Thursday, December 26, 2013


There are inherent incongruities about Christmas that border on a double standard. We sometimes forget that Christmas celebrates the entrance of a Savior and that the entire story begins with a manger in a barn. 

It’s the tale of alternate Christmases. There is the story of the birth of Jesus, not as a king, but as beggar and worker, entering this existence amongst animals, poop, and feed. Eventually, it’s a story of Christ’s triumph over death, and his transcendent proclamations of love, life, peace, and joy. 

Then there are the other Holidays, both the Commercial spectacle, and given the ”Christmas Messages” from figures ranging from the Pope, The Queen, the President, and even Edward Snowden, a media opportunity. Each year it gets worse, with talking heads of all flavors leveraging Christmas in order to further their politics, ideology, and theology. 

Amid yet another instance of implosion among reality TV figures over bigoted remarks, we have seen the endless lunacy of data being stolen from Target, the NSA spying on everybody, and this year’s whopper, the declaration by Megyn Kelly of Fox News that Christ just had to have been a Caucasian. 

With that moment, went my dwindling hopes that Social Media and the Blogosphere and Cable News and Talk Radio would give us a brief respite from the “Nattering nabobs of negativism”, that Spiro T. Agnew once spoke of.

Americans are raised to believe there is “Separation of Church and State”. Since the mid-1970’s we have not that when it came to politics. In fact, it’s the opposite. We have a classic “pox on both houses” scenario dominating cyberspace and popular culture. Those of us most invested in politics are actually the most extreme cases of why politics and religion should not be mixed. For starters, we can all be hypocrites. Our inconsistency is unavoidable and so very human. All of us have double standards. Failing to practice what we preach, while looking down on those doing the same exact thing is amongst the most human of traits. 

On the left, we wallow in “political correctness” while congratulating ourselves on open-mindedness. There is a line between being politically correct and respecting all people regardless of race, age, gender, sex, or religion. Open-mindedness is another story. The Duck Dynasty drama was partially a story of a man speaking about his religious beliefs. Phil Robertson’s comments certainly were disrespectful, and an example of racist homophobia to many. The truth lies between the extremes. Palin’s quote that she loves the “commercialization” of Christmas, Megan Kelley’s claim Jesus was white, or the use of “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” are just a few examples from the conservative side. 

We too often forget the true reason for the season of Christmas. It’s a time that is wonderful for Christians, that does not have to be imposed upon the rest of America. Citing the alleged “fact” that this is a “Christian” nation and “always has been”, we as a society have too long been swept up in a culture war against certain sins, while others get a pass. 

A sin is a sin. The materialism and greed that takes over this most sacred holiday is as big of a concern as sexual conduct. Many assert America is in decline. If it is, it’s more about our national preoccupation with wealth and power than any social agenda, with our lack of concern for the poor and the suffering more than “gay marriage.” 

Jesus most likely would be a “selectee” at a TSA checkpoint. As a matter of geographical origin, his parents were of Middle Eastern descent. In his ministry, Jesus consistently hung around with the afflicted and outcasts such as Samaritans, and Gentiles. He consistently criticized his society’s sins of greed but the way we celebrate his birthday loses sight of this. Jesus came to bring peace and reconcile nations and people. What does it mean? I have no idea. But we do know that we are at the minimum called to respect and care for those with whom we disagree. It means perhaps quieting ourselves and living out this life in daily humility and service to others.

There are more people doing wonderful things for others over Christmas than we realize. More people than not chose to be are non- combatants in the “culture wars” and “hate speech.” Each and every one of them will never get recognized enough because, at the end of the day, the media portrayed conflict right up to the “Yule Log” and the “Christmas mass from St. Peters.” Whether pro-right or pro-left, it’s about inciting chaos and leveraging the hot topic of the day. Ultimately Christmas can be too easily lost. If it means anything today, then let it be a day when we all calm down and celebrate the entrance of that miracle that started in a barn.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I have spent my life in very public kinds of jobs, in a very public trade. In the course of my career, and while growing up my father's, I have lived all across the United States. In hospitality, we learn to communicate with people from all sorts of backgrounds and from all sorts of places. 

Even so, I have occasionally hit situations where I have felt "socially awkward."  We all want desparately to connect with others. But we all have had socially awkward times in our life. They happen to everyone.  Most are greeted with compassion.  Recovering and moving beyond such moments makes the difference between a life sentence and a passing instant.  If it’s a social situation, the damage is usually minimal. The troubles begin, when we are forced into a dynamic where there is no easy escape. 

Social awkwardness begins with that gnawing sense of not appearing "normal" or "socially clued in" under the domain of others. Generated by our own fears and worries of what others think of us, coupled with their social expectations and our interpretations of them, social awkwardness prevents us from interacting with others out of fear of ridicule or even outright ostracism.  Fear can be paralyzing. 

We all deal with social embarrassment at times.  Even for those more socially awkward than the norm, there are proven strategies to overcome feeling socially awkward. For one thing, we are not alone.  Most worry about the same things when in public.  We worry about whether people like us, we're making a good impression, or if others are bored.  So many of our worries are so common, they each cancel each other out. For it’s a given most are on similar wavelengths, when in a different social or professional dynamic. 

One time or the next, most experience moments of shyness, slips of the tongue, awkward body language, screwing up a conversation or simply struggling to connect with another person. Often those feeling like this all of the time are over-analyzing any social situation. An inability to feel at ease makes each new dynamic seem more frightening and increases the fear each succeeding time. 

Feelings of social awkwardness have an origin. For many people who experience intense social anxiety, it’s fear driven insecurity or low self-confidence. Each source can be addressed by pushing and finding ways to build confidence. 

There are other reasons for feeling insecure, such as bad past experiences, or feeling that we're not with people who are enough like us or who understand us.  Feeling compelled to interact in situations because of work, or other external factors one would normally avoid, easily leads to feeling confused about the motivations and actions of those around us. In each case, we must try to identify the root cause of what's driving our emotions, in order to address each directly.

Being truly shy really inhibits social interactions, masking it crucial to seek ways to overcome shyness.  Whether treated through learning or professional intervention, shyness is (happily) perfectly treatable. Being an introvert is different from being shy,  though  both traits can be found in the same person. Introverts “shun the spotlight” and choose, to avoid social situations because they're draining. An introvert is fulfilled through more internal interaction than an extrovert would enjoy.

Shy people want to participate in social events but is afraid of being embarrassed or left out. Social anxiety is a severely limiting condition or anxiety-based disorder in which a person is not able to function in daily life, including at school, work or social events. A person suffering from social anxiety tends to keep close to family and trusted friends and avoid all public interpersonal relationships. Social anxiety stems from the constant fear that other people are scrutinizing the sufferer in order to humiliate or embarrass them. For those who suffer from social anxiety, it is important to get proper professional help.  As with shyness, social anxiety has an excellent prognosis for treatment.

For all of us the lesson is to be less concerned about what other people think of us. Most people are worrying what others think of them, which is something worth reminding ourselves when worrying about what other people think. 

Some people will be nasty, petty and sarcastic as a matter of course. For such people, such negative behavior is often a defense mechanism they use to get over their own feelings of insecurity, awkwardness and discomfort. As such, it's not actually about us at all but is an sign of internal turmoil. Don't take it to heart; do continue to share the best of yourself without worrying what others think.  

Some simply have negative thoughts about other people as a means to avoid introspection. It’s impossible to alter the way this kind of person thinks. Instead, simply realize that they're too hooked on blaming others to see how their negative comments probably reveal most about their own weaknesses.

Random unpleasant and downright embarrassing things happen. In our imperfect world, the odds of some things making us look or feel foolish are just as much in existence as those things we choose to see as showing ourselves in a more dignified, graceful, or appropriate light. They are another reason to accept our humanness and the fact that life is random and at times imperfect.




As Christmas approached, I remembered and found a seldom-told folk tale. If there is a place we go after we leave this earth, it seems increasingly possible that there must be a place for all God’s creatures. For in my heart I am certain my four-legged friends absolutely do have souls. 

I want to share this with all of you as we think of all the animal friends that have been part of our lives this holiday. 

Once there was a burro with a cruel master, who fed him only stale food and water, and overworked and beat him every day. He never was able to rest, he was forever hungry,  thirsty,  and tired.

One Christmas Eve his master rode him for miles to a party, though he was sick, beating him and forcing him to stagger on until their arrival. 

He tied the burro to the hitching rail and went inside. The burro stood still in the cold, trying to rest for the journey home by not moving a muscle, but only grew more and more tired.

Suddenly he heard a loud and musical bray, as a burro appeared from the darkness, his coat the color of a shiny silver dollar. 

His bray was the sound of children playing, his hoofs sounded a musical tinkle each time they touched the ground.

"Come with me”, the silver burro brayed.

"I must wait to take my master home," the sick burro said.

"Come with me”, urged the silver burro.

"I cannot, I am too tired, and besides I am tied to this rail."

"Come with me” the silver burro insisted, and as the weary burro finally began to follow, the rope just slipped away, the saddle fell from his back, and he felt as did when he was a foal, and the weariness began to fade.

He bounded across the country with the silver burro, and there more stars than he ever had seen, in the sky and even on the ground. Suddenly it was light, and he was in a field of green grass, belly deep as far as he could see, with countless springs of cold, clear, and water. Thousands of burros were there, with no sun but light coming from everywhere. It was a heavenly place.

But why was the silver burro so different from the rest, who all were wearing coats of a common color. Why was his coat, glossier than the finest racehorse? The burro finally asked him, who was he, where was he from? 

The silver burro brayed like the laughter of children and said….”I am the Burro of Bethlehem, who went there with Joseph and Mary, carrying the Virgin on my back. I was there when the baby Jesus was born."

The Christmas party lasted late into the night. The burro’s cruel master sang and danced, ate too much food, and drank more than he should. He came outside and found his sick and tired burro; his starved worn out body cold, stiff, and lying there where he had been tied. 

For the silver burro of Bethlehem had taken him to burro heaven. 


Friday, December 13, 2013


Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter were the husband-and-wife duo that started Campaigns, Inc., the first political consulting firm in the United States. Based in California, the firm worked on a variety of political issues, mainly for Republican candidates. Together, they developed strategies and tactics - such as broadcast media buys and direct mail - still widely used in today's campaigns. Their work would not only revolutionize politics in the modern era but also deeply impact political issues that resonate today.  

No single factor has altered the workings of American democracy so much as political consulting,  unknown before Campaigns, Inc. In the middle decades of the twentieth century, consultants replaced party bosses as the masters of political power driven by money. Whitaker and Baxter were the first to make politics a business. They virtually created the billion-dollar industry of managers, speechwriters, pollsters, and advertisers who play a role in everything from Presidential campaigns to the candidates for city council.  Between 1933 and 1955, Whitaker and Baxter had no competition, winning seventy out of seventy-five campaigns. The campaigns they ran, shaped the history of California, and of the country. Campaigns, Inc., shapes American politics even today.


Upton Sinclair's, I, Governor of California, is among the best campaign literature ever written. Sinclair, the author of forty-seven books, including, “The Jungle,” wrote a novel announcing a gubernatorial bid in the form of an alternate history of the future, in which Sinclair is elected governor in 1934, and by 1938 has eradicated poverty. “So far as I know,” the author remarked, “this is the first time a historian has set out to make his history true.” Only sixty-four pages, it sold a hundred and fifty thousand copies in four months.

At the time of the 1932 Presidential election, California was a one-party state. Almost all of the seats in the state legislature were held by Republicans; not a single Democrat-held statewide office. The unemployment rate in the state was twenty-nine percent.  The premise of the book was soon to become reality,   What if Upton Sinclair, a lifelong socialist, ran as a Democrat for governor in 1934?

Sinclair adopted the acronymic campaign slogan, “END POVERTY IN CALIFORNIA” (“It was pointed out that the initials of these words spell ‘EPIC’ ”); picked a campaign emblem - the busy bee (“she not only works hard but has means to defend herself”); detailed a program of coöperative factories and farms that would implement his philosophy of “production for use” rather than for profit; and advocated  ending the sales tax while levying a thirty-per-cent income tax on anyone earning more than fifty thousand dollars a year. It seemed for a time, Sinclair was going to win. In August of 1934, Sinclair won the Democratic nomination, with more votes than any primary candidate in California had ever won before.  

By November Sinclair was writing  a nonfiction sequel called “I, Candidate for Governor, and How I Got Licked.”  Sinclair began. “Here is set forth how a scholar went into politics, and what happened to him.” “How I Got Licked” was published in daily installments in fifty newspapers. In it, Sinclair described how, immediately after the Democratic Convention, the Los Angeles Times began running on its front page a box with an Upton Sinclair quotation in it, a practice that the paper continued, every day, for six weeks, until the opening of the polls. “Reading these boxes day after day,” Sinclair wrote, “I made up my mind that the election was lost.”

Sinclair's defeat was because of what he called the "Lie Factory". It was the true beginning of opposition research,  They discovered lines Sinclair had written, speeches of characters in novels, and stick them in the paper as if Sinclair had said them. “They had a staff of political chemists at work, preparing poisons to be let loose in the California atmosphere on every one of a hundred mornings.” Actually, it was a staff of only two, and the company wasn’t called the Lie Factory. It was called Campaigns, Inc.

The first political-consulting firm was founded, in 1933, by Clem Whitaker and Leone Baxter. Whitaker, thirty-four, had started out as a newspaperman,  was working as a reporter at the age of thirteen. At nineteen, he was city editor for the Sacramento Union and, a couple of years later, the political writer for the San Francisco Examiner. Friendly and gangly, he had big ears,  smoked,  never stopped talking, and typed with two fingers. He started and sold a newspaper wire service, the Capitol News Bureau, distributing stories to eighty papers. which he sold to the United Press. 

Three years on, he was hired by Sheridan Downey, a prominent Democrat, to help defeat a referendum sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric. Downey had also hired Baxter, a twenty-six-year-old widow who had been a writer for the Portland Oregonian, and suggested that she and Whitaker become partners, and they started doing business as Campaigns, Inc. The referendum was defeated. Whitaker separated from his wife. In 1938, he and Baxter married. 

They lived in Marin County, in a house with a heated swimming pool. They began every day with a two-hour breakfast to plan the day. She sometimes called him Clem; he only ever called her Baxter. Campaigns, Inc., specialized in running political campaigns for businesses, especially monopolies like Standard Oil and Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. Their Big Business client base was so impressed that they began to put Campaigns, Inc., on retainer.

The advertising industry began as an offshoot of political consulting. When modern advertising began, the big clients were more interested in advancing a political agenda as a commercial one. Monopolies looked greedy and ruthless if not sinister.  They hired advertising firms to sell the public on the idea of large corporations and to advance the pro-business legislation they needed to prosper.  Sinclair once said that American history was a battle between business and democracy, and, “So far,  Big Business has won every skirmish.”

California Republicans were horrified at the prospect of Sinclair in the governor’s office. They had to work fast. Whitaker and Baxter were hired only two months before the election by George Hatfield, the candidate for lieutenant governor. They were hired to destroy Sinclair. They began by locking themselves in a room for three days with everything he had ever written. “Upton was beaten,” Whitaker later said, “because he had written books.”  

One quote stood out. "The sanctity of marriage. . . . I have had such a belief . . . I have it no longer," was taken from a passage in his 1911 novel, “Love’s Pilgrimage,” in which one character writes a heartbroken letter to a man having an affair with his wife.  “Sure, those quotations were irrelevant,” Baxter later said. “But we had one objective: to keep him from becoming Governor.”

In the years after defeating Sinclair, Whitaker and Baxter had added a few more items to their repertoire. Harper’s later reported, “In a typical campaign they employed ten million pamphlets and leaflets; 50,000 letters to ‘key individuals and officers of organizations’; 70,000 inches of advertising in 700 newspapers; 3,000 spot announcements on 109 radio stations; theater slides and trailers in 160 theaters; 1,000 large billboards and 18,000 or 20,000 smaller posters.”) In 1940, they produced materials for the  Wendell Willkie’s Presidential campaign, including a speaker’s manual that offered advice about how to handle Democrats in the audience: “rather than refer to the opponent as the ‘Democratic Party’ or ‘New Deal Administration’ refer to the Candidate by name only.”

The film grossed about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year.  For a referendum campaign, Whitaker and Baxter charged between twenty-five thousand and seventy-five thousand dollars, with complete control of the budget for the campaign. Clem and Leone also ran the Clem Whitaker Advertising Agency, which charged a fifteen-per-cent commission from clients for every ad. 

They added a newspaper wire service, the California Feature Service, and sent both a political clip sheet every week, to fifteen hundred “thought leaders,” and cartoons, editorials, and articles to three hundred newspapers. Rural newspapers, desperate for copy,  often printed whatever the California Feature Service sent them.  These included press releases disguised as editorials endorsing whatever political positions Campaigns, Inc. was being paid to advance. The trick was to send out clippings so sly that a tired editor might not notice that they were written by an advertising outfit. 

Whitaker and Baxter wrote the rule book that defines campaigns even today.
  • Never lobby; woo voters instead.  
  • Make it personal: candidates are easier to sell than issues. 
  • If your position doesn’t have an opposition, or if your candidate doesn’t have an opponent, invent one.  
  • Attack, attack, attack. Whitaker said, “You can’t wage a defensive campaign and win!”
  • Never underestimate the opposition. 
  • Every campaign needs a theme. Keep it simple. 
  • Rhyming’s good. (“For Jimmy and me, vote ‘yes’ on 3.”) 
  • Never explain anything. “The more you have to explain,” Whitaker said, “the more difficult it is to win support.” 
  • Say the same thing over and over again. “We assume we have to get a voter’s attention seven times to make a sale,” Whitaker said. 
  • Subtlety is your enemy. “Words that lean on the mind are no good,” according to Baxter. “They must dent it.” 
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify. “A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”
  • Fan flames. “We need more partisanship in this country,” Whitaker said. 
  • Never shy from controversy; instead, win the controversy. 
  • “The average American doesn’t want to be educated; he doesn’t want to improve his mind; he doesn’t even want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen,” Whitaker advised. “But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign and only two that we have ever found successful.” You can put on a fight (“he likes a good hot battle, with no punches, pulled”), or you can put on a show (“he likes the movies; he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades”): “So if you can’t fight, PUT ON A SHOW! And if you put on a good show, Mr. and Mrs. America will turn out to see it.”
  • Winner takes all. “If you launch a campaign for a new car, your client doesn’t expect you to lead the field necessarily in the first year, or even the tenth year,” Whitaker once said. “But in politics, they don’t pay off for PLACE OR SHOW! You have to win, if you want to stay in business.”

In 1944, Earl Warren was elected Governor of California. Troubled by the way he had won after Whitaker and Baxter issued an election-eve press release without his approval, he fired them. They never forgave him.  Earl Warren began his political career as a conservative and ended it as one of the most hated liberals in American history. What happened to him? One answer is Whitaker and Baxter.

Retained by the California Medical Association for an annual fee of twenty-five thousand dollars to campaign against the Warren'sr’s plan for health care reform, Whitaker and Baxter took a piece of legislation that most liked and taught them to revile it. “You can’t beat something with nothing,” they liked to say. They launched a drive for Californians to buy their own insurance, privately. Voluntary Health Insurance Week, driven by forty thousand inches of advertising in more than four hundred newspapers, was observed in fifty-three of the state’s fifty-eight counties. Whitaker and Baxter sent more than nine thousand doctors out with prepared speeches. They coined a slogan: “Political medicine is bad medicine.” 

During the New Deal, Franklin Roosevelt called for major healthcare reform in the form of government-subsidized medicine. In 1945, Harry Truman took up the fight, calling on Congress to overhaul the country's healthcare system. The American Medical Association began to lobby against the president's proposal, in 1949, retaining Whitaker & Baxter to help them with their efforts. The AMA paid Whitaker & Baxter $350,000 to defeat Truman's healthcare plan. In their usual style, Whitaker & Baxter began an all-out media war against the legislation,  distributing over 100 million pieces of literature. In just two weeks of the campaign, they spent $1.1 million in advertising on behalf of the AMA. As part of their messaging, they began calling the president's healthcare plan socialized medicine" leveraging the same allusions to communism that brought down Sinclair. 

Whitaker and Baxter’s campaign against Harry Truman’s national-health-insurance proposal cost the A.M.A. nearly five million dollars, and it took more than three years. But they turned the President’s sensible, popular, and urgently needed legislative reform into a bogeyman so scary that, even today, millions of Americans are still scared. Truman was furious. As to what in his plan could possibly be construed as “socialized medicine,” he told the press in 1952,  he didn’t know.   That fall, the A.M.A. let Whitaker and Baxter go, explaining that it had decided that keeping the agency on retainer would compromise its nonpartisan status. Whitaker and Baxter were untroubled. They went to work for Eisenhower-Nixon.


In 1952, television was used, for the first time, in a Presidential campaign. In 1948, less than three percent of American homes had a television; by 1952, penetration was fast approaching fifty per cent. That year, Republicans spent $1.5 million on television advertising; Democrats spent seventy-seven thousand dollars. On television, spots for Eisenhower—“I Like Ike” and “The Man from Abilene”—whose themes were based on George Gallup’s polling, masqueraded as documentaries; they looked like newsreels.

Like everyone running for office after him, he was coached and groomed,  and polished. And made up. In a TV spot called “Eisenhower Answers America,” a young  man asks, “General, the Democrats are telling me I never had it so good.” Eisenhower replies, “Can that be true, when America is billions in debt when prices have doubled, when taxes break our backs, and we are still fighting in Korea? It’s tragic.” Then he looked, straight into the camera. “It’s time for a change.”


In the late 1950s, Whitaker and Baxter had a falling out with then client Governor Knight. While Knight had hired the duo for several of his earlier campaigns, he did not bring them back on for his run for the Senate in 1958. Because of this and Whitaker's failing health, the company began to fade from the political scene. Later in 1958, Whitaker and Baxter sold their company to Clem Whitaker Jr., who would later redirect the focus of their business operations into corporate public relations. The duo formed Whitaker and Baxter International, a smaller public relations consulting firm, which they would run from a San Francisco hotel room. 

In 1961, Whitaker died of emphysema. Leone Baxter continued running Whitaker and Baxter International after her husband's death. In 2001, she died in Sacramento at the age of 96. She liked to work behind the scenes. In all her long life—she died in 2001, at the age of ninety-five—she rarely gave interviews. She made an exception in the nineteen-sixties. She was asked, “Do the procedures you designed early in the game and utilized so successfully over the years, Leone, still work today, or have you found it necessary to change them?”

“The basic rules I would say are wholly unchanged,” she said. “The strategies are unchanged.” There was television, of course. “But I would say that the philosophy of political campaigning hasn’t changed a whit. The tools have changed, the philosophy has not.”

She was also asked, “Does political public relations actually transfer political power into the hands of those who exercise it?”

“It certainly could and has in some instances,” she said, carefully. “In this profession of leading men’s minds, this is the reason I feel it must be in the hands of the most ethical, principled people—people with real concern for the world around them, for people around them—or else it will erode into the hands of people who have no regard for the world around them. It could be a very, very destructive thing.”  



Saturday, November 30, 2013


When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life." - Cesar Chavez

It is easy to believe that we are powerless to make a difference in the world. They believe only those exceptionally gifted or powerful or wealthy are capable of making a difference. But most belief systems proclaim each of us is in this world to contribute in our own unique way. It need not be anything more than being something done with the intention of ‘doing good’.

We all enter this existence, with the ability to decide for ourselves, exactly who we want to be. If one believes in God, one believes in Judgement Day. Accounts of Near-Death Experiences are virtually unanimous on one point. There always is a "life review" of some manner involved. There has not been one published, that expressed divine damnation for not getting enough money or prestige.

The evidence shows in either example, that we will ultimately be judged (or judge ourselves), by the difference we make in the lives of others, for good or for ill. Even if popular culture animates the belief, that some are more important than others in this world, when it is over we all will be in the same place. The only things that will truly endure are how we have used our lives, in relation to the lives of others. 

We can choose to sit on the sidelines and say that one has to be famous or megarich to scratch the surface of the world's ills. But then you see there are millions of people making a difference who are not on any kind of "A-list", except in terms of decency,  courage, and selflessness. We all have God-given gifts that can make a difference in the lives of others. Even if one is not a natural motivator, it is possible to be a blessing in the lives of others. There are so many people in the world that need hope, guidance, support, and inspiration. And any of can make a difference.

We can make a difference at work as a beginning. Mentor the newbies, and by that act alone, you become the light in the life of someone else. Each and every day in our personal lives, we meet those struggling to move beyond past obstacles and barriers. Assisting others to achieve their goals and dreams, helps us to feel fulfilled every day while helping others to live the life they were created to live. Each small ripple in the ocean of hopelessness makes a difference for humanity.

Many who have overcome adversity and tragedy, feel the need to share their message with others. Even in those moments that evoke a painful past, those who have still to survive need to know that there are people out there who have overcome just about any obstacle in life.  Giving people hope is a very rewarding feeling. The way that we each can make a difference in the lives of others, is to make a decision to simply do something. Whatever that something is may provide the difference between success or even survival for someone else. 

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” 
– Anne Frank

We each have the ability to make the world a better place. Making a difference is the sum of our collective efforts to contribute,  and having the heart to do it. There is not a perfectly defined time to start. We should never wait till there is time to share.  

Little efforts count. The belief that everything has been taken care of by someone else and that one person's contribution does not make much of a difference is infectious. Thankfully not everyone thinks that way. The belief that one is only capable of making small contributions, begs the divine question. What we will end up judging ourselves for, is whether or not we tried. 

"For, in the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make." - The Beatles

The greatest gifts we give to the world are happiness and love. Too often, we’re too indulged in our own gratifications and forget there are people in this world who are starving for either.  To find more happiness and love in our own lives, the truest path is to create the same for others.  

We change the world by helping one person at a time. In this time of danger and uncertainty, many are losing hope and learning desperation. We can help by seeking to empower others, simply by replacing criticism and judgment with encouragement. We add value to the world by helping others to accomplish what their lives are meant to be.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli

All good things begin with us. When we try to make a difference, we influence others to attempt to make a difference as well.   All it takes is simply demonstrating concern and love to the people in our orbit. and starting today. No matter how small and insignificant it seems, the world simply needs each of us to try. 



In the mid-1970s, singer Harry Chapin focused on social activism, raising money to combat hunger in the United States. His daughter Jen says: "He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America." He co-founded the organization the organization World Hunger Year with radio personality Bill Ayres,  Sales of his concert merchandise were used to support the group.

Chapin's activism often caused friction amongst sidemen. Harry donated an estimated third of his paid concerts to charitable causes, often performing alone with his guitar to reduce costs. His widow, Sandy said,  "only with slight exaggeration", that "Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn't interested in saving money. He always said, 'Money is for people,' so he gave it away." 

In 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Harry Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his campaigning on hunger around the world and in the United States. He was recognized as a key reason for,  the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977, and as the only member who attended every meeting. USA for Africa and Hands Across America were organized by Ken Kragen who had been Chapin's manager. "I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was making me do it." Kragen once said.  

For The Harry Chapin foundation please visit:


Wednesday, November 27, 2013


"We're a different people from you, and we're a different people partly because of you. Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant." - Pierre Trudeau 

"Pierre Trudeau was too much of a professional politician to be described as a good man, nor, it can be argued despite much publicity to the contrary, was he a particularly clever or even wise one. But he was a great man, perhaps the greatest Canada has produced in this century." - Peter Brimelow, in The Patriot Game: Canada and the Canadian Question Revisited (1986)

One of the interesting aspects of growing up in North Tonawanda, NY was that you could watch the television stations from Canada. In 1968, the news was horrible every single day in the United States. There was the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the murders of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and riots on campuses and in inner cities. Even in grade school, you could sense that things were seeming to fall apart, and the country seemed on the verge of some sort of nervous breakdown. 

At the same time, there was a different energy on the Canadian stations. For the phenomenon of "Trudeau Mania" was sweeping Canada. The formerly staid old country was infatuated with a flashy bachelor, who was modern in dress, a bit of a ladies man, and who in three years went from an obscure law professor to parliament member, to prime minister. Speaking of creating “a just society” seems like a rhetorical flourish. To a young man viewing his ascent in Canada from the prism of the United States in 1968, he quickly became a hero. For after the loss of two Kennedys and Dr. King, Pierre Trudeau seemed to be the only sane politician the planet had left. 

It was not just his personal style that made Pierre seem like a breath of needed air. It was the truths he stated almost 50 years ago. His argument for decriminalizing homosexuality and liberalizing divorce statutes was that “the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” It was decades before American statutes caught up. 

For Canadians, he was an original whose style reflected their view of him: his daring, the power of his oratory, his originality in dealing with a problem. There was nothing more original than his political career. He became a member of Parliament in 1965. Three years later he was prime minister. In the beginning, it seemed as if his success was due to good fortune. 

To rise so rapidly to the pinnacle and remain for nearly 16 years required more than style. His success was not really because he was a skilled politician. As an obituary stated, "Whether he was arguing a case with passion, kissing beautiful women or canoeing some remote river, he was daring Canadians to be venturesome, to shed caution."

In the 1960s, being "with it"  and hip were political assets. Most of Canada's population was under 30. The 14 previous Canadian prime ministers had been decidedly stodgy. The notoriously pompous ex-Prime Minister John Diefenbaker criticised him for wearing sandals in Parliament.  Even at my young age, it was amazing to see him meeting with and hitting it off with John and Yoko. "Did you find him to be a beautiful person?" Lennon was asked. "I think he is," John replied. 

Trudeau starkly contrasted with the tired and defeated men in Washington. He welcomed draft dodgers and had no issues with the Soviet Union. He established Canada's separate identity from the superpower neighbor down South.  He made friends with Fidel Castro, opposed the Vietnam war, sniped at NATO, and generally pissed off Richard Nixon. Living next door, he said, was like “sleeping with an elephant” and was influenced by “every twitch and grunt”.


Eventually, the winds of dissent experienced throughout the world touched Canada. Unlike the situation in the US, where the issue was not based on skin color., it was the clash between the dual Anglophone and Francophone cultures, that was centered in the province of Quebec. Domestically Trudeau fought to keep Canada from fracturing.  Trudeau's belief in a one-nation Canada, rejecting Quebec separatism, was the reason he gave up a career as a lawyer and entered politics. 

Pierre was often compared to the Kennedys. For one thing, he was a child of privilege.  Pierre was born of a marriage between a francophone father and anglophone mother and was brought up fluent in both English and French. The Trudeau who eventually appeared on the international stage was a parochial Quebecer growing up.  In line with the majority of his province, he viewed the second world war as a squabble between the big powers.  He admitted some regret for  “missing one of the major events of the century”. Postwar, Pierre traveled to Europe and throughout the world.  He then earned a law degree and even spent time at Harvard. He returned to Canada and grew appalled at the narrow nationalism in Quebec, and the authoritarianism of the province's government under Maurice Duplessis. 

In 1970 Quebec separatists affiliated with terrorist cells of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) murdered Pierre Laporte, a Quebec provincial minister, and kidnapped British diplomat James Cross. Trudeau put tanks on the streets of Montreal to stop a potential insurrection. This classic soundbite was vintage Trudeau, a man who never backed down from a challenge and had zero tolerance for fools. 

Tim Ralfe (CBC)…what you're talking about to me is choices, and my choice is to live in a society that is free and democratic, which means that you don't have people with guns running around in it.
Pierre TrudeauCorrect.
RalfeAnd one of the things I have to give up for that choice is the fact that people like you may be kidnapped.
TrudeauSure, but this isn't my choice, obviously. You know, I think it is more important to get rid of those who are committing violence against the total society and those who are trying to run the government through a parallel power by establishing their authority by kidnapping and blackmail. And I think it is our duty as a government to protect government officials and important people in our society against being used as tools in this blackmail. Now, you don't agree to this but I am sure that once again with hindsight, you would probably have found it preferable if Mr. Cross and Mr. Laporte had been protected from kidnapping, which they weren't because these steps we're taking now weren't taken. But even with your hindsight, I don't see how you can deny that.
RalfeNo, I still go back to the choice that you have to make in the kind of society that you live in.
TrudeauYes, well there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed, but it is more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of a soldier's helmet.
RalfeAt any cost? How far would you go with that? How far would you extend that?
TrudeauWell, just watch me.
RalfeAt reducing civil liberties? To that extent?
TrudeauTo what extent?
RalfeWell, if you extend this and you say, ok, you're going to do anything to protect them, does this include wire-tapping, reducing other civil liberties in some way?
TrudeauYes, I think the society must take every means at its disposal to defend itself against the emergence of a parallel power which defies the elected power in this country and I think that goes to any distance. So long as there is a power in here which is challenging the elected representative of the people I think that power must be stopped and I think it's only, I repeat, weak-kneed bleeding hearts who are afraid to take these measures.

No one doubted where he stood about keeping Canada unified. Ten years later, Quebec under the leadership of the Parti Quebecois held a referendum on independence. The "yes" side was led by his great rival, Rene Levesque, but Trudeau led the fight against separatism and decisively won.  His view prevailed in subsequent battles over the status of Quebec. He simply towered above the nationalists with speeches that quelled their bid for independence. Keeping the country together was among his most important achievements, although the separatists came within 1% of the vote in 1995. 

As experienced by their southern neighbors, Canadians faced sky-high interest rates as well as "stagflation" and high unemployment in the 1970's, Many blamed Trudeau's economic policies for the issue, and he was often accused of ignoring day to day domestic affairs. One memorable moment came as Pierre was "whistle-stopping" through Western Canada while campaigning for re-election. Having had enough of being badgered by questions on agricultural policy, Trudeau finally snapped and said to his heckler, "Why should I sell your wheat?"  

It is hard to conceive that the Canadian constitution was still under British control until the early 1980's. In the process of "repatriating" the constitution, Trudeau inserted a Canadian bill of rights. Called the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it changed the system into something like the American model by strengthening the judiciary. That alone made a big impact on minorities, gays, and lesbians, native peoples, handicapped and women who all felt their rights enhanced from where they were before. 


Pierre Trudeau was one of the first politicians to leverage being a celebrity, merging the spotlight of office with popular culture. He used it in a calculated way that many would try to imitate, at least until his marriage to a woman thirty years younger imploded in a very public way in the late seventies. Those who knew him best realized that his dating Barbara Streisand, Kim Cattrall, and Margot Kidder was only enhancing a public persona. It was the mask that he had on for the cameras. 

For essentially he was an intellectual- a very, very intelligent man. He attended Harvard and studied with the best minds in the political economy of his era. Having studied government for many years before going into politics in his mid-forties, he knew what he had to do. He was adept at creating his own imagery, "working the camera" in order to look terrific, exemplified in the iconic shot of him executing a pirouette behind the back of Queen Elizabeth. He was a complex and always very interesting public figure. 

Pierre was seen as an exciting politician by the world at large. It can't just have been the tabloid fodder, though his marriage at 51, to a 22-year-old, sold millions of checkout counter publications. His admirers shared his agony when she humiliated him by becoming a rock groupie, and a worse agony when one of his three sons died in an avalanche. 

When Pierre died in 2000, his successor Jean Chrétien summed up his friend's career, "Pierre Trudeau's motto was reason over passion. But it was his passion for Canada that defined him. It was his dream of a just society that captured the imagination of the country and made the entire world sit up and take notice. " 

Pierre Trudeau gave to his country a pride in being Canadian that arose from the confidence this unconventional prime minister imparted for nearly sixteen years. Without him, it's doubtful the Canadian map would include Quebec. 


PS- In case you have not heard, Pierre's son Justin turned out pretty well. In fact, Justin was not yet out of diapers when Nixon foresaw that he’d one day be Prime Minister himself. During a state visit to Canada in 1972, Nixon raised a toast to the four-month-old son of Canada’s Prime Minister,  “Tonight we’ll dispense with the formalities. I’d like to toast the future Prime Minister of Canada: to Justin Pierre Trudeau,” Nixon said, raising a glass at a state visit gala in Ottawa.  

Years later Justin Trudeau's eulogy at his father's funeral began his journey to succeed his father as the 23rd, Prime Minister of Canada. It's linked below.