The Legitimization of Greed

 

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Let me start off with some major caveats.  First, greed has always been with us.  Second, among certain people, there has always been excessive greed.  Third, we will never eradicate greed in the human species.  Why then you may well ask, another screed against the excesses of greed? The answer is that we have entered a new era of greed.  Never before has greed been so widely accepted and so widely admired. 

Throughout history, prophets and religious leaders have warned us about the pursuit of wants that never satisfy the soul nor do anything to enrich humanity.  In the past, greed was the mindless pursuit of more.  Jesus said that “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10.  The Bible says more about the dangers of money and possessions than any other subject.

Ignatius of Loyola gave this message to his followers:

Lord, teach me to be generous;

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

To give and not to count the cost”

Gautama Buddha made the following comment concerning greed:

“Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief.”

Islam has many comments about the evil of greed and the pursuit of more and more:

“Three Habits Destroy

a Man Or Woman:

Greed, Envy

and Pride.”  ― Hamid al Ghazali

“Greed is permanent slavery.”  — Ali ibn Abi Talib

If greed has always been with us, then what is different today?  The difference is that in the past, greed was recognized as evil and as an element that would distort human nature.  Today greed has become legitimate.   

The definition of legitimate is: 

To give legal force or status to; make lawful.

To sanction formally or officially; authorize.

To demonstrate or declare to be justified.

5451174-1020-PXWe shop till we drop.  We invoke our privilege to use our money as we want to.  We make holidays out of holy days where we spend our time hunting for bargains and sales.  Greed has now become a sacrament.  Greed is no longer evil.  Greed is holy.  Greed is the American Way of Life.  Millions of Americans adore the wealthy.  The story of Lazarus holds no credibility – Luke 16:19-21.  Nor does the story of the Rich Fool – Luke 12:13-21.  Money is sacred and those who have more are worshipped by Americans and exalted as better people and better leaders.  We elect millionaires and billionaires to Congress and even the Presidency on the sole basis of their acumen at having stored up wealth.

Wealth Trumps compassion.  Money Trumps kindness.  Possessions Trump love.  No one would argue today that leaders should have compassion, kindness, and love for others.  These are sentiments that hold no currency.  The values that Americans believe in today are bitcoins, stocks, bonds, gold, and credit ratings.  Wise people are not listened to.  Instead, rich people are sought out and worshipped because they are smart enough to game the system and attain more than the rest of us.  A 3,400-foot home with four bathrooms for people with no children is a sign of success and not wretched excess.  A Porsche, BMW or Mercedes is proof that you are an important person.  Living in a neighborhood with walls and private security guards helps you to feel safe because wealth is envied by those who do not have it and they might take it away from you. 

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Living the good life today means having more than your neighbors, friends, or relatives.  According to Merriam-Webster, success is “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Success is not measured in America by kindness, compassion, or love for others.  Millions of people watch reality shows where fame equals success.  A new breed of celebrities exists solely on the basis of being famous and not for any achievements. 

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Movie stars are the aristocracy of America and are adored because of the illusions that they present and not because of reality.  John Wayne is the Icon of American Manhood.  He was a man that personified heroism and masculinity.  In reality, he was a racist who denigrated Black people, Gay people, and Native Americans.  He received a 3-A (family deferment) after Pearl Harbor and never had to fight except in his many heroic movie roles where he extolled American militarism.  Movie stars are idolized because they are rich and famous and have more of these attributes than the general population. 

So where do we go from here?  There are many good people in America.  There are many generous people who give freely and share their wealth with others.  Attributes such as generosity and empathy for the needy still exist in America.  However, what I have called the “legitimization” of greed has infected too many of our people.  It has become acceptable.  Americans have failed to grasp the insidious nature of greed.  It is not something that takes over your life suddenly.   Greed creeps up slowly and silently until one day, you are consumed by it.  Our nation has made greed an attribute to be admired.  No school in American dares to mention the perils of greediness. 

Can we reverse the trend that has led us down this path to self-centeredness and narcissism?  What can be done to turn the trend back towards valuing compassion and kindness?  Not just compassion and kindness for those who look like us but compassion and kindness for all people.

I will try to answer these questions in my next blog.  We will need a change of mindset that will lead to a new Zeitgeist.  The present paradigm we are living in is destroying humanity.  Trump and his supporters are not an aberration but a reflection of how far we have gone down the wrong road.   If we keep going down this road, we will have a world where there is no humanity left in people.  We will continue to destroy our environment as greed dictates taking all that we can get and not leaving anything for others.     

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Lawyers, Lawyers Everywhere, but Not a Shred of Justice Anywhere

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I am going to make a case here.  My claim is that there are too many lawyers running things in the United States of America.  I will present the facts and arguments.  You be the judge and jury.  If I make a good case, then I will settle for fifty million dollars. 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  This may sound like an extreme case.  I know most of you will have some friends who are lawyers.  Some of you may be thinking “Well, there are good lawyers and there are bad lawyers.”  Some of you may be thinking “Well, how would we run this country without lawyers.”  Please listen to what I have to say.  Then you may render your verdict. 

I will repeat my claim.  We have too many lawyers.  They have created a litigious society that is being run by fear and not by logic or reason.  Lawyers use lawsuits to run things and the number and frivolity of these lawsuits has reached epidemic even pandemic proportions.  We have lawyers running our government.  We have lawyers running our school boards.  We have lawyers running our city, county, state, and federal governments.  Everywhere you look in business, there are lawyers prosecuting lawsuits, making claims for reparations, litigation, and countersuits.  Civil courts have begun to take over justice from legal courts.  Law has replaced justice in America.  Laws are not made of the people, by the people and for the people, but laws made of lawyers, by lawyers and for lawyers.

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For the past two months we have witnessed lawyers running all over the USA with frivolous lawsuits and craftily plied arguments to usurp the will of the people.  Nay, not just to usurp the will of the people but to overthrow the government of the people of the United States of America.  Even as I write these lines, there are still pending threats to the legally elected President and Vice-President Elects of the USA.  These lawsuits and claims are made by men and women without a shred of decency, integrity, or ethics.  The only thing these lawyers care about is power and winning and money.  The destruction of American Democracy means nothing to these vultures.

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Ladies and Gentlemen.  Allow me to present some statistics on lawyers in the USA.

Lawyer Statistics & Facts – 2020 –  https://goremotely.net/blog/lawyer-statistics/

  • The US legal business sector has an estimated $160 billion market share.
  • More than 100 million cases are filed each year in state trial courts, while roughly 400,000 cases are filed in federal trial courts.
  • Only 14.4% of all US lawyers are certified members of ABA. (American Bar Association)
  • Some high-profile attorneys can earn as much as $2,400 hourly ($5 million annually).
  • There are more than 1.35 million lawyers in the US.
  • The number of active lawyers in the United States increased 14.5% over the last decade
  • In China, there is 1 lawyer for every 4,620 inhabitants.
  • In the USA there is 1 lawyer for every 300 inhabitants
  • The percentage of lawyers who are men and women of color (Hispanic, African American, Asian, Native American, and mixed race) grew by a mere 3% over the past decade, increasing from 11.4% in 2010 to 14.1% in 2020.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  Please believe me when I say that I am not the only one who thinks that we have too many lawyers in the USA.  Numerous experts can witness and provide testimony that America is one of the most litigious nations in the world.  The amount of litigation has nothing to do with justice.  Lawyers seek out and design strategies to create lawsuits strictly aimed at making money.  How many of you have been notified that you are eligible for some class action lawsuit?  Lawyers actually buy and sell such lawsuits in the hopes of extorting money from organizations that prefer not to have their reputations smeared or waste time in court challenges.  Many organizations simply settle rather than undergo a long and tedious legal process.

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let me tell you what happens in many of these class action lawsuits.  A company is found with either a potential or tenuous wrongdoing.  Litigants who may have been remotely connected to this perceived wrongdoing are sought out who are offered a monetary reward for their participation.  They may be former customers, clients, or employees.  The case goes to court.  Millions of dollars are sought from the accused.  The lawyers may win or settle out of court.  An award is made.  Let us say that the settlement is made for 50 million dollars.  The lawyers take twenty percent of that for the claimants.  Thus, ten million dollars may be paid out to other people.  The rest of the money, the other 40 million dollars goes to the law firm. 

Frivolous Lawsuit

Ladies and Gentlemen.  I will give you a personal case that I was witness to firsthand and that I will swear to.  A number of years ago, I received three envelopes in the mail.  Upon opening each envelope, I discovered that they were all from eBay.  One had a check for .47 cents.  One had a check for .97 cents.  One had a check for .25 cents.  The postage on the last envelope did not even cover the cost of the check.  Apparently, eBay had lost a class action lawsuit for some overcharging that they were alleged to have done.  I had never, I repeat never signed any documents alleging any wrongdoing or agreeing to any lawsuits against eBay.

Curious, I went online to find out what this was all about.  As I expected, some law firm had brought the lawsuit and won in court.  eBay agreed to pay.  Thousands of people received small checks like I did based on the volume of business they had done with eBay.  The people connected to this alleged crime received pennies while the law firm copped multi-millions for their efforts on our behalf.  I would gladly have refunded my money to eBay since I still do business with them and have never had a problem with their business practices. 

“In April 2018, The New York Times chronicled an even more troubling (albeit related) consequence of TPLF: litigation funders were pushing plaintiff law firms to encourage women to undergo unnecessary surgeries in order to drive up the value of their claims.” — Third Party Litigation Funding

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Did you know that law firms buy and sell lawsuits like you go to the store to buy and sell clothes or merchandise?  (See How To Sell Your Lawsuit)  If a law firm does not think it has the resources or time to prosecute a potentially lucrative lawsuit, it will simply list such suits in a legal newspaper classified ads offering to “sell” the lawsuit to another firm that has the resources to manage the lawsuit. 

“Mighty lends money to plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits. You collect only if they do. Plus, the head of this online electronic investment platform recommends that only personal-injury lawyers, or investors who have such lawyers helping them evaluate cases, plunk down their money at this early stage.”

Does anyone here think that this is about justice or fairness or equity?  The legal profession has become about power and money.  Do you think the lawsuits brought by Trump and his cadre of legal experts had anything to do with justice or democracy?

“President Donald Trump and his allies have filed dozens of lawsuits across the country in an attempt to contest the election results.  Most of them have been shot down or withdrawn, and no court has found even a single instance of fraud.  Of at least 57 cases to have been filed, including some not directly involving Trump but which could nonetheless affect his standing, at least 50 have been denied, dismissed, settled or withdrawn.”

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Please consider that the cases on behalf of Trump were brought by men and women with legal degrees.  These are educated people many of whom went to first class legal colleges.  These are people intelligent enough to get an advanced degree and pass tests that would be impossible for the average person.   Nevertheless, the cupidity of these lawsuits in terms of the damage they have done to our country can only point to a failure of the legal profession to inculcate a sense of ethics and morality in their practitioners.  These lawyers have no interest in supporting the very democratic foundations of a country that allows them to practice their profession.

Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let us look now at the damage that this profession has done to our government.  In no country in the world are there as many lawyers in the Federal government as in the United States of America.  Look at the following statistics:

  • The EPA employs 1,020 lawyers with payroll exceeding $1.1 billion
  • The IRS employs over 1,400 lawyers.
  • There are 10,000 lawyers who are employed by the US Department of Justice.
  • In total, there are 25,060 Lawyers in the Federal government costing taxpayers $26.2 Billion per year.
  • 25 of the 45 presidents of the USA have been lawyers
  • In the 116th Congress of the USA, there are a total of 192 lawyers out of a total congressional body of 537 individuals (Membership of the 116th Congress)

Ladies and Gentlemen.  You may well ask, “Well, what harm can all these lawyers do.”  Let me tell you. Having been around lawyers in many different organizations, I can testify to the limited perspective that the legal profession often has in terms of viewing the reality that confronts the average person.  Many of these “legal” experts have never done a day of hard work in their lives.  Often the sons and daughters of privileged and wealthy parents, they go from school to school until they achieve their legal degrees and then go right into some law firm that snatches them up as soon as they graduate.  Their experience of working people and the rest of the world is narrow, limited, and biased.  Once, in their field they are motivated by money, power, and greed. 

downloadLadies and Gentlemen.   How can you have a government of the people, by the people and for the people when it is a government of the rich by the rich and for the rich?  A government of lawyers, political science majors and corporate people.  An interlocking network of proponents who have a self-interest that nowhere matches the nature and interests of the general public of America. 

In the current Senate, only 19 of the 100 office holders served in the US military.  There is one engineer, four farmers, one rancher, one computer programmer, one accountant, about twenty teachers and the rest are either lawyers or businesspeople.  There are no plumbers, no architects, no scientists, no physicists, no chemists, no carpenters, no brick layers in the Senate.  Three percent of the Senate are African American, Five percent are Hispanic, or Latino and three percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders. Twenty five percent of the Senate are women.  — Congressional Statistics

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In the USA as a whole, the numbers are quite different from the Senate in terms of representation.  (See Census Government)

  • African Americans are 13.4 percent in population versus 3 percent in the Senate
  • Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders are 6.1 percent in population versus 3 percent in the Senate
  • Hispanic or Latino are 18.5 percent in population versus 5 percent in the Senate
  • Women are 50.8 percent in population versus 25 percent in the Senate
  • Veterans are 6 percent in population versus 19 percent in the Senate

Ladies and Gentlemen.  The facts speak for themselves.  But one last fact, if you please, before I do my summation. 

  • The median net worth of an American family is $52,700. The median net worth of members of Congress who filed disclosures last year is just over $1 million. — open secrets

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury.  Let me conclude.  As you can see from the evidence, there is no way that the U.S. Congress represents the American people.  The sad part is that we vote these people in time and time again.  We continue to elect the same people over and over again with the same disastrous results.  We have a so-called democracy which does not represent the American people.  But I have not even touched on perhaps what is the worst of the dangers that lawyers are doing to this country.

In a land where I live called Wisconsin, we have been involved in an ongoing dispute over the siting of what is called a CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feed Operation.  I have been to many county government meetings and board meetings where arguments have taken place over the jurisprudence and legality of such operations.  In every meeting, there is always a lawyer sitting rather obtrusively near the board members. 

services-featured-civil-litigationMany of the board members in the rural counties are farmers or laborers or educators who have little or no training in the laws that they are sworn to protect.  Thus, they rely heavily on the lawyers that they hire to provide advice and perceived protection from lawsuits.  This renders the board members subject to the legal opinion of the lawyer which is quite often at odds to what the public wants.  The boards are frequently fearful of a lawsuit (often offered by the lawyer as a possibility) and will forego making an informed decision based on evidence that is presented at the hearings. 

I have witnessed this happen at county government meetings over other issues besides the one noted above.  I have also seen business organizations, when I was a management consultant, that relied too heavily on the advice of a lawyer.  This advice, based as it was on the fear of a lawsuit, and not a more probable positive outcome often led to missed business opportunities.  I knew when I had an opinion that differed from the legal opinion that I was going to have an uphill battle to have any positive changes made.  Lawyers thrive on fear and angst. 

download (2)We need less lawyers.  Lawyers and lawsuits are destroying America and Democracy.  We need leaders with more diversity in education.  We need leaders with more ethnic diversity.  We need leaders with more gender diversity.  We need greater representation that reflects the demographics of America.  We need less lawyers.  We need more justice and we need more fairness. 

The Prosecution rests it’s case.

 

Money! Money! Money! No! I Don’t Have Any More Money to Give You!

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I am sick, sick, sick of being asked to donate money to people running for office.  From Alaska to Hawaii to Maine, every day some incumbent or would-be incumbent is sending me a request for money.  The requests come in various disguises.  From surveys, to matching funds, to desperate pleas for a last-minute donation.  I get requests on email, by phone, in regular mail and often text messages.  I just completed a “survey” and the last question was a hook.  “Are you willing to support the causes that you say you believe in?”  If so, I am supposed to send a small $3 dollar donation off someplace.  I am sick and tired of these click bait requests for money.  I get even sicker when I think I have about 50 days more days to put up with these incessant requests for money, more money and ever more money.

John,

I wish I were emailing with a better update but unfortunately, we missed our goal Saturday night.

We needed to raise $75,000 to fight back against the more than $60 million Mitch McConnell and his allies plan to spend to beat us. But even with the support from this team, we still fell short.

There is an irony here as well.  The Democrats which I am supporting for this election all agree that we need campaign finance reform.  We must get money out of the political process.  Too much money is spent on lobbying, advertising, promoting candidates, media, and media consultants.  And what is the secret to getting money out of politics.  Very Simple My Friend“Just send me $10 dollars today so I can defeat my greedy opponent.” 

A few months ago, my wife and I both received Covid Stimulus checks for $1200 each.  When we received these checks, we had been self-quarantining to avoid contagion with anyone who might be harboring the virus.  As a result of the virus, we had no place to go.  Our auto gas bill was near zero.  Our entertainment expenses were zero.  Our eating out expenses were zero.  We are both semi-retired and I lost some income since I had been doing substitute teaching work which was terminated when the schools all closed.  My wife continued her part-time work as a medical coder working from home and her income did not decline.  All in all though, we were in a better financial place than we had been in years.

Mark’s 72-hour fundraising deadline ends tomorrow, and I know he could use some help to close the gap, which is why I have to ask:

If you are able, will you make a $50 donation to Mark’s people-powered campaign? He can’t afford to fall short of this goal, not when Mitch McConnell and the NRA are spending millions on ads to defeat him.

When the checks came, we realized that many other people were hurting.  Many people needed the money more than we did.  We decided to donate the first check of $1200 dollars to six charities at $200 each charity.  We sent the money to a variety of charities that we thought worthwhile. Subsequently, we sent another $400 dollars from the second stimulus check to a few other charities.  We felt good that we could help others.  During this time period, we also received many requests from politicians.  We decided that we would not send any money to any politicians until after the primaries were over.

John, with our FEC end-of-quarter deadline approaching, we need to raise $41,000 more by September 30 to show that we can win this election.

It’s going to take a lot, but I know we can do it together. Can you contribute today to help us reach this goal and flip this seat blue?

Several months have gone by.  Hundreds of requests for money to support this candidate or that candidate have been received.  No exaggeration here either.  I get between five and ten requests every day to send money to some would-be politician.  Nevertheless, both my wife and I agreed that we would send at least ½ of any further stimulus money received to politicians that we supported.  As time has gone by, we realized that:  1).  Probably, no further stimulus money would be coming and 2).  We needed to send money to candidates that we supported now before it was too late.  Any money sent later would come to late to be of any use.

But look, John, this will still be an uphill battle against Lindsey and his massive fundraising war chest.

We need to raise another $40,599 by midnight tomorrow or we won’t be able to compete.

We decided to take six hundred dollars out of our savings and allocate it among the various candidates.  Using an approach developed in baseball and called the “Money Ball” approach, we selected candidates based on the following priorities:

  1. Defeating Trump for the Presidency
  2. Flipping the U.S. Senate
  3. Supporting three local candidates that we knew

Our money went as follows:

  • $200 to Biden
  • $250 dollars to U.S. Senate candidates (5 candidates at $50 dollars each)
  • $150 dollars to local candidates (3 candidates at $50 dollars each)

We sent the money directly to each candidate via their website donation buttons.  Every candidate now has a prominent place to send money to them via their websites.  We decided that if we received any more stimulus money, we would make a second round of donations.  If not, this was all the money we were sending.  Further pleas, requests, entreaties, appeals, supplications, and petitions for more money would be ignored.  Balancing out our concern for a “Better USA” was our concern for many charities which we would like to support but could not since our extra money was now going to the political arena.  An arena I might mention that is worse than a bottom less pit.  Did you ever wonder where all the campaign money that you give to your candidate goes?  Here is one break-down that I found on Wikipedia:

  • Grassroots fundraising
  • Opposition research
  • Consultation
  • Advertising
  • Canvassing
  • Retail politics
  • Election promises
  • Get out the vote efforts
  • Lawn signs
  • Attack ads
  • Push polls
  • Candidate needs
  • Campaign manager
  • Campaign staff
  • Political portals and websites

I have four political lawn signs that I either bought or gave a donation for.  One of my signs is a Biden sign.  It was stolen about a week ago.  I went on line and purchased two more Biden signs.  The first one lasted about two weeks.  I figure that two more should get me through the election.  After the election, they will either be a souvenir or junk depending on which way the voting goes.

Dear John

In a country devoid of national leadership on this public health crisis known as the COVID-19 pandemic, and devoid of a national health system like Medicare for All that would put the interests of the public over those of greedy commercial profiteers… Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) knows we can do better. Please support our efforts with a donation of $20, $10, or $5.

After we sent our money.  We received one Thank You letter from the Wisconsin Democratic party but not a single acknowledgement from any single candidate on either a national or local level.  What we did receive was at least 5 more requests for money from each of the national candidates.  The Biden campaign alone has sent us more than a dozen requests since they received our $200 dollar donation.  No Thank You message.

John, the first ballots are being cast right now in North Carolina, so I’m emailing you today to ask you to roll up your sleeves and join Joe and me in the fight for what he so rightly calls “the soul of our nation.” Will you split a $10 donation between our Biden-Harris ticket and Democrats nationwide to give our campaigns the important resources necessary to move the needle?

My wife Karen and I were talking about the aggravation we are both experiencing with all of these daily requests for money.  I said I would like to start a “No Money Party”.  She remembered an Andrew Greeley book she read.  It had a candidate running for office who swore that he would never ask or request money for his campaign.  People were so enamored of the idea that he received a great deal of unrequested money.  I want to start a No Money Party.  No candidates running under my party banner would ever request a single penny from anyone.  We might request help in turns of time or volunteering, but we would never request a single penny.  Of course, you are saying “How naive.  Your candidates would never get elected.”  You might be 100% percent right.  However, that is not the point.

The point is that all of these people running for office are clueless.  They all think or at least act like every USA citizen has a printing press in their basement.  They are the most important people in the world.  Their getting elected will cure the Covid-19 Pandemic.  Their getting elected will end Global Warming.  Their getting elected will create an economy like the world has never seen before.  Promises, promises, promises and all you have to do to make these promises come true is to send MORE money.

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Well friends, Romans, and other countrymen.  I am making a promise today.  NO MAS.  No more money.  I am not sending another penny, shilling, drachma, farthing or even an IOU to anyone running for office for the remainder of the 2020 year.  If something happens and I am granted another Corona virus stimulus check before the election, my stimulus money will go to help someone get an education or get needed health care.  I can’t think of any politician really worth sending another centavo to.  Most of them have more money than I will ever see anyway.  I am sure they all eat for free someplace on Capital Hill and laugh at the suckers who keep sending them money to get reelected.

If you agree with me, please don’t sent me any money.  I will only waste it on buying another bottle of Tequila so that I can forget this election and drown my political sorrows.

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3551– Sunday, August 11, 2019 — Win- Lose or Can Win-Win Save Us?

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Here is a question for you.  It deals with the following hypothetical situation.

You are at a garage sale.  You do not know the seller.  You spot a vase that he/she has marked for sale. The price is $5 US dollars.  However, you suddenly realize that it is an ancient antique Chinese vase and you know that it is worth at least $50,000 US dollars.  What do you do?

  1. Buy the vase for $5 dollars and sell it for as much as you can.
  2. Tell the buyer that the vase is worth at least $50,000 dollars.

I have asked many people this question.   A good friend of mine says he would tell the seller.  He maintains that honesty and not taking advantage of people is the right thing to do.  Another gentleman, whom I met at my three-day Jesuit retreat this year, proudly told me that it is a case of Caveat Emptor.  He would buy the vase for five dollars and sell it for at least $50,000 dollars.  Just as an aside, my friend who would tell the seller the value of the vase drives a used pick-up truck which he bought for under $10,000 dollars.  I noticed my acquaintance at the retreat drove off after the retreat in a $75,000-dollar Porsche Cayenne.  Not sure what to make of this contrast but it is interesting.

Many people have taken one side or the other on this issue.  I was running the other day and suddenly I thought “I would buy it for $5 dollars, sell it for $50,000 dollars and then split the $50,000 dollars with the original seller.”  The original seller would be happy, and I would be happy.  I realized that with a little thought, I had come up with a win-win and not a win-lose situation.  I wondered why I had not thought about this solution at first.  No one I had described the situation to had thought about it either.   It made me reflect about a number of battles that I have seen over the years while living in the Wisconsin North Woods.  These “battles” have often become quite acrimonious with a great deal of animosity and bitterness between the combatants.

  1. The battle between Indians and locals over fishing rights.
  2. The battle between snowmobilers and cross-country skiers.
  3. The battle between power boaters and canoers.
  4. The battle between bicyclists and ATV riders.

The most recent battle up here in Northern Wisconsin is over CAFO’s (Concentrated Animal Food Operations) versus small family farms.

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In each case, the situation plays out as follows.  1st. We have the hostility between the two groups or sides over some interests or goals.  2nd. We have a town council meeting called to help ameliorate the conflict.  3rd. Each side gets to air their grievances or make their claims for their group at the council meeting.  4th.  The town council comes up with a solution that a:) neither side is happy with or b:) one side wins and the other side loses.  Seldom if ever is there a recourse to a win-win scenario.

Now my ex-wife once explained to me before our divorce that there is not always a win-win solution.  I concede that is the case.  However, I will also argue that all too often we do not sit down with the other side and look for a win-win solution.

Further hampering the problem, is that these issues often become political.  The Governor, Mayor or some other political authority will convene a committee to study the issue.  The committee will seldom be knowledgeable experts or authorities, but instead will consist of a group of people with political influence or with a vested interest in a particular outcome (usually having to do with financial interests.”

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A case in point is the recent committee that was convened by the Governor of Arizona to come up with a DCP (Drought Contingency Plan).  After twenty years of ignoring the water problem in Arizona, the Governor was forced by the Federal Government to come up with a written plan to better manage the dwindling water supply in Arizona.  Arizona’s Governor appointed thirty-eight members to the steering committee.  It was billed as a “bipartisan” committee of citizens with a broad range of perspectives on the water issue in Arizona.  The committee was divided into the following groups:

  • Municipal leaders from cities and public works groups (8 members)
  • Agricultural interests (6 members)
  • Home Builders/Development (5 members)
  • Tribes (3 members)
  • Industrial (1 member)
  • NGO (1 member)
  • Miscellaneous (3 members)
  • Legislative Leadership (4 members)
  • Central Arizona Project Board Champions (2 members)
  • Governor’s Office (2 members)
  • United States Bureau of Reclamation (1 member)

Two co-leaders were selected to run the steering committee.

If you look at the backgrounds of the committee members, you will find mostly managers, lawyers and career politicians.  There is a scattering of individuals with some background in conservation, but they are a small minority.  Fifteen of the committee members are politicians.  What you will not find in any noticeable numbers are biologists, conservationists, environmentalists or ecologists.  The very experts that one would think would be more important to solving a water crisis than for instance five real estate developers.  Speaking of real estate development, after the committee finalized their plan, the Pinal Council for Economic Development stated: “There is no reason to stop economic development in Arizona.  We have plenty of water.”

RPAC_large

Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr said that the plan, far from being groundbreaking, represents another run at “business as usual” for the state.  As the Arizona version of the drought plan is now written, she says it’s propping up what she sees as unsustainable growth and unsustainable farming practices.  Many critics have noted that the plan has little or no conservation component.  It is a plan to subsidize more water drilling in the aquifer.

My contention is that we need win-win solutions.  We cannot ignore economic development, but neither can we ignore our environment.  We cannot sacrifice the future for the present or vice versa, sacrifice the present for the future.  However, the solution to many of our problems requires a win-win format that is not governed by money and political interests.  If our country keeps allowing the politicians and lawyers to make the rules, we are surely headed down the path of oblivion.  There is an anti-intellectualism and anti-science bias in this country which I believe is gradually destroying our ability to make decisions based on science and facts.

“The citizen cannot cease to need or to be at the mercy of experts, but he can achieve a kind of revenge by ridiculing the wild-eyed professor, the irresponsible brain truster, or the mad scientist, and by applauding the politicians as they pursue the subversive teacher, the suspect scientist, or the allegedly treacherous foreign-policy adviser.”  — Richard Hofstadter

 

My Life:  The Story of a Penny

penny

It wasn’t always this way.  If you are old enough you may well remember.  Once upon a time, I was admired and looked up to.  I was put in the mouth of deceased humans to pay Charon the boat man for taking them to the afterlife.  People made a big deal out of receiving me.  I was avidly saved and respected.  Abraham Lincoln walked two miles to return me to a customer who had been overcharged.  Children were given penny banks when they were of age to appreciate my value.  Many youngsters found that with only five of me, they had enough money to buy a candy bar or go to a movie.  A very popular saying was “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was the first currency of any type authorized by the newly formed United States of America.  I was born (or minted at they call it) on April 21, 1787, when the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later referred to as the Fugio cent.  Benjamin Franklin was my designer and on one side I had thirteen chain links interlocked with the words “We are one” representing the union of the first 13 American states.  On my other side, I had a picture of the sun and the sun dial with the words “Mind your business.”  Over the years, I have had many different designs printed on me.

old original penny

I was made legal tender by the Coinage Act of 1864.  I was so popular in my middle years that Abraham Lincoln’s visage was put on one side of me and on my other side was Lincoln’s tomb and the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many one.”  Honest Abe well knew the value of a penny.  For over two hundred years, I have represented the business and entrepreneurial spirit of America.  Those were my golden years.  There was no shame in saving a shiny new penny or even an old worn and scratched penny.

How the times and fortunes have changed my life!  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say how the Fortune 500 has changed my life.  Inflation and stock values have continued year after year to erode my value until I am now just a shell of what I once was.  There is even talk of doing away with me as not worth the metal it takes to mint me.  People leave me in little baskets at convenience stores and young children simply drop me or throw me down the street.  I get run over by cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians.  Hardly anybody will bother to pick me up off the sidewalk.  I am looked down upon and despised.

5.-Frugality-1024x524Those who say that I am not important or who ignore me are part of a new generation that values image over substance.  The word “frugal” is now associated with cheap and the word “thrifty” is associated with the idea of miserliness.  It seems the world of finance is dominated by short-sighted individuals who have forgotten the old values that made this country great.  Hard work and prudence were values that resonated among the early pioneers like so many notes in a great symphonic piece.

piggy bankWith hard work, you earned a penny.  With prudence, you saved your pennies until they became dollars.  In the old days, no one would ever have thrown me away or ignored me when laying in the street.  Too many people have forgotten the value that I represent.  From early times, there have been people who really understood my value.  Even before I was an official U.S. coin, the value of a penny was recognized by some.  I regard these people as paragons who really understood the meaning of money.  Let me tell you a few of their stories.

Back in the days of Jesus Christ, there was a poor widow who gave her last two cents.  The story is told by Mark 1:41-44 in the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Both Jesus and the poor widow understood the value of money and that it was not how much money you had but what you did with it that mattered.

Then, there is the story of little Hattie May Wiat.  This was a young girl who lived in Blue Bell Pennsylvania around the end of the 19th Century.  She loved to go to a nearby church but it was often so crowded that she could not find a seat.  She decided to start saving her money to help build a bigger church.  Her parents were very poor and sadly she died about two years after she had started saving her pennies.

When they were preparing her body for burial, they found beside her a little purse with fifty-seven cents inside and a note scribbled in her handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.”  This so inspired the minister of the church that he started a fund-raising campaign that turned Hattie’s initial pennies into nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  The church was expanded and many more people would eventually be able to come to church.

penniesHattie had faith in money.  Money requires faith but it is a faith that rests on the good that money can do and not simply how much money one can acquire.  Hattie had this kind of faith and it persisted beyond her death.

A more recent story is about John the runner.  John goes out jogging four or five times a week regardless of the weather.  Some days he feels great running and other days he is just anxious to get his run over with.  Nevertheless, no matter how long he has run or how tired he is from his daily run, if John sees me on the street, he will always stop to pick me up.

frugallivingbubblessmall.jpg

John believes that if he becomes too proud to pick up a penny, where will it end?  When will he become too proud to pick up a nickel or a dime?  John brings me home in his fist and puts me in a large glass jar shaped like a coke bottle.  I am in good company there with quarters, half dollars and even some Susan B. Anthony dollars.  When John is ready to go on a vacation, he takes me down to the bank and converts me into cash for his trip.

John does not relish wealth or the mere accumulation of money.  It is not his greed that compels him to pick me up but his acknowledgement of the symbolism that I represent.  Whether it is a hundred-dollar bill or one penny laying on the ground, the meaning is the same.   Money should never be taken for granted.

There are hundreds of other stories I can tell to show you that many people throughout history have understood the idea that “if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”  This is still a very valuable lesson that needs to be taught in all finance and business classes.  From what I see, it is a lesson that too many people today have never learned.

dollar-sign-made-with-real-shiny-pennies-as-tile-sheets

So, the next time you see a penny on the street, think about my life and what it stands for.  Do not think I simply represent 1/100 of a dollar.  I represent far more than that.  I represent the start of a global business.  The start of a financial fortune.  Even more importantly, I represent the start of needed surgery for a poor child in a developing country.  The start of a fund to help protect the environment.  The start of a young girl’s education.

Time for Questions:

Do you stop to pick up a penny?  What does frugality mean to you?  What does thrifty mean to you?  Do you think being frugal is a vice or a virtue?  Do you save for a rainy day?  Do you think credit cards have made the idea of thrifty better or worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.  Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?  Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?  Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?  Oh, why are people so crazy?”  — Anne Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Tragic Deaths of Ananias and Sapphira:  What This Story Tells Us about the Decline and Fall of Religion.

ANANIAS_AND_SAPPHIRA1.280200851_stdIn the Acts of the Apostles (part of the New Testament) Chapter 5, there is the story of two members of the early Christian church which was thought important enough to merit inclusion in the Bible.  To summarize the story:  these two members (Ananias and Sapphira) sold some property which they owned and instead of contributing 100 percent of the proceeds, they elected to keep some of it aside for themselves.  This may have been in violation of a sense of community and common property that the early Church was fostering since the story seemed important enough to put down in text.  (You may enjoy listening to the following song while reading this blog “The Ballad of Ananias and Sapphira”)

After being confronted by the apostle Peter, both Ananias and his wife Sapphira died on the spot.  What I find most interesting about this story is the significance and interpretation that is given by many Christian leaders to this event.  I think these interpretations may tell us more about religion and why people are backing away from churches then any of the more common reasons given for the decreasing numbers of people who now belong to an organized church.  For instance, many theorists say that the lack of religion today is due to or at least correlated with a more highly educated work force. Others say, the lack of religious affiliation has to do with the sexual emancipation of men and women, thus freeing them from the demands and control of an organized church.  I think there are more fundamental reasons and this story illustrates them very well.  I would like to contrast my “heretical” view of what this story means with a common view espoused by one religious leader in an article called  “5 THINGS GOD TEACHES US IN THE TRAGIC DEATHS OF ANANIAS & SAPPHIRA” by  Pastor J.D. on November 20, 2013

Pastor J.D.

  1. In the church, there are two kinds of people, and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish them from the outside.

On the outside, Ananias and Sapphira look just like another church member named Barnabas (introduced in Acts 4). Barnabas had just sold his property and brought the money to the apostles, and to the casual observer, Ananias and Sapphira were doing the same thing.

But deep in their heart lingered a love of money and a desire for people’s praise.  So they conspired together to present a portion of their money while passing it off as the entire amount. This is worlds apart from the attitude of Barnabas, but looks very similar.

John’s Interpretation: 

ananisas gravesYou mean that there are only two kinds of people in church?  One good and the other bad?  Why are the bad people going to church anyway if they are bad?  How is the church helping these “bad” people?  People who have a love of money and a desire for praise are bad?  That means about 95 percent of the human race are bad.  If all that religion can do is condemn “bad” people, why bother to go to church?  To be “Good,” you must tithe, build churches, give large donations and upon your death leave large grants to your church.

Pastor J.D.

  1. We cannot hide from God.

It may be difficult for us to distinguish between a truly repentant heart and a seasoned faker, but nothing is hidden from God. The Holy Spirit knows our thoughts as if they were being played through a loudspeaker or being displayed on a screen.

That is why despite fooling everyone else, Ananias and Sapphira were still found out. There are no locked doors or hidden closets for the Holy Spirit.

John’s Interpretation:

god sees everythingGod is even worse than big brother. Big brother can be hacked and still has blind spots in his/her surveillance techniques.  God sees all and knows all.  Do not try to hide anything from God.  God has nothing to do but spy on us night and day.  24/7 God is spying.  Do not do anything that would offend God or he/she will know and your secrets will be shared with the universe.  Since your church is your organized representative of God on earth, you should not try to hide anything from your church.  Be sure to send copies of your annual tax returns to your local parish or pastor.

Pastor J.D.

  1. The closer we are to grace, the greater the offense of sin.

Not everyone who lies gets struck down immediately for their sin. So why did Ananias and Sapphira? A couple of reasons:

First, their deaths—like much in Acts—serve as a sign. God takes something that is true in the kingdom of God and puts it on physical display. We see this most often through the healing miracles, but it is equally true of this judgment.

God doesn’t do this with everyone who lies to the Holy Spirit today. But that should not cover up the fact that this death is a picture of how God feels about it. It is a glimpse of the future judgment for all who share in the heart of Ananias and Sapphira.

Second, Ananias and Sapphira had seen the activity of the Holy Spirit so closely that the seriousness of the sin increased. Think of it like the temple: the closer you are to the holy place, the more significant is every blemish.[1]

These people had seen the mercy of God firsthand. Ananias’ name, in fact, means, “God is merciful.” They had likely been witness to the death of Christ itself! And yet despite being recipients of such great grace, they spurned it for the praise of men. Do not take holy things lightly!

John’s Interpretation:

lying tonguesDon’t bother trying to be better; you can never be good enough. Furthermore, it is worse to screw up if you are better than if you had not even tried.  Whatever happened to forgiveness of sin?  In this story, it seems there is no room for repentance.  Tolerance is non-existent.  No one mourns the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira.  Where is the compassion and forgiveness that Jesus preached?  It would seem that even at this early date, the newly formed Christian church has soon forgotten the key messages of Jesus.

Pastor J.D.

  1. Fear is a part of worship.

Unsurprisingly, these dramatic deaths caused a great deal of fear (Acts 5:5, 11). But we may be shocked to see that even in light of this, “more and more people believed in the Lord” (Acts 5:14). Fear is an integral part of worship.

For those of us familiar with the idea of an infinitely loving God, this is a jarring realization.  But God’s love only makes sense when we know the magnificence of his glory and the might of his power. That is why John Newton wrote, “Tis grace that taught my heart to fear.”  As the fear of God increases, so does the sense of his love, because we understand more fully what we have been saved from.

My favorite definition of the fear of God is awe mixed with intimacy.  We are invited into the closest possible relationship with God, but this intimacy must never overshadow the majesty of who God is.

John’s Interpretation:

god_hates_lies_button-p145912936367763508t5sj_400Wow, this is really hard to understand much less accept.  Fear is a part of God?  God wants us to be afraid of him/her because we are more likely to be saved if we are afraid?  As I am more afraid of God, he will love me more? What kind of crazy mixed up logic is this?  Where did Jesus preach this or say anything close to this?  What is it we will be saved from if only we are afraid?  Maybe, this is why psychopaths commit crimes that are so heinous? They have no fear so why should they give a damn?  If you are fearless, you have no problem with God.  This sounds like a good prescription for a fascist dictatorship.  Just keep the people scared and they will stay in line.  God and fascism according to the Christian church must have a lot in common.  No wonder most religions hate communism so much.  Ironic, that so many communist regimes have also used fear to keep people in line. What ever happened to the saying that “You catch more flies with honey then you do with vinegar?”  What many religions seem to be saying is that if you scare people to death, they will donate more to the church.

Pastor J.D.

  1. Sin is a deadly serious matter to God.

If we’re honest, many of us find God’s actions here offensive—but that merely reveals our ignorance of our sin and God’s holiness.  We shouldn’t ask the question, “Why did they die?” Instead we should wonder, “Why do we remain alive?”

Yes, God is patient with us and slow to anger.  But as R.C. Sproul says, we forget that God’s patience is designed to lead us to repentance, not to become bolder in our sin.  If Jesus really went through the tormenting hell of the cross to redeem us, and we neglect that in pursuit of our sin, what will it be like to stand before God? “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”(Hebrews 2:3)

 John’s Interpretation:

Sinner ParkingGod hates sin and hate sinners?  In this case, he/she hated sin enough to kill two members of the church whose sin was keeping back some of their money and lying about it.  Wow, this is really scary.  If God can just strike any of us dead for such a trivial offense, imagine what he/she will do to most of us for the daily offenses we make. When you think of the Ten Commandments or Eight Beatitudes, you should be really scared.  Any second now, most of the human race will be struck dead for failing to comply or live up to these standards.  When you think about how many people covet their neighbor’s property, commit adultery, or lack humility or charity, you may wonder that anyone on earth is still alive.

Conclusions:

Well, you may and will draw your own conclusions but my conclusions are to ask why anyone would belong to any organized religion that subscribed to a single one of the beliefs that were noted by Pastor J. D.  If you want to look for reasons why people are less church going or less religious today, you have simply to look at these five beliefs about God and sin that Pastor J.D. has noted.  Who in their right mind, would want to belong to any group that felt this way about humanity and sin?

By the way, these five beliefs noted are not atypical or unique.  When I was researching the symbolism and meaning of the story of Ananias and Sapphira, I found many similar interpretations by other religious leaders.  (See Dan Stevers – The Grim Tale of Ananias & Sapphira)

Most of the interpretations support the idea of an intolerance that was in the early Christian church from the very beginning.  This is not to say that all religions do not share similar intolerances.  My best guess is that any system of organized belief is by its very nature “intolerant” of competing or contradictory belief systems.   One can only hope that we are not all killed instantly for our failures to comply with whatever belief system we are associated with.  Most systems other than religion find it more expedient to kill by innuendo and ostracism then to have God strike you dead immediately.  You lose less members that way.

Time for Questions:

What is sin?  Who are the real sinners in the world?  Do you know any sinners? Are you a sinner?  What do you do to atone or repent for your sins?  There are three things we must do for forgiveness:

  1. Sincerely admit, apologize and show regret for our sins
  2. Listen to the pain and misery that our sins have caused.
  3. Make appropriate amends for our sins to the victims.

Life is just beginning.

If you think that anything under the sun is new, you have only to compare the story of Ananias and Sapphira to this recent headline about churches that plunder their parishioners:

How passing the plate becomes the ‘Sunday morning stickup’” by John Blake, CNN, June, 14, 2015

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