Cleaver continues to lead the way

On Saturday, Feb. 4, Representative Emanuel Cleaver held his first 2017 Town Hall Meeting.  Its focus was on immigration: providing information and responding to concerns of the immigrant communities.

Speaking to a crowd of over 1,000 strong, Cleaver was inspiring and informative, emphasizing the importance of inclusivity and the benefits immigrants provide to our communities.  His panel of experts responded to specific, individual questions from the audience.  In addition, outside the hall, organizations had booths with staff available to provide additional information.

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Cleaver continues to lead the way on these important issues, showing that Missouri’s 5th District is represented by one of the great leaders of our time.

#immigrationpolicy #nobannowall #knowyourrights #revcleaver

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Made In–Bangladesh

IMG_2525According to news reports, millions of items of clothing were manufactured in a single building in the city of Savar, in the heart of Bangladesh. When that building collapsed on April 24, 2013, more than 350 workers died as a result of that collapse; almost all women between the ages of 18-20. More than 1000 were injured. Over three thousand workers labored in that building, purportedly working for wages of 26 cents per hour or less. Before 2010, when the minimum wage was increased in Bangladesh from $21 per month to $38 per month, their wages would have been less.

This is not an isolated tragedy. Five months earlier, on November 24, 2012, more than 100 workers were killed when a fire engulfed another garment factory in Savar. The clothing manufactured in those buildings was shipped from the factories for sale in Europe, Canada and the United States.

The highly reputable international charity, Oxfam, has stated that:
“We can make choices that will make a difference. So too can retailers. The easiest thing is to choose not to see the story behind the brands, but we can also choose to buy clothes that are the products of transparent and non-abusive supply chains. Retailers can choose to do the same, and can hold their suppliers to account–not least by ensuring they respect standard safety measures that protect their workers lives.”

This is not the first time our blog has written about the challenges of buying U.S. made products and products made in other countries by businesses that agree to comply with international treaties designed to protect workers. These treaties include the United Nations Global Compact and SA8000.

 See our post on “Made in the USA: The importance of buying local” from Jan. 12, 2012 here.

These treaties were designed to set standards for global companies involving human rights, the environment, anti-corruption and ethical labor standards. It is a challenge, however, to identify consumer products that are made by companies that have agreed to these principles: provide humane working conditions, treat their employees with dignity, provide safe working conditions and pay reasonable wages.

See our post on “Made in the USA: Clothing. What to do when this is no ‘Made in the USA’ Choice? ” from Feb.4, 2012 here.

If the two of us have clothing in our closets that are made in factories like those where workers have been killed, it is not because we turn a blind eye. It is a sad circumstance that it remains difficult to find products made in the U.S. and even more difficult to identify products made abroad according to international treaties.

Perhaps our blog can focus more of our attention to the challenges we face as consumers to support businesses where workers are treated humanely.
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The opinions expressed in this post are not the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

“Great By Choice” Uncertainty, Chaos, And Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

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Good luck.  We talk about it. We wish for it.  We blame our failures on lack of it.  Malcolm Gladwell, one of my favorite authors, focuses on it as a significant factor in the success of individuals like Bill Gates in his book Outliers[1].  Gladwell’s insights have been valuable to me in understanding how and why individuals succeed.

Nothing in Great By Choice changes my belief that factors outside our control significantly influence our success.  However, Great By Choice is a reminder that luck alone does not control our destiny.  We are reminded, throughout the book, that we have significant control of our lives, our successes and our failures.

“Are you Amundsen or Scott?” is the question raised in Chapter 2.  In Oct. 1911, Rould Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott led similar expeditions to the South Pole.  Amundsen reached the Pole and returned safely home.  Scott and his team died in their unsuccessful quest.  What separated the two adventurers?  Both faced the same  1400 mile round trip journey to the South Pole in brutally cold weather, ice, snow and limited supplies.  What made the difference?  According to New York Times bestselling authors Jim Collins[2] and Professor Morten T. Hansen[3], the difference was planning, intensity of preparation, constant vigilance and remaining constantly focused on the goal.

They describe characteristics that enable us to maximize the benefits of our good luck while minimizing the impact of our bad luck.  The authors studied highly successful companies, called “10Xers” ie, companies that beat industry indexes by a minimum of 10 times over a 15 year period, including Microsoft, Progressive Insurance Company. They compare 10Xers to Amundsen, and for good reason.

The book is, fundamentally, about excellence, preparation, and discipline.  The research identifies attributes that 10Xers[4] share with each other (and with Amundsen) that are less likely to exist in less successful companies[5].  A fundamental premise is that luck, good and bad, happens to all of us, and that how we respond, and are impacted by our luck is dependent on preparation, discipline and determination.

By the authors’ definition, luck incorporates chaos and uncertainty, is described as involving events largely outside our control that are unpredictable and have potentially significant consequences.  Factors such as economic downturns, rising interest rates and other economic factors are factors which impact us all.  These are factors the others would incorporate in their definition of luck.  Fanatical discipline, mental independence, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia, are considered by the authors to be essential to success in a world of such economic (and non-economic) chaos and uncertainty.  Specifically, these attributes are considered essential to getting the most from good luck and being harmed the least by bad luck.

Great by Choice identified 3 core 10X behaviors:

1)   Fanatical discipline and mental independence;

2)   Empirical creativity, including reliance on empirical evidence, and direct observation

3)   Productive paranoia, including always planning, and preparing, for the worst case scenario.

1)   Fanatical discipline involves what they label “20 mile marches”.[6]  Differing in every way from frantic forward movement followed by complacency or sliding backward, the focus is on taking measured steps toward success.  It involves the expectation that goals will be clear, that consistent forward movement toward the accomplishment of those goals should be required and that the entity will not indulge in fads or overextend.  Consistent progress, rather than erratic gains and losses, is to be the goal.

2)   Empirical creativity involves individual research and hard date.  Much is made in the book about the importance of “shooting bullets and then cannons”.  The significance of this message is that in taking any risk, it is important to determine, through firing metaphorical bullets, the probability of success.  A bullet is considered low risk, low distraction, low-cost. When such a low risk experiment reaches the target, then it is time to throw significant resources at the target.  The initial example of the concept is based on the idea that if you are on a ship being approached by an enemy ship, you should shoot bullets at the ship until a bullet actually reaches the target ship.  Only then is it prudent to use the resources necessary to shoot a cannon at the ship to destroy it.

3)   Productive paranoia deals with the critical importance of anticipating disaster, i.e. bad luck. Disaster can come in any sources.  It can result from a fluke of nature, a massive recession, a competitor whose product development surpasses the product of another company.  By constant vigilance, preparation, protecting and saving resources an enterprise can maximize the likelihood of working through disaster and moving toward success.

But there is more.  In addition to the uncertainty around us, Great By Choice reminds us that we must always remain above the “death line”.  The death line is identified as an event  under the entity’s control that will destroy the endeavor.  Comparable to corporate death, these are described as risks that can severely injure a company; asymmetric risks (where the potential downside dwarfs the potential upside); and uncontrollable risks, (risks that cannot be controlled or managed.)  Examples of such risk include making financial gambles on products or processes that have not been determined to be likely to be financially successful.  By firing bullets rather than cannons, the authors believe an endeavor can minimize the chances of falling below the “death line” where it cannot survive.

Great By Choice repeatedly conveys to the reader the challenges (“bad luck”) faced by 10Xers and describes how these companies responded to what sometimes seemed to be impossible circumstances.  How they minimized the resulting damage or turned adversity into opportunity.

Whether you are a student, a professional, an entrepreneur or in any other field of endeavor,  spending the time to read books such as Great By Choice can be invaluable in understanding  your “luck” and how to use it (or avoid it!) to be great. 

 


[1] Among other factors, he argues effectively that the month and year an individual is born, his/her opportunity to have effective mentors, supportive parents, and (often) access to significant financial resources, technology and specialized training, significantly influence an individual’s likelihood of success

[2]  Formerly on the faculty at Stanford Graduate School of Business, author of Good to Great, as well as other notable books focused on business success (and failure), Collins consults with businesses and operates a management laboratory in Boulder, Colorado

[3] Management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and author of Collaboration, Hanson also consults and speaks to and with companies worldwide.

[4] 10Xers studied included such companies as Southwest Airlines, Progressive Insurance and Microsoft

[5] Apple (during the period of time it was not under the leadership of Steve Jobs), Safeco Insurance, and PSA airlines

[6] From childhood I remember the adage “slow and steady wins the race”.

Inauguration Day/Martin Luther King Holiday

The rock group by the name of the Rascals recorded “People Got To Be Free”, their most enduring hit, in the tumultuous summer of 1968. [1]  Martin Luther King died that spring, at age 39.  Barak Obama was just turning 7.

The words of this song ring true today as they did in the 1960’s.  They were, no doubt, influenced by the life and death of King.  They easily influenced our future President, Barack Obama, as they influenced so many of his generation.  These are the words.

All the world over, so easy to see!
People everywhere, just wanna be free.
Listen, please listen! that’s the way it should be
Peace in the valley, people got to be free.

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[2]

As stated so eloquently in the song, “Peace in the valley people got to be free.”  Happy second term, Mr. President.

[1]  Written by Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigate, members of the Rascals.

[2]  The statue was inspired by the slave revolts in Cuba in the early 1800s.

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The opinions in this blog do not represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

Vietnam: Honoring Our Veterans

Today is Veteran’s Day.  For most of us it represents a holiday: a day without the responsibilities of work, a day to spend with family or friends.  But it is, really, so much more.  In a time when our nation is at war in Afghanistan, and when our soldiers are being killed in action, or returning home with serious physical and mental injuries, it is important to honor their service.  We must also respect the sacrifices they have made for us and to always, always remember the human cost of our countries decision to go to war.  As a result, Veteran’s Day is, and should remain, a day of reflection, a day of sadness and a day of loss.

 The memories of each war are different.  The few remaining veterans of World War II have a different experience than those of the Gulf War, the Korean War and every other war of our time.  To fully understand Veteran’s Day you must, almost necessarily, have served in the military or been close to someone who has served.

Kansas City’s Vietnam War Memorial, located at 43rd and Baltimore, is dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.  The memorial wall includes the names of 385 Kansas City area servicemen who lost their lives during that war.

This wall is personal to many Kansas City residents.  For me, the name  John Igert says it all.  Johnny was a friend, a classmate and a casualty of the war. He graduated from William Chrisman High School in 1964, and attended Central Missouri State College, in Warrensburg, Mo., before entering the military in 1967.  He died in Gia Dinh, Vietnam, on August 17, 1968, just three months after he should have graduated from college.  He was only 22. He was an easy person to know.  He was fun, he was a good man, though only barely a man when he began his military service–and when he died.

Each of the 385 servicemen whose names are carved in the granite of the monument has a similar story.  Each name represents someone who is remembered by family and friends, who loved him when he was alive, and love him still.  Each name represents a life lost.

Kansas City’s Vietnam War Memorial honors our soldiers who fought, died and missing in action.  The memorial acknowledges that the war deeply divided our country and that in the middle of the dispute were the men and women who fought and died in the war.

The memorial is based on a series of pools and fountains.  The separation of the pools is designed to acknowledge the deep divisions within the country over the war. The fountains represent the healing and cleansing power of water in restoring our national spirit.

The words on the granite summarize a message of hope.  “Only by remembering can we assure it never happens again”.  Wishful thinking?  Repeatedly.  But the message of hope sustains us and causes us to search for better solutions to the challenges of our times.

Women’s Suffrage And The Importance of Voting

Because we are on the eve of a national election, I think it is important to remind ourselves, as women, of the sacrifices made by earlier women who worked and sacrificed to secure this basic right for women–the right to vote.

My grandmother, Mary Lewis, was an early feminist and suffragist.  My grandfather, Frank Mesle, being a wise man, wooed her by respecting her beliefs and making them his own.  One of his early letters to her in 1910 included the following quote from an unknown source:  “When the husband gets ready to regard his wife as an equal partner…when he will grant her the same privileges he demands for himself; when he is willing to allow his wife to liver her own life in her own way without trying to ‘boss’ her, we shall have more true marriages, happier homes and higher civilizations.”

It was ten years later, when my own mother was one years old, that women gained the right to vote.  I was born a mere 26 years later.  Not a very long period of time in the history of this country.  But worlds apart in our understanding and expectations of women’s role in society.

Until the  mid to late 1900’s, women were, in many significant respects, under the legal control of husbands and fathers from birth to death, without the right to own property, vote or participate meaningfully in business or government.  The obstacles to equality for women are nowhere better illustrated than in the Supreme Court’s 1873 decision in Bradwell v. Illinois. [1]

Born in 1831, Myra  Bradwell’s husband was a successful lawyer, judge and member of the Illinois General Assembly.  Myra was a teacher, respected citizen and active in the community.  She founded a legal newspaper and supported women’s suffrage reforms, in addition to  engaging in a wide variety of other activities of no small import. She undertook legal training with the hope of being admitted to the Bar of Illinois.  Her application for a license to practice law was rejected by the Illinois State Supreme Court because, as a married woman, she could not enter into any legal contracts–a basic requirement of practicing law [2].  Ultimately Bradwell appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court claiming a violation of the 14th Amendment.  In writing the decision adopted by the  Supreme Court, in language feminists can quote to this day, Justice Joseph Bradley wrote: “The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many occupations of civil life…[T]he paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the creator.”

Undeterred by the Supreme Court’s ruling, and presumably rejecting the notion that  God believed women should be so limited, feminists continued to press for Constitutional protections, primarily focused on the right to vote.  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and others, dedicated their lives to the struggle for women’s rights: woman’s suffrage, the right of women to own property, retain their own earnings, and to have access to academic opportunities.  From as early as the 1850’s, Anthony and Stanton traveled throughout the United States and Europe in support of women’s rights.  On July 4, 1876, in Philadelphia, Anthony presented on behalf of the National Woman Suffrage Association the  Declaration of  Rights of Women of the United States [3]. Her lengthy speech, while compelling, [4] is particularly powerful concerning the denial of a woman’s right to vote:  “ Universal manhood suffrage, by establishing an aristocracy of sex, imposes upon the women of this nation a more absolute and cruel depotism than monarch; in that, woman finds a political master in her father, husband, brother, son….”  Stanton died in 1906, 14 years before her vision of universal women’s suffrage became a reality.  In 1979, in honor of her role in the struggle for women’s rights, the U.S. Mint issued a dollar coin with her image.

The final struggles and success of the so-called suffrage movement is well described in the powerful movie, Iron Jawed Angels[5].  This movie focuses on the period immediately leading up to the passage of the 19th Amendment. It tells the story of the relentlessness of women leaders like Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who through the early years of World War I fought tirelessly to persuade President Woodrow Wilson to endorse their right to vote.

As the U.S. was entering World War I, some 35 years after the Bradwell decision, suffragists began to picket of the White House.  Their theme was questioning why we should be fighting a war abroad in defense of Democracy when women at home did not experience Democracy.

Despite romantic descriptions of women’s delicacy and timidity, women engaged in the feminist movement behaved, and were treated, without regard to any such perceptions. Their leaders were fined and then imprisoned for 60 days for “obstructing traffic”. They continued to picket.  Alice was sentenced to 7 months in prison.  She was ultimately placed in a solitary confinement and began a hunger strike. Attempts were made to have Alice declared insane. [6] Ultimately she was  force fed by her jailers, who repeatedly fed her through a tube down her throat.  Denied access to the public, their families and even lawyers, it was the husband of one of the leaders of the movement who ultimately advised the press of the treatment of these women.

Learning of the treatment of the suffragists, on January 9, 1918, President Wilson reversed his opposition to women’s right to vote. He urged  Congress to vote in favor of a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing women’s right, stating:  “we have made partners of the women in this war…Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?”

On June 4, 1919, the U.S. Senate passed the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote, by one vote.  On August 26, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment.  The Amendment became law.

The sacrifices of women like Alice Paul were life changing. Without her bull-headed resistance to the status quo, women’s suffrage may well have been delayed for years.  Her sacrifices and the sacrifices of women before her, secured the beginnings of real change for women’s status as full members of society.

It is important that all women honor and acknowledge the sacrifices from the past.  Please vote on November 6, and every election.  Vote for the candidates of your choice, but vote.

[1] Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 130 (1873).

[2] It is not to be ignored that she was denied a license because legislatures controlled by men denied her, and all women, basic rights to own property, enters contracts, keep their own earnings and otherwise control their own destinies.

[3] The original Declaration of the Rights of woman and the Female Citizen was written by Olympe de Gouges a French patriot, in 1791.  It is modeled on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted in 1789 by the National Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution.

[4]  This speech also includes a quote from Abigail Adams, who said: “We will not hold ourselves bound to obey laws in which we have no voice or representation”.

[5]  Released in 2004, the movie starred Hillary Swank.

[6]  Historically,  male doctor, refused to find her insane, stating that bravery in women has sometimes been mistaken for insanity.

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The views presented in our blog do not represent the positions of our families, our friends or our employers.

Cuba: The Cult of Che

Che Guevara was executed in the jungles of Bolivia on October 9, 1967.  Forty five years later he is venerated in Cuba. He has attained something akin to “rock star” status.  His face is on Cuban money, t-shirts, banners, and tourist art.  Billboards with his image encourage the Cuban people to work hard and support the revolution.

Even in the U.S., celebrities wear Che’s signature beret.  He is featured in a movie, The Motorcycle Diaries,whose executive producer, Robert Redford,[1] has depicted Che’s 1952 journey across South America; a journey generally credited with planting the seeds for his future radicalization.

Born Ernesto “Che” Guevara, on May 14, 1928, he was educated as a physician and was already active in social reform when he met Raul and Fidel Castro.  He quickly became Fidel’s 2nd in command and played a key role in the success of the Cuba Revolution against Batista.  He is credited with his work on Cuba’s literacy campaign and its agrarian land reform.  He was a bank president and diplomat for Castro’s government.  He represented Cuba throughout the international community, speaking on behalf of socialism and against the exploitation of the Southern Hemisphere by Western countries.  Ultimately, he  became critical of the Soviet Union, also condemning it for exploiting Cuba.

Celebrated by many as an idealist, he was a lifelong, and very charismatic, revolutionary.  While revered by many for his struggle to liberate the poor, focused primarily in Africa and South and Central America, he is reviled as a guerilla leader ruthless in his discipline of his troops and brutal as the revolution’s chief executioner, instrumental in the war trials and summary executions of Castro’s adversaries.

The nature of his relationship with the Castros at the time of his death is unclear.  On October 3, 1965, two years before Che’s death, Castro made public a letter from Che resigning his positions with the Cuban government, and giving up his Cuban citizenship. Whether his actions result from disagreements with Castro or merely a belief that he should be engaged in a wider campaign of “social justice” is unclear. He returned to Cuba only briefly after authoring that letter. His death changed a questionable relationship to martyrdom.

Che and twenty-nine comrades who fought with him in Bolivia are buried in the Che Guevara Mausoleum.  It is located outside Villa Clara, Cuba, near one of his most significant military campaigns.  It is treated as a shrine, almost a place of worship.  Cameras are forbidden inside the Mausoleum, hats were required to be removed.

Nelson Mandela described Che as “an inspiration for every human being of our era who loves Freedom”.  Jean Paul Sartre described him as “the most complete human being of our age.”  Surely, Cuban exiles living in the U.S., whose family members were executed by Che’s firing squads, find no humanity in his deeds.

Such totally different images of a human being long dead seem incapable of reconciliation. For purposes of this post, I will not try.  Instead, the question may be whether those who exalt him as a hero are influenced to do good or ill. And, from an entirely different perspective, whether his veneration impacts the nature of the short-term–and mid-term–relationships between the United States and Cuba.

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[1] Robert Redford is photographed with Fidel Castro on the wall of the National Hotel, one of the few luxury hotels in Habana, presumably taken during a brief encounter between the two men during Redford’s trip to Cuba for a private screening of The Motorcycle Diaries for Che’s widow and children.

The opinions of this post do not reflect the views of our employers, our families or–necessarily–each other.