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POWELL: Biden Assessment–Year One

An assessment of President Joe Biden’s first year clearly shows weakness in issues management. He has allowed more issues to become crises than he solved: Energy, border, urban violence, inflation, supply chain, fentanyl deaths, the aftermath of COVID-19 policies, and Afghanistan.

Biden has two tendencies that contribute to his lack of success in issues management: Failure to get ahead of issues and misreading residual costs associated with his decisions. He was caught short on inflation and has still not acknowledged the residual issues associated with open borders and his energy policy.

Every president has had to manage complex issues and crises while in office. So, how does Biden stack up to some of his predecessors? The issues he has been called on to manage are much less grave in scope than the dual crises, Great Depression and World War II, faced by President Franklin Roosevelt. The decisions he has made are of lesser magnitude than President Harry Truman deciding to drop two atomic bombs on Japanese civilians to end the war.

He has neither demonstrated the political finesse of President Dwight Eisenhower in defusing the Little Rock school desegregation issue in 1957, nor the accountability of President John Kennedy who immediately owned up to the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, or President Ronald Reagan who publicly admitted his mistakes after the Tower Commission Report on Iran-Contra.

He has not shown the agility of President Bill Clinton to triangulate after the American people resoundingly rejected his liberal approach to government in his first two years, nor has he shown the humility of President George H.W. Bush in ending the First Persian Gulf War when his stated objectives were reached and a retreating army could easily have been decimated.

The end of his first year shows a president who is following the example of President Lyndon Johnson, who squandered his presidency in pursuit of victory in Vietnam; President Jimmy Carter, whose presidency was paralyzed by the Iran Hostage Crisis, President Richard Nixon, who refused to acknowledge the consequences of Watergate until it was too late to save his presidency; President Gerald Ford, whose pardon of Nixon failed to heal the nation and sunk his presidency; and President George W. Bush, who unilaterally expanded his mandate to wage the War on Terror and lost the support of the American people as a result. Biden during his first year would not abandon “Build Back Better” even though it had no chance of passing in the Senate.

There is ample evidence, based on Biden’s “secret” meeting with historians at the White House in March 2021, to support his desire to be great. The vehicle he has created to accomplish that goal appears to be his “Build Back Better” initiative. The $5 trillion program is transformative and it could be argued that it would set the stage for a post-capitalism economy in America.

The World Economic Forum defined the launch point for the move toward more global governance and “social capitalism” as the COVID-19 pandemic but events, including the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, are overtaking it in importance and causing the Western nations to pause and rethink many of their assumptions about energy and defense of the free world.

Effective crisis management is what elevates presidents to the pantheon of greatness. George Washington invented the presidency because he was the first president and was truly the “indispensable man” of his era. Abraham Lincoln embraced our founding values (rights are God-given and all men are created equal) as the moral foundation for civil war. Franklin Roosevelt asked for and was given a mandate from the American people to take extraordinary measures to tame the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson embraced the ripeness of the civil rights issue and used his formidable political skills to enact his Great Society agenda. The opportunity for greatness is created in large measure by the times in which a president serves in office. Greatness cannot be achieved simply because a president wants to be great.

Biden was given the mandate to heal our nation’s divisions. Arguably, he has exacerbated them in year one. With razor-thin majorities in Congress, the opposite of FDR in 1933, Biden has tried to push through his own version of the “New Deal.” Lacking broad-based popular support, he desired to enact his own version of the “Great Society.”  Biden misread FDR, who assiduously avoided his self-imposed third rail – being defined as a socialist because of his policies. He also did not give enough credit to LBJ, who was a master legislator and the hardest worker in Congress, long before he became president. Their significant accomplishments were not accidents nor were they givens.

There may be unforeseen issues and crises over the next three years that will provide Biden with the opportunity to achieve greatness. But that is not where he finds himself as he begins 2022. At this point, it would be best for him to focus on what he was elected to do – heal our divisions.  Then, when opportunities present, he would have a consensus to act boldly.

 

 

MYERS: Rediscovering America: A Quiz for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. On this holiday, we celebrate one of the great civil rights leaders of the 20th century. The Rev. King challenged Americans to uphold the Declaration of Independence’s promise “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The quiz below, from the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, provides an opportunity for you to test your knowledge of King and his efforts to further civil rights in America.

 

1. King became pastor of which Georgia church in 1960?

A. Wheat Street Baptist Church

B. Milestone Baptist Church

C. Ebenezer Baptist Church

D. Zion Baptist Church

 

2. Which leader inspired King’s belief in “nonviolent resistance” and, according to King, provided “the method for social reform that I had been seeking”?

A. Nelson Mandela

B. Dalai Lama

C. Eleanor Roosevelt

D. Mahatma Gandhi

 

3. King said in an interview that if he were marooned on a desert island with only one book other than the Bible, he would choose what book?

A. Plato’s “The Republic”

B. John Stuart Mills’ “On Liberty”

C. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Essays by RW Emerson”

D. James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son”

 

4. After which civil rights victory did King become a recognized national leader of the civil rights movement?

A. Civil Rights Act of 1964

B. Montgomery Bus Boycott

C.  Birmingham Campaign of 1963

D. School integration in Little Rock

 

5. In what city in 1968 was King assassinated?

A. Memphis, Tenn.

B.  Jackson, Miss.

C. Little Rock, Ark.

D. Selma, Ala.

 

6. Before his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King gave another speech from the Lincoln Memorial. What was the topic of that speech?

A. Vietnam War

B. Importance of nonviolence

C. Economic equality

D. African American voting rights

 

7. In 1964, King received what important award?

A. United Nations Human Rights Award

B. Nobel Peace Prize

C. Presidential Medal of Freedom

D. Congressional Medal of Honor

 

8. Which other civil rights leader did King work closely with before his death?

A. Ralph Abernathy

B. Jesse Jackson

C. Benjamin Mays

D. All of the above

 

9. What was the name of the speech King gave the day before his assassination?

A. “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”

B. “The Three Evils of Society”

C. “Our God Is Marching On”

D. “The Other America”

 

10. Which president signed legislation designating Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday?

A. Barack Obama

B. Jimmy Carter

C. Ronald Reagan

D. George Bush

 

Answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-A, 4-B, 5-A, 6-D, 7-B, 8-D, 9-A, 10-C

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Drinking Song Christmas Classic

t’s one of the very first Yuletide songs the youngest of children learn. The lyrics are easy and its music is peppy, making it the ideal holiday song for little kids. Who among us hasn’t heard toddlers warbling at the top of their little lungs to adoring parents,

“Jingle bells,

Jingle bells,  

Jingle all the way.”

Mom and dad probably wouldn’t be beaming so happily if they knew the backstory of that beloved Christmas classic. Because when the song originally came out, it certainly wouldn’t have been considered “age-inappropriate” by today’s standards.

It was called “One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was first published in 1857. Even back then, its words conjured images of simpler, more carefree times.

It’s difficult for 21st-century minds to imagine now, but a heavy snowfall often brought a treat to 19th-century folks. Consider these lines from a letter written in February 1865 by a Union soldier to his girlfriend in Upstate New York. “I presume you did not fail to take advantage of the deep snow. I imagine I see you on a cold pleasant moonlit night gliding over the crystal surface preceded by nettlesome steeds and the pleasant ringing of musical bells which seem to mock the joyous laughter of you and your companions.”

After enjoying one such sleigh ride, James Lord Pierpont recognized a song was waiting to be written.

He was an interesting character. Son of a New England minister, he ran away to sea at age 14, later returned, married, and started a family. He settled in Medford, Massachusetts where his father pastored a Unitarian Church. The urge to wander returned with the 1849 California Gold Rush. Pierpont wound up in San Francisco where had a store and a photography studio before losing both in a fire. He returned to New England flat broke.

After his wife died in 1856, Pierpont’s brother accepted the pastorate of a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia. Pierpont tagged along to serve as music minister. He wrote songs and gave organ and singing lessons on the side, all the while composing a steady stream of music himself. He became successful enough to take the daughter of Savannah’s mayor as his second wife.

In 1857 he released the song we still sing today. But “One Horse Open Sleigh” bombed so badly when it came out that he had to rebrand it. It was re-released in 1859 as “Jingle Bells.” Even then it was far from a best-seller.

Ironically alcohol, not schoolkids, spread the tune. “Jingle Bells” became a popular mid-Victorian drinking song with singers clinking their glasses to imitate the sound of bells. And get this–the lyrics were even considered racy for the time, too. A young couple sleigh riding without a chaperon? Hubba-hubba! Risqué stuff.

Despite the initial setbacks, “Jingle Bells” has stood the test of time. But one question still lingers: Where exactly did Pierpont pen the piece?

Medford, Massachusetts, and Savannah, Georgia each claim to be the song’s birthplace. A plaque in downtown Medford asserts Pierpoint wrote it at the Simpson Tavern in 1850. It even cites a Mrs. Otis Waterman who said she remembered it.

Nonsense, Savannah adherents huff. Just look at the calendar. Pierpont was living in that coastal city when the song was first published. It stands to reason it was written there as well.

Which claim is accurate? Who knows! While history lovers like to nail down these little details, in this case, it really doesn’t matter.

From the moment it was recorded for the very first time on an Edison wax cylinder in 1889 to countless elementary school Christmas concerts around the country in 2021, it remains a timeless favorite. Which is why James Lord Pierpont is honored in the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

So, remember him the next time you belt out “Jingle Bells” at a Christmas party. And if the kids have been put to bed, go ahead and clink your glasses. Pierpont wouldn’t mind.

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: Famous Candy Bars’ Name Game

In the aftermath of big elections in Virginia and New Jersey, pundits say a Red Wave may be replacing a Blue Wave. But one thing is certain: America’s children are riding a Sugar Wave as they finish the last of Halloween’s trick-or-treat candy.

Which poses an interesting question: How well do you know the stories behind the names of America’s beloved candy bars?

We begin with the Kit Kat bar. One day in the 1930s, a worker at a large confectionary plant in York, England slipped a recommendation into a suggestion box for a small candy bar that a working man easily could carry in his lunchbox. Britons quickly fell in love with the crunchy taste when Rowntree’s Chocolate Crisp debuted in 1935. But they were less enthusiastic about its clunky name.

Reaching into English history, when a mutton pie called a Kit Kat was served at 18th-century meetings of the political Kit-Cat Club in London, the name was resurrected. The new title played equally well when it was introduced on this side of the Atlantic after World War II.

Think the gooey goodness of the Milky War candy bar was inspired by our galaxy? Think again.

When Mars Candy rolled it out in the early 1920s, it borrowed the name of a milkshake that was popular at the time. Americans didn’t mind that bit of plagiarism because when Milky Way went national in 1925, it racked up $800,000 in sales, or about $12.5 million today. Not bad when you consider they sold for nickel apiece.

Speaking of Mars, who hasn’t at one time or another sunk a sweet tooth into the nougat on peanuts on caramel on milk chocolate sensation of a Snickers bar? A logical guess would be its name originated from snickers that followed an amusing idea. But no. Snickers was actually named for the Mars family’s favorite horse!

Then there’s the widely popular 3 Musketeers Bar. What on earth does Alexander Dumas’ 1844 novel about 17th-century swashbuckling adventurers have to do with fluffy, whipped mousse covered in milk chocolate?

When it debuted in 1932, it was different from the candy bar we know today. The original version had three sections: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Three tastes led to 3 Musketeers. Rationing during World War II forced Mars to drop the vanilla and strawberry pieces. Americans seemed happily content with just the chocolate part because it remained popular after wartime restrictions ended.

What about M&Ms? Americans were devouring the pill-sized sweets long before rapper Marshall Mathers piggybacked on its popularity by calling himself Eminem. The concept was taken from candy eaten by soldiers during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. A hard coating kept chocolate from melting in hot climates.

When M&Ms debuted exactly 80 years ago this September, its name was drawn from confectionary royalty. It was created by using the first letter in the last name of Forrest Mars, son of legendary Mars Candy founder Frank Mars, and Hershey Chocolate president William. F.R. Murrie, who owned 20 percent of the product.

Which brings us to the mother of all candy bar names.

When Chicago’s Curtiss Candy Company introduced its combination of peanuts, caramel, and chocolate Kandy Kake in 1920, it experienced what Kit Kat’s makers encountered. Folks loved the taste but hated the name. In 1921 it became Baby Ruth. It just so happened that at that precise moment, a certain New York Yankee named George Herman Ruth was knocking out home runs on his way to becoming a baseball superstar. So, Baby Ruth was named in honor of Babe Ruth, right?

Oh, no, Curtiss claimed with a straight face. The new name was actually a tribute to President Grover Cleveland’s daughter. Born in the White House in 1891, she was nicknamed “Baby Ruth.” Americans at the time were captivated by the child, following her first words, her first steps, and so on.

But believing Americans were motivated to plunk down a nickel for a candy bar named after a girl born 30 years earlier (and who sadly died of diphtheria at age 12) stretched credulity. A more likely explanation is the “Baby Ruth” Cleveland claim was a cover story that kept Curtiss from having to pay royalties to the Sultan of Swat.

By the way, Baby Ruth’s progenitor did some name changing of his own. Otto Schnering originally sold candy under his last name for years. Until World War I, when having a Germanic surname was suddenly bad for business. So, he adopted his mother’s maiden name, and it was the Curtiss Candy Company from then on.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare famously asked? When candy is involved, plenty!

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HOLY COW! HISTORY: The Star-Crossed Love of Stanny and Sara

Some loves are doomed from the start. The attraction, the desire, the passion are genuine and sincere. But people, timing, and events conspire to make it a stillborn affair forced to remain forever buried in the star-crossed lovers’ hearts.

Tall, beautiful, 21-year-old Sara was a prize catch in New York’s Hudson River blueblood society of 1876. Her family lived in a 40-room mansion. Sara was well-traveled and well-educated, spoke fluent German and French, and carried herself like a queen. Needless to say, she had plenty of suitors.

But Sara fell into a love deeper than a bottomless pit the minute she first saw Stanny. He wasn’t like the genteel admirers swarming around her.

Stanny (short for Stanford) was 22, red-headed with a sweeping mustache and an oversized personality to match. He was an aspiring architect who impressed Sara as witty, kind, and generous. Already a sophisticated collector of expensive art and antiques, his next acquisition would be Sara’s hand in marriage.

There was just one problem, and it was a biggie.

Sara’s father couldn’t stand Stanny. Not a casual dislike, either; he loathed the young man. He found Stanny loud, brash, and tasteless calling him “my red-headed terror,” the personification of the type of man Sara shouldn’t marry.

Sara faced a major dilemma. She worshipped her father; in her eyes, he could do no wrong. Yet she truly loved Stanny, too.

So, the dad did what wealthy Victorian fathers typically did in that situation: He packed up Sara and sent her on a grand tour of Europe. It didn’t work. Sara mooned over Stanny as she moved around the Continent for nine months.

When she returned home still pining for her boyfriend, her father then sent her in the opposite direction—she was hustled off to Hong Kong to stay with relatives.

Sara finally accepted the inevitable. She and Stanny would never live happily ever after together. Stanny was the love of her life, but she simply could not bring herself to defy the father she adored. The relationship ended and the lovers sadly went their separate ways.

Maybe it was a case of “father knows best” because, unknown to anyone, Stanny had a dark secret.

“Stanny” was Stanford White, who went on to become America’s most famous and successful architect in the Victorian era. He designed mansions for millionaires in Newport. He drew plans for impressive churches and massive business buildings in New York City. And in an amazing twist of fate, he even designed the second Madison Square Garden where his hidden secret ultimately led to his very public death.

Stanford White was a sexual predator who preyed on teenage girls. His many victims included Evelyn Nesbit. Stunningly beautiful, she was one of the famous Gibson Girls, an early iteration of the “supermodel.” She eventually married Harry K. Thaw, a Pittsburgh social gadfly said to be worth $40 million (nearly $1 billion today).

But Thaw had issues of his own. He was, to put it charitably, mentally unstable and subject to wild, violent mood swings. Obsessed with his beautiful wife, he decided Stanny must be punished for having violated Evelyn.

On the broiling night of June 25, 1906, Thaw encountered Stanny in Madison Square Garden’s rooftop theater. Screaming either, “You ruined my wife” or “You ruined my life,” (witnesses reported hearing it both ways), he pulled out a gun and shot Stanny dead.

It was a national scandal the newspapers reported in lurid detail. After two trials, Thaw was ordered locked in an insane asylum for life. (His family’s immense wealth helped persuade a judge to release him a few years later.)

And remember Sara? She was 51 when Stanny was murdered. She quietly mourned him for the rest of her life. “Sara never stopped loving Stanford White,” a close relative later said. “He was the only man she ever loved.”

In 1880 at age 26, Sara had wed a 53-year-old wealthy widower. They soon had one child, a son.

Sara’s full name was Sara Ann Delano. Her husband’s name was James Roosevelt.

And the baby’s name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

You can’t help wondering who would have guided America out of the Great Depression and through World War II if the star-crossed lovers had changed her father’s mind and been permitted to marry.

On such small slivers do the fate of nations — and in this case, the world — invisibly hang.

HOLY COW! HISTORY: Meet the Real Ichabod Crane

A cool, crisp late October night. A haunting moon shining down as a breeze rattles the bare tree limbs. It’s the ideal time to curl up and revisit Washington Irving’s classic “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The beloved short story has been making spines tingle since 1820.

Who doesn’t know the tale of the terrifying Headless Horseman scaring the daylights out of poor, hapless Ichabod Crane?

But did you know Ichabod Crane really existed?

No, not the gangly, cowardly, scarecrow-like schoolteacher from Irving’s story. It’s time to meet the real Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod B. Crane was born in 1787. He did a hitch in the Marines aboard the famous warship USS United States under the legendary Commodore Stephen Decatur and later served as an Army captain at Sacket’s Harbor on Lake Ontario in the War of 1812. There he oversaw defenses at Fort Pike. He was personally brave and courageous under fire, totally unlike the faint-hearted Crane in the story.

While at Fort Pike he may, or may not (historians disagree on this), have crossed paths with a staff officer named Washington Irving. One way or another, the young writer certainly heard Crane’s name and it stuck with him. Irving already had a thing for traditional “Yankee-sounding names,” as he put it. They consisted of a first name taken from the Bible (in this case Ichabod is mentioned in the book of First Samuel) paired with a common English surname. So, he mentally filed away “Ichabod Crane” for later use.

The real Crane went on to serve in both the Black Hawk and Mexican Wars, eventually retiring after 45 years as a highly respected colonel. He died at his Staten Island home in 1857.

Since the fictitious Ichabod Crane had nothing in common with the real military officer, where did Irving get the character’s personality? Scholars again are divided, but it seems most likely it was based on one Jesse Merwin. He was a real-life schoolmaster in Kinderhook, N.Y. The two men supposedly became friends when the writer was living there in 1809. They remained pen pals for decades after Irving moved away.

Ironically, the modern structure that sits on the same site Merwin’s schoolhouse once occupied is home to the Ichabod Crane Central School District.

Getting back to the real military officer, he seems not to have minded seeing his name turn up in the story. Irving was a popular author whose books sold very well. There were only so many people at the time running around named Ichabod Crane, after all, and one imagines he must have grown tired of hearing during introductions, “You can’t be that gutless wonder in the book—you’ve still got your head!” Few things in life are as unpleasant as laughing at a tired line one has heard too many times. But Col. Crane seems to have borne it all in good stride.

Washington Irving’s literary legacy still lingers in many ways. For instance, he popularized the image of Santa Claus flying through the sky on Christmas Eve night in his early short stories. He coined the phrase “the almighty dollar” and spread the use of “Gotham” for New York City.

And another Irving character also lives with us today. His fictional Deidrich Knickerbocker became so widely associated with New York that its residents were called “Knickerbockers” in the 19th century. That became the nickname of the NBA’s New York Knickerbockers, now shortened to the Knicks.

We can be grateful they weren’t called the New York Ichabods. Who wants to cheer for the Icks?