The First Lady – a terrific miniseries

My wife and I just completed watching the wonderful Showtime ten-part miniseries called “The First Lady” which highlights the lives of three first ladies. The first season focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Michelle Obama as it flipped back to each First Lady and various points in her life. I hope there is a next season which will likely focus on three more women.

Gillian Anderson does a superb job as Roosevelt, while Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis do the same with Ford and Obama. Roosevelt has the most screen time as she was First Lady for twelve years and went on to serve as the US lead delegate to the formation of the United Nations. Yet, we do see a lot of the other two who had their own sets of challenges.

Ford was beloved by Americans more so than her husband. She counseled him not to pardon Richard Nixon which turned out to be a key reason he was not reelected. But, she was also addicted first to alcohol and then pain-killers. It got so bad her family had to do a full on intervention. She at first hated her daughter for being the first one to try, but when Gerald Ford saw how bad it had gotten, he upped the ante. Ford would go on to establish the Betty Ford Center to help addicted people.

Obama had major challenges as did her husband being the first African-American woman First Lady. The racism she faced her entire life could not totally prepare her for the full on racism she would face as First Lady. We see the tensions between her and Rahm Emanuel as he tries to rein her in as her husband danced a finer line so as not to alienate white voters. And, we see a beleaguered Hillary Clinton ask for help on her campaign to stave off the attacks of the next president in the campaign.

Kiefer Sutherland plays FDR, with Aaron Eckhart playing Ford and O-T Fagbenie playing Obama. Dakota Fanning gets a lot of airtime as Susan Ford, the daughter who tried to help her mother first. Regina Taylor and Lexi Underwood play Michelle’s mother and Malia her daughter. And, Lily Rabe plays a key role in Lorena Hickock addressing full on the rumors of Eleanor’s Lesbian relationship after having six kids and her husband’s infidelity.

While each President leaned on his wife for help, Roosevelt was very much an advisor to her husband. FDR knew she would shoot straight with him. Even though each had other lovers, they were friends and confidantes. She also helped shape some of his speeches and because of her weekly radio broadcast, FDR had her be the first person to address Americans after Pearl Harbor. Finally, since he could not get out and about with his wheelchair, FDR had Eleanor be his arms and legs as well to visit some places like Australia during WWII to see the wounded and fighting troops.

The series is well done. I have seen some criticism, but to me it was entertaining and informative, even though it takes some liberties with the truth as it claims from the outset. We look forward to the next season.

Collaboration does not mean you have to be best friends

Like relationships, collaboration is hard work. If it wasn’t, it would happen more often. One of the push backs I sometimes receive when I say we need more collaboration is why should we when the other side does not do it? There is a short-sighted belief that one has to collaborate with only their best friends. The short answer is very little gets done when you do not involve all needed parties in the discussion.

Let me mention just three examples, two from America and one from Denmark.

After World War II, President Harry Truman appointed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to lead a team to help establish the United Nations. She was joined by some Republican elected officials, who were not huge fans of Ms. Roosevelt. After seeing her in action insisting that human rights had to be a key part of the mission of the new global group swaying opinion to her point of view, these Republicans said something interesting. They said we take back every bad thing we ever said about Eleanor Roosevelt.

After the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin wanted to return home from Paris where he was quite successful in raising funding for the war effort from France. Instead, he was asked to lead a delegation of three to forge a peace agreement with England along with John Jay and John Adams. Per the Ken Burns documentary on Franklin, Adams did not care for Franklin especially his extracurricular activities, yet the men put their feelings aside and worked on what turned out to be the most one-sided peace agreement achieved to-date in favor of the former British colonies.

With Denmark largely below sea level, climate change has been considered with serious intent. Rising sea levels have always been a concern to this small country, but now the prognosis was alarming. The elected leaders knew they needed a long-term plan that would survive no matter which party was in power. They could ill-afford the flip-flopping of strategy every election cycle. So, collaboration across party lines was critical. And, they forged such a plan.

The Denmark example is illuminating. They responded to a “burning platform” issue. Yet, elected officials should not wait for the platform to burn. They should care less about binary win/ lose issues and work on solving problems. We need them to work together to get something done. And, we need to focus on issues of import not contrived ones that make the other side look bad. To be frank, I am extremely tired of this we/ they tribalism.

Random musings for a rainy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day everyone. A beautifully sounding April shower is beating down on the outside deck. We have left the door open to feel the cool freshness of rain as it rinses the pollen out of the air.

A few random musings not all related to our Mother Earth.

Another musical genius has left and much too soon at age 57. To me, Prince was frozen in age as he was so youthful in his manner, appearance and style. Like David Bowie, he melded other musical influences into new styles of music. And, like Bowie and Glenn Frey, his body of work influences others still. He also was very clever with lyrics. One that has always struck me as unique in its simplicity is in Raspberry Beret, where he says “she walked in through the out door” to describe her joie de vivre. He will be missed.

I watched a most interesting documentary on “Vice” about the “Future of Energy.” It showed some exciting things occurring in renewables, but also depicted two other areas that will be key parts of our future. The first is improved grid storage where unused electricity can be saved for later usage when the sun goes down or wind does not blow. Elon Musk of Tesla and rocket ship fame, owns a solar energy company and battery storage company that continues to improve on personal and industrial grid storage, which may make utilities less needed.

The second is the terrific progress in nuclear fusion, not the fission which is used now. Fusion is safe, but the challenge has been creating a way to harness the extreme heat at fusion. It is being done on a small-scale in the UK and US, but France has a major plant being built which is ten years away, they think, from the fusion process giving out more energy than it takes in. So, the future is renewables, grid storage and nuclear fusion. Note, fossil fuels was not included in this mix as the supply wanes and environmental costs are more measured and pronounced.

As for Mother Nature, the two earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador remind us we are mere passengers on planet Earth. Terrorism and corruption are things we must deal with, but the larger concerns are treating our Earth better than we do and to better protect ourselves from calamities and the impact of our poor stewardship. We can do little to prevent major earthquakes, but we can do some things.

We can make sure buildings are subject to higher standards to withstand earthquakes, especially in earthquake prone areas. Also, while neither of these two quakes were impacted by this, we need to stop disposing of toxic fracking water beneath the earth, as this tactic has been proven to be causal of small earthquakes. Just check out the earthquake data in Oklahoma and other states where this process is used.

Ending on a positive note, the US Treasury has announced that an American hero named Harriet Tubman will be on the new $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson on the front. The courage and conviction she portrayed to help slaves escape and start the women’s movement are exemplary. Jackson will be moved to the reverse side of the bill.

Plus, other female leaders in our history Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and Lucretia Mott as well as Martin Luther King will appear on the reverse side of the $5 and $10 bills. I recognize some have voiced criticism over these changes, but I for one welcome American heroes being recognized.

Let’s make today’s Earth Day one to remember, especially as the Paris Climate Accord is signed today by so many countries.

 

 

The better part of me

One of our favorite songs since the turn of the century is “Superman” recorded by Five for Fighting and penned by John Ondrasik. I am intrigued by the humanity afforded Superman in the haunting lyrics. But, the words that resonate the most with me are the lines spoken as Superman, “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” Here is the first half of the song.

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird. I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

To me, the song reveals even a superhero has insecurities, wants and dreams. Even a superhero is searching to find “the better part of me.” We are an imperfect people. While we have true heroes that live and breathe amongst us, they are imperfect just like everyone else. So, we should not hold people up to a higher standard, as they will only fail to live up to those standards. Even if heroic or a great leader, they will also be imperfect.

One of the finest people ever to walk the earth was Mother Teresa, a true light for many. Yet, Mother Teresa noted in her journal that she prayed to God when she felt less pious. When she was broken down and tired, she prayed that she could get back to a better place. She prayed to rekindle “the better part of me.” In a recent survey published in Reader’s Digest, ministers also noted that there are occasions when they feel less pious and need to find their way back.

Gandhi was in a similar predicament. Here was an attorney who decided his life’s calling would be to fight for the disenfranchised. He would use his voice and body to say things are not right through civil disobedience. Yet, he was imperfect and had enemies as well. Martin Luther King took to heart Gandhi’s civil disobedience and adopted the strategy in the US during the civil rights fight. Yet, MLK was not perfect either. But, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived “the better part of me” and because of that, helped millions and are heroes to many.

I wrote recently about the wonderful series on PBS by Ken Burns on The Roosevelt’s – Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin. All came from the elite and were by no means perfect. Teddy could be a bully and liked notoriety. But, Teddy hated unfair advantage and wanted folks to have equal opportunity, a “square deal,” he called it. Eleanor was strident in her convictions, but was shy and aloof and turned many off, until she learned how to cultivate relationships and use her powers of persuasion to do great things. Franklin would use his version of the bully pulpit to get things done. He also had several affairs. But, he helped save the world from tyranny, promoted the New Deal and helped America focus its manufacturing muscle on the war effort. Each accomplished a great deal for this country and our world is better place because of them.

These folks are all heroes. Yet, they are all imperfect. For some reason, we have forgotten this and want our leaders to be perfect in every way. By the numbers, Bill Clinton may be the best president we have had in the last fifty years, yet he had a wandering eye and an impeachment scandal evolved when one tryst occurred in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan is touted as the paragon for conservative presidents and did many good things, yet he was almost impeached over the Iran-Contra affair and did not believe we should sanction South Africa for Apartheid, his veto fortunately being overturned. Yet, Reagan’s ad lib comment in a speech helped bring down the Berlin Wall among some of his other accomplishments.

We are not perfect either. We will  make mistakes just like everyone else. We should do the best we can and find “the better part of me” for ourselves. If we can do this, we can more legitimately expect others to do the same, especially our leaders. We can also treat others like we want to be treated. And, that includes forgiving others for mistakes, as we would hope they would do with ours.  No one is perfect, not even Superman.

We do well, when we all do well

Beginning tonight, Ken Burns’ documentary series called “The Roosevelts” will be aired on PBS. The series highlights the impact President Teddy Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy’s niece and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had on America and the world. While all three were “to the manor born,” they each took up the cause for the marginalized and disenfranchised people in America, even while Teddy was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat. But, Eleanor could hold her own and her influence and ambassadorship to those in need spoke volumes as she is noted as our greatest First Lady.

On CBS Good Morning, Burns was talking about the forthcoming documentary and he quoted a line which embodied their mantra – “we do well, when we all do well.” This line is so very pertinent and is one which I believe to my core. It also shows that the time of greatest growth in our country occurred when more of us did well and were out buying goods and services, moving into our homes (not necessarily estates), and living a heretofore idealized version of the American dream.  It also reveals why our recovery has not benefitted everyone equally, with the top 10% of our country doing quite nicely, but everyone else treading water or sinking below. Since we are not “all doing well” fewer goods and services are bought, so our recovery is not quite as strong.

It should be noted that both Roosevelt presidents are known for eco-energy measures and protecting our environment. Teddy is known as our greatest “water” president, by buying up land for national parks and watersheds and overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which is a heavy contributor to US naval power and sea trade prominence. FDR constructed more dams on his watch as part of the New Deal which helped provide jobs and infrastructure. FDR’s infrastructure investments were carried forward by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower which helped contribute to the aforementioned period above.

It is for these reasons we need to move forward down a path of doing more of what made America great. Investing in ourselves, our infrastructure and our future. This is the key premise in Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back.” This book highlights the co-investment in America’s infrastructure between private and public funds to maintain, restore, rebuild, and build anew our infrastructure to support business development and job creation. But, as history has shown us, we need to do more to help those who seem to get lost in the future growth or never get the same opportunities. Our history has also shown us the “haves” will take advantage of the “have-nots” to move ahead.

So, clearly we need to invest in ourselves and our future. Even while we cut expenses elsewhere, we need to invest in our infrastructure and development. But, we need to do some or all of the following, as well:

– Raise the minimum wage. Going to $15 an hour is a pipe dream, but following the recommendation to phase up from $7.25 to $10.10 is doable and has bipartisan support. It will create more spending and lessen pressure on public assistance programs.

– Invest more in education, not less and make sure after school programs are robust to attract kids and keep them engaged. Also, we need to improve access to pre-K reading programs which have shown to be impactful. But, most of all listen to teachers and not politicians. For example, teachers have noted the ideal class size is between 18 and 24 students. More voices can be heard and break out groups are easier with those sizes.

– Clamp down on pay-day lending who prey upon who Jesus called the “least of these.” Pay day lenders also prey upon our military families. Please know that pay-day lenders are a form of usury and they are one step above leg breakers. They also fund a lot of politicians who are blinded by the money to recognize what they do to poor people.

– Limit for-profit colleges who also prey upon people using government funding. People may find of interest the graduation rates from for-profit colleges are abysmal and they spend more money on marketing than teaching. And, when one area of funding was tightened up, they moved over to follow the pay-day lenders lead and are preying upon veterans and military people who have financial benefits since coming home.

– Educate people on what state lotteries are. They are a regressive tax taking a disproportionate share from people in poverty. Too many people throw money they need away on something extremely unlikely to happen. Ten lottery tickets per week may increase your chances by tenfold, but it is still a 10 out of 10 million probability, which is a likelihood of .000001

– Invest even more in our community college systems who are more geared toward career retraining and development. The former Clemson University president partnered with area community colleges as they knew how to reach out to industry better to help train the new work force. The President deserves credit for some of this, but we need more.

– Finally, per the lead in and the Roosevelt’s legacy, invest in our infrastructure and assets. Asset Based Community Development should be enhanced  and incented.

The Roosevelts’ legacy is significant on America. We are better as a country because of them. I look forward to seeing the series. Please join me as it may spur some more ideas. Some or all of the above would make us better and give us each more opportunity. We do well, when we all do well.