Hundred Days and Honeymoons

In the fifth century, a northern European marriage tradition encouraged newlyweds to enjoy a daily dose of mead, a fermented liquid honey. It was believed to be an aphrodisiac. Using the only calendar available, the sipping stopped when the moon returned to the wedding day’s phase – about a month. From this custom came the honeymoon.

The concept has grown. We experience honeymoons at work. The new person is allowed silly questions and rookie mistakes. New business leaders are similarly excused if questions reflect a genuine desire to understand and not veiled threats, and mistakes are forgiven if blame is accepted and apologies are quick. Often, however, honeymoons end when a business leader’s personality flair reveals a character flaw; intelligence becomes arrogance, or the pace and nature of change threatens profits or values.

Such is also the case in political leadership. Political honeymoons are Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fault. He became president in March 1934, in the depths of the Great Depression. Within 100 days of inauguration he presented, and Congress passed, 15 major bills. He began by closing and stabilizing banks and then quickly touched nearly every sector of America’s sputtering economy. Some New Deal legislation worked and some failed but within those frenetic 100 days confidence and investment were rekindled and lives and capitalism itself were saved. Soon, however, even FDR’s honeymoon ended. Critics appeared from the left and right and the Supreme Court overturned his most ambitious initiatives.

Every leader, whether in business or politics, is warned that a honeymoon is as real as it is transitory and so it must be as productive as possible. Since FDR, every newly elected political leader has also been measured according to his or her First 100 Days.

Few leaders have demonstrated those twin realities as clearly as Barack Obama in 2009 and Pierre Trudeau in 1968. Both were propelled to office by charm, charisma, and positive campaigns. Both undertook ambitious agendas supported by the public and enabled by their party’s legislative majorities. Then, inevitably, both saw popularity plummet as their 100 days involved more talk than achievement and performance that couldn’t match promise. Obama watched Republicans take the House of Representatives. In his next election, Trudeau formed a frail, two-seat minority government.

Justin Trudeau has yet to be sworn in but the clock is already ticking on his honeymoon. Like all honeymoons, it offers novelty and excitement. The United States has seen two father and son presidents – Adams and Bush – but this will be a Canadian first. Never have Canadians welcomed a new leader not through the lens of TV news or at the behest of newspaper endorsements but, rather, primarily through the citizenship levellers and engagement enablers of YouTube videos, tweets, selfies, and blogs. Not since Pierre Trudeau, have Canadians embraced a celebrity politician as they would a movie or rock star.

Hundred Days and Honeymoons

(Photo: beaconnews.ca)

Our prime minister designate followed a masterful campaign with a positive election night speech, a fun meet and greet with surprised Montreal subway commuters, and an articulate, confident press conference. Even those who did not vote Liberal seem invigorated by his promise of change in policy and tone; shown most blatantly in his inviting premiers and opposition leaders to the climate conference in Paris. Much of the country, in fact, much of the world appears giddy with expectation. A Canadian journalist has, only partly in jest, asked the international media to stop ogling our prime minister.

The Liberal parliamentary majority could guarantee a productive 100 Days with actions and bills addressing the environment, murdered and missing indigenous women, tax reform, infrastructure spending, an end to Canadian military action in Syria and Iraq, and more. We should enjoy the ride but remember our history. The 100 Days will end and the honeymoon won’t last. Soon enough, Canadians will stop sipping their honey and Mr. Trudeau may not seem quite so sunny.

If you enjoyed this column please share it with others on Facebook or your social media of choice and consider checking my other columns at http://www.johnboyko.com (This column appeared as an op. ed. in the Ottawa Citizen on October 29, 2015)

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Corporate Coup: Where Have You Gone Teddy Roosevelt?

Does this sound familiar?

  • The gulf was widening between a tiny elite that was growing richer while the vast majority was seeing the evaporation of economic security and social mobility.
  • Political leaders were largely voices of the powerful who backed campaigns and swayed votes with gargantuan political donations.
  • Cities were witnessing growing violence, as people grew helpless and hopeless with police apparently more interested in cracking heads to maintain order than enforcing laws to promote justice.
  • Rapaciously ambitious business interests that government seemed unwilling or unable to regulate for a common good or sustainable future were befouling the air, water, and forests.
  • The media pandered to the lowest common denominator with stories of the latest crime, tragedy, or scandal while ignoring what truly mattered.

It was the United States. It was 1895. Everything seemed to be circling the porcelain facility with gathering speed. But then, something happened.

Theodore Roosevelt was born to a affluent family in 1858. He could have taken his wealth and Columbia law degree and chased women or money or both but instead chose public service. As a New York assemblyman he was aghast at the working and living conditions of the poor to which his privileged upbringing had blinded him. He fought the deep pools of wealth and swirling eddies of political power that sought only to maintain the status quo or enhance its inequity.

A string of family crises took him to the west but he was soon back and with a burning desire to bring right to so much wrong. As New York City’s police commissioner he often took a reporter in tow and toured the city’s mean streets at midnight. He fired cops who were found asleep, corrupt, or unworthy of the badge. He shone light into dark tenements where unfair advantage, unenforced laws, and accepted practice worked against the working poor.

He continued these efforts as New York’s governor. With each demand for reform, he was threatened by those who believed him a traitor to his class and a danger to bosses who ignored laws, rules, ethics, and morality. Roosevelt’s Republican Party, seen as the party of the rich, white, elite, began to move against him.

Many Republicans applauded his being moved out of the way with his appointment as President McKinley’s Assistant Navy Secretary. They were even happier when, after his daring military exploits in Cuba made him nationally famous, he became McKinley’s Vice President. At that time the old joke rang true: One man went to sea and the other to the Vice Presidency and neither was heard from again.

However, McKinley was assassinated in 1901. At age 42, Roosevelt became America’s youngest president. Upon moving in, by the way, it was he who changed the name from the President’s Mansion to the White House.

Where Have You Gone Teddy Roosevelt

Roosevelt moved slowly toward implementing his Progressive agenda and was helped immensely by a growth in investigative journalism. McClure’s Magazine began it all with the publication of a number of fact-filled articles detailing corruption in government, unions, and business. Its greatest writer was Ida Tarbell. She wrote a series that exposed the Standard Oil Company as the worst of the huge trusts that were enriching a very few while exploiting workers, destroying the environment, and making a mockery of democracy and capitalism.

The McClure’s articles, and others that followed their lead, afforded Roosevelt the public support he needed to take on the trusts and their powerful mouthpieces in Congress and the mainstream press. He used the largely toothless Sherman Anti-Trust Act to launch a lawsuit that ended up smashing the trusts and their corporatist Congressional power. Despite what critics had warned, the economy did not collapse, in fact, it thrived as never before as millions were now participants and contributors rather than its minions and victims.

From this effort came what Roosevelt called his Square Deal. It was a program of government action that regulated business to make food and products safer, workplaces more humane, living conditions more human, and, through it all, the American dream more aspirational and obtainable. Hope replaced despair. Again, despite the warnings, the government activity did not end ambition; rather, it allowed it a more fertile field in which to blossom.

The Square Deal attacked the notion that the rich can’t be taxed and poor can’t be helped. This idea was the corollary of the maxim that the rich won’t work because they don’t have enough money and poor won’t work because they have too much. Roosevelt showed both were bosh.

Roosevelt was the first environmentalist president. His National Monuments Act created parks, bird sanctuaries, national forests, and game preserves. Against the baying lobbyists demanding the right to drain profits from untapped resources, Roosevelt protected national treasures such as the Grand Canyon.

Upon leaving the presidency, Roosevelt took pride in the fact that Robber Barons who had been despoiling capitalism and democracy were chastised. A movement for the responsible stewardship of the environment had begun. The role of government as the arbiter for the people rather than apologist for the little elite was established. The practice of socializing risk while privatizing profit was put at bay.

Now, though, it is 1895 again. The slow motion corporate coup d’état that began in the early 1980s in the United States, Canada, and Britain is nearly complete. Those noting the trend and offering solution are, like before, ignored, belittled, or attacked as enemies of the democratic, capitalist ideals they are trying to save from those who sing their praises while violating their principles.

Is that OK? Or is it time to wonder: “Where have you gone Teddy Roosevelt, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

I guess its up to those of us who believe in real democracy and capitalism and not what they have become. It is for us to see through the negative ads, scandal de jour, screeching pundits, twitter trolls, ideologically warped cable news, and bread and circus on offer.

Perhaps those eager for change will not take to the streets but, rather, there will be a quiet but popular rejection of those who are bought and paid for. Maybe a lot of folks – it never takes a majority, just a lot – will call out those who use our money to bribe us and insult us by ignoring us or by hissing “obviously” through smirks. Maybe enough people will make it clear that we actually see through the contradictions between their words and actions and see their irony on parade and the cynicism of their papier-mâché faux patriotism.

Perhaps there is another Roosevelt out there and who know which party he or she is in? Teddy? Are you there?

Postscript: The story is true. Roosevelt was an avid hunter who once refused to shoot a small bear that his guides had leashed to a tree lest he go home without a kill. A toy company heard the tale and produced stuffed bears that it named after the president, hence, Teddy Bears.

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Secrets: Hitler, the King and the Teacher

A tombstone in a small Canadian city suggests that there may be even more skeletons crammed into the already bone-riddled closets of Britain’s House of Windsor.

It all begins with Edward. The eldest son of King George V never really appreciated his Royal responsibilities. Called David by his family, he was a rebellious boy, raised by nannies. As soon as he was of legal age, he fought to fight and so served in the First World War. Much to his chagrin, he was kept safely back from the front. At the war’s end, he returned to devoting most of his time to bedding young women, many of whom were married. The tittering British public derided the Duke of Windsor as the Playboy Prince.

Partly to end the embarrassing trysts, the angry King put the randy Prince on the road. One of his tours brought him to Canada. In autumn 1919, he was in Galt, Ontario. Galt is one of three small towns that were later amalgamated to form Cambridge. The 25-year-old and his retinue checked into the Iroquois Hotel. Edward often demanded last minute schedule changes and sometimes missed events. He did it again at Galt and escaped his handlers. At this point, the line between fact and conjecture becomes somewhat murky.

According to local legend, the handsome and dapper young man wandered from the hotel and happened upon a 27 year-old teacher who was tending her garden. He introduced himself as David and claimed to be an underling with the Royal Visit. The beguiling and pretty Millicent Milroy was polite but confessed no interest in Royalty. He was entranced. They spoke for a while and then walked together to the Iroquois.

Millicent Milroy

Millicent Milroy (generations.regionofwaterloo.ca)

Edward was soon on his way but suddenly quite interested in Canada. He purchased the Bedingfield ranch in Alberta. On a subsequent visit, he donated the Prince of Wales Trophy to the N.H.L.

Millicent – everyone called her Millie – went back to her students while the Duke’s recklessness with women intensified and was even debated in the British House of Commons. His father exclaimed, “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months.” Among the many married women with whom Edward had illicit relationships was an American named Wallis Simpson. He tried to bring her to a Buckingham Palace event but the King and Queen refused to receive her.

Following the death of his father, on January 20, 1936 Edward became King Edward VIII. That November, he told Prime Minister Baldwin that when Mrs. Simpson’s second divorce was finalized, he wished to marry her. Baldwin was aghast. He said it would violate Church of England law and the British sense of moral decency. The Prime Ministers of various Commonwealth countries were consulted and Canada’s Mackenzie King expressed opposition. Millie was mum.

On December 11, 1936, people huddled close to their crackling radios to hear their King say, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.” Edward abdicated and his brother succeeded him as George VI. Film goers recently came to know the new king’s struggles to overcome a stutter in The King’s Speech.

The retitled Duke of Windsor fled England for Austria. He married Wallis Simpson in June 1937. The Royal Family was glaringly absent from the wedding. In fact, his brother threatened to end the Royal allowance if he ever returned to Britain.

While angry with his family, the Duke became an admirer of Adolf Hitler. Hitler had taken power in 1933, took Jewish rights the next year, and was soon taking chunks of Europe. After honeymooning in Nazi-occupied Austria, the Duke and his new wife visited Hitler. In October 1937, before a large Berlin crowd, he offered Hitler the straight-armed Nazi salute. They then enjoyed a 12-day tour of the country that included a long stay with Hitler and his top advisors at Berchtesgaden, the Fuhrer’s opulent retreat.

Prinz Harrys Urgroßonkel Herzog von Windsor traf Hitler

Duke, Duchess and Fuhrer (photo: en.wikipedia.org)

After the war, British and American authorities captured and sealed the meeting records but they have been recently released. They are reported in a book entitled 17 Carnations that was published just weeks ago by British writer Andrew Morton. The records contain a letter in which Edward calls Hitler “a very great man” and that it would be “a tragic thing for the world if he were overthrown.” The records also show that Hitler pledged to protect Edward and his wife if they would stay quietly in a Spanish chalet while Britain was attacked. After Britain’s fall, the Duke and Duchess would be moved to Buckingham Palace to reign as Hitler’s puppets.

Recently released Nazi diplomatic records note that the Duke was “the only Englishman with whom Hitler would negotiate any peace terms, the logical director of England’s destiny after the war.” Other documents reveal that Edward believed that his brother the King was ‘utterly stupid’ and that Churchill was a ‘war monger’. Their insistence on fighting Hitler, he believed, would needlessly waste British lives.

Following his German visit, the Duke, indeed, moved to Spain. He and Churchill began a brief correspondence and shortly afterward, the Duke and Duchess were moved first to Portugal and then, in August 1940, to the Bahamas. Churchill hoped the dangerous Duke would be safely away from his fascist friend.

Recently released FBI files indicate that President Roosevelt had them carefully watched. The FBI told the president that while in Austria, the Duchess had engaged in a torrid affair with Hitler’s ambassador to London Joachim von Ribbentrop. The romantic or conniving Nazi who would later be Hitler’s Foreign Minister, sent his lover 17 carnations – one for each day of their fling The FBI also told Roosevelt of proof that Herman Goering, Commander of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s designated successor, had concluded Hitler’s deal – the Duke would become the Nazi-dominated King after Britain’s defeat.

The plots and plans ended in May 1945 with Hitler’s death and silencing of the guns. The Duke and Duchess lived the rest of their days in pampered affluence and caused no further diplomatic stirs. Edward died at age 78, a forgotten relic, in May 1972.

The story then returns to Canada. The 80 year-old retired teacher, Millicent Milroy, had pre-arranged her funeral. She’d had a stone placed in the Mount View Cemetery. Two weeks after the Duke’s death, she had the stone carved to read: “Millicent Milroy, daughter of James and Helen Jane Milroy, 1892 – _______ Wife of Edward (VIII), Duke of Windsor, 1894 – 1972.

Milroy tombstone

(photo: cynfulcreationscanada.blogspot.com)

A journalist was soon banging on her door, insisting to know if the stone was a joke. She explained that at the Iroquois Hotel in 1919, she and the Prince had become so instantly enamoured with one another that they had a “romantic encounter” and were secretly married. They agreed to keep their secret from the world until one of them died.

Some folks dismissed Ms. Milroy as a delusional loon. However, everything about her suggested otherwise. She had enjoyed a fine career and had always been an upstanding member of her community. She was perfectly lucid, with clear and vivid memories of all aspects of her life. She weaved no other tales linking her with any other important people or events.

Millie Milroy died in 1984. She never budged from her story and was buried beneath the stone insisting on its veracity. Perhaps it is just a story. However, when considered in light of other facets of Edward’s life that are only now being revealed and confirmed, maybe Galt’s Queen Millie deserves another look.

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A Time For Heroes

We have always yearned for heroes.  A hero personifies, in character and deed, traits that inspire admiration and imitation. A society’s values are revealed and reinforced by those deemed heroic. In the same way, your heroes say a lot about you.

In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan observed, “Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day.”  The president understood that we need not seek a hero in history or myth or among the famous and powerful. They are all around us. It was an important thought, but it was wasted on me. I already knew where to look.

Among my heroes is a man you have never heard of. He never got his name in the paper. He won neither medals nor laurels. There will never be a statue erected or movie made about him. But he was heroic. His character and the manner in which he lived render him as worthy of admiration and imitation as any whose names are known around the globe. He was a gentle, humble, dignified hero. He was my grandfather.

John Boyko 001

John W. Boyko

He believed in moderation. My Dad told me of golfing with him.  Dad would blast drives out 275 yards or so and then watch as his father did as he always did: 150 yards, straight down the middle. Then, as the others hit those marvellous iron shots that fade magnificently and, when they work, bounce and bite on the green, his father would strike a little bump and run. Without the awe of the masterful shot, most would roll closer than the others.

At the end of nearly every round, my grandfather would stroll from the eighteenth green with the same ball he struck from the first tee, and almost always with fewer strokes than his flashier opponents and partner. The metaphor is apt. Moderation informed his decisions about friends, family, fun, and every other aspect of his long life. Moderation matters, it’s heroic.

He believed in loyalty. Last summer, a colleague launched into a highly-charged rant detailing all that was wrong with our place of employment. I was nodding at the litany of things apparently wrong when I unexpectedly thought of my grandfather. While pretending to listen, I reflected on the 42 years he gave to Dofasco, the mammoth Hamilton steel plant. I never once heard him utter a critical word.

This man who lived through a depression and world war taught me to be grateful for a safe place and fair wage and to always give more than expected. If one’s employer does not reciprocate loyalty with loyalty, then don’t become disloyal, find another employer. Loyalty in all aspects of life and, ultimately, to one’s dignity, matters. Loyalty is heroic.

He believed in patience. On a great number of misty mornings and sunny afternoons I accompanied him to Oakville’s Bronte pier. He loved fishing. I hate fishing. But I loved being with him and so along I’d go, secretly cheering for the fish. One warm afternoon, I pointed to a string of boats about three hundred yards out into Lake Ontario. He said they all had fish finders and guessed that the Coho salmon were out there. A few moments passed before I ventured, “So, does that mean that we haven’t a chance of catching anything here?” He shook his head and said, “No, but it’s a nice day, and you never know.”  We practiced our casting for another two hours, had great chats, and headed home. Patience matters – it’s heroic.

Bronte pier

He believed in generosity. We are captains of our own ships, embarked on journeys of our own design, but family is the beacon that always guides us home; home to the sanctuary where we are reminded of whom we truly are. My grandfather celebrated my triumphs and, from time to time, commiserated with my despair. He always offered compassion without judgment. He knew that the most generous gifts are time and attention. And those gifts, bestowed with gentle grace and twinkling eyes were the essence of the man. He seldom gave advice, even when asked; winter can’t warn the spring. His advice was in his example. Generosity matters – it’s heroic.

We have known heroes from Achilles to Kennedy and from Louis Riel to Eleanor Roosevelt. They matter for what they offer and reflect about the societies and individuals who revere them. I have my own hero. I share his name. I share his values. Every day he instructs me. Every day, I strive to be worthy of his memory.

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