February 19, 2017

I wrote this piece almost 6 months ago. I thought I would repost it. 

A lot has changed and the most important things have not. 

The fundamental dangers (failed states, refugees, terrorism, nuclear proliferation) and tensions remain the same. 

We now have a major concern (the specific facts of which remain unclear) about Russia's involvement in and influence on the outcome of our Presidential election. We need to investigate and determine the nature of the communications between the Trump administration and Russian authorities before the election.

Putin continues to be demonized; President Trump is assaulted for wanting to find grounds of cooperation with Russia. People question the motives for his avowed respect for Putin's leadership. 

As we unravel these legitimate questions, let us not forget this reality:  we cannot achieve the interests of our Nation and the World nor can Russia achieve its own interests, unless we work together on the key issues of nuclear proliferation, failed states and terrorism even as we disagree on others. 

And this cannot be done by demonizing each other. We did not do that during the Cold War. 

AUGUST 23, 2016


 It is difficult for an individual or indeed a Nation to view a particular situation through the eyes of another person or nation.

I have never seen this more true or more dangerous than what is transpiring now in the relationships between the United States and Russia.

As a former CEO of Procter & Gamble and a student  of history, I have followed the relationship between the U.S and Russia (and before that the former Soviet Union) for half a century. From a peak of hope in the early 1990's in the possibility of our joining together in the vision of a Greater Europe, 
I have become increasingly and alarmingly concerned by the deeply polarized perceptions  of the intentions of  our two nations. 

Fueled by Russia's annexation of Crimea and its (as well as our own) involvement in Syria, this fever has boiled and become intensely personal  as  the President of  Russia, Vladimir Putin has become demonized. 

The situation has become further politicized as Donald Trump, whose views I disagree with on most counts, advocates , rightly I believe,  cooperation with Russia in fighting ISIS, even as he outlandishly (facetiously or not ) calls on Russia to hack the DNC's and Secretary Clinton's e-mail accounts. For me, Trump is the apposite of someone you want to be advocating your point of view because he encourages his opponents to reflexively adopt or double down on contrary views. 

Why am I so concerned about this situation?  Because  I believe the failure of Russia and the U.S. and West to work together threatens the  security and indeed the very existence of the world because of the overhanging and  related risks of nuclear annihilation and terrorism. 

There is a great and common danger in the affairs of humans and of nations in self-fulfilling expectations.  These self-fulfilling expectations can be for the better or they can be for the worse.  The expectations held by Russia toward the United States and those the United States holds toward Russia today are all “for the worse.”

Contrary to what was promised as Germany was reunited and became part of  NATO as we entered the 1990's, NATO  continued to expand to Russia's doorsteps. The belief that Ukraine might be next, was a precipitating cause of the  Ukrainian crisis. As a colleague of mine has said, whether NATO is a benign or a malign force is irrelevant from a geopolitical perspective if one of Europe's great powers (Russia, a country which has been subject to multiple invasions over the course of history) considers it a threat. The dismissal of these concerns  has deeply exacerbated Russia's mistrust. 

And that mistrust has been matched on our end by the impact of Russia's annexation of Crimea and presence in Eastern Ukraine,  entry into Syria supporting Assad and the alleged (though unproven) involvement in our electoral process.  

We hear veiled and sometimes bald assertions that Russia intends to enter countries previously part of the Soviet empire--the Baltics, Poland and all of Ukraine.  Putin describes such a notion as “insane.”   He is right.  

Can you imagine the suicidal idiocy of Russia's undertaking to move into those countries?  Why would they do this?  They don't need land. They would find very few friends there.  They would become the pariah of the world. There is no driving ideology as there was in the days  of Soviet Communism.  

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about President Putin. Some of them are serious. In terms of encouraging a positive relationship with the United States, he is in some ways his own worst enemy. His distrust of our motives now borders on paranoia. 

 However, we should not forget that he was the very first President to call President Bush to offer his nation's unbounded support following "9-11". 

Whatever, my concerns are existential. 

I worry deeply that most people are so far removed from the reality of war today that we have forgotten its horror. We should all go back and look at the film showing the instantaneous annihilating devastation resulting from the atomic bomb  at Hiroshima. It won't be pleasant but we should watch movies  like “Platoon” or “Saving Private Ryan”. We should read Michael Herr's devastating front line reports on the war in Vietnam. We dare not forget the horrific cost of war on human life and civilization.  

We cannot address this overhanging threat unless we are working with Russia. That is the plain and simple truth. 

We are at a historical precipice.  I am extremely worried by the unfettered “propaganda,” and that’s what it is, on both sides of the issue.  This has had the insidious effect of bringing the people of Russia and of the United States to view the “other” as “evil.”  And in fact they are not.  They are committed to their own national interests.  The concerns of the Russian and American people are fundamentally the same. . They yearn for a peaceful, economically stable life for their children and themselves

Every nation, every person, wants to be treated with respect.  There is no way that will happen if we are not able to view the current situation through each other’s eyes.  That doesn’t mean we will compromise and tolerate people taking away the freedom of another nation or people.  We need to draw a bright line on the support we will provide to countries to which we pledge support--and mean it. 

 However  we should not make the mistake of attributing motivations and nefarious intent to other nations which, in fact, they disclaim and which, as we examine the reality of the situation,  we see no persuasive  reason to assume.  

We need to stop carrying out diplomacy and negotiations through the media and "anonymous" third parties, seeking sharp headlines that show we “mean business” and are "tough".  We need to establish what the bright lines and  bases for cooperation  are.  We need to rebuild trust-based relationships. This will be very hard; many will say there is no point in trying.  It will require courage and stamina, but it is what we must do. We should do so privately through credible leaders, starting with our Presidents and foreign service secretaries, just  as we did in the later years of the Reagan Administration and that of George H.W. Bush.  

I pray for the wisdom and courage of these leaders. 

I  believe the future of our Nation and the world depends on it. 



I just finished reading this book.  I found it spellbinding for many reasons but above all, because of the ringing affirmation of how lucky I’ve been in my life because of the experiences and individuals who have helped me “overcome” (and that is the word) the challenges of my own youth.

Before turning to the poignant personal reflections this book brought me, first a comment on the challenge Vance described in transitioning from the environment he had experienced as a “hillbilly” (per his description) in Middletown, OH and moving to the environment of Ohio State University and Yale Law School. 

What he described, I believe, reflects the challenge that many African-Americans and other minorities face as they enter corporate America and other environments like it.  It is the challenge of being comfortable socially, of being secure and comfortable in one's own view of who he or she is. 

Vance writes, “We do know the working class Americans aren’t just less likely to climb the economic ladder, they are also more likely to fall off even after they have reached the top.  I imagine that the discomfort they feel leaving behind much of their identity plays at least a small role in this problem.  One way our upper class can promote upward mobility, is not only by pushing wise public policies but by opening (our) hearts and minds to the newcomers who don’t quite belong.”

“Though we sing the praises of social mobility, it has it downsides.  The term necessarily implies a sort of movement—to a theoretically better life, yes, but also away from something.  And you can’t always control the parts of your own life from which you drift.”

Vance describes himself as a “cultural alien.”  He points to this even if implicitly as a reason why so few people from his high school in Middletown made it to the Ivy League and why so few people like him are represented in America’s leading institutions. 

We need to help everyone feel respected and accepted for who they are--to feel "in the house".

It is on the more personal side, as it relates to my own life, that the story this book tells becomes truly trenchant.  Like J.D. Vance, when I look back, I am humbled, grateful and, indeed, dumbfounded at how many contingent events and individual people had to fall in place for me to have the life that I have had. 

In every chapter of my life, and in virtually every environment I’ve been in, I have found family and mentors and friends who supported, believed in and enabled me.

The love and ever-present confident expectations of my mother.  The nuns who instilled the discipline of learning and ultimately the love of a good deal of it, too.  The commitment of my family to the Catholic Church, with the burdens it brought but, far more important, the belief in God and Jesus, the conviction that there was a “right thing” to do.  My parents’ decision to send me to Portsmouth Priory, having the experience there of the intellect and faith of men like Father Dom Andrew Jenks and his high expectations of me.  

Passing the eye test in Boston which gave me the Naval scholarship I needed to go to Yale.  My meeting my first history teacher, Howard Roberts Lamar.  My time in the Navy.  The decision to apply to Procter & Gamble because of of the glint in the eye as the Yale recruiter who had explained what a job in Brand Management was all about five years earlier.  The people who believed in me—Jack Clagett, Ed Artzt, John Smale and so many others at Procter & Gamble; my assistants who took care of me; friends like Chuck Hain, Tom Shoop, Dick Adams, and John Simpkinson and his wife Janet, who cared for me, who helped me believe in myself, often more than I did.  The chance meeting on May 2, 1964 with Francie who changed and made my life what it became.   

Years ago, I took no more than two hours to write down on a piece of paper the people who changed my life, without whom I wouldn’t have been there writing that paper.  I titled it, “If It Weren’t For Them.”  I won’t go through the list; I don’t think I have to.  The title says it all.  The difference we make to one another by how we act, by how we make them feel, by the confidence and trust we express in them, and the affection we show for them as well.  That’s what life at its best is all about.  It’s the greatest gift we can give to another, starting with those closest to us, our family.


There is one other very poignant comment Vance makes which I am compelled to recognize.  Vance acknowledges that he didn’t lose contact with his parents because he didn’t care; he lost contact with them in order to survive.  “We never stop loving, and we never lose hope that our loved ones will change.  Rather, we were forced, either by wisdom or by the law, to take the path of self-preservation.”  

I wouldn’t say it exactly that way.  The “law” had nothing to do with my pursuit of "self-preservation". And I never lost contact with my family.  But the commitment to "survive"did limit the amount of contact I had with my parents.  Not only my “personal survival", but the "survival" of my family.

Of course, and this is a tribute to them, I knew my parents would have it no other way.  There was no greater expression of their love for me, no act so unselfish, than their desire for whatever was best for my and my family’s life.


February 1, 2017

The inspiring book, “This I Believe: The Living Philosophies of 100 Thoughtful Men and Women in All Walks of Life" includes a Forward by the renowned newsman, Edward R. Murrow, who reported from London during World War II. 
 Murrow takes us back to the autumn of 1940, “when Britain stood alone”, and yet, as Murrow said:
“At a time when most men save Englishmen despaired of England’s life, there was a steadiness, confidence, and determination that must have been based on something other than a lack of imagination.  As the months wore on, and the nights lengthened, and the casualty list mounted, I became more concerned to try to understand what sustained these people: what belief or what methodology caused them to stand so steady in their shoes.  In part, it was ignorance of their own weakness; in part, it was a reluctance to appear obvious by expressing doubt as to the ultimate outcome.  But at bottom, this calm confidence stemmed from the belief that what they were defending was good; that Englishmen had devised a system of regulating the relationship between the individual and the state which was superior to all others, and which would survive even though cold military calculations concluded that the state was doomed.
There was little logic in this British belief.  Unconsciously, they dug deep into the history and felt that Drake, Raleigh, Hawkins and Cromwell and all the rest were looking down at them, and they were obliged to appear worthy in the eyes of their ancestors.  But above everything else, they believed.  They believed in not only themselves, but that they were fighting against evil things and the fight was worthwhile.
No democracy has been nearer the fire and survived than was Britain in that long winter and one reason for survival was that the nation did not betray the things in which it believed.
At a time when German bombers were coming through in the daylight over London, when the Germans were expected on the beaches the first foggy morning, the House of Commons, which might have been destroyed with all its members by one well-placed enemy bomb, devoted two days to discussing the conditions under which enemy aliens were being held on the Isle of Man.  For the House of Commons was determined that, though the island fell, there would be nothing resembling concentration camps in Britain, and the rights under law of enemy aliens could not be abused.  That is what the British collectively believed."
No man can measure or transmit the degree of detail of another man’s belief.  But it is possible on occasion to report it.  Murrow continued: "The night after the Munich Agreement was signed, I (Murrow) sat with Jan Masaryk, the Czechoslovak Ambassador in his London Embassy.  It was the anniversary of his father’s death.  We finished a broadcast to America at 4:00 am; we both thought that the Munich Agreement meant that war was inevitable.  But Jan believed, someway, that the forces of evil would be defeated.  Speaking of Hitler and Mussolini, he said: ‘I assure you, God will not let two such heathens control Europe.’  His belief, at that time, was greater than my own.”
* * * * * * * * * * *
I recall this story in order to display the ideals which kept Britain alive during the dark days in the early years of World War II and which are needed to keep all of us going at times of challenge. The scene Murrow describes in 1940 bears a striking resemblance to the risk and the challenge, that was faced by the young United States of America, in 1776, when having lost virtually every battle in the Revolutionary War, Washington pulled a group of ragged men together to cross the Delaware River on a blustery, sleeting Christmas night, to go on to win battles in Wilmington and Princeton, that would turn the tides of the War.  No one at that moment would have bet on the success of Washington and his Army, but they were committed to noble ideas, just as England was in 1940.
We face our own challenges today, here in the United States and around the world. We must face them in the same way Murrow describes: holding fast to our deepest values. 
It timely to recall Murrow’s words: “No democracy has been nearer the fire and survived than was Britain in that long winter (of 1940) and one reason for survival was that the nation did not betray the things in which it believed. “