Las Vegas makes it altogether more lethal than other weapons  because it can cause instant death and as we have tragically witnessed scores of times, multiple deaths before anyone can intervene. 

While the term seems too pristine, this represents a  "public health" issue of enormous magnitude. 

Today, no one who can read can mistake the danger that they are embarked on in smoking.  This is not being done with the usage of guns.


So what about automobiles?  How do they come into the picture?
 

On a per capita basis, automobiles used to place far higher in the ranking of the causes of death (and injuries) in this country than they do today.  In this case, it was easy to establish the causal relationship.  There was no mistaking that, when a car crashed and there were no seatbelts, and the passengers flew through the windshield and died, that the cause of death was irrevocably related to the car accident.  And in time, for this and other reasons, sharp regulations have been brought to driving a car.   You need to have a license and you have to have that license renewed regularly.   You have to pass a driver’s test to show that you know what you’re doing when you drive the car.  Surely we should insist on nothing less than that when one buys a gun.  We don’t insist on that today.  There is no logical explanation for that.
 
Many will raise the familiar argument that guns don’t cause death, killers do. It is their choice.  

Of course, that could have been said about tobacco—and  indeed it was, literally, vehemently, repeatedly.  

It wasn’t the tobacco that caused cancer, it was the smoker.  And it could be said about automobiles, too.  It wasn’t the car; it was the driver or the weather or the road.  

Yes, but…we have identified a causal relationship of such importance that we ought to be certain that proper steps are being taken to regulate its use so that not only harm to the “owner” but harm to others who are not the owner can be constrained.  That is certainly the case with guns.  Sometimes, it is the harm to the “owner” in the case of accidentally shooting oneself and suicides

  But much more when it comes to "public health" I am addressing the danger to people who don’t “own” the gun.  

To not require a license and training on how to use a gun, especially one capable of firing multiple rounds quickly,  is absolutely irresponsible. 
 
Which brings me to my last point where the relationship of tobacco and cancer, and of automobiles and guns, has something to teach.  It come under the heading of prevention.  It was decades before the medical community was prepared to really address the issue of “prevention” when it comes to cancer.  There were those who favored surgery; others, oncology; many, both. It was only later that  “prevention” to reduce the risk of cancer --in terms of diet and living habits--was addressed,  especially in the focus on not smoking.  This has had a major effect in reducing lung cancer. 
 
“Prevention” has played a big role in the reduction of deaths through automobile accidents too.  The requirement for seatbelts, speed limits and other safety devices, have all come into play, under the mantra of “public health”.
 
We have failed to think deeply enough, or taken action, on what can be done to prevent needless deaths from widespread gun ownership--just as we have done on smoking and driving a car. There are common sense actions that can be taken such as registration for all guns, positive owner identification like we have on cell phones, etc. 
 
There will be many, including the NRA, that retreat to the familiar citation of the “rights” conferred by the 2nd Amendment.  This argument should carry no weight when it comes to making intelligent modifications on the requirement for gun ownership dictated by learnings from history.  The authors of the 2nd Amendment did not contemplate that it would confer the right to have semi-automatic and automatic military-style weapons in the hands of millions of people; weapons capable of killing dozens and dozens of people in a matter of seconds as just happened in Las Vegas.

 Just as with automobiles, or now with tobacco, I cannot believe the authors of this Amendment would object to there being strict rules dictated by the well documented knowledge of the risks these guns pose to public health and life.


I believe the great majority of the American people would agree that guns should require registration before they are purchased and training before they are used to be as sure as possible that they were going into responsible hands that are capable of responsible use.   
 
I hope this provides actionable perspective on what it took to understand, document and control the causal impact of cigarette smoking on cancer and the impact of automobiles on highway deaths in a way that provides insight on what we should do to diminish  the horrible loss of life from the broad and inadequately regulated penetration of guns in this country today.

 Put simply, this is a "public health" issue of enormous importance. It covers the rights--including the right to life--of the public, of all people, not only the gun owner. 

It demands action now. 
 

MEMORY, MEMORIALS AND THE IMPORTANCE OF LEARNIG FROM HISTORY

August 20, 2017

The frantic, rather impulsive even if understandable rapid removal of statues in public places memorializing symbols of slavery and  leaders of the Confederacy raises important questions in my mind.

I suspect much will be written on this in the coming months by people, including historians, better equipped to provide perspective on this than I am. But I would offer these very preliminary thoughts.

1. Anything that "celebrates" or appears to celebrate or condone racial, ethnic or religious prejudice or violence or the division of our Union such as the swastika or Confederate flag or KKK outfits should never be commemorated as something to be emulated in a public space.

2. We should use history--the good and the bad with all its complexity--to learn for the future and not obliterate it or pretend it did not happen.

We should recognize that some leaders like Robert E. Lee had some noble characteristics that led them to support what they felt they owed service to (in Lee's case, Virginia) even though in hindsight that decision--as well as his view on racial equality-- was wrong.

Rather than tearing down statues, we should surround them with contextual historical information which elucidates what is to be learned from them, with all its complexity. Alternatively, these statues should be placed in a museum, again surrounded by information as described above.

One way or the other, the historical learning from our history, both in conveying the best and worst of it, and the values that drove leaders to do what they did, should not be lost. We need more of this history, not less.

Deciding what to do with these statues and the interpretation which should surround them should be decided locally and time should be given to do this properly by giving a wide group of people the chance to speak so the decision will not be seen as arbitrary and will be as informed as possible.

3. I believe we may need a national museum which we may not have today which would tell our nation's history in an honest, comprehensive way, exposing what we are most and least proud of and revealing the complexity and mixture of motivations which have guided leaders, for good and for ill.
Undoubtedly,  the content of that museum would be controversial. So be it.

The Civil War Museum in Richmond (which I have never seen) could be a good place to tell much of this history from the founding of the Nation through Reconstruction and beyond.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati also has the Mission and much of the content necessary (film, exhibits) to contribute to telling this story honestly and in  a way pointing to the future.

4. Whatever, we do,  we must  continue to share and learn from the "reality(its)" of history even as we acknowledge that the definition and interpretation of those realities will be complex and likely evolve over time. There are  themes which I hope would emerge founded on the prefatory principles of our Declaration of Independence ("all men are created equal") and the call of all religions to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves.


IN THE END IT IS ALL ABOUT CHARACTER--DONALD TRUMP

 I posted this originally on October 10th, 2016. About a month before the election.

I hoped my deep concerns then about Donal Trump's character would be modified by his actions.

They have not.

This cannot continue.

A message to Donald Trump and myself and all of us:
"Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny."
Frank Outlaw

ONE OF MY SONS JUST ASKED ME: "WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THE SENATE'S HEALTH CARE BILL?"

June 26, 2017

MY ANSWER: 


This remains an ill-conceived, cruel piece of legislation. 

It should be rejected. 

The reduction in coverage (20MM plus) makes it inconceivable that we would put this in place.

It fails to deal with the cost issues that have to be addressed at the root cause level (e.g. cost of drugs; multiple profit centers picking up $$; lack of consumer visibility into true costs, etc. ). It fails to study other health care systems which are affording close to universal health care at a cost  40%  BELOW ours. 

The process followed to do this, after 7 years of seeing the flaws of Obamacare, is tragic.

There are two premises which will ultimately have to be and will be accepted:

1. Everyone should have health insurance. Everyone. We don't allow people to opt in or out of Social Security. Or having automobile insurance. It is an issue of the national interest, not just the individual. 

2. Providing quality health care is a Right, just like education is and safety is. For everyone and it is the government's responsibility to provide it. Like Social Security. For the National Interest. 

PUTTING MY P&G HAT ON: A FACT BASED PATH TO A SUSTAINABLE HEALTH CARE PLAN

June 9, 2017

If I put my Procter & Gamble hat on and assess this challenging subject, there are two things that we aren’t doing which P&G would be doing:
 
1.     We would examine what the outcomes are today in the United States compared to other countries which we know are achieving lower costs, broader coverage and strong health outcomes.  
 
It is striking and hopefully instructive to look around the world and see so many developing countries, including Canada to our north, providing close to universal coverage, with costs much lower than our own (10% vs. 17% of GDP), and health outcomes, in terms of duration and quality of life, equal or better than our own.
 
Within our own country, I would benchmark Massachusetts, which I understand is providing 97% coverage.  I don’t know what the costs are, but I would be looking at that and any other states which can be benchmarks for learning.
 
2.     I would break down with great specificity what the differences are in cost between the United States and those countries (Canada, Europe, Japan, etc.) which have significantly lower costs.  What explains the difference? I am sure a big part but by no means all are higher drug costs. There are also the profits being made by companies in the distribution chain. 
 
 
The type of benchmark comparisons I’ve referred to above would yield important learning. We are failing to do the obvious. 
 

GIVING PROPER RESPECT TO OUR DEDICATED PUBLIC SERVANTS--SHAME ON THE PRESIDENT

May 13, 2017

I am re-posting my blog of 3/7/17 which called out President Trump for the disrespectful, and demeaning actions and remarks he was making about our public servants in the FBI, CIA, etc.

He has done it again.

Quite apart from the rightness of the decision (with which I disagree), the manner in which he fired Comey was unforgivable and denigrating.  It reflected disrespect on him and the entire Bureau.
This is a man who dedicated his life to our country.

No personal contact. No heads-up. Decision reaching Comey by the media while he is addressing this organization.

I have never seen an uglier, more thoughtless dismissal of a top leader in any organization.

Then Trump adds to that by alleging that Comey was not supported by his own people, a charge flatly denied by the #2 person at the FBI and numerous agents.

Have you no shame, Mr. President.

Sessions shares in this shame.

HERE WAS MY EARLIER BLOG:

I have been living with a growing and deepening concern.

President Trump  should be ashamed of himself for the disrespect he is showing to the women and men dedicating their lives to public service in the:

-FBI
-Judiciary
-CIA
-State Department
-Environmental Protection Agency
-and more.

It is all too easy to paint an organization with a broad brush, serving it up as an impersonal entity, leveling attacks on it for a mistake of  the past (e.g. weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) and fail to recognize that it is made up of thousand of individuals, imperfect as we all are, but almost without exception dedicated to the welfare of our nation and working tirelessly and in some cases at significant personal risk to achieve it.

These men and women deserve our respect and that of the President.

For Trump to tweet the accusation that former President Obama engaged in tapping his phone without even consulting with one of his own team on the likelihood of this being true, is the height of disrespect and irresponsibility.

Can you imagine what it would be like as a new recruit to the CIA or FBI today? How you would feel about your career being one that was properly honored and recognized? How you would feel in coming to work, perhaps even risking your life,  with the President of the United States saying what he is?

This has to stop. The newly installed leaders of these organizations have to lead and not allow the President or anyone else destroy the morale and moral fibre of the men and women of these professional organizations.

"PURSUE TRUTH--FOCUS--ACT ON WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT"

May 11, 2017

Have we ever seen  a tornado of swirling news like this?

The President of the United States contradicting himself and leading his surrogates to do the same.

The President continuing to make unsubstantiated claims such as Obama having wiretapped him without any evidence whatsoever.

The President firing the FBI director in the most disrespectful way imaginable disrupting the investigation of Russia's ties to the election-- justifying the action because, as the President said, Comey was a "showboat" and was not supported by the members of the FBI--both assertions categorically denied by the Acting Director the FBI.

It is all too easy to get caught up in it minute to minute, to the point of having it overwhelm our daily lives and lose focus on what we can and must do to make a difference.

We cannot be complacent. The policy issues are too large. Even larger are the issues of the character and values we live by. We cannot accept lying as the new norm and pass it off as akin to a vaudeville act we have to put up with. Common decency has to be upheld.

Increasingly I say to myself:

Pursue truth at all costs.

Focus.

Speak out and act on what I believe are the most important issues which I can try to influence such as health care, early childhood development; overcoming poverty; and tax reform which drives economic growth and achieves greater fairness across incomes.



"A PROFESSOR OF THE JUNGLE"

April 25, 2017

 I love the story that Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, tells in his wonderful memoir " Shoe Dog". 

 The year was 1997.  Still haunted by the Vietnam War, Knight had vowed that someday Nike would have a factory in or near Saigon.  By 1997, he had four.  He was in Saigon.  The company was to be honored and celebrated by the Vietnamese government as one of the nation’s top five generators of foreign currency.  At one point, his hosts graciously asked what they could do for him, what would make the trip special and memorable.  
 
“I’d like to meet the 86-year-old General Võ Nguyen Giáp, the man who singlehandedly defeated the Japanese, the French, the Americans and the Chinese", Knight replied. 
 
General Giáp joined the group the next day.  The first thing Knight noticed was his size.  He was maybe 5’4”.  And humble.  Knight remembered that he smiled as he did, “Shyly, uncertainly.  But there was an intensity about him…a kind of glittery confidence,” the kind he had seen in great coaches and great business leaders.  
 
Giáp waited for Knight to ask a question.
 
It was simple:   “How did you do it?”  The corners of Giáp’s mouth flickered.  A smile?  Maybe?, Knight recalled.   Giáp thought and thought.  “I was,” he said, “a professor of the jungle.”
 
“A professor of the jungle.”  

For me, it says it all: being close to your work, close to your environment, close to your consumers, close to your competition, close to your people.  That kind of closeness--I refer to it as "intimacy"-- grows out of love, a passionate commitment to a purpose.  That kind of closeness, that kind of intimacy leads to great accomplishments, to winning, to a maniacal commitment to excellence and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of a job well done.
 

CONFIDENCE CRUMBLES-THE CENTER CRATERS--REPOSTING FROM TEN MONTHS AGO

April 21, 2017

CONFIDENCE CRUMBLES-THE CENTER CRATERS-GOVERNMENT BY PARALYSIS

JUNE 25, 2016

I  just encountered this statistic documenting the stunning and dangerous shift in opinion in the book "Fractured Republic" by Levin. 

"When a team from the University of Michigan studying national elections asked Americans in 1964 how much of the time they thought the federal government could be trusted to do the right thing, 76 percent said either “just about always” or “most of the time.”  (When Gallup asked exactly the same question in 2010, those two options garnered a combined 19 percent of the responses.)"

The utter and frustrating inability of Congress to come together to take rational and necessary steps on responsible gun regulations and immigration reform are just two of the recent issues that explain this. 

We must do better, a lot better, and soon. This is government by paralysis and venom.

***********************************************************************

Unfortunately, we are NOT doing better. The urgency to do so is increasing daily. 


WANTED: PEACE FOR THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA

April 11, 2017

WANTED:  PEACE FOR THE PEOPLE OF SYRIA

President Trump’s decision to launch the tomahawk missile attack on the air base in Syria three days ago, entirely appropriate in my opinion under the circumstances, poses major questions, of course.

What is our end objective in Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter?  How do we get there?  To what degree is our objective to overthrow the Assad government?  To wipe out ISIS?  To contain Russia?  To show Iran that they have no business sticking their nose into the Syrian business?

Stepping back, it seems to me the objective is clear:  We need to do what is necessary to restore peace to the people of Syria.  Four hundred thousand killed over the past several years.  Five million refugees, many of them still on the run or in camps.  What will it take to achieve this objective?

In my opinion, the following:

  • We (and I mean it “collectively”) have to eliminate the threat of ISIS.

  • We (and again I mean it in a “collective way,” which I’ll come back to) have to achieve a diplomatic and political settlement in Syria.

We, the United States, cannot impose this settlement.  Any thought that we can without the participation of Russia and Iran, among others, is fatuous.  We have to involve the Syrian government in some form, though I agree that Assad cannot and will not be a continuing part of that government.  

  • We have to provide humanitarian support right now for the Syrian people and refugees.  It will only be through political settlement that refugees will be able to return to their homes.  We have to provide a “safe zone” for these refugees and we have to reach agreement with Russia in doing it.
It is inexcusable that the world has not coalesced around a united humanitarian effort for these refugees.  We have done far better before, including post-World War II.  There are countless non-profits doing their best, but there is not the coordinated effort, nor the investment by governments, including our own, to provide this support.  We owe it to ourselves, having seen the impact of gas on 90 civilians, including children.  It was a murderous, heinous act.  But countless more men, women and children are dying every day because of the absence of our support.
*****

There will be those that say, understandably, that we have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement, including with Russia and Iran, for years without achieving a positive outcome.  That’s true.  However, it cannot lead us to stop trying.  We have to do it.  It’s the only path to success.  
I don’t believe Russia has any interest in continuing the quagmire and devastating violence in Syria.  I don’t believe for a minute they respect Assad.  What they are against is unilateral regime change by the United States or anyone else.  They haven’t forgotten Serbia, or Libya, or Iraq either.
While this brings me far outside my sphere of knowledge, I personally believe that a political settlement is going to require a geographic division of Syria, much like as I understand it, Joe Biden recommended years ago.  It’s no different than what occurred in Yugoslavia.   The antagonisms are so deeply rooted between the Shias and Sunnis and Kurds and Alawites, too, that bringing them together into a united government is impossible.
These are my thoughts.  


"BLOWING IN THE WIND"--BOB DYLAN 1962

April 4, 2017


These were the lyrics of the song sung in our church this past Sunday. They were written 55 years ago by Bob Dylan. The Vietnam War was building to a tragedy greater 
 than anyone could  foresee.  And the Civil Rights movement was moving from one violent encounter after another as women, men and children fought for Freedom long denied. 

As I heard this song, played beautifully by Jean Dowell and her partner, on Sunday  it hit me.

The challenge; the opportunity!  

Virtually every single line of this inspiring and demanding poem pertains to today,  just as it did 55 years ago. 

Please read on....


Blowing in the Wind

Bob Dylan, 1962



How many roads must a man walk down

Before you can call him a man?  Yes, ‘n how many seas must a white

Dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?  Yes, ‘n how many times

Must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?


Chorus

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind


How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?

Yes, ‘n how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes, ‘n how many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see?


How many times must a man look up before he sees the sky?

Yes, ‘n how many ears must one man have before he hears people cry?

Yes, ‘n how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?

**********************************************


Every one of these  lines discloses a challenge we face today:

Our global environment eroding;
Millions of refugees crying; 
Millions of people unfree..from poverty, drugs, violence, poor health, discrimination human trafficking.  
Millions of people dying..in Syria; Sudan,;Yemen,; Ukraine; St.Petersburg, Russia; and the streets of our cities, including mine, Cincinnati.

As Bob Dylan might cry out today: How many years will it be before we act to help those whose lives we can touch be Free? If not we, who? If not now, when? 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH--A ROLE MODEL FOR ME AND ALL OF US

April 3, 2017

Jon Meacham’s Biography of George Herbert Walker Bush is one of the finest biographies I can ever recall reading.  It describes the life of a man whom I’ve admired for decades.  The basis for that admiration—his strength and integrity and his commitment to service and his country and his family--was brought forth in a transparent and convincing way.
 
The book is greatly strengthened by Meacham’s judicious use of Bush’s diary which he dictated for much of his active life.
 
Bush’s role in overseeing the peaceful end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his empathetic and constructive relationship with Gorbachev and his balanced judgment emerge clearly.  His decency was remarkable.
 
I agree with Meacham’s judgment:  “His life was spent in the service of his nation, in his spirit of conciliation, common sense and love of country will stand him in strong stead through the ebbs and flows of posterity’s judgment.  On that score—that George H.W. Bush was a uniquely good man in a political universe where good men were hard to come by—that was shared by a bi-partisan consensus a quarter of a century after his White House years.
 
Bush in many ways was like John Smale and in some ways like myself.  Modest but driven, almost always compassionate, he was out to serve but also to win.  Yet he had his personal doubts.  I think he failed to appreciate his full excellence, this despite a remarkable record of accomplishments:  at Yale; in the service; in business and in public service: in Congress; Envoy to China; leading the CIA, etc.
 
I had no idea how many disappointments he had faced, above all the death of his and Barbara’s daughter, Robin, at the age of three.  Losses in political elections, not getting the job he wanted.  And indeed until the very last moment, feeling he would not get the Vice Presidential slot with Ronald Reagan.  
 
I’m not sure Bush ever would have become President if he had not been the Vice President for Ronald Reagan.  He learned so much from Reagan, though never, happily, tried to be like him.
 
Of the various tributes to George H.W. Bush, I rate none stronger than this.  It came from his son Jeb:  “How great is this country that it could elect a man as fine as our dad to be its President?”  That remark so struck Laura Bush that she included it in the White House memoir she wrote after she and George W. left Washington in 2009.
 
I think it is fair to say, as Meacham does, that George H.W. Bush represented “the twilight of a tradition of public service in America, one embodied by FDR, by Eisenhower, and by George H.W. Bush.”
 
There is so much to be learned, and imitated, in Bush’s relationship with Gorbachev.  It took the two of them.   Bush fully understood how important it was to work constructively with Gorbachev.  And so did Gorbachev with him.  The “old suspicions” between the two super powers had to go, Bush said.  Both nations had to learn how to thrive in a multi-polar world.  
 
If only we had not lost that instinct.  Gorbachev made a huge concession in agreeing to a united Germany and then, with great reluctance, agreeing for it to become a member of NATO.  Gorbachev’s associates were dumb-founded that he agreed to do that.  
 
Nowhere did Bush’s respect for and empathy with Gorbachev manifest itself more than in his reaction to the attempted overthrow of Gorbachev.  He resisted John Major’s suggestion of convening the NATO ministers out of his fear that “it will make it look like we are militarizing and that we anticipate a military threat to the West...it is the last damn thing we need to get involved in in that kind of confrontation.”
 
And then he spoke with Gorbachev on the phone:  “My dearest George,” Gorbachev said.  “I am so happy to hear your voice again.”  “My God,” Bush said, “I’m glad to hear you.”  They spoke for 11 minutes.  “He sounded jubilant and he sounded upbeat,” Bush dictated, “he was very, very grateful to me...for the way we have conducted ourselves.”
 
The peaceful resolution of this crisis was, for Bush, ratification of his essential diplomatic instincts of balance and moderation.  “We could have overacted, and moved troops, and scared the hell out of people,” Bush told his diary.  “We could have under-reacted by saying, ‘well, we will deal with whoever is there.’  But...I think we found the proper balance.”
 
The respect which Bush showed to other leaders was genuine and worked to great advantage.  The relationship with French President Mitterrand was an example.  There had been worry that France might not support the use of NATO outside of Europe in the circumstance of the Gulf War.  However, when Bush asked for that support, Mitterrand simply said, “we will be there.”  To his diary Bush confided that he felt that the visit he (Bush) had with Mitterrand at his place in Maine and “the respect I have tried to show him personally, (paid) off in diplomacy.  I differ with his personal diplomacy, but I think when you talk from a basis of friendship, it does help; and I think he knows I respect him.”
 
As always, respect builds trust and trust means everything.  
 
During the Gulf War, Bush reflected on the nature of American leadership.  Gregarious and inclusive by nature, Meacham writes, he could uphold the Presidency in keeping with these essential elements of his own character.  “All countries in the west clearly have to turn to us,” Bush told his diary, “but it is my theory that the more they are included on the take-off, the more we get their opinion, the more we reach out, no matter what is involved in terms of time involved, the better it is.  Everyone is proud.  Everyone has his place in the sun—large country or small, they should be consulted, their opinions considered and then when the United States makes a move, and I make a decision, we are more apt to have solid support.”
 
If only we conducted ourselves more in line with that conviction today.  If only that spirit had permeated our relationship with Russia over the last 15 years.  If we had, I do not believe we would be in the position we are today.  The neocons, whom Bush resisted, but whose son, George W. Bush, sadly did not, have continued to have an influence that has been disruptive, in my view, to the best interests of the United States.  George H.W. Bush demonstrated this more than ever as he decided not to occupy Iraq.  The war to unseat Hussein, “to occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero,” Bush recalled in 1998.  “It could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working so hard to reestablish.”  If only his son had followed this instinct.
 
The candor and honesty of Bush’s own self-reflections pours out of his diaries in a manner that I can sometimes identify with.  The post-Gulf War period was, as Meacham describes it:  “a study in shadow.”  Coming off that intense experience, Bush had to turn back to what he really didn’t relish, domestic affairs, and it is clear to me he was tired.  He was now 66.  He fantasized in his diary about surprising the world by announcing that he would not seek reelection:  “You need someone in this job (who can give) his total last ounce of energy, and I’ve had (that) up until now, but now I don’t seem to have the drive.”  He was tired of what he described as “sniping, carping, bitching, predictable editorial complaints.”  
 
But he continued on.
 
I’ll conclude these notes with a salute to George H.W. Bush by his son George, on the occasion of the commissioning of an aircraft carrier named after his father.  “We will always be inspired by the faith, humor, patriotism, and compassion he taught us through his own example.  And for as long as we live, we will carry with us Dad’s other lessons:  that integrity and honor are worth more than any title or treasure, and that the truest strength did come from the gentlest soul.”
 
George H.W. Bush is a role model for me, for all of us.