washington

On John Adams

I recently finished reading John Adams by David McCullough.

Below are key excerpts from this book that I found to be particularly insightful:

In truth, he was extremely proud of his descent from “a line of virtuous, independent New England farmers.” That virtue and independence were among the highest of mortal attainments, John Adams never doubted. The New England farmer was his own man who owned his own land, a freeholder, and thus the equal of anyone.

And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people who have a right from the frame of their nature to knowledge, as their great Creator who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings and a desire to know. But besides this they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.

If, by supporting the rights of mankind, and of invincible truth, I shall contribute to save from the agonies of death one unfortunate victim of tyranny, or of ignorance, equally fatal, his blessings and years of transport will be sufficient consolation to me for the contempt of all mankind.

The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.

Few Americans ever achieved so much of such value and consequence to their country in so little time. Above all, with his sense of urgency anc unrelenting drive, Adams made the Declaration of Independence happen when it did. Had it come later, the course of events could have gone very differently.

Years later, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Adams would describe the voyage on the Boston as symbolic of his whole life. The raging seas he has passed through, he seemed to be saying, were like the times they lived in, and he was at the mercy of the times no less than the seas. Possibly he saw, too, in the presence of John Quincy, how directly his determination to dare such seas affected his family and how much, with his devotion to the cause of America, he had put at risk beyond his own life. Besides, as he may also have seen, the voyage had demonstrated how better suited he was for action than for smooth sailing with little to do.

To Thomas Jefferson, Adams would one day write, “My friend, you and 1 have lived in serious times.” And of all the serious events of the exceedingly eventful eighteenth century, none compared to the arrival upon the world stage of the new, independent United States of America. Adams’s part in Holland and at Paris had been profound. As time would tell, the treaty that he, Franklin, and Jay had made was as advantageous to their country as any in history. It would be said they had won the greatest victory in the annals of American diplomacy.

The role of the executive Adams was emphatic. If there is one central truth to be collected from the history of all ages, it is this: that the people’s rights and liberties, and the democratical mixture in a constitution, can never be preserved without a Strong executive, or, in other words, without separating the executive from the legislative power. If the executive power, or any considerable part of it, is left in the hands of an aristocratical or democratical assembly, it will corrupt the legislature as necessarily as rust corrupts iron, or as arsenic poisons the human body; and when the legislature is corrupted, the people are undone.

The only way to keep us from setting up for ourselves is to disunite us,” young schoolmaster Adams had written in his percipient letter to Nathan Webb, and to Adams now, as to others, dissolution remained the greatest single threat to the American experiment. “The fate of this government,” he would write from New York to his former law clerk, William Tudor, “depends absolutely upon raising it above the state governments.’ The first line of the Constitution made the point, “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.’

‘o Adams the outcome was proof of how potent party spirit and party organization had become, and the most prominent was Burr’s campaign in New York. Washington, in his Farewell Address, had warned against disunion, permanent alliances with other nations, and “the baneful effects of the spirit of party.” Adams could rightly claim to have held to the ideals of union and neutrality, but his unrelenting independence—his desire to be a President above party—had cost him dearly.

In turbulent, dangerous times he had held to a remarkably steady course. He had shown that a strong defense and a desire for peace were not mutually exclusive, but compatible and greatly in the national interest.

In fundamental ways each proved consistently true to his nature they were in what they wrote as they had been through life. Jefferson was far more guarded and circumspect, better organized, dispassionate, more mannered, and refused ever to argue. Adams was warm, loquacious. more personal and opinionated, often humorous and willing to poke fun at himself. When Jefferson wrote of various self-appointed seers and mystics who had taken up his time as president, Adams claimed to have lad no problem with such people. “They all assumed the character of ambassadors extraordinary from the Almighty, but as I required miracles in proof of their credentials, and they did not perform any, I never gave public audience to any of them.”

I do not believe that Mr. Jefferson ever hated me. On the contrary, I believe he always liked me: but he detested Hamilton and my whole administration. Then he wished to be President of the United States, and I stood in his way. So he did everything that he could to pull me down. But if I should quarrel with him for that, I might quarrel with every man I have had anything to do with in life. This is human nature…. I forgive all my enemies and hope they may find mercy in Heaven. Mr. Jefferson and I have grown old and retired from public life. So we are upon our ancient terms of goodwill.

On a concluding note:

That John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died on the same day. and that it was, of all days, the Fourth of July, could not be seen as a mere coincidence: it was a “visible and palpable” manifestation of “Divine favor,” wrote John Quincy in his diary that night, expressing what was felt and would be said again and again everywhere the news spread.

A highly recommended read in the areas of history and leadership.

 

 

 

American Icon

American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman has been on my reading list for quite some time, particularly for the high rating this book had received and my interest in cars. I finally had a chance to read it and despite the high expectations I had of this book, it exceeded them both in terms of content and delivery.

Below are the highlights from this book.

The backdrop of the american car industry in late 20th century:

Ford may have been the company that put the world on wheels, invented the moving assembly line, and created the industrial middle class, but its glory days were long past. Together with General Motors Corporation and Chrysler Corporation, it had been a powerful engine of prosperity in postwar America…That era of easy profit created a culture of entitlement in Detroit that afflicted management and labor alike – inflating salaries, wages, and benefits until they became the envy of the world. Success was viewed as a birthright, not something that had to be fought for and won. As the Big Three’s share of the market had shrunk, they had not. At least not fast enough. They all had too many factories, too many workers, and too many dealers. Generous union contracts negotiated in better times had created enormous legacy costs that their foreign rivals did not have to bear. And none of the American companies had the stomach for the radical reforms that were now necessary just to stay in business. Wall Street had begun a deathwatch, waiting to see which of the Big Three would fail first. Most of the money was on Ford, which had become infamous for lackluster designs, poor quality, and managerial infighting.

Ford itself had some additional challenges of its own:

While many of Ford Motor Company’s problems were shared by the rest of Detroit, the Dearborn automaker also faced some challenges all its own. Ford’s woes had not begun with of the Japanese in the 1960s or the oil crises of the 1970s. The company had been struggling with itself since Henry Ford started it on June 16,1903. It invested massively in game-changing products, and then did nothing to keep them competitive. It allowed cults of personality to form around larger-than-life leaders, but drove away the talent needed to support them. And it allowed a caustic corporate culture to eat away at the company from the inside. These were birth defects that could be traced back to the automaker’s earliest days. Henry Ford liked to boast that he had created the modern world. In many ways, he had. But he also created a company that was its own worst enemy.

Bill Ford who was CEO knew it was time for a big change in leadership of the company was to be saved:

Hockaday commended Ford for having the self-awareness and the lack of ego to admit that, but he gently suggested that Ford needed something more than a new COO. Bill agreed: The time had come to find a CEO who could save Ford from itself…Though he knew it was coming, Hockaday thought Bill Ford’s speech to the directors was one of the most moving he had ever heard in a boardroom. No one ascends to the top of a major corporation without a healthy ego, but those in the automobile industry we’re oversized even by Fortune 500 standards. It took a big man to admit that he could not save his company, particularly when his name was on the side of the building. In other rooms in Detroit, other CEOs were adamantly refusing? to admit defeat. They would stubbornly cling to power and take their companies down with them. Bill Ford cared too much about Ford to let that happen in Dearborn.

Alan Mulally was the man that was chosen for the task:

The Seattle Times called him “Mr. Nice Guy.” Mulally’s lack of pre-tension was evident in his dealings with other people. At formal events, he showed little interest in the rich and powerful, preferring to mingle with those less interested in comparing resumes or other measurables. He asked more questions than he answered and seemed genuinely interested in what people had to say, be they world leader or waitresses. Mulally made a point of remembering something about everyone he met and would often astonish underlings by recalling some scrap of information about their lives they had shared with him months or years before. He was also big on hugs, and had even been known to plant pecks on the cheeks of both men and women when he was in a particularly exuberant mood. All of this made Mulally adored by subordinates. It also kept his rivals off balance. They could never quite figure out how much of it was an act. And Mulally liked to keep it that way.

Despite being and unconventional choice:

The conventional wisdom in Detroit held that outsiders were incapable of understanding the complexities of the automobile business. Bill Ford’s decision to hire an aeronautical engineer to save his car company spawned plenty of jokes during those early weeks. There was a lot of snickering about flying cars and the return of tail fins. “He has no idea how we do things in Detroit” was the common refrain at Ford’s crosstown rivals, as well as within Ford itself And Mulally knew it. They’re right. I don’t know how they do things in Detroit, he thought. But I do know it doesn’t work.

Mulally had a unique management style that he shared and communicated with his team from the beginning:

Mulally called their attention to a list of rules posted on the wall. There were ten of them: • People first • Everyone is included • Compelling vision • Clear performance goals • One plan • Facts and data • Propose a plan, “find-a-way” attitude • Respect, listen, help, and appreciate each other • Emotional resilience … trust the process • Have fun … enjoy the journey and each other

Listening was a key part of his philosophy, even from his competitors:

As he was leaving, Mulally told Wagoner he would like to be able to call him in the future if he had more questions. He was just trying to be polite, but Wagoner took it as another sign of weakness. He would later claim publicly that Mulally had sought his help as he e struggled to understand the industry in those early days. The truth was, Wagoner had been played so well he did not even notice.

He had a clear vision, even for what Ford would look like after he leaves – his legacy:

The Plan…Mulally also looked to Ford’s past for inspiration…Alan Legacy: • Clear, compelling vision going forward •Survive the perfect Storm—commodities, oil, credit, CO2, safety, UAW • Develop a profitable growth plan, global products and product Strategy • A skilled and motivated team • Reliable ongoing BPR process • A leader and leadership team with “One Ford” vision implementation tenacity

An example of, luck favors the prepared mind:

Did Ford see the credit crisis coming? Certainly not the full magnitude of it. But it is clear that Ford knew the game was changing and had the foresight to get as much cash as it could before it was too late. Other automakers would not prove so prescient. In the end, they would have to borrow their money not from the big Wall Street banks, but from the American people. Ford’s financing deal would allow it to survive without a government bailout. If Bill Ford had not convinced his family to stake everything, the Fords likely would have lost control of the company entirely. A few months later, such a deal would have been impossible for any American automaker. A year later, even the most profitable companies in the world would have been unable to borrow half that amount.

Alan never lost touch with what the business was really about – engaging with customers and making a difference in their lives through vehicles:

It would not be the last time Mulally played at being a car sales man. This was a way for him to see firsthand how Ford’s customers approached its cars and trucks. But it also generated a huge amount of goodwill for the company. Everybody who met Mulally walked away an ambassador for Ford. He had that effect on people.

He knew that a successful relationship with the Union of Automotive Workers was paramount to success and worked hard on nurturing it:

Even in the face of this increasing animosity between the UAW and Detroit’s Big Three, Ford managed to maintain a better relationship with the union. Ford family members often dealt directly with UAW officials, even during the period when there was no Ford in the chairman’s seat. None of the company’s factories had been struck since 1976. But even Ford could not get the concessions it needed to be competitive with the growing number of foreign transplants setting up factories of their own in the southern United States…Mulally took a step toward Gettelfinger and looked him in the eye. “We want to prove that we can do this in America,” he said solemnly. “Ron, will you hold hands with me.? We’ll do this together, and we’ll go out there and say we did this together. We’re going to be able to make products in America and make them profitably and successfully. Or, we’ll just go out there and tell everybody it was too hard. We just couldn’t do it. It’s up to you.” Gettelfinger did not hesitate.

Alan kept refining his vision and rallying the company around it:

Beneath the first, Mulally spelled out his vision for the company: People working together as a lean, global enterprise for automotive leadership, as measured by: Customer, Employee, Dealer, Investor, Supplier, Union/Council, and Community Satisfaction

During the crisis, it was not just about being defensive, it was about the offense – accelerating the transformation with the new product lines:

Accelerating Kuzak’s product time line would require a heroic effort on the part of Ford’s designers and engineers. It would also require other departments to cut deeper. It was a testament to how much Mulally had changed the culture inside the Glass House that they were willing to do so. Fields expressed this new spirit in a speech to his troops that summer “I know this is really a kick in the teeth, but this is not Ford Motor Company not delivering—this is the external environment. This is an egalitarian knock to the industry, and what’s going to separate the winners from the losers is how those companies approach this setback,” he said. “It’s easy to be a victim. It’s harder to say we’re going to take this and we’re going to make lemonade out of lemons.”

While Ford was in a better position than some of its competitors during the financial crisis their were some inter-dependencies within the industry that it had to actively manage with them and with the government:

Both Toyota and Honda were just as concerned as Ford about the impact that the failure of CM or Chrysler could have on their suppliers, as well as about the growing number of parts producers who were already in trouble. When they heard about Ford’s effort to support its suppliers, they wanted in. So Brown forged a tripartite alliance with Ford’s archrivals to prevent a cascading collapse of the entire automobile industry.

Ford was now engaged in a delicate balancing act, trying to convince consumers and investors that it was in better shape than its crosstown competitors while at the same time trying to persuade Washington that it was just as deserving of help. When Mulally was asked why Ford needed taxpayer assistance if it was not in dire financial straits, he said Ford would need help if either GM or Chrysler failed. “It’s just prudent to be prepared together. There’s a lot of issues that we’re all dealing with,” he said. “We are very interdependent, and we’re all dependent on the U.S. economy. If any one of us gets in trouble in a big way, then that’s going to have major ramifications for the entire value stream for the suppliers, for the (automakers), for the dealers.”

The strategy of forgoing the bailout paid off for Ford:

Sales remained depressed, but Ford continued to outperform the market and gain share…The board was pleased. The directors had hoped that Ford would get credit for forgoing a bailout, but none of them expected the decision to generate as much goodwill for the company as it did…The decision to pass on a bailout was a big part of that, but it would have mattered little if the company’s showrooms were still filled with the same old boring products. Fortunately for Ford, transports stacked with new vehicles like the redesigned Fusion and Fusion Hybrid were pulling into dealer lots just as customers decided that the company was worth another look. Once again. Ford’s timing was perfect.

Alan throughout this entire period ensured the team maintained focus on improving Ford’s financials:

Mulally’s focus was now on improving Ford’s balance sheet and beginning the long, slow march out of junk bond territory. The terms of Ford’s massive 2006 financing deal stipulated that all the assets it had pledged to secure those loans would be released once its revolving line of credit was paid off and two of the three major agencies restored the company’s credit rating to investment grade.

For those who down-play Ford’s come back:

There are some who will point to the loans Ford received from the U.S. Department of Energy and the money it borrowed from the U.S. Federal Reserve and say the company did take taxpayer dollars. This is true, but in this sense, so did the rest of the major automakers —and not just the American companies. Japanese and German manufacturers benefited from these programs as well, in addition to receiving support from their own governments. But these were loan programs set up to address systemic problems beyond these companies’ control.

And Alan’s key role in that:

While many of the pieces of Ford’s turnaround were already in place, the company’s own culture was preventing them from being implemented with the speed and scope necessary to effect real change…But Ford would have run out of time and money before it got to where it needed to be if Mulally had not been there to put the pedal to the metal…Mulally ripped off the bandage, cauterized the wound, and cured the disease. Only an outsider could do that. But not just any outsider: It had to be someone who understood the complexities of global manufacturing, labor relations, and heavily engineered products…His disciplined approach cut through the company’s caustic culture and forced everyone to march in the same direction…He taught the other executives how to make decisions based on data instead of boardroom politics. And once he had, most of the decisions that saved Ford were made by the team as a whole.

The keys to Alan’s success in his words:

“What I have learned is the power of a compelling vision, a comprehensive strategy, a relentless implementation process, and talented people working together based on those commitments,” he told me during our last interview for this book, in May 2011. “We laid out a plan, and for four and a half years, we have been relentlessly implementing that plan.”…”You’ve got to trust the process. You need to trust and nurture your emotional resilience,”

Another key, was Bill’s – the chairman – unwavering support:

It was not just Bill Ford’s willingness to step aside and make way for Mulally that helped save the company. It was also his unceasing effort to give him the time, the space, and the resources he needed for his revolution to succeed. Without that, Mulally may well have become just another victim of a company and a culture that seemed impervious to change.

A reminder though that a true test of great leadership is the ability of an organization to sustain itself after the leader leaves:

The ultimate test of Mulally’s revolution will be its ability to endure his absence. Boeing has suffered major setbacks since Mulally left Seattle in 2006. Insiders say that is because his successors have failed to maintain the processes Mulally put in place to guarantee success. When asked if the same thing could happen at Ford, Mulally says simply that he has given Ford the tools it needs to prosper. What the company does with them after he retires is beyond his control. Ford’s history is a long list of stunning successes followed by epic failures, of against-all-odds comebacks that turn into retreats back into mediocrity and mismanagement. But there are important differences this time that augur well for Ford’s future.

On a concluding note:

Henry Ford once said, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.” Ford Motor Company has certainly made a great deal of money since Alan Mulally started there in 2006. But it has also made people believe that the highest principles of American enterprise —ingenuity, innovation, and integrity—have not deserted us entirely. In an economic era marked by avarice and greed, Mulally’s Ford has demonstrated that a company can still succeed by building a good product and selling it at a fair price. As the big Wall Street banks tried to hide their mounting failures, Mulally was exposing Ford’s shortcomings and challenging his company to overcome them. Wall Street’s obfuscation and trickery would ultimately drag the entire world into the Great Recession. With Mulally’s relentless determination to succeed. Ford would defy that downturn and once again become an engine of prosperity. From the day he arrived in Dearborn, Mulally said he was fighting for the soul of American manufacturing. If Ford had failed, a little bit of America would have died, too. But Ford did not fail. Under Mulally’s leadership, it showed the entire world that at least one American automaker could pick itself up, shake off the rust, compete with the best in the business, and win.

A highly compelling, highly valuable and recommended read on leadership, management and corporate transformation as well as on the automotive industry.

On Reign Of Error

I just finished reading the next book on our reading list, within the Houston Nonfiction Book Club that I am part of, Reign of Error – The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch.

While one might not agree with every argument advanced by the author, your view about the education system will definitely be challenged by this book regardless on your current stance with respect to the public vs. private education debate. This book invoked within me similar feelings of transformation as did Naomi Klein‘s highly recommended, The Shock Doctrine, a few years ago.

The purpose of this book is in essence to answer four questions about education:

First, is American education in crisis? Second, is American education failing and declining? Third, what is the evidence for the reforms now being promoted by the federal government and adopted in many states: Fourth, what should we do to improve our schools and the lives of children?

Diane begins, by setting the background for her work:

In Hollywood films and television documentaries, the battle lines are clearly drawn. Traditional public schools are bad; their supporters are apologists for the unions. Those who advocate for charter schools, virtual schooling, and “school choice” are reformers; their supporters insist they are championing the rights of minorities. They say they are leaders of the civil rights movement of our day. It is a compelling narrative, one that gives us easy villains and ready-made solutions. It appeals to values Americans have traditionally cherished—choice, freedom, optimism, and a latent distrust of government. There is only one problem with this narrative. It is wrong. Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education as such is not “broken.” Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it. The solutions proposed by the self-proclaimed reformers have not worked as promised. They have failed even by their own most highly valued measure, which is test scores. At the same time, the reformers’ solutions have had a destructive impact on education as a whole.

Her premise to advance education is to reverse our current path:

Stop doing the wrong things. Stop promoting competition and choice as answers to the very inequality that was created by competition and choice. Stop the mindless attacks on the education profession. A good society requires both a vibrant private sector and a responsible public sector. We must not permit the public sector to be privatized and eviscerated. In a democracy, important social goals require social collaboration. We must work to establish programs that improve the lives of children and families. To build a strong educational system, we need to build a strong and respected education profession. The federal government and states must develop policies to recruit, support, and retain career educators, both in the classroom and in positions of leadership. If we mean to conquer educational inequity, we must recognize that the root causes of poor academic performance are segregation and poverty, along with inequitably resourced schools. We must act decisively to reduce the causes of inequity. We know what good schools look like, we know what great education consists of. We must bring good schools to every district and neighborhood in our nation. Public education is a basic public responsibility: we must not be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it. It is time for parents, educators, and other concerned citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations. The future of our democracy depends on it.

The language being used to drive the privatization effort is intentionally misleading:

If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If parents understood that the reformers want to close down their community schools and require them to go shopping for schools, some far from home, that may or may not accept their children, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that the very concept of education was being disfigured into a mechanism to apply standardized testing and sort their children into data points on a normal curve, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public understood that their children’s teachers will be judged by the same test scores that label their children as worthy or unworthy, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. If the American public knew how inaccurate and unreliable these methods are, both for children and for teachers, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform. And that is why the reform message must be rebranded to make it palatable to the public.

The movement towards privatization of education is a bi-partisan effort:

Perhaps the most curious development over the three decades from A Nation at Risk to the 2012 report of the Council on Foreign Relations was this: what was originally seen in 1983 as the agenda of the most libertarian Republicans—school choice—had now become the agenda of the establishment, both Republicans and Democrats. Though there was no new evidence to support this agenda and a growing body of evidence against it, the realignment of political forces on the right and the left presented the most serious challenge to the legitimacy and future of public education in our nation’s history.

While there has been an increased focused on more testing and standardization, the quality of education has suffered:

Surely, there is value in structured, disciplined learning, whether in history, literature, mathematics, or science; students need to learn to study and to think; they need the skills and knowledge that are patiently acquired over time. Just as surely, there is value in the activities and projects that encourage innovation. The incessant demand for more testing and standardization advances neither.

Diane then goes on to outline, sixteen claims/fallacies that the reformers have been promoting to advance their privatization agenda, and below I will highlight three of them:

First, the fallacy surrounding high school graduation rates:

CLAIM: The nation has a dropout crisis, and high school graduation rates are falling. REALITY: high school graduation rates are at an all-time high…If college completion is important as an investment in the knowledge and skills of our population (and not just as a credential), then we must encourage and enable students to persist. If we treated education as both an economic good for the ongoing development of our nation and a basic human right, then public higher education would be subsidized by the state and freely available to all who choose to pursue a degree. That’s about as likely to happen as becoming first in the world in degree completion by 2020, but it would move us closer to the latter goal.

Second, the fallacy around the academic challenges in poorer schools are attributable to the ineffectiveness of their teachers:

CLAIM: Poverty is an excuse for ineffective teaching and failing schools. REALITY: Poverty is highly correlated with low academic achievement…The reformers’ belief that fixing schools will fix poverty has no basis in reality, experience, or evidence. It delays the steps necessary to heal our society and help children. And at the same time, it castigates and demoralizes teachers for conditions they did not cause and do not control.

Third, the fallacy that charter schools are the solution to the educational challenges of America:

CLAIM: Charter schools will revolutionize American education by their freedom to innovate and produce dramatically better results.REALITY Charter schools run the gamut from excellent to awful and are, on average, no more innovative or successful than public schools.

Before transitioning from the fallacies, to the solutions, the author reminds us again that poverty is not a problem that education alone can address:

There is no example in which an entire school district eliminated poverty by reforming its schools or by replacing public education with privately managed charters and vouchers. If the root causes of poverty are not addressed, society will remain unchanged. Some poor students will get the chance to go to college, but the vast majority who are impoverished will remain impoverished. The current reform approach is ineffective at eliminating poverty or improving education. It may offer an escape hatch for some poor children, as public schools always have, but it leaves intact the sources of inequality. The current reform approach does not alter the status quo of deep poverty and entrenched inequality…We need broader and deeper thinking. We must decide if we truly want to eliminate poverty and establish equal educational opportunity We must decide if we truly want to build a society with liberty and justice for all. If that is our true purpose, then we need to move on two fronts, changing society and improving schools at the same time.

Diane, then goes on to detail an eleven point action plan, of which I have highlighted six below:

  • Provide good prenatal care for every pregnant woman.
  • Make high-quality early childhood education available to all children.
  • Every school should have a full, balanced. and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography, foreign languages, mathematics.  and physical education.
  • Reduce class sizes to improve student achievement and behavior.
  • Insist that teachers, principals, and superintendents be professional educators.
  • Devise actionable strategies and specific goals to reduce racial segregation and poverty.

On a concluding note:

Genuine school reform must be built on hope, not fear; on encouragement, not threats; on inspiration, not compulsion; on trust, not carrots and sticks; on belief in the dignity of the human person, not a slavish devotion to data; on support and mutual respect, not a regime of punishment and blame. To be lasting, school reform must rely on collaboration and teamwork among students, parents, teachers, principals and local communities. Despite its faults, the American system of democratically controlled schools has been the mainstay of our communities and the foundation for our nation’s success. We must work together to improve our public schools. We must extend the promise of equal educational opportunity to all the children of our nation. Protecting our public schools against privatization and saving them for future generations of American children is the civil rights issue of our time.

A very highly recommended read.

On Team Of Rivals

I just finished reading Team of Rival – The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book was recommended as one of the 10 Great Leaders Biographies.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “This, then, is a story of Lincoln’s political genius revealed through his extraordinary array of personal qualities that enabled him to form friendships with men who had previously opposed him; to repair injured feelings that, left untended, might have escalated into permanent hostility; to assume responsibility for the failures of subordinates; to share credit with ease; and to learn from mistakes. He possessed an acute understanding of the sources of power inherent in the presidency, an unparalleled ability to keep his governing coalition intact, a tough-minded appreciation of the need to protect his presidential prerogatives, and a masterful sense of timing. His success in dealing with the strong egos of the men in his cabinet suggests that in the hands of a truly great politician the qualities we generally associate with we generally associate with decency and morality—kindness, sensitivity, compassion, honesty, and empathy—can also be impressive political resources…To be sure, he had a melancholy temperament, most likely imprinted on him from birth. But melancholy differs from depression. It is not an illness; it does not proceed from a specific cause; it is an aspect of one’s nature. It has been recognized by artists and writers for centuries as a potential source of creativity and achievement. Moreover, Lincoln possessed an uncanny understanding of his shifting moods, a profound self-awareness that enabled him to find constructive ways to alleviate sadness and stress. Indeed, when he is compared with his colleagues, it is clear that he possessed the most even-tempered disposition of them all. Time and again, he was the one who dispelled his colleagues’ anxiety and sustained their spirits with his gift for storytelling and his life-affirming sense of humor. When resentment and contention threatened destroy his administration, he refused to be provoked by petty grievances, to submit to jealousy, or to brood over perceived slights. Through the appalling pressures he faced day after day, he retained an unflagging faith in his country’s cause.”

2- “In these convivial settings, Lincoln was invariably the center of attention. No one could equal his never-ending stream of stories nor his ability to reproduce them with such contagious mirth. As his winding tales became more famous, crowds of villagers awaited his arrival at every stop for the chance to hear a master storyteller.”

3- “It was a country for young men. “We find ourselves,” the twenty-eight year-old Lincoln told the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, “in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate.” The founding fathers had crafted a government more favorable to liberty “than any of which the history of former times tells us.” Now it was up to their children to serve and expand the great experiment.”

4- “Lincoln’s early intimacy with traffic loss reinforced a melancholy temperament. Yet his familiarity with pain and personal disappointment imbued him with a strength and understanding of human frailty unavailable to a man of Seward’s buoyant disposition. Moreover, Lincoln, unlike the brooding Chase, possessed a life-affirming humor and a profound resilience that lightened his despair and fortified his will.”

5- “Books became his academy, his college. The printed word united his mind with the great minds of generations past. Relatives and neighbors recalled that he scoured the countryside for books and read every volume “he could lay his hands on.” At a time when ownership of books remained “a luxury for those Americans living outside the purview of the middle class,” gaining access to reading material proved difficult. When Lincoln obtained copies of the King James Bible, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, and William Scott’s Lessons in Elocution, he could not contain his excitement. Holding Pilmm’s Process in his hands, “his eyes sparkled. and that day he could not eat, and that night he could not sleep.” When printing was first invented, Lincoln would later write, “the great mass of men … were utterly unconscious, that their conditions, or their minds were capable of improvement.” To liberate “the mind from this false and under-estimate of itself, is the great task which printing came into the world to perform.” He was, of course, also speaking of himself, of the transforming liberation of a young boy unlocking the miraculous mysteries of language, discovering a world of possibilities in the small log cabin on the frontier that he later called “as unpoetical as any spot of the earth.”…He read and reread the Bible and Aesop’s Fables so many times that years later he could recite whole passages and entire stories from memory. Through Scott’s Lessons in Elocution, he first encountered selections from Shakespeare’s plays, inspiring a love for the great dramatist’s writings long before he ever saw a play. He borrowed a volume of the Revised Statutes of Indiana from the local constable, a work that contained the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787— documents that would become foundation stones of his philosophical and political thought.”

6- “What Lincoln lacked in preparation and guidance, he made up for v^itl his daunting concentration, phenomenal memory, acute reasoning faculties, and interpretive penetration. Though untutored in the sciences and the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood them fully. “Get the books, and read and study them,” he told a law student seeking advice in 1855. It did not matter, he continued, whether the reading be done in a small town or a large city, by oneself or in the company of Others. “The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places— Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing.”

7- “Though Lincoln’s empathy was at the root of his melancholy it would prove an enormous asset to his political career. “His crowning gift of political diagnosis,” suggested Nicolay, “was due to his sympathy… which gave him the power to forecast with uncanny accuracy what his opponents were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk were likely to do.” She described how, after listening to his colleagues talk at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his at a Whig Party caucus, Lincoln would cast off his shawl, rise from his chair, and say: “From your talk, I gather the Democrats will do so and so … I should do so and so to checkmate them.” He proceeded to outline all “the moves for days ahead; making them all so plain that his listeners wondered why they had not seen it that way themselves.” Such capacity to intuit the inward feelings and intentions of others would be manifest throughout his career.”

8- “Lincoln’s ability to win the respect of others, to earn their trust and even devotion, would prove essential in his rise to power. There was something mysterious m his persona that led countless men, even old adversaries, to feel bound to him in admiration.”

9- “Chance, positioning, and managerial s strategy—all played a role in Lincoln’s victory. Still, if we consider the comparative resources each contender brought to the race—-their range of political skills, their emotional. intellectual, and moral qualities, their rhetorical abilities, and their determination and willingness to work hard—it is clear that when opportunity beckoned. Lincoln was the best prepared to answer the call. His nomination, finally, was the result of his character and his life experiences—these separated him from his rivals and provided him with advantages unrecognized at the time. Having risen to power with fewer privileges than any of his rivals, Lincoln was more accustomed to rely upon himself to shape events. From beginning to end, he took the greatest control of the process leading up to the nomination.”

10- “At the same time, his native caution and precision with language—he rarely said more than he was sure about, rarely pandered to his various audiences—gave Lincoln great advantages over his rivals, each of whom tried to reposition himself in the months before the convention…Though Lincoln desired success as fiercely as any of his i rivals, he did not allow his quest for office to consume the kindness and openheartedness with which he treated supporters and rivals alike, nor alter his steady commitment to the antislavery cause.”

11- “Later, Joseph Medill of the Chicago Tribune asked Lincoln why he had chosen a cabinet comprised of enemies and opponents. He particularly questioned the president’s selection of the three men who had been his chief rivals for the Republican nomination, each of whom was still smarting from the loss. Lincoln’s answer was simple, straightforward, and shrewd. “We needed the strongest men of the party in the Cabinet. We needed to hold our own people together. I had looked the party over and concluded that these were the very strongest men. Then I had no right to deprive the country of their services.””

12- “To Lincoln’s mind, the battle to save the Union contained an even larger purpose than ending slavery, which was after all sanctioned by the very Constitution he was sworn to uphold. “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle,” he told Hay in early May, “is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it win go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.””

13- “Lincoln had long believed, as we have seen, that “with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.” He understood that one of the principal stumbling blocks in the way of emancipation was the pervasive fear shared by whites in both the North and the South that the two races could never coexist peacefully in a free society. He thought that a plan for the voluntary emigration of freed slaves would allay some of these fears, fostering wider acceptance of his proclamation.”

14- “”Abraham Lincoln, will take no step backward.” Intuitively grasping Lincoln’s character. though they were not yet personally acquainted, Douglass explained that “Abraham Lincoln may be slow… but Abraham Lincoln is not the man to reconsider, retract and contradict words and purposes solemnly proclaimed over his official signature…If he has taught us to confide in nothing else, he has taught us to confide in his word.” Lincoln confirmed this assessment when he told Massachusetts congressman George Boutwell, “My word is out to these people, and I can’t take it back.””

15- “”I never, in my life, felt more certain that I was doing right, than I do in signing this paper,” he said. “If my name ever goes into history it will be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.” His arm was “stiff and numb” from shaking hands for three hours, however. “If my hand trembles when I sign the Proclamation,” Lincoln said, “all who examine the document hereafter will say, ‘He hesitated.’ ” So the president waited a moment and then took up the pen once more, “slowly and carefully” writing his name. “The signature proved to be unusually bold, clear, and firm, even for him,” Fred Seward recalled, “and a laugh followed, at his apprehensions.” The secretary of state added his own name and carried it back to the State Department, where the great seal of the United States was affixed before copies were sent out to the press.”

16- “Asked months later by a radical to “suppress the infamous ‘Chicago Times,’ ” Lincoln told her, “I fear you do not fully comprehend the danger of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens.””

17- “Herein, Swett concluded, lay the secret to Lincoln’s gifted leadership. “It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and the great forces which were producing logical results.” John Forney of the Washington Daily Chronicle observed the same judgment and timing, arguing that Lincoln was “the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them.”

18- “Four score and seven years ago,” he began, our fathers brought forth upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are sated equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living i and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor Dower to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced, d. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that, government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

19- “Discipline and keen insight had once again served Lincoln most effectively. By regulating his emotions and resisting the impulse to strike back at Chase when the circular first became known, he gained time for his friends to mobilize the massive latent support for his candidacy. Chase’s aspirations were crushed without Lincoln’s direct intrusion.”

20- “He gave voice to these ideals in late August with an emotional address to the men of an Ohio regiment returning home to their families. “I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House,” he said. “I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each of you may have through tills free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright…. The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.””

21- “Drawing upon the rare wisdom of a temperament that consistently displayed uncommon magnanimity toward those who opposed him, he then issued his historic plea to his fellow countrymen: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shah have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just. and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.””

22- “The editors of the Mercury would have been even more astonished if they had an inkling of the truth recognized by those closer to Lincoln: his political genius was not simply his ability to gather the best men of the country around him, but to impress upon them his own purpose, perception, and resolution at every juncture. With respect to Lincoln’s cabinet. Charles Dana observed, “it was always plain that he was the master and they were the subordinates. They constantly had to yield to his will, and if he ever yielded to them it was because they convinced him that the course they advised was judicious and appropriate.””

23- “At 7:22 a.m., April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was pronounced dead. Stanton’s concise tribute from his deathbed still echoes. “Now he belongs to the ages.””

24- “”Washington was a typical American. Napoleon was a typical Frenchman, but Lincoln was a humanitarian as broad as the world. He was bigger than his country—bigger than all the Presidents together. We are still too near to his greatness,” Tolstoy concluded, “but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.”

25- “The ambition to establish a reputation worthy of the esteem of his fellows so that his story could be told after his death had carried Lincoln through his bleak childhood, his laborious efforts to educate himself, his string of political failures, and a depression so profound that he declared himself more than willing to die, except that “he had done nothing to make any human being remember that he had lived.” An indomitable sense of purpose had sustained him through the disintegration of the Union and through the darkest months of the war, when he was called upon again and again to rally his disheartened countrymen. soothe the animosity of his generals, and mediate among members of his often contentious administration. His conviction that we are one nation, indivisible, “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” led to the rebirth of a union free of slavery. And he expressed this conviction in a language of enduring clarity and beauty, exhibiting a literary genius to match his political genius. With his death, Abraham Lincoln had come to seem the embodiment of his own words—”With malice toward none; with charity for all” voiced in his second inaugural to lay out the visionary pathway to a reconstructed union. The deathless name he sought from the start had grown far beyond Sangamon County and Illinois, reached across the truly United States, until his legacy, as Stanton had surmised at the moment of his death, belonged not only to America but to the ages—to be revered and sung throughout all time.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

On Founding Brothers

I recently finished reading Founding Brothers – The Revolutionary Generation – by Joseph J. Ellis.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “In the long run, the evolution of an independent American nation, gradually developing its political and economic strength over the nineteenth century within the protective constraints of the British Empire, was probably inevitable. This was Paine’s point. But that was not the way history happened. The creation of a separate American nation occurred suddenly rather than gradually, in revolutionary rather than evolutionary fashion, the decisive events that shaped the political ideas and institutions of the emerging state all taking place with dynamic intensity during the quarter of the eighteenth century. No one present at the start knew how it would turn out in the end. What in retrospect has the look of a foreordained unfolding of God’s will was in reality an improvisational affair in which sheer chance, pure luck both good and bad—and specific decisions made in the crucible of specific military and political crises determined the outcome. At the dawn of a new century, indeed a new millennium, the United States is now the oldest enduring republic in world history, with a set of political institutions and traditions that have stood the test of time. The basic framework for all these institutions and traditions was built in a sudden spasm of enforced inspiration and makeshift construction during the final decades of the eighteenth century.”

2- ” My own answers to these questions are contained in the stories that follow, which attempt to recover the sense of urgency and improvisation, what it looked and felt like, for the eight most prominent political leaders in the early republic. They are, in alphabetical order. Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. While each episode is a self-contained narrative designed to illuminate one propitious moment with as much storytelling skill as I can muster, taken together they feature several common themes. First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix…Second, they all knew one another personally, meaning that they broke bread together, sat together at countless meetings, corresponded with one another about private as well as public matters…Third, they managed to take the most threatening; and divisive issue off the political agenda…Fourth, the faces that look down upon us with such classical dignity in those portraits by John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale, the voices that speak to us across the ages in such lyrical cadences, seem so mythically heroic, at least in part, because they knew we would be looking and listening. All the vanguard members of the revolutionary generation developed a keen sense of their historical significance even while they were still making the history on which their reputations would rest.”

3- “In the wake of other national movements—the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, as well as the multiple movements for national independence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—the leadership class of the successful revolution proceeded to decimate itself in bloody reprisals that frequently assumed genocidal proportions. But the conflict within the American revolutionary generation remained a passionate yet bloodless affair in which the energies released by national independence did not devour its own children. Th Burr-Hamilton duel represented the singular exception to this rule.”

4- “By selecting the Potomac location, the Congress had implicitly decided to separate the political and financial capitals of the United “States. All the major European capitals—Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Vienna—were metropolitan centers that gathered together the political, economic, and cultural energies of their respective populations in one place. The United States was almost inadvertently deciding to segregate them. The exciting synergy of institutional life in an all-ll-purpose national metropolis was deemed less important than the dangerous corruptions likely to afflict a nexus of politicians and financier.”

5- “For the next seventy years, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1986, the essence of political wisdom in the emergent American republic was to insist that such choices did not have to be made. But the recognition that these were the competing options, the contested versions, if you will, of what the core legacy of the American Revolution truly meant, first became visible in the summer of 1790. Thee Constitution did not resolve these questions; it only provided an orderly framework within which the arguments could continue. Nor would it be historically correct to regard the issues at stake as exclusively or even primarily constitutional. Legalistic debates over federal versus state sovereignty were just the most accessible handles to grab, t the safest and most politically suitable ways to talk about alternative national visions. The Compromise of 1790 is most famous for averting a political crisis that many statesmen of the time considered a threat to the survival of the infant republic. But it also exposed the incompatible expectations concerning Americas future that animated these same st statesmen. In a sense, it is a very old story which has been rendered even more familiar by the violent dissolution of revolutionary regimes i; in modern day emergent nations: Bound together in solidarity against t the imperialistic enemy, the leadership fragments when the common enemy disappears and the different agenda for the new nation must confront its differences. Securing a revolution has proven to be a much more daunting assignment than winning one. The accommodation that culminated in the agreement reached over Jefferson’s dinner table provides a momentary exposure of the sharp differences dividing the leadership of the revolutionary generation: sectional versus national allegiance; agrarian versus commercial economic priorities; diffusion versus consolidation as social ideals; an impotent versus a potent federal government. The compromise reached did not resolve these conflicts so much as prevent them from exploding when the newly created government was so vulnerable; it bought time during which the debate could continue.”

6- “The main themes of the Farewell Address are just as easy to state succinctly as they are difficult to appreciate fully. After declaring his irreversible intention to retire, Washington devoted several paragraphs to the need for national unity. He denounced excessive partisanship, most especially when it took the form of political parties pursuing a vested ideological agenda or sectional interest groups oblivious to the advantages of cooperation. The rest of the Farewell Address was then devoted to foreign policy, calling for strict American neutrality and diplomatic independence from the tangled affairs of Europe…”Washington was not claiming to offer novel prescriptions based on his original reading of philosophical treatises or books; quite the opposite, he was reminding his countrymen of the venerable principles he had acquired from personal experience, principles so obvious and elemental that they were at risk of being overlooked by his contemporaries; and so thoroughly grounded in the American Revolution that they are virtually invisible to a more distant posterity.”

7- “Finally, Adams apprised Jefferson: “Your distinction between natural and artificial Aristocracy does not appear to me well founded.” One might be able to separate wealth from talent in theory, but in practice, and in all societies, they were inextricably connected: “The five Pillars of Aristocracy,” he argued, “are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time, over bear any one or both of the two last.” But it would never come to that anyway, because the qualities Jefferson regarded as artificial and those he regarded as natural were all mixed together inside human nature, then mixed together again within society, in blended patterns that defied Jefferson’s neat dissections.”

8- “They both (Adams and Jefferson) did anticipate, albeit from decidedly different perspectives,;, the looming sectional crisis between North and South that their partnership stretched across. “I fear there will be greater difficulties to preserve our Union,” Adams warned, “than You and I, our Fathers Brothers Disciples and Sons have had to form it.” Jefferson concurred, though the subject touched the most explosive issue of all—namely, the unmentionable fact of slavery. Even the ever-candid Adams recognized that this was the forbidden topic, the one piece of ground declared off-limits by mutual consent. With one notable exception, the dialogue between Adams and Jefferson, so revealing in its engagement of the conflicting ideas and impulses that shaped the American Revolution, also symbolized the unofficial policy of silence within the revolutionary generation on the most glaring disagreement of all.”

9- “One would like to believe, and there is some basis for the belief, that each man (Adams and Jefferson) came to recognize in the other the intellectual and temperamental qualities lacking in himself; that they, in effect, completed each other; that only when joined could the pieces of the story of the American Revolution come together to make a whole. But the more mundane truth is that they never faced and therefore never fully resolved all their political differences; they simply outlived them.”

10- “He conceded (Adams) that the era of the American Revolution had been “a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race,” but the jury was still out on its significance. He doubted whether the republican principles planted by the founding generation would grow in foreign soil. Neither Europe nor Latin America were ready for them. Even within the United States, the fate of those principles was still problematic. He warned that America was “destined in future history to form the brightest or blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall in time to come be shaped by the human mind!” Asked to pose for posterity, he chose to go out hurling it a challenge.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Founding Brothers