The Clarity of Kansas in Cleveland

By Doug Magill


I think we need stories, and we need to tell the stories over and over and over not only to remind us, but to be able to have that clarity of experience that changes us, so that we know who we are now because of who we have been at some other time.  Colum McCann

Recently Alternaterm held its 30th anniversary Spring Gala.  The event featured a talk by Alveda King, niece of the Reverend Martin Luther King, as well as an appearance by John Elefante, former lead singer of Kansas.  As usual, because the event celebrated the work of an organization that tries to help its clients find alternative solutions to pregnancy other than abortion, the local media did not send a representative.

Dr. King spoke with fervor about past discrimination, and the clear message that her uncle had concerning abortion:  “The Negro cannot win if he is willing to sacrifice the futures of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

An animated and friendly presence, she illuminated the connection between Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, and the attempt to eliminate the black community by using religion to disguise its purposes.  She acknowledged that she had once accepted the lies of Planned Parenthood until she understood the violence that was being perpetuated upon unborn children, and upon the black community.

She clearly stated her vision: “…I too have a dream, it’s in my genes. How can the dream survive if we murder the children?

John Elefante moved the audience through an emotional appeal that was carried through his music.  With matinee looks, a roguish smile and gentle eyes driving a laser-guided voice, he showed that storytelling coupled with music can be a soul-touching experience.

While he sang a couple of well-known songs from the Kansas catalog, he received a standing ovation for his eloquent video of the incredible story of the mother of his adopted daughter.  A pregnant child of thirteen she was in a clinic preparing to receive an abortion when she was startled by a dream about a little girl and a voice telling her, “You’re not taking her this time.”

Escaping from the clinic she phoned her mother, who didn’t know she was pregnant, and ultimately delivered the child who was adopted by John and his wife.

John’s video is called This Time.

Elefante had been a Christian before he joined Kansas.  He spoke with quiet conviction about drifting away from his beliefs due to the enormous temptations of the rock-star lifestyle.  He said it happens slowly, one minor indulgence at a time while pushing God away.  The rationalization was always clear: it’s only for a while and just for now.

Ultimately, the distance grows and God is a memory to the pleasures of the moment.

But one night on tour John realized what he was losing, and the journey back involved rediscovering not just God, but himself.  The clarity of that experience led him to adopt the girl born to the mother described in the video, as well as a son later on.  He and his wife to that point were unable to have children, and his acceptance of that was the impetus to adoption, and to his deeper spiritual journey.  Several years later they unexpectedly had a son, and he believes that it was God’s influence in his life that gave him that gift.

The release of This Time has opened John’s eyes to challenges of Christianity today.  He had difficulty finding any nominally Christian radio stations willing to play the song, due to its “controversial” nature.  He was hurt yet energized to realize that the Christian message is being distorted and marginalized in service of a more hedonistic society reluctant to ascribe morality to the consequences of our actions.

He was delighted to be able to use Kickstarter to help produce and release his recent album.  Yet we now know that the same organization is backing away from such things as a film about the horrors of the Gosnell clinic due to its “controversial” nature.   We will see more of this, as businesses fear the aggressive attacks of those hostile to religion in any form, particularly as a check on the solipsistic nature of modern society.

Yet, in some ways the tide is turning.  One recent poll shows over 6 in 10 of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and a staggering 80 percent support restrictions on abortion.  The same poll shows that 53 percent believe that life begins at conception.  As science continues to expand its understanding of the miracle of life, we should expect more awareness on the part of most Americans of the horrors of abortion.

John Elefante will tell you that his life today has challenges, and a mission.  He is incredibly busy with a number of businesses and still continues to record and produce music (The song, This Time can be found on his latest album On My Way to the Sun).  His mission is an evangelical one related to the sanctity of life, and the need to help others understand the role God must necessarily play in our lives.

And to help us all find our way back to the music of life.

By our effort and example may God use us, as imperfect vessels that we are, to bring an end to such ancient evils as infanticide, abortion, racism and oppression.”  Dr. Alveda C. King


Doug Magill is a communications consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at


Let Us Review Recent Aprils, Fools

By J.F. McKenna

In April 2008 the presidential candidate declared that “This is your chance to say ‘Not this time.’ We have a choice….We can do what I did in Illinois, and in Washington, and bring both parties together to rein in their power so we can take our government back.

“We can be a party that says and does whatever it takes to win the next election. We can calculate and poll-test our positions and tell everyone exactly what they want to hear. Or we can be the party that doesn’t just focus on how to win but why we should….We can seek to regain not just an office, but the trust of the American people that their leaders in Washington will tell them the truth. That’s the choice in this election.”

April Fool!

That candidate won. Since then, spring has been a strictly meteorological event for America. If you don’t believe me, ask your spouse as he or she frowns at the weekly grocery receipts. Check with your co-worker—if you still have one, that is. Or get an arm’s length perspective from a worried digital “pen pal” living elsewhere on the globe. The land of tomorrow of which Emerson speaks looks more and more like a played-out territory:the once-sweet land of liberty that has allowed its distinctive flavor to fade.

Consider, for openers, the baseline rationale for establishing a national government in the first place—common security. Thirty years ago, President Ronald Reagan observed that this “most peaceful, least warlike nation in modern history” was not the cause of the world’s evils. “But for the sake of our freedom and that of others,” he added, “we cannot permit our reserve to be confused with lack of resolve.”

Today, lack of resolve casts America as a very minor character—most notably in the world stage-left, where Western Europe cautiously treads the boards opposite Mother Russia, a scene-stealer indulging her geo-political hot flashes. His own role as a former presidential rival notwithstanding, Mitt Romney regretfully reviews the situation this way: “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office, and now Russia is in Ukraine. Part of the failure, I submit, is due to…failure to act when action was possible, and needed. ”

April Fool!

The scorecard on America’s domestic agenda is not much of a keeper, either. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms, the number of citizens not working is greater now than when the Bush family turned over the house keys in 2009. Methinks, as do others, reliance on government bureaucracy and rule-making is no substitute for free enterprise in its truest sense.

“After recessions, employment used to bounce back quickly, but not this time,” writes John Stossel, author of No They Can’t! Why Government Fails but Individuals Succeed. “What employer wants to hire when doing so requires fighting incomprehensible complexity and risking punishment for violating some obscure rule? We should be afraid to build a serious business. Today’s laws are so complex even the lawyers don’t understand them. When government is big, we become smaller. When we’re trapped in the web of their rules, we don’t innovate….”

April Fool!

Which is a convenient segue for a brief observation or two about contemporary political sense in America. For the most part, like G.K. Chesterton’s Christianity, American political sense in 2014 has not been tried and found wanting—it just hasn’t been tried. At least for the most part. And certainly not when it concerns The Beltway.

That was amplified for me when I recently read a comment by Bernard Lewis in his latest book, Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian. Reflecting on Americans’ proclivity toward easy answers, the great British-born scholar recalled this observation during his first visit to America: “I often thought of Adlai Stevenson’s remark that for the Americans every question must have an answer and every story a happy ending. I would add a gloss however: the answer must be a simple one, and the story must have a hero and a villain.”

You know the drill by now—April Fool!

As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers, if men were angels government would not be necessary. He never bothered to extensively address the issue of mortal fools in our contemporary Republic. For that I point you in the direction of any elementary schoolyard, where you can regularly hear Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

Not that it is much consolation in the short term—but there is one constitutionally enshrined limit to federal-level fooling. Think of it as protecting ourselves from ourselves.

It’s called the 22nd Amendment.

J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

Prof. Abrams’ Remedial Econ Class for Pols

By J.F. McKenna

My Aunt Lucille was a business-savvy gal who knew that mistakes usually teach lessons better than successes. Herself a product of the sage but hard Irish thinking of my Grandma Mary, dear Aunt Ceal often concluded an analysis of any miscue, great or small, with this benediction for those involved.

“Oh, honey, everyone makes mistakes,” she said, speaking in her ever-present sarcastic tone. “That’s why there are rubber mats under cuspidors.”

In time a youthful yours-truly learned from Aunt Ceal not only the definition of cuspidor but the many and winding ways of practical economics—an expression of redundancy as far as my mother’s sister was concerned. (For more about my dearest economics instructor, read ‘Pinch Mom’ and Business Teacher — .)

Current societal norms have relegated the cuspidor to the darkest corners of the flea market, along with the rubber mat. But mistakes, particularly the big ones designed and constructed by government, remain in plain view. And substituting for the rubber mats below them, if ineffectively, is just high-sounding rhetoric. (If you don’t believe me, just scan today’s front page or an Internet news budget. Point made.)

That’s why Aunt Ceal, now surely a contract manager for the archangels, would absolutely love Burton A. Abrams’ latest book, The Terrible 10: A Century of Economic Folly,” published by The Independent Institute. The good Dr. Abrams, an economics professor at the University of Delaware, didn’t allow his graduate studies at Ohio State to create yet another mainstream practitioner of the dismal science. His is a genuinely engaging account of 20th century economic flops in America.

Toting a well-loaded blunder-bust with him, Dr. Abrams shoots straight from the start: “Reflecting on the painful lessons of history not only helps us avoid repeating them, but constitutes an important first step toward finding solutions for lingering problems. Some of the worst economic policies of the past one hundred years are recent and will continue to create problems for us as we go further into the twenty-first century.”

Like other good economic historians, Dr. Abrams toes the line as best he can chronologically, with a deviation here and there for the insightful aside. Unlike most economic writers, this widely published commentator and author can keep his reader’s attention not only with the content but with his clarity and style. Case in point is his analysis of Prohibition, the first act of his fiduciary follies. Here the good doctor writes:

“Prohibition was a paternalistic/maternalistic law, reflecting the desire of a minority of Americans to impose their views of morality and proper lifestyle on the majority. It was government-imposed morality. The effort failed miserably. In hindsight, most Americans—and especially those who lived through it—probably view Prohibition as a bizarre, foolish, and even dangerous experiment: a massive, precedent-setting governmental intervention in personal freedom….Prohibition produced many more costs than benefits and clearly belongs among the worst economic interventions of the last one hundred years.”

Yep, that’s the same analysis Aunt Ceal rendered—minus the frequent accompanying puffs on a Kent cigarette. My aunt, by way of backstory, picked up that lifelong bad habit during the Great Depression, when she was the only member of her household to have a job. “And damn lucky to have one, too,” she would add, referring both to the job and to the smoke.

From Prohibition, Abrams’s runs his scholarly Last American Century to the end of its line, making stops at such stations as The Hawley-Smoot Act, Social Security and the Decades of Deficits. The author keeps a good pace and stays on track even if the nation can’t.

In his penultimate chapter, Government Failure and the Great Recession, Abrams predicts the country “is likely to perform economically like old Europe, not the old United States” for the rest of this century—lower growth rates and unemployment rates like the last half of the last century. To blame, he writes, is Uncle Sam’s inability to balance the budget.

Abrams is a closet optimist, though. Just like Aunt Ceal when pressed hard on the matter.

“The twentieth century,” Abrams writes, “was the American century. It seems that it is hard to repeat centuries, but it is possible. Or will the twenty-first century belong to the Chinese? The distribution of good long-run economic policies across countries will hold the answer.”

J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at .

‘The Writer’s Art’ at 30 Remains Invaluable

By J.F. McKenna

The writer’s craft is one learned, relearned, reworked and further burnished every day. Over time the guides to the craft stand above you, teach by correction as well as encouragement and sometimes appear in the form of books that keep you company over lunch or late into the evening.

As a writer I’ve been blessed to have such a cadre of teachers.

In my newsroom apprenticeship at the Universe Bulletin, I often heard Russ Faist sing out a journalistic saw he himself had learned from Randall Brown at the old Cleveland News: “Get it right. Write it tight. Make it bright. And make it march.” The lesson, like all of Russ’ lessons and kindnesses, has stuck with me and has been passed on many times to other wordsmiths looking to sharpen their work.

Many of my so-called graduate classes came courtesy of Stan Modic, a magazine editor whose broad vision for business and industry never deterred him from his primary desire to get the best story possible for the reader. Underneath his outwardly gruff handling of staff writers and editors lay a genuine caring about the stories featured in print and about the folks he directed to fashion those stories. (See Stan Modic: Guardian Angel and One Hell of a Journalist)

Readers, of course, remain the best lab instructors for writers—the first to tell us when the experiment has been an unqualified success, the first to point out that we’ve singed our ego while reaching for literary immortality. Be it ever so humbling, there’s nothing like a printed correction if you plan to make a career out of writing.

And then there is the arm’s-length teacher who provides wholesale instruction but offers encouragement and caution that one swears is directly aimed at him or her. That describes the late James J. Kilpatrick, aka Jack Kilpatrick or Kilpo. I’m convinced that part of his heavenly reward is knowing that his book The Writer’s Art continues to inspire and caution folks like me 30 years after its debut. We believe, as Kilpatrick writes in the book’s introduction, that “there is more to writing than merely being ‘effective.’”

“If the purpose of housing were solely to provide shelter from the rain, the Sun King could have built an A-frame,” Kilpatrick continues. “Instead, he built the Palace of Versailles.”

In a society that handles its instant, and not-so-instant, communication with all the care it gives to unwrapping a stick of gum, Kilpatrick’s comparison is worth pondering longer than the time it took to send that last tweet or e-mail. No? Wonder why today’s newspaper article or the inchoate company proposal seems disjointed and uninspired?

In The Writer’s Art, Kilpatrick insists that “writing comes in grades of quality in the fashion of beer and baseball games: good, better and best. Some usages, in my opinion, are better—not merely more effective, but better—than other usages….Second, I advance the proposition that these better ways can be mastered by writers who are serious about their writing.”

Those are the introductory chords of The Writer’s Art. The music gets even better from there.

“In the end,” he advises, “the test of how well we do our job is not in how well we cover the news, or review the movies, or chide a president, or criticize and actor, but in how well we write…. The chief difference between good writing and better writing may be measured by the number of imperceptible hesitations the reader experiences as he goes along.”

That sums up the philosophy of James Jackson Kilpatrick—reporter, editor, political columnist and very readable author. After a distinguished career Kilpo died August 15, 2010, at the age of 89. Along with his family, he left thousands of better writers who had relished the professional advice he offered in columns. Those writers continue to be influenced by The Writer’s Art and Fine Print: Reflections on the Writing Art.

Jack Kilpatrick is sometimes remembered for his wrongheaded defense of racial segregation years ago, but he deserves nothing but praise for creating The Writer’s Art, a classic how-to that has mentored many a working journalist, including me.

“The writer’s art, of course, lies not in merely collecting words or in distinguishing among them,” he writes. “The art lies in stringing the right words together artfully. Newspaper reporters may begin by covering a luncheon speech at the Rotary Club, but if they are good reporters—reporters who write con amore—they will aspire to something higher.”

As a fellow who started newspapering as an obituary writer, I often urge others to heed Kilpo’s advice. “If you have little passion for the work, get out now,” I say. “Otherwise, your efforts will expose you.”

If your love for the craft is great but you don’t know Jack, quickly find a copy of The Writer’s Art and borrow all of Kilpatrick’s tips on wooing the muse. Maybe start with his thoughts on cadence—advice that appears in too few writing books. Follow that lesson with Kilpatrick’s prescription regarding the “music of words,” which is showcased in Fine Print:

“We must listen for it, for we read not only with our eyes, but also with our ears. It is therefore desirable that our sentences both read well and sound right. A writer—a serious writer—must cultivate an awareness of life’s rhythms. They are all around us, in the sounds of waves, in the changing of the traffic light, in the phases of the moon.”

As a syndicated columnist expounding on good writing, Kilpatrick was truly the Jack of our trade, composing a paean to the period or leading the hunt for the two-toned gerund. Good stuff filled with wit.

I’ve said it more than once. As a journalist, I’ve met many interesting people, some of them famous and others accomplished in the most unusual of ways. I’m sorry I never crossed paths with James J. Kilpatrick in person.

I did get a Christmas surprise from Kilpo in 2005. After I sent him an e-mail about his paean to the period, he was kind enough to write back. It was the kind of short, witty reply one would expect from the author of The Writer’s Art:

Dear Mr. McKenna—Many thanks for them kind words—and Merry, Merry. Jack Kilpatrick.

Season’s greetings aside, Kilpo has long been my trusted mentor at arm’s length—the distance from desk to bookshelf.

So he’ll remain.


J.F. McKenna, a longtime West Park resident, is a veteran business journalist and marketing-communications consultant. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. He also appears on the online site Steinbeck Now. A native of Cleveland, he and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max.

This Year, Send a Bipartisan Valentine

By J.F. McKenna

When you finish composing that heartfelt valentine to Aunt Sally, break out some extra stationery for those loveable folks in the Beltway. C’mon, get out the scented sheets and that government-approved red ink. Why, I’ll bet it has been a long time since you sent a personal note to the hardworking folks in Congress, particularly those selfless men and women toiling in the “people’s house.”

Not sure exactly what to say? Let me help.

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Your turn in office

Is just about through.

Yeah, I admit it: I’m in sarcastic overdrive. But I’m in dead earnest about your forwarding the essence of that very message to members of Congress—Republicans and Democrats alike. Tell them that they’ve had their turn at bat, and point out that we’re all in danger of losing not only the game but the ball field as well.

Don’t be reluctant to share a few hard facts with your funny valentines, many of whom can no longer distinguish public service from the public dole. If the day’s business section isn’t available for ready reference, don’t be shy about quoting Mark R. Levin, who has marshaled a handy bill of particulars in his latest bestseller, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

“What was to be a relatively innocuous federal government, operating from a defined enumeration of specific grants of power, has become an ever-present and unaccountable force,” writes Levin, constitutional lawyer, celebrated talk-show host and president of the Landmark Legal Foundation. “It is the nation’s largest creditor, debtor, lender, employer, consumer contractor, grantor, property owner, tenant, insurer, health-care provider, and pension guarantor….

“In order to satisfy its glutinous appetite for programmatic schemes,” Levin continues, “the federal government not only hurriedly digests the Treasury’s annual revenue, but desserts on the wealth not yet created by generations not yet born with unconstrained indebtedness. And what havoc this has wrought.

“The federal government consumes nearly 25 percent of all goods and services produced each year by the American people. Yearly deficits routinely exceed $1 trillion.”

As you detail your Beltway bulletins with little red and blue hearts and cute little cupids with poison arrows, tell your respective representatives that they’re “2 Culpable 2 Be Forgotten.” Or forgiven, for that matter.

In the sappy’70s flick Love Story, Ali McGraw choked out, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Lovingly remind the pols in your D.C. missives that “This ain’t the movies. America is now $17 trillion past sorry. Just say good-bye.”

And save yourself from unnecessary exposure to Post-Rejection Syndrome Disorder, a political malady marked by empty promises of reform and meaningless pledges to uphold traditional constitutional values in our post-constitutional society. Again, Levin and his book can help. In The Liberty Amendments Levin champions the states’ application of the Constitution’s Article V to appropriately amend the underpinning of our liberty. Tell your reps they can read all about it when they return home for good.

Better yet, tell them they can watch you work toward that reform.

“The Framers anticipated this day might arrive, for they knew that republics deteriorate from within,” Levin explains. “They provided a lawful and civil way to repair what has transpired.”

At the risk of seeming like Dr. Phil, I admit that a wholesale farewell—especially on Valentine’s Day—isn’t without collateral damage. There are good public servants, even in Congress. As barrister Levin admits, “theory can be a cruel mistress when it comes to reality.” And the reality is that the federal system is damn near in ruins. Casualties are to be expected.

So for the good of all America, finish up that valentine to Aunt Sally. Then start working on those from-the-heart “Dear Johns” to John and Harry, Debbie and Nancy.



CBR contributor J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications consultant. While at Industry Week magazine, he coined the expression “Total Quality Government” and co-chaired a series of national conferences on quality in the public sector. He still wonders why. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.

New Offshoots for Grapes of Wrath

By J.F. McKenna

Tuesday’s presentation focused on America’s continuing slide as a world economic leader. As the think tankers talked in the most somber of tones, a generation-old line from author John Steinbeck, one lying long dormant in the back of my head, decided to push toward the front of my brain and demand immediate attention as well as due respect for being so prescient.

And it is historically true that a nation whose people take out more than they put in will collapse and disappear.

Steinbeck, one of my literary heroes, embedded that line in his 1965 essay “Americans and the Future,” a jewel in the writer’s end-of-life work. I guess Steinbeck’s assessment couldn’t expect to remain quiet inside me as members of The Heritage Foundation ticked off their reasons for America’s losing ground in terms of economic freedom. You come to expect that from the work of the novelist who framed the Great Depression for all time in The Grapes of Wrath.

As of 2014, the U.S. is no longer among the top 10 nations in terms of economic freedom, even though “world economic freedom has reached record levels,” reports the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, just released by the foundation and The Wall Street Journal.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to those who have followed this 20-year-old index. America’s slide has been in play the past seven years.

Some folks may dismiss such “scorekeeping” as the work of stat-loving alarmists. Many of those folks reside in The Beltway and have methodically greased the skids for this national decline with their general ignorance of free-market economics. Clearly, the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom is both diagnosis and prognosis for a nation taking more out than putting in.

As The Heritage Foundation’s Terry Miller explained in the WSJ this week, “For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress.”

Other countries, Miller wrote, “risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions.” C’mon, America! Say it loud, say it proud—We’re No. 12, and We’re Not Trying Harder Any Longer!

Miller, director of the Center for International Trade and Economics at the Heritage Foundation, summed up our dirty-dozen ranking this way:

It’s not hard to see why the U.S. is losing ground. Even marginal tax rates exceeding 43% cannot finance runaway government spending, which has caused the national debt to skyrocket. The Obama administration continues to shackle entire sectors of the economy with regulation, including health care, finance and energy. The intervention impedes both personal freedom and national prosperity.

But as the U.S. economy languishes, many countries are leaping ahead, thanks to policies that enhance economic freedom—the same ones that made the U.S. economy the most powerful in the world. Governments in 114 countries have taken steps in the past year to increase the economic freedom of their citizens. Forty-three countries, from every part of the world, have now reached their highest economic freedom ranking in the index’s history. Hong Kong continues to dominate the list, followed by Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada.

To quote my chums north of the border, pretty telling stuff, eh? Pretty depressing in some cases, I say.

To beat back my sense of defeat, I’ll grab for a bit more Steinbeck, and even share it with you:

For Americans the wide and general dream has a name. It is called “the American Way of Life. No one can define it or point to any one person who lives it, but it is very real nevertheless…. These dreams describe our vague yearnings toward what which we were and hope we may be: wise, just, compassionate, and noble. The fact that we have this dream at all is perhaps an indication of its possibility.

And maybe just one more:

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.


J.F. McKenna is a business journalist, communications specialist and former editor and associate publisher of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. He also occasionally writes for the California-based website Steinbeck Now. Reach him at .

Things Not Otherwise Noted: December Edition

By Doug Magill

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.  C.S. Lewis

It is by now well known that our President and all of his fawning administration officials, duped Democrats and laughingly gullible journalists lied about Obamacare.  It was never intended to cost less, provide more options or improve medical outcomes.  It was, and is, nothing more than a scheme to destroy any remaining semblance of free-market medical care and replace it with government control.  Which will leave all of us with a less options, poorer care and higher costs.  And undoubtedly with fewer physicians and less innovation.

Anyone who studied the Democrats in power when Obamacare was passed understood that ideological objectives mattered more than anything.  More than getting more people insured, more than improving medical care, more than making insurance affordable and more than giving people more control of their lives.  It will reign in history as the biggest lie propagated by government in the history of the republic-turning-into-administrative-dictatorship.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini explained why Obamacare makes insurance more expensive, effectively outlawing cheaper coverage:

Why Does Obamacare Make Insurance More Expensive?

All of us knew in our student days of someone who sounded profound but actually espoused idiocy.  Our narcissist-in-chief is constantly being exposed as an overwhelmingly hollow shell who does not understand or choose to understand significant issues.  His language is a garden of barren branches that cuts off light and nourishes nothing.

Quotations From Chairman Barry.

The blunt tool of administrative fiat causes disruptions.  Liberals sniff and loftily proclaim about sacrifices – as long as it’s someone else’s.  Ultimately, by making individual choices impossible, individuals will suffer under Obamacare.  And, for some of the most in need, it will result in fatal consequences.

Dad Gives Up Trying To Find Health Insurance For His Son.

Many Americans are very concerned about health care coverage when they reach retirement age.  The strictures and costs of Obamacare are forcing many corporate plans to seek alternatives for their retirees, resulting in increased use of Medicare.  Adults in those circumstances have in the past comforted themselves with the knowledge that Advantage plans would cover the gaps in Medicare.  Unfortunately, the ideologues in Congress who crafted the health insurance legislation stripped Medicare Advantage to cover the gaping fiscal holes in Obamacare.  It’s not being reported, but retirees are going to be devastated by their lack of coverage.

The Worst Hits To Medicare Advantage Are Coming.

The words “efficiency” and “Federal government” will never be found together in a sentence.  Those of us with familiarity with large bureaucracies know that as they grow they become slower, more cumbersome, and more bound up in process rather than results.  The fact that the rollout of Obamacare was a systems failure of massive proportions bodes ill for anyone fantasizing about the capability of government managing health care any better than it does today.

Obama’s Damaging Confession About Government.

Liberals who wish to manage others’ lives never really consider the implications of what they propose and wish to legislate.  Obamacare is an even more massive example of unintended consequences.  Particularly when it forces you into Medicare, and then allows the state to seize your assets.

The State Can Seize Your Assets To Pay For Medicaid Treatments.

The list of those hurt by Obamacare will be huge.  It is perhaps just that the smarmy arts intelligentsia that so loathes the world west of the Hudson River will also be hard hit by the fraud of this legislation:

Faking It In New York City.

In a better world the press really would be the watchdog of our liberties.  Sadly, most journalists have less knowledge of history and government than the average college athlete.  And, they tend to betray the popular image by being followers of what is popular in their world and not independent at all.  It is axiomatic then that they tend to lean left.

Thanks To Ignorance The Press Leans Left.

Left-wind media types often tend to ridicule conservatives rather than dealing in the intricacies of policies or legislation.  Sometimes, the use of facts can prove more powerful than loaded language and stereotypes.

The 30-Second Ad That Should Terrify Incumbent Democrats.

There are innumerable instances where the heavy hand of government, no matter how well-intentioned, has created problems more massive than the ones that caused it to be originally involved.  The Endangered Species Act is one of the most glaring examples.

The 40th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act is Not a Cause For Celebration.

Liberal use of totalitarian dictates is becoming more obvious with Obamacare.  There are many more examples, but the government now is attempting to impose a vision of how we should live.  Like everything else, your choices will not matter.

Obama Moves to Impose His Vision of How We Should Live.

Sometimes ideological decisions seem counter-intuitive even to our gentle neighbors in Canada.  Pipelines have a purpose, and their construction generally improves safety and capability, encouraging economic growth.

This Is Why You Build Pipelines.

Obama learned politics in the arms of the Daley machine in Chicago.  So, it is no surprise he figured out that taking care of his friends will pay off, even if it does cost the United States $10 billion or so.

Government Takes Loss on GM to Help UAW Cronies.

It has not been a good year for the global warming crowd hiding behind the pontifications of “settled science”.  In fact, there have been a number of setbacks that should give everyone pause.

Top Seven Global Alarmist Setbacks in 2013.

The lack of global warming in the last few years is being called a “pause”.  One never ceases to be amazed at the ability of liberals to reinvent language to disguise truth.  Except that this “pause” may last quite a while.  Those of us who have worked with computer models know their bias toward the assumptions with which they are programmed.  When reality really begins to diverge from the models, perhaps the models have outlived their usefulness.

Global Warming Pause May Last a Long Time.

One wonders how massive bureaucracies manage to manage themselves.  Particularly in the civil service world where accountability is a distant memory.  The EPA’s highest-paid employee turns out to have committed fraud on a massive scale, while pretending to be a CIA agent.  You just can’t make this stuff up.

Climate Change Expert’s Massive Fraud at the EPA.

Access to power has induced more than a few of our elected representatives to enrich themselves.  Once in a while it becomes so transparent as to become a parody.

Another Environmental Self-Dealing Scam.

Many entertainment icons take the time to visit with and entertain our troops (thank you, Bob Hope).  Once in a while they learn a lesson themselves about what the military holds dear.

Robin Williams Learns What Retreat Means.

Doug Magill is a cancer survivor who knows more about dealing with the health-care bureaucracy than he ever wanted to know.  He is currently a consultant, freelance writer and voice-over talent.  He can be reached at

The Coming Year, Our Critical Gambit

By J.F. McKenna

The year 2014 will long be remembered as another of America’s epiphanies, a time at which the nation began to recapture its sense of leadership.

Not a moment too soon, say 2013 citizens and allies who have watched and worried as their nation wobbles when not lurching from crisis to crisis. The Affordable Care Act surely stands out as its most expensive self-inflicted wound, casting one-sixth of the gross domestic product into unmatched chaos. Meanwhile, Pax Americana, that long-revered notion of the U.S. as guarantor of a sane and just world, continues to fade from view on the world stage; events such as the deadly bungle in Benghazi keep the global whispering alive—Uncle Sam is not the fellow he used to be. And, in that wider philosophical sense, America has traded the free marketplace of grand ideas for the back alley of political correctness.

But America is again ready to take up the work of leadership. And, don’t kid yourself, it’s work—not magic. Peter Drucker, the revered architect of modern management direction, made that clear when he wrote so perceptively a quarter-century ago:

“Leadership does matter…. But, alas, it is something different from what is now touted under this label. It has little to do with ‘leadership qualities and even less to do with ‘charisma.’ It is mundane, unromantic, and boring. Its essence is performance.”

The Austrian-born polymath, who died in 2005, goes on to say that the foundation of effective leadership “is thinking through the organization’s mission, defining it, and establishing it, clearly and visibly….What distinguishes the leader from the misleader are his goals. Whether the compromise he makes with the constraints of reality—which may involve political, economic, financial, or interpersonal problems—are compatible with the mission or goals or lead away from them determines whether he is an effective leader.”

Simple stuff. Only the acceptance and the execution are difficult. That and getting the right leaders in place.

That’s our job, of course.

Or as the late, great business journalist Stan Modic once told me, “I need an editor, and I know you know how to do the job. One more thing—if you don’t work out, I’ll fire you in three months.”

Modic knew Drucker, and vice versa. I’ve long thought that they each had a great influence on the other’s thinking about effective management. (See ) Both were all about the results of any venture, from running a corporation to running a nation. Both knew what success took.

Twenty years ago, Drucker wrote that there is “no better way to improve an organization’s performance than to measure the results of capital appropriations against the promises and expectations that led to their authorization.” As Drucker told Harvard Business Review readers, “how much better off the United States would be today had such feedback on government programs been standard practice for the past 50 years.”

His was simple, direct and effective counsel then. So it remains. I’ve argued from this digital corner more than once that today’s government executives—including those from the so-called most transparent administration since Warren Harding’s—should diligently apply Drucker’s yardstick. Let them evaluate if that stimulus appropriation is indeed deserving of renewal. Or if a particular spending program has yet to meet its goal of utopian bliss.

Otherwise, to borrow a working concept from Modic, let’s fire them. That’s what leadership is all about at its core: getting the job done, no matter what it takes.

Certainly the most troubling weakness of the current administration, as well as its successors in waiting from both parties, is the philosophical wrongheadedness arising from government first, last and always. A decade ago, Drucker warned America about the danger, pointing out that “the challenges we will face in the next economy are management challenges that will have to be tackled by individuals. Governments will be able to help or hinder. But the tasks themselves are not tasks governments can perform….Government will not become less pervasive, less powerful, let alone less expensive. It will, however, increasingly depend for its effectiveness on what managers and professionals are doing in and with their own nongovernmental organizations, and in and with their own lives.”

Just substitute the word “we” for “managers and professionals” above. That’s the thinking from which epiphanies spring and nations regain strength.

J.F. McKenna is a business journalist, communications specialist and former editor and associate publisher of the national manufacturing magazine Tooling & Production. Reach him at .

Things Not Otherwise Noted: November Edition

By Doug Magill

The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet.  It requires a certain relish for confusion.  Molly Ivins
Liberal newspaper columnist and political commentator, Molly Ivins, could be bitingly funny yet at the same time annoyingly hew to the fashionable liberal dogma of the day.  Still, her experiences in Minnesota and Texas enabled her to see the values and heart of middle-America, something which is lacking in our coastally-dominated media today.

She also grew up in a time where being a liberal Democrat meant what is pretended today by the left-wing ideologues of the Democrat party.  Democrats in Ivins’ childhood did care.

John F. Kennedy cared about the fiscal foundation of the country and insuring we had a strong defense.  Who would imagine that today?  A Democrat that believes in fiscal responsibility and wanted tax cuts to encourage economic growth.  That was common sense then, and an “extreme” position today.

“Scoop” Jackson cared that our country had a strong defense and was engaged where it would benefit our long-term national interests.  The idea of preventing future conflicts by being strong made sense to him.  Today one can’t find an elected Democrat that does anything other than opine wistfully about our troops but doesn’t have the courage to vote for what it would take to make sure they are truly prepared for the next military engagement.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan cared deeply about families and minorities.  A prominent Democrat who served under Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford he also served as ambassador to the United Nations before becoming a Senator.  His now-famous report on minority families while serving as a Labor Department Assistant Secretary under Kennedy, The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, was pilloried by left-wing activists within his party.  It was, however, eerily prophetic and his opposition to government programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) proved his insight that government programs which discouraged marriage would damage minority communities.  He supported welfare reform in the 1990’s, knowing that human beings worked on incentives while gratuitous programs destroyed families, lives, and ambition.

Those were Democrats of wisdom and the middle as well as the middle class.  They respected the country’s traditions, its foundations and its unique place in the world.  Over the years the party has been pulled ever leftward, to where today we see the rising influence of the left-wing totalitarian temptation in such things as Obamacare, the protests in Madison against the results of an election, and the ever increasing ad hominem attacks against the voices of conservatism in our media.

The result is confusion, concern and animosity.  Election analysts correctly interpreted the Obama presidential campaign as one designed to ignore the middle class which effectively means that our politics today are increasingly polarized.  It will get uglier and more confused before it gets better.

One of the pernicious effects of the misnamed Affordable Care Act is how much more young people are expected to pay to subsidize the old and the sick.  The entirely ludicrous financial assumptions underneath the law are soon to be painfully obvious to all as the young realize they are expected to accept being taken advantage of.

Wise Beyond Their Years

Journalists are abandoning any pretense of objective analysis or reporting in their attempts to support and encourage Obamacare.  Some now push the totalitarian idea of “service Journalism” in support of the government.  Somewhere the founders of Pravda are smiling.

Obamacare and the Totalitarian Mindset

It is clear that this administration is in over its head in dealing with the technological aspects of Obamacare.  So much so that the world’s largest playroom for hackers is now in operation.  Entering your personal information into a government-run web site is tantamount to posting a “Rob Me” sign in your front yard.  Yet, our media has spent little effort to try to understand the issues associated with this problem, and even less trying to warn the public.  The subsequent problem of fraud is not even being discussed, yet even the IRS admits it may be complicit in what may be one of the largest scams of the government ever.

Obamacare and the Facilitation of Criminal Activity

In an effort to distract from the disaster known as Obamacare, the President tried to change the subject by focusing on income inequality.  This displays modern liberalism in all of its faux compassion and grand gestures that will undoubtedly hurt more workers than will benefit.  The minimum wage issue wins emotional arguments but loses economic ones.  Who cares?  Low income voters who will lose their jobs will become more dependent on government and vote their dependency.

The War of the Wages

There was supposed to be a strike of fast food workers in demand of a much higher minimum wage.  All media outlets carried the story.  Note: there have been no local follow-up stories on how many people actually went on strike nor have there been any stories about the effects of such idiocy.  Still, occasionally a story appears that clarifies what is being encouraged by the government, and the discouragement of enterprise.

The Video Every Fast Food Striker Should Watch

The massive hidden story of the Obama presidency is how poorly the economy has done, and how a focus on economic development would help with an enormous number of issues.  The media doesn’t report it because it doesn’t fit their theme and job seekers be damned.  Every now and then an analysis clarifies how desperate things have become.

The Private Sector Has Shrunk in 41 States Under Obama

Lost in the deflections and rationalizations and excuses for the enormous disaster of Obamacare is the story of what really happened.  Someday one would hope that a real journalist will tell this story so we will know and perhaps find a way not to let it happen again.  One of the underlying issues that has been unexplored by the media is the fact that the financial management and accounting portions of the system were left undone and a no-bid contract was given to finish the job.  The incompetence is staggering.

Unbelievable Incompetence in Obamacare No-Bid Contract

When an executive is discovered to be incompetent and poorly qualified for his job, usually he gets fired.  Lacking an impeachment proceeding the least prepared president in the history of the republic is relegated to things such as “Least Consequential” lists.

Obama Named to GQ Least Influential List

It is hard to believe that our government engages in the promotion of promiscuous behavior.  It shows what desperate liberalism will do even though it is appalling to think of the example this sets.

Which is the Real Slutty Obamacare Ad?

We knew beforehand that Obamacare would diminish choices for patients, particularly those with acute problems.  Now it is reality: cancer patients are losing coverage because their employers are unable to bear the costs of all of the mandates embedded in the program.

Cancer Patient Loses Coverage Thanks to Obamacare

The deliberate lies about substandard plans are noxiously grating to those who have to deal with the results.  Maternity coverage required for a 41-year old registered nurse?  Yep, that sets a standard.

Obamacare Delenda Est

Even the media – although they will not report on it – knows that Obamacare is costing millions of people their current coverage.  It’s going to get worse – a lot worse.  And the political subterfuge to delay employer mandates until after the 2014 elections may not be enough to prevent the horror of millions more losing their coverage.  Obamacare may have encompassed the biggest lies in the history of the republic.

78 Million Obamacare Cancellations Loom

Despite the horrendous economy, the ridiculous tax rates and the ever-more-militant regulatory state there are still entrepreneurs who dream of concepts and stake their fortunes on developing them.  The ability to take off-the-shelf components and develop imaging satellites to provide coverage heretofore unimaginable is driving new companies.  Soon, it will be hard to hide anywhere on earth.

Urthecast Satellite on the Way to the Space Station

‘All I Want for Christmas Is Real Leadership’

By J.F. McKenna

What we regular folks really want for the holidays is obvious. Just look around.

Face westward toward our neighbors in Michigan, for starters. Right now Detroit, once called the Paris of the West by culture mavens, is scrambling to mitigate the damage of what may be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history. A long-growing global economy has finally had a head-on collision with narrow-minded politics. The result is that Motown’s better days are behind it, with one Canadian observer declaring that the city is “a classic example of failed obamunism and personal responsibility; it played out the union-controlled socialism to the bitter end and it lost the destructive game—eventually all socialists run out of other people’s money, as Margaret Thatcher used to say. Detroit is now a picture of litter and filth with few suburbs left that take pride in their appearance.” Frankly, don’t be surprised to see Detroit headed to the global pawn shop soon, toting its donated art treasures to cut a 10-cents-on-the-dollar deal to keep afloat and out of court.

Things just as close but eastward, though not as tragic as Detroit’s tale, show the effects of an American economic engine fouled to the point that it can’t trigger a confident restart. In Pittsburgh iconic corporations such as Heinz struggle alongside longtime family businesses. As one small businessman told me there just last week, “My landscaping business was a moneymaker for years, but now I’m really cutting into my capital just to keep today’s bills paid. Frankly, Joe, I don’t understand it. I can’t recall it ever being this bad.”

“At the risk of getting biblical on you, we’re reaping the whirlwind of a lot of lousy leadership,” said Robbie Adair, my occasional partner in journalistic mischief. “In my opinion, it’s not so much the failure of leadership in the front office or at the front counter—but the ‘hired’ leadership at the government level, where regulations reproduce like rabbits and dim-witted bureaucrats concoct new ways to taser the business community.

“If things continue to go on this way,” Brother Adair lamented, “you’re going to see the term free market soon identified in crossword puzzles as an ‘archaic expression.’ I’m telling you straight—all I want for Christmas is real leadership. And, yes, that can be sung to the same tune as that classic Yuletide ditty.”

No argument from me. The only commonality between most government types, particularly feds, and the foot soldiers at the chamber of commerce is a taste for ugly ties. After that, one identifies the government folks by their general lack of business smarts and their overall disinterest in the core of wealth creation. You know, the making, mining and growing of things for customers.

To pinch a line from Adair, “There is a little-known second half to the saying I’m from the government and I’m here to help. The other half is I just don’t know how.”

Think I’m being harsh? No harsher than the latest, and the greatest, model of government ineptitude and overreach. So once more unto the breach, dear friends, to slash at the misshapen monster called Obamacare, our government-sponsored Grendel.

Even as I write from my digital corner, journals such at The New York Times deliver cheery countryside dispatches: As a small coterie of grim-faced advisers shuffled into the Oval Office on the evening of Oct. 15, President Obama’s chief domestic accomplishment was falling apart 24 miles away…, the $630 million online insurance marketplace, was a disaster after it went live on Oct. 1, with a roster of engineering repairs that would eventually swell to more than 600 items. The private contractors who built it were pointing fingers at one another. And inside the White House, after initially saying too much traffic was to blame, Mr. Obama’s closest confidants had few good answers.

No real answers look likely to appear anytime soon, either. And that’s because bureaucratic tinkerers don’t grasp the basics of business, management or real leadership. I wish I could report that they’ve forgotten everything they learned from Peter Drucker; but, truth is, most of them think Peter Drucker is a fashion label or a brand of Scotch. And those government whiz kids who do vaguely remember the father of modern management dismiss him and his thinking as old-school.

That’s a pity. For the rest of us, that is.

A couple of years ago, I briefly tub-thumped for a Drucker revival, noting that the late Austrian-born polymath remains the best guide not only for businessmen but for bureaucrats who like to play business. I pointed to a 1994 Druckerism that insists there is “no better way to improve an organization’s performance than to measure the results of capital appropriations against the promises and expectations that led to their authorization.”

Now let’s apply this Drucker yardstick to Obamacare—Santa Gov’s answer to coal in your stocking. According to to one poll, nearly 60 percent of the nation never really had government-managed health care on its Christmas list. Even worse, now that it’s here, the rear end of Obamacare, the payment and delivery segment, is still being built, making the President’s signature legislative effort the health-care version of a deluxe vehicle that boasts an expensive dashboard but includes no drivetrain.

As Drucker told Harvard Business Review readers, “How much better off the United States would be today had…feedback on government programs been standard practice for the past 50 years.” Drucker wrote that 20 Christmases ago. Apparently most of America’s leaders missed that issue.

So here we are this holiday season, caught in the iron grip of government-designed largesse but still holding out a little hope for that holiday miracle from the Obama Administration. “On Thanksgiving Eve, it announced a one-year delay for ObamaCare’s small-business health insurance exchange, a major part of the law,” wrote Colin McNickle of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “Just before Independence Day, it announced a delay in requiring large companies to provide health insurance for their employees. Perhaps Mr. Obama will announce a one-year delay of ObamaCare, in toto, at 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve.”


To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God help us, everyone!”

CBR contributor J.F. McKenna is a veteran business journalist and communications consultant. While at Industry Week magazine, he coined the expression “Total Quality Government” and co-chaired a series of national conferences on quality in the public sector. He still wonders why. Reach him at or through his LinkedIn profile: Jos. F. McKenna.


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