It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 4 of 5

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I stated in my three previous blogs that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.  I have been a business educator in higher education and a management consultant to some of the top corporations in the world.  My opinion is not based just on theory or observations.  It is based on the in-depth work that I did with over 32 companies during the time I was actively consulting.  There are many good people working in corporate America but as Dr. Deming once said “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.  There are Five Myths of Capitalism that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease infecting our way of life and causing untold damage to our country.

In my previous blogs, I described the first three myths.  In this blog, I will describe Myth #4 and how it contributes to the destruction of our country.  Myth #4 is:

4.  Corporations are Efficient and Always More Efficient than the Government

In 1986, I was hired by Process Management Institute (PMI) to help merge organization development with statistics.  I had just finished my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development from the University of Minnesota.  Lou Schultz, the CEO of PMI had started the company about three years before I joined.  The company was founded on and sold the methodology and philosophy of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  Lou had met Dr. W. E. Deming when Lou worked at Control Data (CD).

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Lou was a manager at CD when sometime in the early 80’s Control Data hired Dr. Deming to help them implement his famous quality improvement process.  Lou realized that Dr. Deming had something that America needed, and he decided to leave Control Data and start a consulting firm.  The focus of this firm would be to help bring the Deming Philosophy to businesses in the USA.  Dr. Deming helped Lou in many ways by encouragement and referral of potential clients.  Lou assisted at more than 60 of the 4-day seminars that Dr. Deming had started after he was featured prominently in a TV documentary on quality.  Dr. Deming’s popularity soared after the NBC White Paper TV documentary called “If Japan Can, Why Can’t We” was broadcast.

“If Japan can … Why can’t we? was an American television episode broadcast by NBC News as part of the television show “NBC White Paper” on June 24, 1980, credited with beginning the Quality Revolution and introducing the methods of W. Edwards Deming to American managers that was produced by Clare Crawford-Mason[ and reported on by Lloyd Dobyns.

The report details how the Japanese captured the world automotive and electronics markets by following Deming’s advice to practice continual improvement and think of manufacturing as a system, not as bits or pieces. Crawford-Mason went on to produce; in collaboration with Deming, a 14-hour documentary series detailing his methods through lecture excerpts, interviews, practical demonstrations, and case studies of companies that adopted his methods.”  — Wikipedia

Dr. Deming started a series of four-day seminars to teach his philosophy and methods.  These seminars were a mixture of experiential activities, teaching, discussion, lectures and always Dr. Deming talking about what management did not do right and what they should be doing.  At the time, he had created his famous “14 Points for Management” which together with his statistical philosophy formed the basis for the four days of activities.

IMG_8176-540x405Dr. Deming would do two or three of these a month all over the USA.  He continued these four-day seminars until about six months before he died at the age of 93 in 1993.   Dr. Deming always required help at these seminars since as many as 500 people would usually attend.  I was fortunate enough to help out at four of these seminars.  After getting to know Dr. Deming fairly well, I brought several consulting clients to his home in D.C. to discuss with him personally his ideas on what we were doing right and wrong.  Dr. Deming was always very candid and blunt.  This endeared him to some people, while it turned other people off.

But it is time to get back to the point on corporate efficiency.  I worked with over 32 different clients in my years at PMI and my later independent consulting work.  I worked with clients in government, in military, in non-profit and in for-profit sectors of the economy.  I worked with industries in mining, trucking, healthcare, manufacturing and education.  I published two books on quality and over fifty papers for seminars, journals and presentations.  I did a monthly column for a noted quality journal and did some pro-bono work for various organizations.

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The crux of my client work was to facilitate what we called a quality transformation.  From a system that emphasized production quantity and inspection to a system that emphasized process improvement and quality.  Quality was never a final end state but always a quest for continuous improvement.  Improvement not to meet client expectations but to exceed them.  Deming often pointed out that clients and customers often did not know what they wanted.  “No customer” he would say “was clamoring for a handheld calculator in the seventies.  You must always innovate and delight the customer with new products and new features as well as meeting existing expectations for quality products.”  Dr. Noriaki Kano summarized some of these quality ideas in his famous “Kano Model.”  I had the good fortune to attend one of his seminars in Tokyo while I was on a two-week study mission to Japan in 1993 to visit Japanese companies and study their methods firsthand.  My trip was a joint venture between PM and Komatsu Corporation.  I brought along several clients and we had about 15 participants in all.

“Customer expectations?  Nonsense.  No customer ever asked for the electric light, the pneumatic tire, the VCR, or the CD.  All customer expectations are only what you and your competitor have led him to expect.  He knows nothing else.” — W. Edwards Deming at his Seminars

Later on when I left full-time consulting and went into college teaching, I started using a variety of models to educate my MBA students.  One I was fond of using was a metaphor of a coin to emphasize what a business must do to be successful.  “On one side of the coin is efficiency and on the other side is effectiveness.  An organization must deliver both of these elements to prosper and be successful,” I would preach.   I would then go on to say that traditionally, we think of businesses as being efficient but not necessarily effective.  Efficiency is doing things right while effectiveness is doing the right things.  In other words, business strives to use inputs as efficiently as possible to create a product or service where the value added is greater than the combination of inputs used.  If it does this and has a product or service that is wanted or needed by customers, it will make a profit and stay in business.

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When it comes to “effectiveness” or doing the “right” things, we have a concept here with highly subjective connotations.  “Right” for a business might be doing what they think is best for their customers or their bottom line.  However, doing what is best for a customer, might not meet the needs of other stakeholders.  For instance, customers may desire cigarettes but the negative impact to society as reflected in externalities can be very “un-right” to the rest of the population.  An externality is any difference between the private cost of an action or decision to a business or agency and the social cost.  In simple terms, a negative externality is anything that causes an indirect cost to society.  In the case of cigarettes, this cost is reflected in a number of ways including lost wages, medical costs and insurance costs.

maxresdefaultBy the way, when we think of government organizations it is usually as being much less capable in the efficiency area and much more focused on effectiveness or doing the right things for society.  I suppose that is one of the reasons why it is so easy to ridicule government.  Senator Proxmire was famous for his “Golden Fleece Awards “in which he belittled government agencies for their waste and lack of efficiency.  I have worked or consulted in many government agencies and I have to admit that “efficiency” was often sorely lacking.

Some critics point out that there are negative repercussions from too much emphasis on efficiency.  (HBR, January-February 2019 Issue: Rethinking Efficiency) They argue that organizations need to balance efficiency with resiliency.  One critic noted the problems with Deming’s emphasis on efficiency could lead to sub-optimization of the organization.  It is clear that this critic never read much of Dr. Deming who always emphasized that an organization needed to be looked at as a whole and not piecemeal.  Over emphasis on any one part of an organization could result in a decline in another part.

“Management of a system requires knowledge of the interrelationships between all of the components within the system and of everybody that works in it.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, “The New Economics”

Now you might be agreeing with me that business is not always effective.  However, you may still want to know why (or prove my claim) I say that business efficiency is a myth?  What do I base this assertion on?  I am going to provide three reasons for my claim and explain each of them.

  1. Most corporations do not understand or pursue continuous improvement

For a business to be truly efficient it must focus on the continuous improvement of all operations including people, materials, methods, equipment and information.  The cost of all inputs continually rises and when costs go up and other factors of production stay the same then efficiency declines.  The core of the Deming Philosophy was “Continuous Improvement.”

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease costs.”  — W. Edwards Deming, “Out of the Crisis”

Many of my clients understood this basic message of the need for continuous improvement, but as I was told by one Japanese management consultant, “You Americans are short-term thinkers.  You worry about the quarterly dividend, the daily stock price and your quarterly financial reports.  In Japan, we do not think quarterly, we think centuries.”  Thus, it was easy for US companies to embrace this message in the late eighties and early nineties when it seemed that everywhere you looked, they were losing market share to the Japanese.  The “Japanese Miracle” was eroding the economic competitive of US business and companies in the US flocked to Dr. Deming to tell them how to emulate the Japanese.

“The pay and privilege of the captains of industry are now so closely linked to the quarterly dividend that they may find it personally unrewarding to do what is right for the company.”  ― W. Edwards Deming, “Out of the Crisis”

The Japanese had assimilated the continuous improvement message of Dr. Deming since it was not really that foreign to their basic worldview.  So what if it took a few years or even decades, the Japanese could be patient.  Unfortunately, American management did not have the same patience.  Quality went gung-ho throughout the US in the nineties.  American corporations bragged about reaching or nearly reaching parity with the Japanese on many measures of the exalted Six Sigma standard of quality.  But Americans have always adored technology and the quick fix over labor inputs and long-term improvements.  The steam engine, the assembly line, the computer and robotically automated processes were all technological advances that have helped the United States become the major economic power in the world.  There is no doubting the positive advances that technology has made in terms of productivity and efficiency in the US.

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The trouble with only relying on technological advances for the next leap forward is similar to a ball team that only relies on home runs rather than base hits.  The base hits may not be as grand as hitting a home run, but they are the key to winning the game.  When computers, automated processes, robots and the Internet started to really proliferate in the US business world, you could start to see the fascination with continuous improvement wane in the eyes of many managers.

In its 2018 Human Capital Trends report, Deloitte found that 47% of business and HR leaders were concerned that modern collaboration tools weren’t actually helping businesses achieve their goals. Between chat windows, project management tools, meeting alerts, and emails, workers find themselves in a constant state of reactive busyness—rather than proactively focusing on meaningful work.” — The Productivity Myth by Ben Taylor, March 19, 2019

O, they still have their quality departments and their six-sigma training but too many companies have gone back to the old standard of “Its good enough” or “Well, we are meeting expectations.”  The drive for continuous improvement has slowly but inexorably dissipated since the early nineties.   US Corporations have once again gone back to the idea of looking for the home run.  Too many hope to find this home run in mergers and acquisitions with new companies that display the dynamism lacking in their older established corporations.

“Since 2000, more than 790,000 transactions have been announced worldwide with a known value of over 57 trillion USD.  In 2018, the number of deals decreased by 8% to about 49’000 transactions, while their value has increased by 4% to 3.8 trillion USD.”  — Institute of Mergers and Acquisitions.

You may well ask then, “How successful are these mergers and acquisitions in terms of adding value for the corporation or even more so for the customers?”  One study done by the Harvard Business School in 2015 found that between seventy to ninety percent of all M&A’s failed.  In my opinion, too many companies want to grow quickly hoping either for an increased economy of scale or to obtain the creativity that has been weaned out of their now bloated bureaucracy.  Too many US companies have abandoned the idea of continuous improvement as too time consuming or too slow.  Hoping to hit more home runs, they would rather focus on a spectacular breakthrough rather than on a slow incremental improvement strategy.  It is strange and sad, that US companies feel it is an either-or trade off.  Either we work on continuous improvement or we work on hitting home runs.  The best strategy is to focus on both.  Few games are ever won by simply using a single strategy.

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2. Goals of short-term profits often lead to long-term losses

For the sake of so-called efficiency, employees are laid-off, training budgets are cut, salaries are frozen, pensions are renegotiated, employee perks are downsized, key processes are outsourced, and supplies are purchased on the basis of low bidder.  My sister always says, “Buy cheap and weep.”  Too much of American industry assumes that cutting costs in the short-term will lead to long-term profits.  Nothing could be further from the truth or more short-sighted in thinking.

Minimizing costs in one place can often lead to maximizing costs in another. Only management is responsible, and I mean top management, for looking at the company as a whole, to minimize total cost and not the cost here or there or there… must get departments to work together. That is difficult in the face of the annual rating… because they get rated on their own performance. — Dr. W. E. Deming

One of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points called for eliminating performance measures for employees and MBOs for management.  I have seen little evidence since Dr. Deming died that companies have made much effort in either area.  Admittedly, you can go on line and find dozens of companies that claim to have streamlined or improved their performance management/appraisal systems but they are still useless since they measure the wrong thing.  Dr. Deming taught that 90 percent or more of the problems in a system or variation in any process are caused by the system and not by the individuals.  Managers work on the system and are thus responsible for making changes and taking out barriers to efficiency that prohibit work from being more productive.  Unless these changes to the system are made, any attempt at measuring or encouraging worker performance or goal setting are ludicrous.  Goals should be set for the system based on realistic measures of its capability but not on individual employees.

 “People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets – even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.”  — W. Edwards Deming

3. Inefficient business practices are epidemic in most organizations

When I started consulting in 1986, it was not unusual to find corporations with 10 or more levels of management.  The chain of command was epidemic in most US companies.  The old idea of “span of control” was imbued in the management practices that guided most businesses.  This large bureaucracy of span of control and chain of command rivaled the inefficiency found in most government organizations.  I could go into dozens of other examples of inefficient business practices, but one will suffice.

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In 1998, I was hired by the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota as a Principal Strategic Planner.  The Metropolitan Council was a regional government agency and planning organization in Minnesota serving the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area.  This area accounted for over 55 percent of the state’s population.  My job was to help streamline processes at the Metropolitan Council Division of Environmental Services (MCES) and to help the division improve its delivery of key services.  The MCES was responsible for the management of eight wastewater treatment plants in the seven-county metropolitan area.

Over the years, various teams that I established undertook many processes and successfully improved them.  Always looking for new ideas and areas to improve, I struck upon the idea of doing more on-line meetings and also allowing more employees to work from home.  Both of these ideas were fully supported by existing technology in 2000, but I made little headway in establishing these ideas.  These two ideas ran counter to traditional management philosophies of command and control.  We had entered the 21st Century, but our work processes were still dictated by 20th Century ideas and beliefs.

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When I left the Met Council in 2001, I joined the American Express Technology Division (AET) of American Express Corporation.  I literally jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.  I had wrongly assumed that they would be more progressive than the Met Council and much to my dismay they were even less progressive.  It was difficult to get my manager to allow either myself or co-workers to work from home since “How would I know what you are doing” was a prevalent theme.  I gave notice only six months after joining American Express.

So now we are in the middle of a world-wide crisis caused by a virus.  The internet has allowed millions of workers to “work from home.”  Many of these Gig workers had been allowed some latitude in working from home but for many of the new Internet workers it was a new and pleasant experience.  However, it took a Pandemic catastrophe to free up the thinking of too many managers in terms of “How will I know what they are doing.”  Such a thought seems ludicrous in the extreme to anyone with a half grain of common sense.

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Unfortunately, many work processes in organizations are still mired in 20th and even 19th century beliefs of how work should be done.  These inefficient and archaic ideas stop many corporations from being nearly as efficient and productive as they could be.  The bottom line is that the vaunted supremacy of private for-profit corporations over government entities is vastly exaggerated and overrated.

I want to end this long blog with a stern reminder.  Few companies have demonstrated any ability to take on the “effectiveness” dimension of government agencies with better results than the government has shown.  Private for-profit charter schools and colleges have been disasters.  Private run prisons are not fairing much better.  They have continued to show a propensity for a lack of cost-effectiveness, security and safety concerns, poor health conditions, and the potential for corruption (see “The Problem with Private Prisons”).  In terms of the privatization of wastewater and water treatment plants, one study of household water expenditures in cities under private and public management in the U.S., came to the following conclusion, “Whether water systems are owned by private firms or governments may, on average, simply not matter much.” — Wikipedia

It hardly seems likely that many people in the US would like to see fire departments, police departments, the military and many regulatory agencies turned into for-profit entities regardless of how efficient they may claim to be.

 

Deconstructing Fairy Tale Enigmas and Conundrums

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Once upon a time there was a town that had a rat problem.  It decided to hire a Pied Piper who could lure the rats away from town with his magic flute.  Okay, you probably know the rest of the story.  He got rid of the rats, but the town managers refused to pay him.  So the Piper got out his magic flute and lured all the young children away.  They were never seen again.  Incredibly sad.  But is it plausible?  Let’s examine a few questions here:

  1. What kind of a flute could lure both rats and children? Wouldn’t the frequencies Rattenfaenger_Herrfurth_Pied-Piperrequired be different?  Could children hear the same frequencies as rats?
  2. Where did he take all the rats? What would stop them from coming back again?
  3. Why did he steal the kids? Why not lure the town managers away?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get rid of our politicians that easily?
  4. Most importantly, what happened to the kids? If they survived, how would the Piper feed hundreds of kids?  If they did not survive, how did he kill them?  Would the Piper really have been nasty enough to murder hundreds of little children?  And if he did, who would ever hire him again?

Lots of questions but we simply accept the story as it is told.  And that my friends is the problem.  We go through life simply accepting fairy tales without ever questioning them.  For instance, the Trickle-Down Fairy Tale.  This tale says that if we give lots of money to the rich, the money will somehow work its way down to the poor.  Most poor people I know believe this fairy tale.  Most poor people are still waiting for it to happen.

Deconstruction is defined as “A method of critical analysis of philosophical and literary language which emphasizes the internal workings of language and conceptual systems, the relational quality of meaning, and the assumptions implicit in forms of expression.”  I am going to use this concept loosely to look at several old and new fairy tales.  We will look to see if we can find the obvious truths that we take for granted.  Searching for the truth often requires us to cast common myths and assumptions aside and pursue the dangerous and mysterious.  I am going to apply deconstruction to the enigmas (“A person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.”) and conundrums (“A confusing and difficult problem or question.”) that are inherent in most fairy tales.

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Cinderella:

Once upon a time there was a lonely and mistreated girl named Cinderella.  Cinderella is a popular fairy tale with its stereotypical evil step-mother and beautiful but hapless heroine.  Cinderella lived with her two stepsisters and her evil stepmother who made her life hell.  But along came a fairy Godmother who turned things around for Cindy.  Throw in a handsome prince, money and a giant castle and you have the stuff of a fairy tale that still thrills young girls and would be princes.  But I have a few questions:

  1. Ok, I will give you the fairy Godmother with superpowers to transmute organic material into other organic material (mice to horses) as well as pumpkins into a carriage. But if she has such powers why can’t they work past 12 Midnight?
  2. What was Cinderella’s plan after the prince fell madly in love with her? Was she going to get anything else from her stepmother to help with next steps?  It does not 618bdeaaba384270870seem like there was any long-term strategic plan here.
  3. Do you really think that the King would let his heir apparent marry a commoner, no matter how beautiful she was?  If that was the case, why couldn’t the fairy Godmother give Cinderella a million bucks or at least make her a princess?
  4. Where would Cinderella learn palace etiquette? Would she be accepted in court with the manners of a scullery woman?  I doubt it.  I think divorce would have been pretty quick.
  5. What about the poor stepsisters?  So they were ugly.  Doesn’t this story smack of discrimination on the basis of looks and beauty?  Where was the Godmother for the two ugly stepsisters?  Seems to me that they were the ones who needed the most help.  All Cindy needed was a makeover and a gown, but the two sisters needed extensive plastic surgery.

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Anybody Can Be President in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:

This is a wonderful fairy tale.  It is one that we all grow up hearing and ultimately believing.  “In the USA, anyone with drive, passion and a vision can be President of the USA.”  But let’s be realistic.  Looking at the statistics, we see that:

  • 44 out of 45 Presidents have been white
  • 45 out of 45 Presidents have been male
  • 36 out of 45 Presidents had a net worth in today’s dollars of >$1,000.000
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Latino
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Asian
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been female
  • 0 out of 45 Presidents have been Native American

Not since Harry Truman (1953) have we had a president worth less than one million dollars net worth.  Now if there are 328,000,000 people in the USA and we subtract from the total amount of people living in the USA those with little chance of becoming President, (I list each of the above characteristics that do not seem to play well with one’s odds of becoming President) we can see how many people really do have a chance of becoming fulfilling this fairy tale.

328.2 million people in the USA (2019)

-76.29 million Black and White men under the age of 35.  (Must be at least 35 to be President.)

-73.29 million Black and White women under the age of 35

-85.1 million Black and White women over the age of 35 (Not good odds since none have made it yet)

-27 million Latino women

-15.4 million Latino men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Latino men over 35)

-9.7 million Asian American women

-4.66 million Asian American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Asian American men over 35)

-3.2 million Native American women

-1.77 million Native American men under the age of 35 (Not excluding Native American Men over 35)

I have not forgotten LGBTQ people, but I have not found a way to eliminate them by ethnicity or gender from the general census data.  I did not subtract Asian American, Latino or Native American men over the age of 35 who I think may still have a better chance of being president than a woman.  African American men over the age of 35 are also included since their probabilities are now somewhat higher since President Obama’s election. 

Subtracting the groups that are not likely to see a presidency in the near future we are left with:  31.79 million men over the age of 35 who have a chance of being president.

We will assume that you will likely need to be a millionaire to be elected President.  5.8 percent of the US population are millionaires.  Let’s estimate that between 3 to 4 percent of all millionaires are either males over the age of 35.  The rest of the millionaires being either female or males under the age of 35.  Then we multiply 31.79 million x 5.8 % to find the Final Total number of people in the USA who may rightfully feel that they have a chance to be president.  Trumpets please.  The final number is:

1.113 million

Thus, if you are born in the USA, and you are a male over 35 who is rich your chances of becoming President are about 1 in a million.  White males will no doubt continue to hold an advantage for the foreseeable future.  Well, at least that is better odds than winning the lottery.  However, the lottery pays a lot more.

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Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Once upon a time there was a mischievous and naughty little girl named Goldilocks.  Goldilocks was spoiled rotten by her parents who gave her everything she wanted.  They named her Goldilocks because of her bright yellow hair.  One day Goldilocks decided to go out for a walk in the woods.  She soon came upon a small cottage and decided to peek in the windows.  She was a very nosy child.  Upon looking through the window, she spied a table with three bowls of hot porridge just sitting there.  She did not see anyone inside and decided that she was hungry and that she was entitled to a bowl of cereal.  She held the belief that everything belonged to her and that included the porridge.  She tried the door and upon finding it open, she entered the home.

Have you noticed that Cowboy Stories, Comedy Romances and Fairy Tales all have happy endings?  For the rest of us, it’s death and taxes.

At this point, I am sure that you remember the rest of the story.  She eats three bowls of porridge.  Do you think she was maybe obese to begin with?  She breaks the little bear’s chair when she tries to sit on it.  Proof that she was too fat!  And then messes up all the bear beds and finally gets caught by the bears when they come home.  At this point, Mama bear would probably have messed up the kids face for messing with her nice clean beds.  But as far as I know, Goldilocks gets out alive and runs home where her parents continue to spoil her rotten.  So a few questions to deconstruct things if you will indulge me.  I will give you the anthropomorphic bears as a gift even before we begin.

  1. How did a fat kid get so far into the woods that she found a bear den or cottage?
  2. Where did the bears purchase their furniture and porridge? Do fairy tale bears shop at the same stores as humans?
  3. Bears can run at speeds upwards of 30 mph, how come they could not catch Goldilocks?
  4. Why were the bears eating porridge? Is that a traditional bear food?
  5. If the bears lived that close to other human dwellings (Assuming a fat kid could not walk too far) how come no one warned Goldilocks about the bears?
  6. What is the moral of this story anyway? Spoiled kids should not mess with bears or eat porridge that does not belong to them?

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The United States of America is the Greatest Democracy on Earth:

This is one of my favorite fairy tales.  According to this story, there was this exceptional group of people who banded together to form a more (and almost) perfect nation where democracy ruled.  It would be a government of the people, by the people and for the people.  According to the Fairy Godfather, who was named Thomas Jefferson, everyone in this country would be free except: Black People, Indian People, LGBTQ People and Women.

This country would be based on a democratic form of government where each person had one vote (Except Black People, Indian People and Women).  Representatives would be fairly elected and would make great and wonderful decisions for the people based on their superior knowledge and intellect.  Democracy would be a rule of the majority with CONCERN for the minority.  Thus Black people could continue to be happy down on the old plantations, women could continue to stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen and Indians could happily walk many miles to their new homes on the reservations.  What a great place America would be.

There was only one snag though.  Jefferson said that you could not really have a Democracy without two things:

  1. An educated citizenry who could make informed decisions.
  2. A free press which would keep people informed.

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Now, in the fairy tale, voters are all given equal opportunity to vote.  There is no voter suppression, Jim Crow laws or gerrymandering.  A vote is a vote is a vote.  Also in the fairy tale, the government is “for the people” not “for the Corporations.”  Representatives are looking out for the best interests of the people and not big business.  There are also no bad guys in the fairy tale.  These are the things that make the fairy tale so great and insure a happy ending.  In real life we have the greedy lobbyists, the corrupt politicians, the sycophantic followers and the corporations who buy votes.  Real life does not have happy endings.

But before we finish with deconstructing this fairy tale, we must say something about Jefferson’s two conditions for a democracy noted above.  In the fairy tale we have great public education systems where people are taught to think for themselves and to be able to tell lies from the truth.  In real life of course, schools do not teach critical thinking and students cannot distinguish lies from truth.  However, they are excellent at finding the right answers to exam questions.

Turning to the issue of a free press, in the fairy tale, we have courageous journalists who seek out the truth and who will print it regardless of the consequences.  In the fairy tale, journalists are motivated by a desire to inform the public and to ensure that information about critical issues is widely available.  In real life, most journalists are hacks whose major skills involve writing good clickbait lines to draw you into an extensive amount of advertising designed to make money for the corporations running their newspaper.  Profits and not information are the motivators in real life for newspapers and media.

So there you have it.  I have deconstructed some major fairy tales.  If you live in the USA, I am no doubt sure that you have read or heard of all of these.  Just to be clear, I love fairy tales and the fantasies that they give us.  Without fairy tales, we would have to live in the real world 24/7 and who could do that without going out of their minds?

“There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” — Ralph Ellison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 3 of 5

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I have stated in my two previous blogs that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.  I have been a business educator in higher education and a management consultant to some of the top corporations in the world.  My opinion is not based just on theory or observations.  It is based on the in-depth work that I did with over 32 companies during the time I was actively consulting.  There are many good people working in corporate America but as Dr. Deming once said “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.  There are Five Myths of Capitalism that are largely responsible for the mistaken policies and laws that have allowed Corporate Capitalism to become a dangerous disease infecting our way of life and causing untold damage to our country.

In my previous blogs, I described the first two myths.  In this blog, I will describe Myth #3 and how it contributes to the destruction of our country.  Myth #3 is:

  1. People Run Corporations

It is natural to believe that because people, managers and employees run corporations that they will act as humans might act.  It is supposed that corporations will be or at least should be humane, compassionate, and guided by responsibilities to its employees.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Nothing could be a bigger lie or myth.  People DO NOT run corporations.  I think I can illustrate the point I am trying to make with a few short stories from my own experiences with large corporations.  I am sure that as you read my stories, you will think of many similar experiences you have had.  That is what I want you to remember.

"Before we discuss destroying the competition, screwing our customers, and laughing all the way to the bank, let's begin this meeting with a prayer."

Best Buy Story:

Several years ago I bought a new desk top computer from Best Buy Corporation.  I also purchased a two-year extended warranty.  No sooner had I got the computer set up in my home office when problems started.  The computer would shut down without warning, most of the time right smack in the middle of a paper or presentation that I was preparing.  I was always very diligent at backing up my work, but I would still lose up to 15 minutes’ worth of work which was very annoying.  This happened a number of times and I called their customer service and got to talk to the Geek Squad.  This was originally a group of computer nerds who had their own company and Best Buy bought them up.

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I got a service rep on the line after the usual wait and switching of phone lines. He had me run a series of diagnostics and wanted to know if I had a virus protector.  I told him no, I had not yet installed one.  He informed me that this was my problem.  I had a virus and would need to install a virus protector.  I jotted down the incident number for this report and the date I called Best Buy.  I purchased a McAfee Virus software and installed it.  I was hopeful.  However, even after installing the new software, the same thing happened again and again.  The computer screen would go blank and the computer would shut off.  I called Best Buy tech support again.  I gave them my former incident number, but they opened a new number and gave it to me.  I talked to a tech rep.  He took me through the SAME series of diagnostics as before but could not find any problems.  Then he asked me if I had a virus protector.  I told him “Yes, I had purchased and installed McAfee Anti-Virus software.  He suggested I should switch to Norton Anti-Virus as he was sure that I had an undetected virus.  I said thanks and hung up.  I then went out and purchased a copy of Norton’s software.  I installed the software and you probably have already guessed it.  The computer had the same problem and kept logging off.  I was fed up.

I disconnected the computer.  Took my purchase receipt and took my incident numbers and notes and told Karen that I was taking the damn thing back to Best Buy.  She cautioned me to “Be nice”.  “You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.”  I promised I would.  When I arrived at the store, with box and computer in tow, I was referred to the Customer Service manager.  He wanted to know the problem and I gave him my history.  He then asked me if I had called the tech group for support.  I said I had.  He requested proof.  I showed him my notes and both incident numbers.  He then said “Well, since you did not purchase this at our store, there is nothing I can do.”  Bingo! I had him, I thought.  I showed him my receipt of purchase at this very same store.  “Well,” he said “We would need an extended warranty for a refund since it has been over six months since you purchased this computer.  I pulled out my 2-year extended warranty and showed it to him.

At this point, he said he would have to go talk to the store manager.

Mr. Customer Service manager came back about fifteen minutes later.  He looked me straight in the eye and said “how sorry he was” but it was “against policy” to take back merchandise.  I had had enough with “being nice.”  I told him I would never shop at Best Buy again and since I was a business education teacher at a local college, I would warn my students about shopping at Best Buy.  He looked blank and said not a word as I left his store.  It has now been over ten years.  I have never entered Best Buy again.  I would not buy a battery there if it were the last place on earth.

The Moral of This Story: 

We are not human beings to the people that work in large corporations.  We are dollar signs.  They have no empathy for us.  They switch off empathy when they join the corporation and aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  They become automatons who obey policy, follow procedures, and screw the customer if it means saving a dime for the corporation.  They will look you right in the face while screwing you and have no pity or compassion.  Remember, “we are only following procedures.”  By the way, this is about as true in large Government bureaucracies as in private for-profit corporations.  Caveat:  There are always decent people out there who are “exceptions”, I repeat “exceptions” to the rule.  However, they are not the norm.

Delta Airlines Story:

A few years ago, my wife and I bought tickets to go to Rhode Island to visit my sister.  We bought the tickets well in advance and looked forward to the visit.  A week or so before our scheduled departure, my brother in law called me up.  “John, I know Jeanine would never ask you to cancel your trip, but she has really not been feeling good.  We had to take her to the clinic, and I think it would be best if you came some other time.”  I told him “no problem”, we would cancel the trip and reschedule at a later date when she felt better.

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I called the airlines up to see about a refund.  I was told that “they were deeply sorry, but sickness was not a reason for a refund.  I said “seriously, you mean if I get sick and cannot make a trip, I cannot get a refund.”  The clerk replied, “If you were sick, it would not be a problem, but you were not sick, it was your sister.”  I could have bit a steel spike in half, but I replied civilly.  “Okay, but what about another booking at a later date?”  “We can manage that he said.  We will put a voucher in for you, but you will have to pay a restocking fee.”  “How the fuck do you restock an e-ticket I asked?”  “Its standard policy”, he replied.  The restocking fees cost about a third of the ticket prices and I remember being out of pocket about $300 dollars.  Three hundred dollars to restock an e-ticket?

The Moral of This Story:

Same as the moral for the Best Buy Story.  You customer.  Me corporate man.  We make billions by screwing people like you.  Sorry, its nothing personal, just business.

Travel Insurance Company Story:

Here we are in the middle of a Global Pandemic.  Karen and I had planned a trip to Paris and Moscow.  We purchased trip insurance to cover a number of costs over nine months ago.  Our two flights there and two flights back have all been cancelled due to the pandemic.  I am confident (Perhaps an unwarranted assumption on my part) that the airlines will either give me a voucher or refund.  Thus, the trip insurance company has not had to shell out one penny yet.  I decided to call the insurance company to see if I could get reimbursed for our Visas to Russia and Belarus that cost us a total of $1000 dollars.  I had already called both embassies and was informed that I would have to reapply for new visas.  The trip insurance agent informed me that Visas are not covered under “Miscellaneous Trip Cancellations” because as the agent said, “Does it say Visas?”  A short time later they sent the following notice by email to all insurance recipients:

If your travel insurance contains Trip Cancellation or Trip Interruption coverage:

Unless you purchased Trip Cancellation for Any Reason coverage, our insurance does not cover fear of travel.

Many of our plans exclude losses due to “any issue or event that could have been reasonably foreseen or expected when you purchased the coverage.” The COVID-19 outbreak is considered a foreseeable event under any plans containing this exclusion purchased on or after January 29, 2020.

I want to make three quick points. 

  1. Do you know anyone in their right mind who would not be afraid of traveling at this time?
  2. How in the name of anything you believe can the Covid-19 outbreak be considered a “foreseeable event” as early as January 29th?
  3. Have you ever seen the fine print and the number of pages on any insurance policy?

The Moral of This Story:

By now, you should know what the moral of this story is.  But just in case.  It is simply this.  If a large corporation can find any way to screw you, give you the shaft or take your money and give you nothing in return, rest assured many if not most of them will.

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Now, I want to return to my main point.  Corporations have no heart.  They have no feelings.  They have no emotions.  They are not sympathy machines or compassionate entities.  The people who are hired by these large corporations soon learn that if push comes to shove, they had better side with the corporation rather than the customer.

Unless, we change the character of corporate law, what it takes for articles of incorporation to be issued and the entire governance structure designed to provide oversight for companies, the stories that I have told above and your own sad tales will continue to reflect the reality of how corporations deal with people.

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Should it be this wayAre profits more important than people?  I fear that we have developed a system where too many people would say yes to both questions.

“How people themselves perceive what they are doing is not a question that interests me. I mean, there are very few people who are going to look into the mirror and say, ‘That person I see is a savage monster’; instead, they make up some construction that justifies what they do. If you ask the CEO of some major corporation what he does he will say, in all honesty, that he is slaving 20 hours a day to provide his customers with the best goods or services he can and creating the best possible working conditions for his employees. But then you take a look at what the corporation does, the effect of its legal structure, the vast inequalities in pay and conditions, and you see the reality is something far different.”  ― Noam Chomsky

Carnival Knew It Had a Problem, but Kept the Party Going

More than 1,500 people on the company’s cruise ships have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and dozens have died.  What were the executives thinking?  BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

 

Love Me Tender – Will I Really Love You Forever?

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Love me Tender was a song made popular by Elvis Presley in 1956.  Elvis was credited as one of the writers of the song along with Vera Matson but apparently it was really written by Ken Darby.  Ken Darby is one of the most interesting and successful musicians who ever lived but surprisingly he never achieved wide popularity.  The music was composed by George R. Poulton an English musician and composer born in 1828.  The original music was used for a Civil War ballad.  For more on Ken Darby go to Wikipedia.  I looked for a biography of him on Amazon but it seems none have been written.  Among the amazing attributes of his career is his sixty-year marriage to Vera Matson.   In Hollywood, a sixty-year marriage stands in my mind as a far greater achievement than winning an Oscar although Ken won three Academy Awards for his music scoring.

aa5028c6f162f4cb693880f8f6a024c4Elvis recorded this song at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles on a 7” single format.  The publishing label was RCA Victor.  The song became so popular that it was used as the title for an Elvis movie for which the song was written.  It went on to become a number 1 hit on the pop charts and has since been used in numerous movies and sung by hundreds if not thousands of other recording artists.

I reflect back on Elvis and though I was only ten years old when he achieved fame and fortune, I associate him most with his rock and roll songs such as “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Jail House Rock” and “Hound Dog Man.”  It is now almost 65 years later and I hardly if ever listen to any of these old rock songs but “Love Me Tender” seems timeless.

It is interesting to think about the character of a man who could sing such beautiful ballads as well as songs as fluffy and mindless as “Hound Dog Man.”  Elvis was one of many tragedies in the world of pop music.  Talent beyond measure but sacrificed to the almighty dollar.  A man exploited by an industry who was in many ways a child that never grew up.  His collision between meaning and materiality led to his death at the age of only 42.  The King joined the list of too many other performers who have had their lives cut short by a contradictory desire for fame and fortune and significance.

DSC_0004I was on my cell phone a day or so ago talking with some old friends about another friend.  One of my best friends in the world of management consulting was a wonderful woman named Dr. Hana Tomasek.  Hana had emigrated from Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) after the Russian invasion in 1968.  The Russians invaded to put down the political liberalization known as the Prague Spring.  Hana escaped Czechoslovakia with her husband Jara on a secret journey in the middle of the night across the border and to freedom in a non-communist country.  Hana and Jara left everything behind and eventually arrived in the United States for sanctuary.  Years later they achieved their dreams of citizenship in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”  Hana is one of the most patriotic citizens of the USA that you would ever meet.  Sadly, Jara passed away many years ago and Dr. Tomasek (She is very proud of her degree) is now suffering from dementia and lives in a nursing home in Spring Park, Minnesota.

woman scuba diverAfter discussing Hana’s health with the two friends I know, both who regularly visit with her, I was suddenly struck with the need to listen to Elvis’s version of “Love Me Tender.”  Somehow, talking about Hana I associated my feelings for her with this song.  Hana was a friend and mentor to me at the consulting firm of Process Management International which I joined after graduating with my Ph.D. degree in 1986 from the University of Minnesota.  Hana and I became good friends after working together with a number of clients.  Hana was by far the more knowledgeable and capable as a management consultant and she taught me much about how to be successful in the field.  Karen and I eventually got to know Hana and Jara on a personal basis and it has been a rewarding friendship.  It saddens me very much to see how frail and fragile she has become when I think of the strong virile person she once was.  She was an avid skier, sailor and scuba diver.  Hana made over 600 dives throughout the world.  Each year for many years she would go skiing in the Alps or in Colorado.

Here is how I relate “Love Me Tender” to Hana as a friend.  I think this song is fitting for so many good friends that we might have and never want to “let” go.

If you want to play the song as you read the following, click on the link “Love Me Tender.”

Love me tender, love me sweet

Never let me go

You have made my life complete

And I love you so

When someone dies, do they let you go?  I think of Hana who will soon leave this earthly plane and will go away.  I don’t want her to go.  I love her as friend who was intelligent and loyal and trustworthy and compassionate and caring and who tolerated my foibles and my stupidity.  She helped make my life as complete as anyone can who truly accepts you for who you are.  I never heard a word of reproval from Hana for anything I ever said or did.  Hana was a very honest and direct woman, but she was always beyond kind and thoughtful towards me.

Love me tender, love me true

All my dreams fulfill

For, my darling I love you

And I always will

I love Hana with what Aristotle called Philia Love.  Aristotle defined this kind of love as “affectionate love.” In other words, it is the kind of love that you feel for your close friends.  We have shared so many wonderful moments with Hana and her friends.  Every year she would have a big 4th of July party to celebrate her coming to America and the birth of our country.  She had a house overlooking Medicine Lake and her ski boat moored to a dock where you could take a dip in the water or go for a ride with Hana on her lake.  Later in the day, her friend Cecil would set up with his band and play calypso music that we could all dance too.  The culmination of the day would be Hana’s speech about what America meant to her and how life had been in America for her.  She was always heartfelt and inspiring.

“Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.”  ― Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics

The house that I was sure she would die in is now sold.  Many of her friends have moved elsewhere or passed away.  I ran into Cecil at a friend’s home in Puerto Penasco a year or so ago.  It was quite a coincidence since I had no knowledge that Cecil would be there or even that he knew where Puerto Penasco was.  We talked about Hana and the good times we had with her.  A few days ago, I started thinking of what kind of a memorial I could help setup for Hana when she passes.  I was doing some online searches when I came upon Hana’s name several times.  I was surprised to find that Hana had done some print memorials for a friend of ours who died 27 years ago.  I guess there is a circle to life and what was once the past for us then becomes our present and future.

Love me tender, love me dear

Tell me you are mine

I’ll be yours through all the years

‘Till the end of time

If there is no time or if time only exists on clocks and in our minds, perhaps we will all share some space in the future, where we can once again join those whom we loved and cared for.  I am dubious of this potential (some would call it heaven), but I have learned that death does not end the lives of those we love.  Death only ends their physical existence.  There is an existence that continues for as long as we live.  It is the memories of the person we knew in various phases of our lives.  We may remember them as lovers, friends or relatives.  We remember the events we shared and the days when we were young together and the days when we were old together.  We remember the sick days with them and the days when we were exuberant and bursting with energy.  We remember the hopes, dreams, visions and ideals we shared together.  None of these things can ever be erased by the passage of time.  They will be ours forever through all the years.  “Hana, I will never forget you or our times together.”

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“Those we love don’t go away; they walk beside us every day.” – Unknown

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 2 of 5

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In my last blog, I asserted that unless we change our attitudes and policies regarding Corporate Capitalism, it will destroy our country, our way of life, our freedoms, and our environment.  Furthermore, we will undoubtedly take some of the rest of the world along with us.  This is a serious accusation and one I do not take lightly.  I have been a business educator in higher education and a management consultant to some of the top corporations in the world.  My opinion is not based on theory or just observations.  It is based on the in-depth work I did with over 32 companies during the time I was actively consulting.  There are many good people working in corporate America but as Dr. Deming once said “You put a good person in a bad system and the system will win every time.  Myth #2 is:

  1. Corporations are self-regulating entities for the common good

Laissez-Faire-Economics

Let me explain what I mean by this.  There is a doctrine or concept in economics called “laissez faire.”  Laissez faire is a belief that business and the marketplace works best without the interference of any government agencies.  It implies that there is an invisible hand which controls the dynamics of markets.  This invisible hand ensures that markets reach some kind of an equilibrium.   One example of this is the “law of supply and demand.”  When demand is high, prices will be high, and supplies will be low.  Not everyone who wants the product will be able to find them or afford them.  Producers will then create more of the product to meet demand.  As product quantity rises, prices fall until an equilibrium price is reached that allows everyone who wants the product to purchase the product at a price that is fair to them and allows the manufacturers to make a profit.  Governments can intervene (as they have done) by price controls or subsidies.  Such efforts by the government are generally felt to destroy the inherent equilibrium of the market.

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government-warning-poster-mock1_1024x1024People who believe in the idea of “laissez faire” want us to think that corporations can regulate themselves and do a better job of it then when government interferes with rules, policies, laws and regulations.  Business leaders do their best to hype this belief and to create the idea that government run organizations are always less efficient than those run by private entities. Conservatives and Republicans subscribe to this belief and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to thwart those who disagree.

The conservative mantra is that “no government is good government.”  In the past forty or so years, there has been a concerted effort by conservative politicians to eliminate government regulations and to allow private for-profit business to take over such services as public education, wastewater treatment plants, social security, Medicare, and prisons.  The argument is always the same “private business can do it more cost effectively than government.”

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Here is the catch or hypocrisy in the above argument.  It is only heard when businesses can easily make a profit.  When there is an easy market with lots of potential and lots of potential customers, business leaders want the government to stay out of the way.  However, when things turn sour and profits turn to losses or when the loss potential is high, business then want the government to step in.   The mantra that “No government is good government” soon turns to “We need help, or we will have to declare bankruptcy.”  Suddenly, the government that has been spurned and criticized for being too intrusive and for screwing up the equilibrium of the market is now called upon to help save private companies.  Here are some recent headlines that highlight this hypocrisy:

  • Airlines will receive billions of dollars in grants and loans to pay flight attendants, pilots, and other employees
  • Boeing still expects to get some help from the federal government
  • Trump administration eyes paying oil companies to keep crude in the ground
  • Coronavirus Stimulus Shows Big Government is Back
  • Washington is gripped in a bailout frenzy. Nearly every industry is sending its lobbyists to ask Congress for handouts
  • The coal industry wants permission to stop making payments to miners with black lung disease.
  • The hotel industry alone has requested a $150 billion bailout

For a complete list of companies or industries that have received government bailouts going back a number of years see ProPublica Bailout Tracker.  There are almost a thousand major corporations on this list.

During the recession of 2007 and 2008 government bailouts in the form of loans and outright grants were given to a wide range of American companies.  Many times the argument was heard that “They are too big to fail.”  Some Conservatives actually opposed these bailouts and some Democrats were in favor of them.

Now understand this please.  I am not necessarily in favor of letting all businesses fail.  The Austrian school of Economics would argue in favor of letting them fail.  They call this  “Creative Destruction.”

“According to Schumpeter (A leader in the school of Austrian Economics), the “gale of creative destruction” describes the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one”.  — Wikipedia

“Creative destruction is a process through which something new brings about the demise of whatever existed before it.  Old industries and firms, which are no longer profitable, close down enabling the resources (capital and labour) to move into more productive processes.” — Economics Help

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In other words, if Boeing and United Air and General Motors and all the other companies that want a bailout can’t hack it, them let them fail.  Let them declare bankruptcy and get out of the way so new more productive and more efficient firms can enter the marketplace.  This is a little like the Theory of Evolution in which the weaker species die out and the stronger species survive.   Thus, company bankruptcies and jobs lost will in the long run result in a more efficient industry.

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I am not against bailing some companies out.  The one thing I have learned in my years on this earth is that there are always exceptions to every rule.  There may be times when we should let businesses fail and there may be times to help them survive a rough patch.  I have no problems with the foregoing thoughts.  What I do have a problem with is the laissez faire argument that ends with “Leave us alone when we are making heaps of money but help us out when things turn bad.”  This is a deceitful and duplicitous argument which has led to an extreme gullibility on the part of many Americans.  Too many Americans now believe that “Government is the Problem” to quote Ronald Reagan.

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Here is a short list of how private business benefits from Government:

  • Copyright protection
  • Trademark protection
  • Patent Rights
  • Tax breaks for siting a new business
  • Police protection
  • Fire protection
  • Military protection for overseas business
  • Research and development studies
  • Mineral rights
  • Right of ways
  • Land ownership at sometimes exceptionally low prices
  • Tax concessions, such as exemptions, credits, or deferrals
  • Assumption of risk, such as loan guarantees.
  • Government procurement policies that pay more than the free-market price
  • Stock purchases that keep a company’s stock price higher than market levels
  • Subsidies for externalities that could not be recovered at competitive costs
  • Tariff protections
  • Subsidies for farmers, oil companies and many others
  • Job training programs for workers
  • Education programs for workers 

https___blogs-images.forbes.com_adamandrzejewski_files_2018_08_Forbes_USFarmRecipients-2Corporations are liars.  They say they want to live in a laissez faire environment.  They say they want fewer government regulations.  They say the government only interferes and adds no value to their products.  They say they don’t want the government telling them what to do.  The lie is that they do want Government involvement.  They want the government to bail them out of a situation when they will suffer losses or see lower profit margins.  They want the government to give them preferred bankruptcy conditions.  They want the government to side with them in labor-management disputes.  They want the government to help them out with all of the items on my list above.  Do some research.  Find out how many companies and industries get government handouts.  Check out Government Subsidies.

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Thus, the myth that organizations are self-regulating is the myth of the impossible.  You might as well believe in a perpetual motion machine.  It does not exist because it is impossible.  The Second Law of Thermodynamics states: “That there is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.”  Thus any entity or organism or system needs energy from outside in order to maintain a state of equilibrium.  If the energy is less than needed, the entity will eventually degrade into a state of maximum entropy or disorder.”  For instance, when we die, we will degrade into dust.  If you do not periodically clean and organize your home, it will degrade into a garbage bin.  You cannot expect any system to maintain a steady state without input from outside.

The bottom line is that no corporation including illegal ones like drug cartels and the mafia can exist without independent inputs from outside their system.  Corporations are dependent on governments for their very survival.  Anyone who thinks that Corporate Capitalism could survive (much less thrive) without the input of Government is either stupid, naïve, or trying to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.  It is about time for politicians and Americans to realize that business needs government and government needs business.

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Enough with these moronic arguments made by right wing protestors to do away with government.  A capitalistic economy without a government to monitor its excesses and to protect it from the vagaries of the marketplace would soon evolve into a system of chaos, lawlessness and monopolies that would be totally dysfunctional and destructive. The present emphasis on deregulation, privatization and less government has been taken too far and with too little appreciation of the need for government balance and oversight.  If we continue down this road, we will destroy our country and any vestige of the ideals of a free marketplace.  There is no such thing as free.  A free market requires policies, regulations, and rules.  There is no such thing as an economic system without some form of government to oversee, watch out for and protect its lawful interests.  Even illegal systems court the interests of governments albeit with bribes and threats rather than lobbyists and special interest groups.

Some of you might find the following article interesting.  It was published several years ago in the Harvard Business Review.

Does Privatization Serve the Public Interest? by John B. Goodman and Gary W. Loveman from the November-December 1991 Issue of Harvard Business Review.

 

 

 

 

 

Questions Amidst a Global Corvid-19 Pandemic – Preguntas en medio de una pandemia mundial de Corvid-19 –  全球Corvid-19大流行中的疑问 – ग्लोबल कॉर्विड -19 महामारी के बीच प्रश्न

Questions Amidst a Global Corvid-19 Pandemic  

Below is a selection of questions, from those that invite levity to others that prompt more serious reflection, that will help you think about things maybe differently during this time of crisis in the world.   I was sent these by a friend online and thought I would share them.  I believe the author of these is Elizabeth Weingarten.  Her email and Twitter addresses follow these questions and she would love for you to contact her.  She also has a website.  Click on her name and you will be taken to her website.  I am going to give you some time to think about your responses and next week, I will post my responses to these questions. 

  1. How are you taking care of yourself today?
  2. What part of your shelter-in-place residence have you come to appreciate the most?
  3. What surprising thing have you been stocking up on (that isn’t toilet paper)?
  4. What’s a story – from a book, a movie, an article, a conversation – that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?
  5. What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?
  6. Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting once this is all over?
  7. What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?
  8. What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?
  9. What’s something you own that feels useful?
  10. What problem—either yours, or something more global —do you wish you could solve?
  11. What’s something that you miss that surprises you? What’s something that you don’t miss that surprises you?
  12. Which member of your family/ friend group have you been thinking about the most during this time? Why?
  13. What’s the most generous act you’ve seen recently?
  14. What’s the last thing you experienced that made you laugh, or cry?
  15. What times of the day or the week are hardest?
  16. What’s giving you hope right now?
  17. What’s the best thing that happened to you today?
  18. How do you want this experience to change you? How do you think it will?
  19. What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?
  20. How would you like this experience to change the world?

Reach me on Twitter at @elizabethw723 or email me at eweingarten@ideas42.org, and let me know what other questions you have found inspiring. 

 Preguntas en medio de una pandemia mundial de Corvid-19

A continuación hay una selección de preguntas, desde aquellas que invitan a la ligereza a otras que provocan una reflexión más seria, que lo ayudarán a pensar sobre cosas que pueden ser diferentes durante este momento de crisis en el mundo. Un amigo me envió estos en línea y pensé en compartirlos. Creo que la autora de estos es Elizabeth Weingarten. Aquí las direcciones de correo electrónico y Twitter siguen estas preguntas y le encantaría que la contactaras. Ella también tiene un sitio web. Haga clic en su nombre y será llevado a su sitio web. Voy a darle un poco de tiempo para pensar sobre sus respuestas y la próxima semana, publicaré mis respuestas a estas preguntas.

 

  1. ¿Cómo te cuidas hoy?
  2. ¿Qué parte de tu residencia de refugio en el lugar has llegado a apreciar más?
  3. ¿Qué cosa sorprendente has estado almacenando (que no es papel higiénico)?
  4. ¿Qué es una historia – de un libro, una película, un artículo, una conversación – que te ha cautivado recientemente? ¿Por qué te capturó?
  5. ¿Qué hábito has comenzado o quebrado durante la cuarentena?
  6. ¿Qué lugar específico en su vecindario está deseando visitar una vez que todo esto haya terminado?
  7. ¿Cuál es la parte más fácil de la cuarentena?
  8. ¿Cuáles son algunas cosas que te has dado cuenta de que realmente no necesitas?
  9. ¿Qué es lo que tienes que te resulta útil?
  10. ¿Qué problema, ya sea el suyo o algo más global, le gustaría resolver?
  11. ¿Qué es lo que echas de menos y te sorprende? ¿Qué es algo que no te pierdas y que te sorprenda?
  12. ¿En qué miembro de su familia / grupo de amigos ha estado pensando más durante este tiempo? ¿Por qué?
  13. ¿Cuál es el acto más generoso que has visto recientemente?
  14. ¿Qué fue lo último que experimentaste que te hizo reír o llorar?
  15. ¿Qué horas del día o de la semana son más difíciles?
  16. ¿Qué te da esperanza en este momento?
  17. ¿Qué es lo mejor que te ha pasado hoy?
  18. ¿Cómo quieres que esta experiencia te cambie? ¿Cómo crees que lo hará?
  19. ¿Qué esperas que todos aprendamos o saquemos de esta experiencia?
  20. ¿Cómo le gustaría que esta experiencia cambiara el mundo?

Comuníquese conmigo en Twitter en @ elizabethw723 o envíeme un correo electrónico a eweingarten@ideas42.org, y hágame saber qué otras preguntas ha encontrado inspiradoras.

 全球Corvid-19大流行中的疑

以下是一些问题的选择,这些问题引起人们的重视,而其他问题促使人们进行更认真的思考,这些问题将帮助您在世界危机时期考虑不同的事物。我是由一个朋友在线发送给我的,并认为我会与他们分享。我相信这些文章的作者是伊丽莎白·温加顿。在这里,电子邮件和Twitter地址会遵循这些问题,她很希望您与她联系。她也有一个网站。单击她的名字,您将被带到她的网站。我将给您一些时间来考虑您的回答,下周,我将发布对这些问题的回答。Elizabeth Weingarten

 

1.您今天如何照顾自己?

2.您最喜欢就地庇护所的哪个部分?

3.储存了什么令人惊讶的东西(不是卫生纸)?

4.最近被您牢牢抓住的是一个故事书,电影,文章,谈话中?为什么它抓住了你?

5.在隔离期间您开始或习惯了什么习惯?

6.结束后,您最希望在您附近的哪个地方参观?

7.隔离最简单的部分是什么?

8.您已经意识到自己真正不需要的一些东西?

9.拥有什么有用的东西?

10.您希望解决什么问题(无论是您的问题,还是更全球化的问题)?

11.您想念的是什么让您感到惊讶?您不会错过什么让您感到惊讶的东西?

12.这段时间里,您最想念的是家人/朋友小组中的哪个成员?为什么?

13.您最近看到的最慷慨的举动是什么?

14.您最后经历过什么使您发笑或哭泣?

15.一天或一周中什么时候最难?

16.什么给了您现在希望?

17.今天发生的最好的事情是什么?

18.您希望这种经历如何改变您?您如何看待?

19.您希望我们大家从这次经历中学到什么或从中学到什么?

20.您希望这种经历改变世界吗?

Twitter上通@ elizabethw723与我联系,或通过eweingarten@ideas42.org向我发送电子邮件,让我知道您发现其他启发性的问题。

 ग्लोबल कॉर्विड -19 महामारी के बीच प्रश्न

 नीचे प्रश्नों का एक चयन है, उन लोगों से जो दूसरों के लिए उत्कटता को आमंत्रित करते हैं जो अधिक गंभीर प्रतिबिंब का संकेत देते हैं, जो आपको दुनिया में संकट के इस समय के दौरान शायद अलगअलग चीजों के बारे में सोचने में मदद करेगा। मुझे ये एक दोस्त ने ऑनलाइन भेजा था और सोचा था कि मैं उन्हें साझा करूंगा। मेरा मानना ​​है कि इनमें से लेखक एलिजाबेथ वेनगार्टन हैं। यहां ईमेल और ट्विटर पते इन सवालों का पालन करते हैं और वह आपसे संपर्क करना पसंद करेंगे। उसकी एक वेबसाइट भी है। उसके नाम पर क्लिक करें और आपको उसकी वेबसाइट पर ले जाया जाएगा। मैं आपको अपनी प्रतिक्रियाओं के बारे में सोचने के लिए कुछ समय देने जा रहा हूं और अगले हफ्ते, मैं इन सवालों पर अपनी प्रतिक्रियाएं दूंगा।  Elizabeth Weingarten

 

  1. आज आप अपनी देखभाल कैसे कर रहे हैं?
  2. आपके आश्रयस्थान के किस स्थान पर आप सबसे अधिक सराहना करने आए हैं?
  3. आप किस आश्चर्य की बात पर स्टॉक कर रहे हैं (वह टॉयलेट पेपर नहीं है)?
  4. क्या कहानी हैएक पुस्तक, एक फिल्म, एक लेख, एक वार्तालाप सेजिसे आपने हाल ही में पकड़ लिया है? इसने आप पर कब्जा क्यों किया?
  5. संगरोध के दौरान आपने कौन सी आदत शुरू की है, या टूट गई है?
  6. आपके पड़ोस में कौन सी विशिष्ट जगह है जहाँ आप एक बार यह सब देख सकते हैं?
  7. संगरोध के बारे में क्या सबसे आसान हिस्सा है?
  8. ऐसी कौन सी चीजें हैं जिन्हें आपने महसूस किया है कि आपको वास्तव में जरूरत नहीं है?
  9. ऐसा क्या है जो आपके लिए उपयोगी है?
  10. क्या समस्या हैया तो आपकी, या कुछ और वैश्विकजो आप चाहते हैं कि आप हल कर सकें?
  11. ऐसी कौन सी चीज है जो आपको याद आती है जो आपको चौंका देती है? ऐसी कौन सी चीज है जो आपको याद नहीं है जो आपको आश्चर्यचकित करती है?
  12. इस समय के दौरान आपके परिवार / मित्र समूह के कौन से सदस्य के बारे में आप सबसे अधिक सोच रहे हैं? क्यों?
  13. हाल ही में आपने क्या सबसे उदार कार्य देखा है?
  14. आपने जो आखिरी चीज़ का अनुभव किया है, उससे आपको हंसी आती है या रोना आता है?
  15. दिन या सप्ताह में से कौन सा समय सबसे कठिन है?
  16. आप अभी क्या उम्मीद कर रहे हैं?
  17. आज आपके लिए सबसे अच्छी बात क्या है?
  18. आप इस अनुभव को कैसे बदलना चाहते हैं? आपको क्या लगता है यह कैसे होगा?
  19. आप क्या उम्मीद करते हैं कि हम सभी इस अनुभव से सीखेंगे या निकालेंगे?
  20. आप दुनिया को बदलने के लिए इस अनुभव को कैसे पसंद करेंगे?

 ट्विटर पर @ elizabethw723 पर पहुंचें या मुझे eweingarten@ideas42.org पर ईमेल करें, और मुझे बताएं कि आपको अन्य कौन से प्रश्न प्रेरक लगे हैं।

 

 

Joy and Sorrow

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Joy and sorrow are the Yin and Yang of existence.  One day we find joy and the next day we find sorrow. 

I found joy when my first daughter was born.  She was premature by a few weeks and so we could not take her home right away.  It was in 1967 and I was in the birthing room with my ex-wife Julie when Christina was born.  Both of us could not have been happier.  Over the years, I found joy in spending time with my daughter, taking her to the library, racing her on her bicycle, going to the boundary waters with her and taking her out trick or treating on Halloween.  I found joy watching her grow up.

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I found sorrow when my first wife and I separated in 1982 and I had to leave my daughter behind.  I found sorrow when my daughter Christina started college and decided she did not want to talk to me anymore.  I have found sorrow for the past 30 years or so at no longer seeing my daughter or even knowing where she lives.  I find sorrow that she never calls me or cares about having anything to do with me.

I find joy with my wife Karen when we sit and talk and eat together, now for nearly 40 years.  I find joy when Karen is happy, and we exercise or travel or go for walks together.  I find joy in helping her to stay healthy and knowing that she appreciates my efforts.  I find joy in growing old together and watching us both develop wrinkles together and claim similar aches and pains.  Our companionship is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I find sorrow when I think too long about what is too come.  I have seen too many elderly couples decline and it is often a sad sight.  I find sorrow when I think that in not too many years, Karen or I could be facing our final years by ourselves.  I find sorrow in thinking too much about what might be and how it might happen.

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I find joy in my writing.  I love the process of putting ideas into words.  I love getting comments on my blog and I love seeing the Google analytics regarding how many people are reading my rants and thoughts.  I love responding to people who leave comments.  I love the task of finding new ideas and themes to write about.  I love the community that I often find with other writers.  Something about the very word itself though unspoken is beautiful and magic.

I find sorrow in running out of new ideas and the occasional barren oasis that seems to sit in front of me as I struggle to find something to write about.  I find sorrow in feeling that I am not making any difference in the world with my writing.  I find sorrow when I compare my stats to others and think that some people get more readers in a day than I get in a month.  I know I should not compare myself, but I do anyway, and it always makes me sad.

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I found joy in getting to make amends with my father and mother before they died.  He died at 60 years of age and my mother died at 67.  I had hated my father and I was apathetic towards my mother.  I found joy in knowing my mother better and understanding the demons that she had to deal with.  I found joy in confronting my father and having him apologize to me for the misery that he caused my sisters and I when we were growing up.  I spoke at his funeral and found joy in the words I gave because I told truth.  My father had changed before he died, and I could see that in his friends and his new family.

I found sorrow when I was growing up with my family.  Hardly a day went by when I was not tormented or blamed for something by my father.  I found sorrow because my sisters and I were isolated and could not even find support in each other.  I found sorrow in my life as I felt so alone.  Later when I heard the song “Motherless Child”, I knew I was that motherless child.  A counselor years later told me it was because children expect their mothers to protect them.  I found sorrow in that it was not until my mother died that I realized how much misery she had in her own life while living with my father.  She had little time or energy to protect her children.  All of whom were abused by my father.

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I find joy in nature.  I run, ski, bike, swim canoe, camp and love being outside.  I find joy in the forests, in the lakes, in the ocean and in the mountains.  I find joy in flowers and watching the trees bloom and the leaves turn colors in the fall.  I feel joy in staring at a moonlit sky and looking for falling stars, constellations, and comets.  I find joy in sunshine and a cloudless day, but I also find joy on a rainy day with clouds billowing and promises of storms to come.

I feel sorrow when I see a tree hacked down or a lake defiled with oil and garbage.  I look at the sky and feel sad that we put up so much junk in the air that people are choking, and asthma has become common.  I find sorrow in the polluted oceans and in manicured lawns where water is wasted growing grass that has no reason for being there.  I feel sorrow that we put development over nature and destroy vast acres of beautiful land to put up parking lots.

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I receive joy from my exercising.  I love the feel of the mountain runs that I do each morning.  I love the stretch from yoga each evening.  My body feels so alive when it is moving.  I have done scuba diving, skydiving, bike racing, marathons and two triathlons.  I have never been a major competitor but the joy and fun of racing with others is indescribable.  The joy of being one big family even if only for a few hours.  Celebrating life and the ability we have as athletes.  No one regardless of how they do or how late they finish is ever ridiculed or laughed at.

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I receive sorrow and pain from exercising.  Some days it is hard to get up and go out.  Some days I feel sad wondering when my last run will be, and when I will no longer be able to handle the inevitable falls on the trails.  I have had sorrow from Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, back pains, hip pains and sesamoiditis.  Some of these problems have taken me years to overcome and some I have had to adapt to and live with.  I have sat for hours and picked cactus spines out of my legs and feet and arms.  There might not be a great deal of sorrow in this activity but there is a great deal of pain.  I think sadly of some of the longer runs I once did and some of the longer bicycle trips I once took and some of the week long canoe trips.  I know that I no longer have the energy for any such trips.  They are now sadly only memories that are slowly fading away.

My greatest joy in life has come from reading and learning.  I would rather die than not have a book to read or the chance to learn something new.  The joy I find in books is ineffable.  I want to learn the rest of my life and continue to find new things that will excite me.  I find joy in challenges to my ideas and beliefs.  I find joy in discovering that I was right, and I find joy in discovering that I was wrong.  Books have always been dearer to me than friendships.  Books bring me to places that I have never been.  Books help me to meet people that I can only dream of meeting.  Books do not desert me at 3 PM in the morning or chastise me for putting them down.  I find joy in history, science, mathematics, politics, psychology, spirituality, biographies, dramas and plays.  Books were my companions when I grew up and they were my family.  Books gave me unconditional love and were my steadfast friends.

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Books have brought me great sorrow.  I read the Little Match Girl a dozen times or more and each time I cried when I read this story.  Countless other stories and events have 83909b1f6d72b56470333621cbd1ebf2-the-little-match-girl-hans-christianbrought sorrow to my heart over the years.  Life does not always end happily.  Lives do not always find the justice and honor they merit.  I have felt sorry for the heroes and heroines who did not get the fates they deserved.  If only I could somehow right all the wrongs and set history on the paths it should have taken.  I find books tell me about my shortcomings and highlight areas where I need improvement.  It is always sorrowful to find that I am not as good as I would like to be.

Writing this has been cathartic.  For me, the writing itself is mixed with elements of joy and elements of sorrow.  So joyful to remember some things.  Remembering others so very sorrowful.  Some remind me of the joy still in my life.  Some sorrows make me want to live my life over.  But would it be any different?   Would it be any better?

What are the joys and sorrows in your life?

It’s the Economy Stupid! The Five Myths of Capitalism – Part 1 of 5

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There are many theories about what drives progress and change in the world.  Some say Ideology changes the world.  Some say Technology is the main driver of change.  Karl Marx, one of the most famous or infamous men in history, (depending on your beliefs) argued that Economics is the main driver of change in the world.  Much of Marx’s theory is summed up by the term Historical Materialism which can be defined as:

“A theory of history which states that a society’s economic organization fundamentally determines its social institutions and the way that people live and benefit from the means of production in that society.”

marxism-capitalism-1-638Most of what people learn about Marx is far removed from his actual ideas.  Given that Capitalism has been diametrically opposed to the very name of Karl Marx, it is not surprising that he is routinely disparaged.  Even at the University level, it is rare to find anyone studying Marx very deeply.   Many educators and instructors describe Marx’s economic theories as “Totally Discredited.”  Few people in America have any good words for Karl Marx.  Any politician in the USA who might suggest that Marx ever said one good thing or had one good idea would court instant political death.  Marx is the devil in our Capitalistic system.

the economyMarx did of course hate capitalism.  He saw Capitalism as a system that exploited workers and allowed the greedy to benefit at the expense of those less fortunate or less aggressive.

“Capitalism: Teach a man to fish, but the fish he catches aren’t his. They belong to the person paying him to fish, and if he’s lucky, he might get paid enough to buy a few fish for himself.”  — Karl Marx

10665231_470379489743928_2447670465163187643_nThe antipathy directed towards Marx and his critique of Capitalism has discouraged any real in-depth understanding of the limits and myths of Capitalism by most Americans.  Capitalism resides in America on the same level as Mom, God, and Apple Pie.  Woe to anyone who would dare to attack Capitalism.  In the United States, Capitalism is as hallowed an institution as Christianity.  In fact, most Christians think that Capitalism and religion go hand in hand, which to a large extent they sadly do.  Unfortunately, not all Capitalism is the same.  In America, we have a home-grown version that is more appropriately called Corporate Capitalism.  What is the difference you might ask?  Well it gets even more complicated since economists define four types of Capitalism.  These are:  oligarchic capitalism, state-guided capitalism, big-firm capitalism, entrepreneurial capitalism.  The type of Capitalism that I am going to talk about is known as Big Firm Capitalism or Corporate Capitalism.  It has been defined as:

“Corporate capitalism is characterized by the dominance of hierarchical and bureaucratic corporations… A large proportion of the economy of the United States and its labor market falls within corporate control.  In the developed world, corporations dominate the marketplace, comprising 50% or more of all businesses.  Those businesses which are not corporations contain the same bureaucratic structure of corporations, but there is usually a sole owner or group of owners who are liable to bankruptcy and criminal charges relating to their business. Corporations have limited liability and remain less regulated and accountable than sole proprietorships.” — Wikipedia

Before we proceed further, you need to understand one thing.  I am not against corporations per se.  We gain many benefits from corporations.  Corporations are a large part of the foundation of our economy which from strictly a monetary perspective has been phenomenally successful.  The USA has perhaps the most successful economy in history.  I have no problems with the monetary contributions of corporations.

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The problems arise however, in that there are Myths of Corporate Capitalism which serve to hide the negative impacts that corporations have on our country and the rest of the world.  Today, corporations are global entities and their excesses are felt not just in this country but all over the globe.  I believe that unless these excesses are reined in by intelligent oversight and a rewriting of corporate law, they will destroy this country.  Each of these excesses is a Deadly Disease that by itself could do the destruction.  Together these five excesses are leading America away from the vision of our founding fathers.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were based on the belief in a democratic system of government that was of the people, by the people and for the people.  We are increasingly standing by while our country becomes a government of the corporation, by the corporation and for the corporation.

The Five Myths of Corporate Capitalism that are destroying America:

  1. Corporations are people

supreme court decisionOver the past 40 years, the Supreme Court has radically expanded constitutional rights for corporations.  The original charters for corporations written in the late 19th century, allowed corporations powers never before seen in companies.  The abuse of these powers soon led to a considerable amount of legislation designed to reign in some of the most egregious of these abuses.  Laws such as the Sherman Anti-Trust Act passed in 1890 to stop monopoly practices and the Clayton Antitrust Act passed in 1914 to stop unethical business practices were somewhat successful at ameliorating corporate abuses.  Unfortunately, corporations were still left with considerable power to thwart the goals of democracy and good government.

From the early 20th Century onwards, corporations continued to use their power to bribe, cajole, and persuade policy makers to give them privileges that once again extended their power. They have since more than made up for the power that they lost in the early part of the 20th century.

“Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time.  For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34.  Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.”  — “How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy” — The Atlantic, Lee Drutman, April 20, 2015.  

corporate powerCorporate interests easily dominate the interests of the common person.  The common person has nowhere near the financial clout of corporations.  In 2010, the Supreme Court passed the Citizens United Decision which gave corporations unlimited power to finance and support political candidates running for office as well as to lobby on behalf of any laws that they wanted.  This decision basically upheld the idea that corporations had a right to free speech much like any citizen of the USA and that campaign spending was simply a manifestation of free speech.  Corporations are now being treated as living breathing people despite the fact that corporations can live forever, and corporations are not organic entities.  They are not born, and they do not die like any other creature on the face of the earth.

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Corporations already had almost unlimited power to influence and coerce politicians to do their will.  The Citizens United Decision took all the brakes out of the system.  You have often heard the parody of the Golden Rule “He who has the gold makes the rules.”  This trope is now a fact of life in America.  Many people no longer bother voting because they believe that voting is a waste of time.  Everyone knows that politicians need an exorbitant amount of money to support their campaign and that once elected they immediately start building their money up for their reelection.   They get the lion’s share of this money from big business interests and associations that support big business interests such as the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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According to campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission that cover activity from January 1, 2019 through June 30, 2019, congressional candidates collected $389 million and disbursed $172.2 million, political parties received $353.7 million and spent $279.9 million, and political action committees (PACs) raised $958.2 million and spent $818.7 million in the six-month period.  If you total these figures up for money raised in just the first six months of 2019, it equals $1.701 billion dollars.  If there were 100 people in the US Senate and 435 people in the US House of Representatives, this equals approximately $3,179,400 dollars for every one of those politicians in office.  Of course, some will get more, and some will get less, but the majority of this money will be spent helping to support the reelection of each and every one of these honorable men and women.

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Here is a little experiment to show you what this campaign funding could buy.  Consider that the Federal Minimum Wage in the United States as of 2020 is $10 dollars per hour.  A person on minimum wage working full time earns approximately $21,000 dollars a year.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1. 8 million Americans work full-time at or below the minimum wage.  If you double the average election campaign fund to equal a full year of collecting money you will get approximately $6.2 million dollars.  Now divide this campaign fund by the average yearly minimum wage of $21 thousand dollars and you get 295.  In other words, one year of campaign funding (an average) would fund a person now working on minimum wage for 295 years.   If you earn the national average of $86,000 dollars a year, it could support you for 72 years.

To say that something is wrong here is an understatement.  We have a sort of self-perpetuating money machine here.  Every year corporations get greedier and seek more profits.  According to Corporate Law that is their primary reason for existence.  Numerous pundits and corporate sympathizers extol the virtue of greed.

Workers Should Be Very Thankful That Corporations Are So Greedy” by Jeffrey Dorfman

greed is goodOne of the most popular movies in the eighties was Wall Street.  In the movie, Michael Douglas gave a “Greed is Good” speech which was actually applauded by audiences all over the United States.  Some corporations have been sued by stockholders for not being greedy enough.

Every year budding politicians need more and more money to get elected.  Corporations are money banks for anyone desiring to run for office.  Corporations provide the funds that politicians need to wage a successful election campaign.  Once elected, elected officials are then beholden to the major corporations and lobbyists whose help they will need to raise the money to get reelected.

Corporations are more than happy to support candidates who will pass bills that help them to make more profits.  Other bills they like are designed to ensure that they can pay less taxes, have fewer environmental regulations, fewer safety and health regulations, pay lower wages, decrease employee pensions and benefits, defeat unions and avoid onerous consumer liability claims.  Any politician who is willing to support the former goals can find numerous corporate lobbyists willing to donate money to help them get elected.  The Citizens United Decision guarantees that corporations can give as much money as they want without breaking any laws.  After all, it is free speech.

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“Warren Buffett worth nearly $80 billion dollars points to the Forbes 400, which lists the wealthiest Americans.  ‘Between the first computation in 1982 and today, the wealth of the 400 increased 29-fold — from $93 billion to $2.7 trillion — while many millions of hardworking citizens remained stuck on an economic treadmill.  During this period, the tsunami of wealth didn’t trickle down.  It surged upward’.”  — Entrepreneurs, January 24th, 2018

In Part 2, I am going to cover the second myth of Corporate Capitalism.  The Myth that laissez faire will somehow result in corporations being self-regulating entities for the common good.

“According to a survey from the Pew Research Center last year, 60 percent of American adults think that three decades from now, the U.S. will be less powerful than it is today. Almost two-thirds say it will be even more divided politically. Fifty-nine percent think the environment will be degraded. Nearly three-quarters say that the gap between the haves and have-nots will be wider. A plurality expects the average family’s standard of living to have declined. Most of us, presumably, have recently become acutely aware of the danger of global plagues.”  — The Atlantic, Kate Julian, April 17, 2020

My 2019 Demontreville Jesuit Retreat

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If you read my previous blog on the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House, I promised that in my next blog, I would write a follow-up dealing with my 2019 retreat.  I wanted to share with you some of the ideas and issues that I discovered about myself and life in this retreat.  I implied that the summary of this retreat would be typical of the inspirations and thoughts that I seem to get out of every retreat.  Father Sthokal always joked that we all left the retreats as “changed men” and that this would last about three weeks and then we were back to our old selves.  He emphasized the need to keep making retreats as a way to regain at least some of the desire and ideas we had about change.

One year I asked a good friend of mine who was a Methodist Minister, why I seemed to keep dealing with the same issues over and over again.  Bill was not only a good friend but a mentor and the minister who married Karen and me.   Bill told me that he thought we would be dealing with the same issues all of our lives.  If courage were a problem, it would always be a problem.  If patience were a problem, it would always be a problem.  I started to disagree: “But Bill, I am not in the same place that I was so many years ago, I think I have made some changes.”  “John, the issues that you are dealing with are like an onion.  Each time you make progress, you peel one layer away and then there is another.”  I wondered if I could ever get to the core but after so many years, I now think it is doubtful.  Karen and I joke about my lack of patience, which I have been working on for twenty years.  I think she probably notices less progress than I feel.

At my 2019 retreat in July, I wrote down a number of issues and thoughts which somehow resonated with me very much.   Some of these thoughts were no doubt ideas or reflections I have had before but they still popped up as germane and pertinent to my life during this past year.  Other ideas might have arisen due to changes in the way that I see life now that I am no longer young.  Whatever the reasons, these ideas had some importance to me this year.  I will share each of them with you and then try to briefly explain what they mean to me.  I am not speaking philosophically here as much as I am personally.  I am sure that these thoughts are issues that I need to deal with in my life and to keep pealing the onion on.  Perhaps, you can identify with some of my problems and perhaps not.

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  • It is easy to look to the past when you cannot see the future.
  • We have more of the past, than the future left.

Like a lot of people, I have a certain fondness and nostalgia for the past.  Sometimes, it is difficult to keep it from overcoming me.  Years ago, I made a policy to leave things behind.  I did not want to be the high school jock who was forever reliving his/her prowess on the athletic field.  I spend 4 years in the military and never took a single picture.  Pictures were nostalgia and I did not need it.  When my first wife and I divorced after 16 years, I left every single picture of our marriage, my daughter, and my ex-wife behind.  I was moving on and not looking back.  I have always been terrified of being “stuck in the past.”  I was a forward thinker (or so I wanted to be) and I could move on and forget the past.

Now that I am 73, I miss some of my past.  I wish I had taken some pictures of my service friends.  I wish I had some pictures from my first 16 years with my ex-wife and daughter.  I think it is difficult now to be more forward looking when I have less to look forward to.  My years are numbered.  The average age of the American Male is 78.  I am no egotist who thinks they can or should live forever.  Too many of my friends and relatives have now passed away, many of them younger than I am now when they died.  I do not want to go back to the past, but I have a more difficult time seeing the future now.  Once, I was gong to be rich and famous but that seems more and more remote.  Even if somehow, they were thrust upon me, I do not know if I have the energy for fame and fortune.  I miss some of the meaning and purpose that work once held for me, but I find it difficult to find any meaningful work on a temporary part-time basis.  I am envious of older men who are still going out into the world and making a difference.  I can hear Vince Lombardi saying: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”

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  • Is not the pain of another, more important than being right or winning?

I need to keep reminding myself of this thought since I so readily break it.  I hate losing.  I love to be right.  I treasured Vince Lombardi’s comment that “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing.”  It has taken me years to see that the joy I get in winning always has a cost.  The cost is the pain that the losers feel when I am right or when they lose.  My joy is purchased at the cost of pain to others.  Furthermore, I was never a good winner or a good loser.  Again, Vince Lombardi: “Give me eleven poor losers, and I will give you a winning team.”  Many athletes are driven more by a desire NOT to lose than a desire to win.  Is winning really worth the cost? I may have been driven but I never felt that I was a winner.  I did not “cut” the mustard.  If only I had tried harder.

One of my favorites stories/videos is the story of a race that happened at one of the special Olympics.   Six or so young children were in a sprint of about 100 yards.  The starting gun goes off and they bolt down the track.  One young disabled boy suddenly falls.  One of the other racers happens to look back and sees him lying on the ground.  She stops, turns, and runs back to pick him up.  The other racers turn and see what she is doing.  Do they laugh and keep running?  No! They all go back to help the other runner.  They pick the boy up and join hands as they finish the race together.

I cannot help but cry every time I see this video or hear this story.  I have become a wimp in my old age.  Some but not all of the “killer” instinct in me has left.  Years ago, I would have laughed at the stupidity of these kids.  But I no longer laugh.  Instead, I feel sad at seeing a world where this is a unique event rather than the norm.  I still see people asking me to die for the good of the economy or to sacrifice myself on the alter of greed and envy.  I am willing to die for the good of others but not for some nameless trophy or temporary honor or to raise the price of a stock.

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  • Love is an act of will as much as a sentiment or feeling.

I wish I had learned this a lot sooner.  I think we are surrounded by myths of love.  “Love at first sight.”  “Love as passion.”  “Love as something that lasts forever.”  “Love that is effortless.”  “Love is all you need.”  “My partner makes me complete.”  “People in love never fight.”

Where we get these stupid idiotic ideas about love is beyond me.  My spouse and I have five children between the two of us and all of them have succumbed to one or more of these beliefs.  Between our five children they have seven divorces.  Both Karen and I have gone through one divorce each.  Somewhere in our second marriage we learned the truth of the above thought.  An act of will is something that does not just happen.  Love requires an act of will.  No amount of feeling or passion can replace it.  True love is not an emotion, it is a knowing choice of the will and intellect.

I have watched numerous relationships go down the drain.  Both participants take vows, issue proclamations of love, fawn endlessly over each other, but like my retreats that do not last, eventually love starts to wind down.  The passion and romance of first love starts to wane.  Numerous obstacles, hurts, insults, stupidities, begin to mount up.  These will continue to mount up until like the proverbial straw and camel, something snaps.  When this happens, love disappears and is replaced by anger.  There is still a chance for this to change.  But then it turns to apathy.  Apathy and not anger is the opposite of love.  Once apathy sets in, the relationship is finished.  There is no longer any desire or motivation to remain with the other person.  If only lovers realized that love takes discipline.  Love takes dedication and not just passion.  Love takes commitment which means not giving up.   There are many good examples of an act of will.  This story particularly resonated with me.

Aron Lee Ralston (born October 27, 1975) is an American outdoorsman and mechanical engineer who is known for surviving a canyoneering accident by cutting off his own arm.  During a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah he dislodged a boulder, pinning his right wrist to the side of the canyon wall. After five days, he could not get his arm free and he realized that he was going to die if he did not do something different.  He took a dull pocketknife out and was able to amputate his arm with it.  He then made his way through the rest of the canyon, rappelled down a 65-foot drop, and hiked 7 miles to safety.  — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aron_Ralston

Nothing except the sheer determination and his will to live saved Aron.  How many lovers have the same determination and will to save their love for each other?  More than half of all marriages end in divorce despite the frequently heard “Till death do us part.”  It is not death that parts most marriages, it is a lack of will.

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  • A true follower of Christ looks for the good in others and not the evil.

I could get out of this by saying that I am not a Christian.  I am not a “true” follower of Christ or any other prophet.  I do not practice any particular religious faith and I do not believe that Jesus was a god or the son of a god.  He was, as he most often said, “the son of man.”  Others gave him godlike status.  Many in the world simply feel that he was a great prophet and religious leader.  I am of the latter ilk.  Nevertheless, I believe firmly in his teachings and that there is hardly a tenet that he proposed that I do not find myself agreeing with.  I certainly think the world would be a better place if more people followed his teachings.  However, I see too few people who call themselves Christian who actually do.  The great Sioux Chief Sitting Bull was once asked “What did he think of Christianity?”  He replied: “I think it sounds like a great religion, but I do not see too many white people practicing it.”

Where were the Christian churches when thousands of women were being tortured and burned at the stake as witches?  Where were the Christian churches when the indigenous people of Mexico and South America were being slaughtered?  Where were the Christian churches when slaves were being bought and sold and thirty million died in the Black Holocaust?  Where were the Christian churches when nine million Native Americans were being massacred and thrown off their land?  Where were the Christian churches when six million Jews were being sent to the Nazi Death Camps?

My best friend grew up as a Catholic and Christian but now wants nothing to do with Christianity.  He sees the history of Christianity as one long record of misdeeds and atrocities.  Despite my efforts to show him that Jesus would not have tolerated any of the above horrors and that Jesus stood for love and compassion and turning the other cheek, it does no good.  “What does it matter what Jesus said or stood for?  All that matters is what his followers do today and none of that is anything I want a part of”, he replies.

I have a habit of first seeing the worst in people.  After some reflection, I may find some good and value in other people, but it takes me a while.  This idea about looking for the good in other people is something that I believe in ideologically, but emotionally it too often eludes me.  Instead of seeing intelligence, I too often see only stupidity.  Instead of seeing compassion, I too often see only greed.  Instead of seeing courage, I too often see only fear.  Once my mind is set, it is exceedingly difficult for me to open it up to other possibilities.  I see Trump supporters as stupid and misguided.  I see Republicans as devious and power-hungry.  I see Evangelicals as fanatics and hypocrites.  Don’t argue with me, I know that I am right!

But Jesus said look for the good and not the evil in other people.  I keep looking.

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  • In my life, what is lost, what remains and what is possible?

There are three questions here that came up during my retreat.

First, what have I lost?

I lost my naivete.  I lost a great deal of hope in my country.  I lost the chance to be a good father.  I lost many possible friendships.  I lost the chance to really make a difference in the world instead of only trying to make a living.  I lost my idealism.  I lost my belief that knowledge was all powerful.  I lost my youth because I never enjoyed it.  I was old when I was seven.  I lost friends and relatives whom I never really knew.  I lost my daughter.  I lost admiration by people who actually had more belief in me than I had in myself.  I lost many opportunities to forgive.  I lost even more opportunities to give compassion and mercy to people who needed it.

Second:  What remains?

This is a difficult question to answer.  My life has never been better or happier.  I know myself better than I ever have in terms of my strengths and weaknesses.  I have a great spouse and some wonderful stepchildren.  I have enough money and resources to be content for the rest of my life.  I have many great friends.  I have my health.  I have the ability to plan and to decide what I will do with my life and when I will do it.  I live in a country which despite its many flaws, I would not trade for any other country in the world.  I have more than enough time left in my life to try and make a difference in the world.  Somehow, my legacy in this respect is the most important thing in my life now.  What will I be remembered for when I die?  To paraphrase Martin Luther King’s famous Eulogy speech”  (Known also as the Drum Major Instinct Sermon)

Don’t tell them I was a Ph.D.  Don’t tell them how many books I wrote or articles I published.  Don’t tell them how much money I had or what I owned.

Tell them, I wanted to be a better person.  Tell them I wanted to help make the world a better place for everyone.  Tell them I was not a patriot because I believed that everyone in the world was equal and deserved to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and not just those who lived in the United States.

Third:  What is possible?

I suppose that on an intellectual basis, I would answer that “Everything is possible.”  However, reality intrudes.  I have a long list of what is no longer possible that intrudes on my thinking about the possible.  If there is one area I need to reflect more on, it is thinking of the possible instead of the impossible.  I have always loved the song “The Impossible Dream.”

To fight for the right

Without question or pause

To be willing to march into Hell

For a heavenly cause

 

And I know if I’ll only be true

To this glorious quest

That my heart will lie peaceful and calm

When I’m laid to my rest

Click here for the full song

If I can only have the courage and fortitude to follow these thoughts and not to allow myself to wallow in self-pity and self-recriminations for the things I did not do, the opportunities that I missed and the things that I should have done.  Even one more day to live is enough.  From “Les Misérables,”  the following lyrics from the song “One More Day.”

The time is now

The day is here

One day more

Click here for the full song.

Well, I realized that summarizing my four-day retreat was not going to be possible in one “short” blog.  So midway in writing this blog, I decided it would take two blogs.  You have just finished Part One.  Perhaps some later time, I will describe the other six insights I gained from my 2019 retreat.  For now, I think it is enough.  I am looking forward to my 2020 retreat in July.  As of this day, it has not been cancelled but as they say “It all depends.”  Some would say it all depends on God and others would say it all depends on the Corvid 19 Virus.

 

The Story of My First Demontreville Retreat in Lake Elmo, Minnesota

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34 years ago, I made my first retreat at Demontreville.  Demontreville is a Jesuit Retreat Center in Lake Elmo Minnesota.  I was not a Jesuit or even a practicing Catholic when I made my first retreat.  In fact, I hailed myself as an atheist or sometimes an agnostic.  I like agnosticism since it is a “just in case” religion.   Just in case there is a heaven, hell, devil or god, I can always claim that I did not totally disavow him/her.  This might give me a chance to get by the pearly gates.  Anyway, I did not go to Demontreville for the religious experience.

WintertrailIt was January of 1986.  I had finished all my course work for my Ph.D. degree.  It had already been a long and cold and snowy Minnesota winter.  I had finally collected all the data I needed to finish my dissertation.  Four years in school, working part-time, divorced, no money and writing a dissertation had just about wrung me out.  I needed a vacation but had no money.  Someone told me about this place called Demontreville which they described as a sort of place to get away from life.  They had beautiful facilities, private rooms and some really nice ski trails.  You could get three free meals for four days and there was no charge.  It was all based on voluntary donations.  Weekend retreats ran from Thursday evening to Sunday evening.

This sounded too good to be true.  I packed my knapsack with some fun reading.  Threw some schoolwork in and loaded my skis on my car ski rack.  Just in case, the trails were not very good, I brought alone my running gear.  Off, I went from St. Paul to Demontreville in Lake Elmo, Mn.

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I arrived at a beautiful (I thought resort) nestled in an old pine forest.  I drove down a wonderfully secluded road and past a horse stable.  “Wow,” I thought, “I might even be able to get some horse back riding in.”  The weather was cold, and snow covered all the grounds and buildings.  It was a scene out of paradise.  I could not believe my good fortune.  Of course, I still wondered whether or not there was a fixed charge in which case I was screwed.  I had brought fifty dollars with me and just in case a check book.  However, my bank account was about zero.

I was directed by a young man in front of a large garage at the end of the road on where to park my car.  I took my suitcase and followed a bunch of older men down a hill and into what appeared to be a large conference center.  It was about 6 pm.  I had been told that arrival time each week was between 6 PM and 7 PM on Thursdays and that I could leave after dinner on Sunday night.  I was perfectly willing to spend three days here.

maxresdefaultWhen I went into the “conference” center, there were many men milling around and talking in small groups.  I am not the most social guy in the world, so I took a seat on a couch by myself and commenced reading a magazine called America.  This is a magazine published by the Jesuits each month and to this day I always enjoy reading it.  depositphotos_201877558-stock-video-male-friends-are-talking-toAt about 6:50 PM or so, a Jesuit priest arrived and after a loud hand clap, announced that dinner was being served.  We first said a short prayer called the Angelus and then went into the dining hall which is connected to the conference center.  The “conference center” is really just a large room to relax in.  It has numerous chairs and sofas scattered about a well-lit room with large windows looking out over the grounds.  It is one of the most peaceful places in the world to sit, reflect and enjoy a coffee.  The conferences (Which I learned about later) are all held in the chapel which is also connected to the dining hall.  The only time you have to leave the building is to go to your room.  I was given a room assignment upon entering the conference center.

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Tables are organized in the dining center with places for four or five people at each table.  We were advised that once we had a seat, that was where we were expected to stay for the weekend.  We were asked to fill out a dining card specifying what we wanted to drink with each meal (alas, no beer) and any dietary preferences or restrictions.  Once we put this on the table, we needed to take the same table and the same seat for the duration of the retreat.

Things were still going along fine.  Most of the other men who had joined me at a dining table were older men.  I had just turned forty.  We did some chit chat about where we were from and what we did and of course, how many retreats we had done at Demontreville.  One guy at my table had done 40 retreats.  I was astounded that anybody could keep coming back to the same place for that many years.  On the last night of each retreat, awards are given to men who have made 20 or more retreats.  Oh, I should also mention that there were NO women at the retreat.  It is a male only enclave.  I figured that this was my first and last retreat.  I could not see myself as an old guy here getting an award for attending twenty retreats never mind forty or more.

Dinner, the first night was roast beef.  Meals are almost always the same at each retreat.  For 34 years now, I have had roast beef on Thursday night and Prime Rib on Sunday night.  Other meals are also fixed.  One breakfast will include pancakes, one will have French toast and one will include omelets.  The same predictability is true for lunch and supper meals.  Many men can tell you exactly what will be served for each meal.  You soon figure out that consistency is an important concept at Demontreville.  I actually look forward to the meals each day as they are always plentiful and very well prepared.

Lecture or sermons (hard to tell the difference) are on a fixed schedule every day.  We have some in the morning, some in the afternoon and some in the evening.  There are of course the Catholic worship services every day.  These include prayer sessions every morning and a full mass at 5 PM each day followed by Benediction at 8 PM.  Oh, please don’t let me forget to mention the all-important cookies and coffee which are served every morning and afternoon at the same time each day.  If you don’t like the wonderful cookies that are served, there are always bananas and oranges to eat.

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So here I sit, my first night at Demontreville.  We have finished eating and desert has been served.  We are almost done with desert when a thunderous voice rings out followed by a loud hand clap.  I turn to see a short but rugged looking little priest named Father Ed. Sthokal, SJ.  Father Sthokal is the Retreat Director.  Father Sthokal was born on January 20, 1922.  He was ordained a Jesuit in 1954 and came to Demontreville in the late fifties.  He was an icon at the Retreat Center due to his longevity.  When he finally retired at the age of 95 to a Jesuit community in Wisconsin, he had served almost sixty years at the Retreat Center in various capacities.  He struck me as a drill sergeant when I first met him.  Tough, no nonsense but with a total dedication to helping the men attending Demontreville to “make” a good retreat.

“Good evening” Father Sthokal said.  He then launched into a mini sermon which in my nearly 30 retreats with him never seemed to vary, except for this first night.  Of course, it was my “virginity” at the time which caused his message to seem very personal.  In actuality, his themes never seemed to change from year to year, but they were always inspiring, funny and somewhat caustic every time I heard them.  He talked about discipline, making a good retreat, being “disposed” and responsibility.  Tonight though, what I heard was this.

“Okay, some of you men are here for the first time.  Well let me tell you, this is not the place for a vacation.  I see some of you guys have brought your work with you, well maybe that is why you can’t get your work done, because you have no boundaries in your life.  Some of you have brought ski’s (Oh MY GOD, he is talking about me!), well this is not a ski resort. The trails are there for you to walk on and meditate on about your reason and purpose in life and what God wants for you in your life.  Some of you have brought fiction books to read so you can escape the daily grind of your boring humdrum lives, while this is not the place for that.  If you want to escape life, go get a room at a hotel and spend the week in a hot tub reading.”

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“We are here this weekend, to spend time reflecting and thinking and praying and meditating.  You will get the most out of this retreat if you are disposed and do not have any agenda.  Let God come into your life and talk to you.  Open your heart and mind to what God has to say to you.  This will allow you to make a good retreat.  Oh, and we expect silence from this point on in the retreat until supper on Sunday night.  One of our key rules is no talking.  This allows each man to listen to God and not to the chatter and gossip that is typical of communication outside of these walls.  We have no radios, no TVs, no internet and no news from the outside for you.  In the event of a family emergency, we will contact you.  Until then, don’t call your wife and kids or friends to chat.  Put your phones away.  Observe silence.  Please adjourn now to the basement where we have some ground rules to go over and we will ask for volunteers to help out with certain parts of the retreat.”

Oh my God!  Except I don’t believe in God.  What am I doing here?  I wonder if I can sneak out when no one is looking.  He must have x ray vision.  How did he know that I had work and books to read?  This is another fine mess I have gotten myself into!

I stayed for the entire retreat.  I have come back for 34 more.  I now stand up with the old timers when they get awards and recognition for retreats made.  I cannot believe I am still coming.  I am still an Atheist or on some days an Agnostic.  To me Jesus Christ is a great religious leader along with Moses, Muhammed, Baháʼu’lláh, Buddha, Krishnamurti and Osho.  I cannot totally describe how much these retreats have meant to me.

In my next blog, I would like to discuss my 2019 retreat and what it taught me.  In many ways, this retreat was very typical of my other retreats.  Every year, I take notes and jot down reflections.  I would like to share with you some of the insights and thoughts from my 2019 retreat.  These insights were and are very meaningful to me and I hope they may also be meaningful to you.  In any case, they will give you a better idea of why I keep coming back to these retreats.  Father Sthokal once joked that it simply takes some of us longer to “get it” than others.  Perhaps, I am one of those men.

For any of you who might be interested in attending a retreat:

  • The Silent Retreats are held 47 weekends a year at the Demontreville Jesuit Retreat House, 8243 Demontreville Trail N., Lake Elmo.
  • The retreat house is not open on the weekends of New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
  • Men of any denomination are welcome to attend. Free-will donations are accepted.
  • For more information, call 651-777-1311 or go to demontrevilleretreat.com.

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