Economics browsing by category


#820 – Dick Bernard: The Homeless Guy

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

UPDATE: This commentary has several comments. They can be found both in the Responses section of this post, as well as directly below the content of the originating post. One of the last updates, from myself, includes a few paragraph comment made in in 1982 by the then-Director of Catholic Charities of St.Paul-Minneapolis, Monsignor Jerome Boxleitner. It is an especially power commentary on the issue of the homeless and society at large. You can read it here: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

We’re accustomed to street folks at Basilica of St. Mary, so when I saw the guy standing in the parking area this morning, it was nothing unusual. What was unusual was that he was standing in the line of traffic into the church. He had a cardboard sign that said “Homeless”. I had to pass by him going into the church, and I said “good morning”, and didn’t leave a dollar.

I rarely do.

It was cold, zero degrees at church time, but sunshiny and calm, and this man was dressed for the weather.

This was not a desperate time for him.

I walked on towards the church, and the guy caught up with me and passed by muttering something about going to jail, which seemed directed at me, but he just walked on, catching up with some other guy with a backpack and the two disappeared towards nearby downtown Minneapolis.

There was a little twinge of guilt, but, honestly, not much. Basilica has a very active social justice ministry with a broad range of programs to assist the disadvantaged in many ways, and this man was within a block, or less, of a sandwich and a cup of coffee at the rectory, or coffee and donuts in the lower level of the church, and he wouldn’t be considered a nuisance, in fact he’d be welcomed. And the downtown Minneapolis Branch of Catholic Charities, that deals pretty specifically with homeless is three short blocks away. And we contribute a lot to both the Church and Catholic Charities.

Basilica is very heavily involved in helping those “down on their luck”.

Inside the Church, it was the Feast of the Holy Family, and the celebrant, Fr. Graham, preached a most meaningful homily about Mary, Joseph and the baby in the manger at Bethlehem 2000 years ago.

Most everyone, Christian or not, knows this story. Today, Fr. Graham put the scene in clearer context talking about what society was like back then: hierarchical and male dominated, women and children exceedingly vulnerable, an entire people essentially subjects of an alien government, nobody safe and secure. Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a smelly barn, as it were, surrounded by barn smells. No room in the Bethlehem “Holiday Inn”….

Fr. Graham didn’t know what I had experienced a half hour or so earlier.

The two experiences caused me to think a lot, today, about this entire issue of people and society.

At Basilica, it is recommended NOT to give money to the occasional panhandlers outside. It might seem a surprising position, but apparently is shared by other churches similarly situated: to give is to in effect enable unproductive behavior by such entrepreneurs as the man who I’d passed by. Charity is easily available, and given without question or judgement, but the movement to justice for such folks is not helped along by encouraging a career of begging, or so I remember the surprising column in our Church newsletter some months earlier. [NOTE JAN 2, 2014 see comment and link from Janice Andersen, and my comment, at end of this post]

But this day, my thoughts were also impacted by the sermon about the old days of 2000 years ago, augmented by the news of the previous day, announcing the cutoff of long term unemployment benefits by the Congressional Budget Agreement in Washington.

Was Basilica’s recommendation the same as the policy of Congress? How did these fit with the norms of the harsh society of 2000 years ago?

The man who was cadging me would have been pleased to get a buck. I don’t know if he was “homeless” – all I know is that he had a sign so announcing – an advertisement as it were. I also knew that he knew something about marketing, where to set up his temporary business for greatest likelihood of success.

How did he differ from other entrepreneurs, including those who’ll make a billion dollars this year alone?

Probably no difference at all: just a matter of number of zeroes following the $1.

Will we ever end the problem of stark inequity? Probably not.

Should we stop trying? Certainly not.

Is there a legitimate need for a social safety net broader than simply the man’s family? Of course, there is. Children and women are most often the victims of disequity; Vets, addicts, mentally Ill often fall through the cracks. And that’s where government, the private sector, and institutions like churches and ourselves come in. All are needed on the team.

Did I act appropriately, not giving the guy a buck? I don’t know. I think I pay for this guys care in other ways and I can understand and appreciate the Church’s position on the matter of discouraging panhandling.

But maybe I’m wrong.


POSTNOTE Jan. 2, 2014:
from Janice Andersen of Basilica of St. Mary: Attached (Janice Andersen Sep 16, 2012) is something that was published in September 2012. I am not sure if this is what you were referring to in your note. This basically states the guidelines that the Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness agreed upon.

I would put a stress on the preamble, which invites people to follow their heart and conscience. There is no black and whit in this, for sure. Also, I put a stress on the first point, which encourages relationship.

Thanks for your thoughtful communication and dialogue!

Peace, Janice

Dick to Janice: The attachment is what I referred to. Thank you. Very helpful. This is a vexing issue, as can be noted by the additional comments. Lurking not far in the background for any Christian, of course, is the message that the divine manifests in the sick, the hungry, the naked, the imprisoned, etc. Then the issue becomes how best to help, when you know that some (many?) are simply masquerades?

It has been a good dialogue, and I hope it continues.


In addition to the following, there are comments made directly to this post. Click responses tab at the end of the post to see those.

I have not yet found the originating commentary from the Basilica Sunday newsletter, but did find an e-mail I wrote about a meeting I had attended at Basilica nearly five years ago which speaks for itself. You can read it here: JaniceAndersen022209 (Janice Andersen, who authored the commentary I speak of above, directs the social ministries at Basilica of St. Mary. She is a Saint, highly respected. “Families Moving Forward”, referred to in my letter, gives emergency housing to homeless families, and is a shared venture between about a dozen Minneapolis downtown churches.

from Carol T: Interesting, Dick. I understand how you felt. My son and family live in So. Minneapolis, and we take the Cedar exit. There’s almost always someone standing at the bottom of the ramp with The Sign. You don’t know my son, but honestly, he and his wife are some of the kindest people I know (and what a warm feeling to be able to say that 🙂 Both of them work in senior care, and are involved in more neighborhood helping projects than I know about. So I was as surprised as you were about your church’s position when my son lectured me long ago NOT to give to those on the ramp. He claimed that if you do, and then watch, they just head across the street to the nearest bar.

I think it was last winter when I was on my way to their house and it was below zero. There was actually a woman standing at the bottom of the ramp. Big sucker me – I stopped and gave her a little money. When I told my son and hubby, they both jumped on me…

My son knows the neighborhood, and I respect what he says. However. Once he was talking about someone they knew who they found out had fallen on the proverbial hard times, and they actually saw the guy standing on an interchange ramp… What hurts is that somewhere there may be that one deserving person.

Here’s what I did once. There was a young man (but already minus several teeth) standing on Robert Street with The Sign. I stopped and said that I was going to go eat across the street at Taco Bell, and if he walked over there and met me, I’d feed him. He did, and I did. He told me a story of how he was living in the woods with some people somewhere near Robert Street, in a shack which included an illegal heater, etc. He said he was looking for work but didn’t have a resume or any way for someone to reach him. I was teaching an ESL class near there on Robert Street at the time, and I told him if he’d show up at my next class with any info, I’d print him up a resume. Of course he never did.

Now there’s sometimes a guy in a wheelchair on the Cedar ramp. If I get caught by a red light, I busy myself digging in my purse or whatever – and of course feel really guilty. But also. If you watch how many drivers actually do “donate,” even if they are only handing over a dollar, those guys are definitely making more than minimum wage…

One other observation: Over the years I think only once have I ever seen a misspelling on one of those signs. Now, the general run of the population (I’m sorry to say) has a much worse record than that… Political protests and such – misspellings all over the place. I have this vision of them scheduling their shifts (there’s never more than one on those ramps) and then handing off those signs at the end… :\

But still it hurts – and it probably should. Maybe next time invite him to church…

PS from Carol: link here.

from Lydia H: Here are some of my thoughts re:your experience w/The Homeless Guy & its larger context from my own perspective.

For most of the 25 years I’ve been in Minneapolis, I’ve lived within a few blocks of Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. It’s a regular part of everyday life for me to be asked for money when I;m waiting for the bus or walking somewhere. Sometimes I give money, sometimes I don’t.. Sometimes I feel guilty about not giving, sometimes I feel intruded upon by those who ask for money. As with your experience, sometimes “panhandling” feels like an “enterprise” —not desperation. As a low-income person myself, I think I have some “intuition” on this. Sometimes I don’t give simply because I don’t feel safe pulling my wallet out on the street with a stranger.

Over the last 25 years what I’ve noticed most—both “on the streets” and in the upper levels of “power” in our society (government & media) is an increased MEANNESS. Those at the top demonize the poor more & more, snipping away at what;’s left of the safety net. The latest attack is cutting $40 Billion from FOOD assistance, but, Minnesota hasn’t raised the welfare grant for families on the bottom in 27 YEARS—so,, while certainly still better than my home state of Texas (which is currently REFUSING to accept federal govt money to expand Medicare for healthcare for the poor)—something has shifted. And that means it’s also shifting at “street level”, too: random violence that makes no sense reported to regularly on the 6 o’clock news or considered “fun”, like the rampage of hundreds of teens (organized through Facebook) in a NY shopping mall.

Is “inequality” the reason for these things? In significant part, yes. But, I think it’s also a fraying of SHARED social expectations–whether to care about each others well being or that some behavior is simply totally UN-acceptable–regardless of one’s economic status. The Wall Street “banksters” felt no shame at robbing the nation blind and street thugs seem equally blind to conscience.

Yes, we must reverse the widening chasm of inequality. But, we must also close the gaps in connection and compassion. Raising the minimum wage or demanding a stronger safety net and more job creation is a lot easier than deepening our connections and compassion.

from Madeline: I don’t trust the motives of panhandlers, and have often thought, if anything, one should hand them a card telling where help is available. A buck plus a few others wouldn’t solve the problem of homelessness, unless this a very successful panhandling entrepreneur, which perhaps a few are, and if it is that lucrative, it really wouldn’t be legitimate need, but rather a scam. More likely, the few dollars received in this way would go for alcohol or other drugs.

from Jeff P: I always struggle with that, but we also give to local charities that help the homeless.

The one thing the billionaires and the panhandlers have in common, the income ends up tax free, the billionaires thru loopholes in the system, the panhandler as it is Cash. That is not a value judgment, just an observation.

Response to Jeff from Dick: I have a friend, who at the time was a Priest in an impoverished area of a major city. One time he told me about the ‘circuit rider” charity folks, who did the circuit of churches for handout, say, enough money for their family to spend the night at a inexpensive hotel. The pastors who knew each other knew these folks, since they were regulars. My friend said that some of them were really good at their pitches, and could really have succeeded in regular jobs, but for whatever reason they stuck with their street trade.

The essential difference between millionaires and the rest of us is, in my opinion, that they have (and know how to use) the power to make the system work in their behalf. The rest of us – the so-called 99% – have even more power, but for assorted reasons, like failing to vote, etc., don’t exercise the great power we possess.

from Judy B: I’ve often thought about the issues you raise in this excellent commentary. For years, I would give money, because need might exist — especially if children were involved. In recent years, I’ve walked by panhandlers without guilt. But I’m starting to feel guilty again. I don’t like my callous self. The other day, when a desperate-looking woman approached me outside [a major store] and said she needed money for food, I told her we would go into the store together and she could pick out the food she needed. She refused, but I’m going to try that tactic again.

from a person who prefers name not be used: One time [then-MN] Gov. Pawlenty wanted them to register as panhandlers??? So Nick Coleman, who wrote for the St. Paul paper, went down to Hwy 55 and asked a woman about her typical day. She said they work in groups, one on the street the other 3 women under a tree. By the end of the day they hope to be able to buy one bag of pot, one bottle of wine..and if they are lucky a sandwich. [Twin Cities homeless advocate] Mary Jo Copeland says not to give money send them to her.

from Peter B: More people should read Richard Wolff and Howard Richards on economic issues. My take is that unless there is a change in the cultural norms, anything we do perpetuates the status quo.

This doesn’t mean don’t give people money, etc., but it does mean that these are conscience-soothing but futile gestures. ON the other hand, the homeless guy can’t be making much even if he is merely an “entrepreneur,” so no harm in playing into his game.

Where we need to put our energies is behind substantive change of the rules of the game, which under capitalism are: private property is sacred, contracts must be fulfilled, and investors are free to put their money wherever they like.

If you look at these, they mean the following: if a person has nothing to sell that anybody wants to buy, that person is soon to be homeless, and subject to arrest and indefinite detention. All people, communities, states and nations are at the mercy of the “law” of supply and demand, so they must cut taxes, give away infrastructure, and do whatever the corporations like, or the owners will invest their money some other place where the labor is cheap and the regulations as thin as smoke. Moreover, people are essentially enslaved by this system as life-long workers with no hope of escape.

These cultural norms are totally made-up fictions. There is no “law” of supply and demand, no “invisible hand,” and no reason why a few men in some boardroom should get to decide what to produce, and what to do with the profits. It is a complete scam.

There are many surprising examples around the world in which people have taken over the management of their factories and shops, and manage the distribution of profits in an open and democratic process. But we don’t hear much about them, as the corporate powers that be fear them more than anything, and will stop at nothing to prevent more such successes. It’s why we’re supposed to hate the South Americans and the Europeans and so on.

Meanwhile, those places also enjoy healthcare and unemployment and retirement benefits just for being alive in this world.

So, I guess my take is that the presence of the “Homeless Guy” is a shameful thing, not on him, but on all Americans who have bought this bad deal.

from Dick, Dec. 31, 2013:

It appears that the comments have run their course, as always. As always, there is something to learn from each, whether agreeing or disagreeing.

The most powerful comments, doubtless, are those unexpressed: too close to the surface, too painful, too personal. There was one such comment yesterday at the end of which were some powerful words: “don’t print”. I didn’t, and won’t….

The homeless issue, like any issue, is not simple, and the closer one gets to the day-to-day work with it, including within ones own family, the more complex it gets, though the simple part is always the business of relationship, sometimes impossible to maintain.

I had no relationship context whatsoever with Sunday’s panhandler. His was the “storefront” I didn’t enter, but he did cause me to wonder.

Neither did I relate, as an usher, with the drunk street person who showed up at Mass on Christmas morning, full of Christmas cheer, there to celebrate some long ago memory, but by all appearances likely to interfere with a thousand or more others in the church in one way or another. The gentleman had no boundaries.

What to do?

Everybody was courteous with the gentleman, but one minute I looked and he was gone, most likely ushered out. For every one like him are a large number of others, seeking some kind of personal solace in the church, some very well disguised; some like the guy who quietly sat at the very back of the church, apart from everyone, his apparent wish, standing out, but not outstanding.

In my personal end analysis, with the homeless and the like, it comes down to trying to do a decent job of helping those who need help, wherever they happen to be on their personal journey. Top of the list has to be the most truly vulnerable, the children, and their mothers, and the mentally ill. But there are more as well for whom the family has to be “society” at large (it is called “government”): the people who have no lobby.

Back in 1981, when I was on the Board of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities, I heard the need powerfully expressed by the then-Director and legendenday Fr. Jerome Boxleitner. I and likely others thought his message was so powerful that it was reprinted, and I’ve kept a copy in my file ever since. Here is what he had to say, then: Mgsr Boxleitner 1982001

Have a Happy (and contributing) New Year.

from Kathy M, Jan 1:
The ramps off 35W to St. Joan’s are “staffed” regularly with a revolving group asking for money. I frequently feel conflicted…randomly though seldom give a dollar.

Good discussion with comments and your wrap up. Anyone must be fairly desperate. I always think it would be humiliating to beg.

#809 – Dick Bernard: The 1940 Census. An Advent Opportunity for Dialogue About Government and People Like Us and Relationships, generally.

Sunday, December 1st, 2013


Today is Advent for many Christian churches of the western tradition. Some would call it the beginning of the Christmas season culminating with Christmas Day, recalling the birth of Jesus.

At Midnight Mass, December 25, Luke 1:14 will be the Gospel reading. Here is the first part of the text, from my Uncle’s 1941 Bible:

(click to enlarge)

St. Luke, beginning of Chapter 2, from "The New Testament" St. Anthony Guild Press, 1941

St. Luke, beginning of Chapter 2, from “The New Testament” St. Anthony Guild Press, 1941

This is one of the very few times that a “census” is mentioned in the Bible, accompanying the final days of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of her son, Jesus.
A Thanksgiving note from someone I know very well caused me to look back at the 1940 census of a tiny North Dakota town in which we lived for nine years in the 1940s and 1950s. I had printed out the census some months ago just to see who lived there, then.

This time, a sentence in the note caused me to look at this census in more detail. “It’s great to have been raised in the rural upper midwest in a nuclear family of modest means but rich in an extended family, deep faith and devoted to getting up in the morning and going to work during a time when if you didn’t work you didn’t eat.”

This is an example of the “good old days” narrative I often see in those “forwards” of one kind or another: life was so good, then. There is room for a great deal of dialogue within that single sentence.

Reality was much more complicated.

1940 in the United States came at the end of the Great Depression, and before Pearl Harbor forced our entrance into World War II a year later. It was a time between, which people born from about 1930 forward experienced in full, from the disastrous Depression to victory in War (with over 1,000,000 American casualties, over 400,000 of these deaths; 50,000,000 World casualties overall).

Before the Depression came the disastrous World War I, and the following false prosperity of the Roaring 20s; after WWII came the Baby Boom beginning 1946. The first “Baby Boomer” turned 65 in 2011.

In 1940, Social Security was a baby. The Act passed in 1935; the first Social Security check was issued to an American in 1940.

I was born a month after the census taker knocked on my parents door in April 1940, so I personally experienced the time and the values through the experiences of my family and extended family. But I didn’t take time, until now, to get a little better view of who we were, back then.

I think the little North Dakota town I spotlight in 1940 was really a pretty typical slice of the U.S. population, then. Here it is:
272 was the population of the town
There were:
78 households
39 residents had the occupation “housewife”, a very hard job.
113 were employed in “industries” including:
23 in assorted kinds of government sponsored and paid relief as:
14 in WPA*, and 4 more in WPA related NYA*
4 employed in CCC*
1 employed in AAA*
3 were U.S. postal workers (federal government).
9 were employed by the local public school
6 were listed in the separate and distinct enclave of the Catholic Priest and Nuns and Housekeeper. For some reason, the census taker felt a need to separate this group from the remainder of the town population! It was as if these six were part of a separate town within the town.

100 of the people of the town – more than a third – had not been born in the state of North Dakota. Of the population, 26 had been born in 11 different foreign countries; 74 had been born in 16 different states.

And, not to forget, most of the population were children unable to fend for themselves.

If you’re counting, about a third of the working age population was in government employment in 1940.

One of five were on some kind of Federal Relief work projects. Much evidence of these projects still survives everywhere in our country.

The federal involvement in the towns welfare (in a real sense) was essential to the towns survival and the countries recovery from Depression. Of course, even then, some, including relatives of mine, disliked these programs as make-work for “loafers” (as one relative described them); and some detested FDR – it was as it was, then.

And now.

The debate rages similarly today, I suppose.

Looking back, I would say that the biggest difference between then and now was that in 1940 in small towns and neighborhoods everywhere, people were forced to have a greater sense of community. There was not much choice about being isolated. You lived with who was there, unlike todays increasingly fragmented world where we think we can live in our little pods and avoid responsibility for others, or escape some how or other bad times.

So be it.

It is something to consider, and talk about, this Advent season.

Remants of a 1934 CCC tree planting project in rural North Dakota, photo Sep 2013

Remants of a 1934 CCC tree planting project in rural North Dakota, photo Sep 2013

There are numerous links to talk more about any of these projects.
WPA – Works Progress (later Projects) Administration, established 1935
NYA – National Youth Administration, established 1935, within WPA
CCC – Civilian Conservation Corps, established 1933
AAA – Agricultural Adjustment Administration, established 1933, helped farmers survive the Depression

COMMENT from Rick B, Dec 2: Interesting Read….But, I think one of the key components that Dick misses is he only focuses on the “town” residents relative to the region “residents”. Small towns were the hub for all the rural local farmers which numbers where significant relative to the “town” residents. It certainly was the case during the 1960’s and sure it was the case in the 1940’s.

In the small town school I attended, farm kids outnumbered town kids 2/1.

Our town was around 300 population.

Hence, if you break down the demography of a small rural town community, it should be the entire community. Government and social worker percentage was not what Dick portrays.

RESPONSE from Dick Dec 3: Of course, ’tis true what you say. I could have printed out the census for the surrounding rural townships, but enough was enough for this post!

I was small town North Dakotan for my first 21 years, then came back and taught one year in small town ND, and I’m often back and forth…including a not so simple day of driving yesterday from LaMoure to suburban St. Paul. In fact, in this little town (and all the others we lived in) my Dad was Superintendent of Schools, and often my mother taught elementary as well.

I try to keep my posts within somewhat manageable length, and shorthand always leaves something to be desired.

I got close to expanding on the single Agricultural Adjustment Act person who, of course, impacted on probably all of the local farmers in a positive way. And I thought about bringing in the County Seat of the town which was also an important part of the network bringing the feds to the locals. As was the state, assorted agencies, etc.

My most important point, personally, was to remind readers of the “good old days” school of thought that back-in-the-day lots and lots of common folk depended on programs such as I described during the Depression and War years . The tragic and difficult times seem ‘edited’ out in “good old days” narratives.

In addition, this little town had (in relative terms) a large Catholic school which, as noted in the blog, seemed to puzzle the census taker, and was set apart as something of a town unto its own self. I went to that particular Catholic school for my first five years. (One other year, in another town, I also went to Catholic School, and five of the other years had either my Mom or Dad as one of the public school teachers. So, I sometimes note, I’m a product of Home and Parochial schools.)

Relationships in little towns could be very complicated, indeed, but in the end, usually, if someone experienced a crisis, most would chip in to help.

It was an interesting exercise to look through those eight pages of census data for Sykeston!

After writing the above, I happened across a fascinating television program about those olden days. It’s Jerry Apps Farm Story, and you can watch it on-line here. In my case, I saw it as part of a fundraiser for Minnesota Public Television. It was very interesting.

As I watched the storyteller remember his life on the farm, in context with my own life, and what I had just written, I came to think that these times, particularly the days of horse farming and World War II, were immensely difficult. Some would say they built “character”, but I doubt that even those hardy folks, the now elderly survivors, would recommend them to any one today, nor would many today accept those conditions for themselves. It is todays “illegals” and foreign sweat shop workers who bear the brunt of the backbreaking work and the risk so common in the “good old days”.

There is a pretty profound disconnect, I’d contend, in those who argue the “good old days”, but wouldn’t want to live in those same good old days again….
Then, a little later the same evening came a marvelous video about “Worn Wear”, well worth the 28 minutes watching time. The friend who sent it on, Shirley from Chicago area, included this note:

“Dear Friends and kindred spirits alike….

I can’t recommend this video enough! It is impressive on so many levels. Please take the time to watch it.

I hope you are able to find a few moments to watch this profound mission statement from a most reliable enterprise, Patagonia.

For all of us who try to reduce, re-purpose, patch and move towards leaving LESS of a footprint on the planet, I am asking you to pause and reflect. How many of us actually look at a used article of clothing and think about the stories behind the stuff we wear?

To quote just one gentleman in this video: Well worn clothing is like a journal.

Let us take the time to think about creating a simpler life as we embark upon the season of consumption and gift giving.

Watch WORN WEAR. As soon as you can.”

(I wrote Shirley back: my favorite winter coat is now over 30 years old. People who know me will attest…!)

#808 – Dick Bernard: Some thoughts on “Black Friday”

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Yesterday, Thanksgiving, was an especially good day. It included “An Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving” at Basilica of St. Mary co-officiated by Ministers of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, the Imam of Masjid Al-Imam, the Rabbi of Temple Israel and, of course, Pastor of Basilica of St. Mary.

It was an inspirational hour. One of the officiating clergy read, early on, a brief but highly inspirational poem, Otherwise, by Jane Kenyon.

“Otherwise” is a very powerful reminder not to take what we have for granted…and not to expect it to be permanent. In particular, note the final sentence of the poem.

(click to enlarge photos)

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

Pastors at the Interfaith Celebration of Thanksgiving at Basiiica of St. Mary Nov. 28 2013

At the Interfaith celebration.  500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

At the Interfaith celebration. 500 programs were printed, and they ran out long before the service began.

Of course, shortly before this years American Thanksgiving, there were two other happenings of great significance:
1) a breakthrough in the years-long stalemate between the U.S. and Iran signals a chance for progress. Of course, those whose power depends on enemies and potential war are not pleased, but I think the beginnings of an agreement is very good news indeed.
2) and Pope Francis I issued his highly publicized teaching, putting ‘meat on the bones’ of changing the tone of power in the Catholic Church. I haven’t read the entire document as yet; a friend who has, recommends it highly. You can access it here.

Then there’s “Black Friday” that uniquely American Exhortation to Shop to Achieve Business Success (“Profit”) during the “Christmas Season”.

Many have answered the call….

In my corner of the universe, the business Christmas Season began at my local coffee shop about November 1, when Holiday napkins first appeared, and the background muzak began to include a sprinkling of Christmas songs.

Today begins all-Christmas all-the-time, I suppose.

We’ll put up the tree next weekend, Cathy tells me, and it will be, as usual, nice, though it forces me to relocate my favorite chair. Oh well.

But for me the best “Christmas presents” of all have already been received, as noted above.

#804 – Dick Bernard: SOS Mn (Save Our Symphony MN) speaks out on day 415 of the Lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Roughly 100 of us attended a most interesting and informative presentation earlier this evening.

Presenters were from the recently formed organization SOS MN, Save Our Symphony MN. Mariellen Jacobson, MBA, Treasurer, and Johnathan Eisenberg, JD, Vice Chair presented a well produced power point presentation “The MOA Debacle: Unlocking the Truth”.

The entire presentation is accessible here and speaks clearly for itself. At the end of the presentation are a number of Conclusions and Call to Action requests.

The over 90 slides are worth at least a quick look and were accompanied by little editorial comment this evening. I believe the presenters attempted to be even-handed and in this they succeeded.

Here is a photo of the group in attendance this evening. We were glad we came. Consider making a donation to help this group continue its work. And stay in action yourself.

(click to enlarge)

SOS Mn presentation November 20, 2013

SOS Mn presentation November 20, 2013

The “filing cabinet” for all posts about the Minnesota Orchestra during the lock out can be found here.

UPDATE Nov. 21 Here is the Minneapolis Star Tribune news report on the meeting. The response is essentially as one would expect. Personally, I thought the presentors were very credible, and acknowledged that they were presenting on the basis of facts that they know (which were considerable). But one of the main problems, here, is the unknown: the information orchestra management has refused to divulge.

From Shirley L in Chicago: Alex Ross in the Nov. 25 edition of the New Yorker: The Minnesota Orchestra cancels and Hillary Hahn stages a festival: here.

From John G: Dick, I cannot thank you enough for this report. It is “spot on.” In my letters to the Musicians’ website, I had reached a few of the conclusions made by these two who are equipped (MBA and JD) to give us the best insight into financial and legal issues and options.

#801 – Dick Bernard: Obamascares. The Insanity of it all.

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Last night, while watching the Daily Blathers (some call it “evening news”; a good friend, yesterday, referred to it more precisely and accurately: “CBSNBCABCFOXCNN”), I set to the task of sorting through the paper flotsam and jetsam from my Uncle’s apartment in rural ND.

Like tens of thousands of others, yesterday, and over time, I was trying to sift and sort through mail, receipts, records, etc., that some friend or relative was no longer able to deal with, due to death, disability, or otherwise.

As I sorted, the blather on the evening news programs was about President Obama’s contrition about the (insert your own words) continuing rollout computer problems of (insert your own descriptor), otherwise officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

Just three days earlier my Uncle had made an undesired but necessary move from assisted living, his home in town for the last six years, to the nursing home down the hall. His stuff stayed behind for someone else to deal with: an oft-repeated story everywhere in this country, every day.

In one box was the specific reminder of why he and his sister moved to town in the first place:

Heart Surgery001

It was a folder given to him after successful open heart surgery in April, 2006. The surgery was the only reason he’s still alive, but (in his opinion) that surgery is held as the reason he never fully recovered and could not return to his lifelong occupation of farming. Whether this is so or not can be argued forever. Nonetheless, he held off the grim reaper for what is now an additional seven years. While he couldn’t farm, his general quality of life was pretty good. And at near-89, why should he still want to farm?

Of course, the surgery, and virtually all of the other medical costs for other dilemmas since then, have come under the protective umbrella of Medicare and supplemental benefits of North Dakota Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

What gave him the wherewithal to financially survive, indeed thrive, as an independent farmer was the Medicare program signed into law in the summer of 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. That earlier version of “Obamacare” was scorned then, too, as socialized medicine, and it was spared withering coverage by the “blathers” of the time by, likely, two main factors: 1) fewer and less technologically advanced news media outlets; and 2) media reporters who were more conscious of reporting news, as opposed to dispensing propaganda.

Now we are engaged in the great unCivil War of simply trying to implement a new imperfect insurance program (and even more imperfect computer program) that will cover more people more efficiently and effectively than the hodgepodge of legitimate and scam “insurance” that now faces America, and excludes from coverage tens millions of Americans, but not my only surviving Uncle and Aunt, who benefit from an assortment of programs which thankfully exist in their time of need.

We’ll get through this hysteria, I hope. For me, a survival strategy will be to quit watching the endless analysis, the faux news, about ACA, at least as portrayed on CBSNBCABCFOXCNN. It is all a bunch of dangerous nonsense.

In the same ‘sifting and sorting’ session last night, we watched an excellent special of CNN on the approaching 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Familiar faces appeared there: Walter Cronkite, Lyndon Johnson, on and on…. Just a short while ago CBS celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 30 minute evening news program inaugurated on CBS by Walter Cronkite in the year 1963. Oh, how things have changed.

COMMENTS: one in the comment box below, and the following as well
from Corky: Just finished my 5 year repeat “internal flushing” of the colon yesterday and apparently good news. Now as to the news pundits who state that all these citizens really like their insurance . Or like the movie , the way we were or something like it.Is America brain dead? When you look at medicare billing and the significant reduced cost by medicare administration and the really miniscule and late payments by the insurance carriers . A $200 Dr. office billing and medicare reduces to $70 and medicare supplement F pays less than $20 (3 months after office visit), shows me the system is very busted and hooray for any proposed changes to health care. Michael Steele GOP guru even said this morning that constructive changes need to be proposed by GOP legislators! Did I hear that comment correctly or am I hearing impaired?

from Tref D: Just a lot of hot air on all sides. Eventually I hope it will work out for many folks.

#778 – Dick Bernard: The Affordable Care Act, President Obama Cares

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Today at the gym I was treated to Sen. Ted Cruz doing his filibuster to supposedly protect Americans from the evil Affordable Care Act (called “Obamacare” by some).

Recently, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, for the 42nd time, I believe, voted to repeal Obamacare.

Those who follow this issue know the rest of the story behind these two symbolic – and very sad – actions, where ideologic rigidity and scarcely hidden hatred for the President drive decision making to attempt to destroy programs which will impact positively on everyone in this country.

Sen. Cruz, during his filibuster, spent time reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to his daughters, and expounding on the symbolism of Star Wars.

I know Cruz is young, but didn’t know how young (I decided to look him up): I have two children older than Cruz is. Dr. Seuss was a household staple in our house; when Star Wars came out in 1977, it was an instant addiction for my oldest son, and I took him to the first showing, and didn’t discourage him from attending the movie many times.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being young – years ago I was his age, too. But….

Up against the negative fantasies of Cruz et al, abuts a far more positive reality for the tens of millions of people of this United States who are about to have access to affordable health care. Apparently, this is seen as a threat to freedom: creeping socialism, which rhymes with communism, and is a synonym for evil amongst people who should know better, including those who have long reaped the benefits of Medicare and Social Security, or even of corporate and large employer medical care plans, and just don’t get it…and if the Tea Party has its way, will never get it.

So be it.

The people I don’t understand – well, I do understand, but it stretches credulity – are the young people (my oldest childs age – near 50 and down), who feel they don’t need health care, and don’t want to pay for somebody else’s medical problem.


Just a couple of hours ago a friend came up to me to tell me about another mutual friend, Tom, who’s healthy as can be, a professional tennis coach, and was doing his daily 20+ mile solitary bike ride yesterday. He stopped at a fast food place for a snack, and choked on the food. Long story short, he had no ID on him, an ambulance picked him up and took him to hospital. He’s in a coma, and the prospects of any kind of recovery at all are dim. It took some hours for his wife to find out why he was so late, or where he was. Likely she used another society institution, 911, or a call to the police department, another civic institution we hope never to have to encounter. They were her safety net in this metropolitan area of 3 million.

When this unknown man was picked up yesterday, there was no question about paying a bill. Our country doesn’t allow people to die on the street.

Maybe that’s why the cynical young say “I don’t have to pay for insurance; they’ll pay for me if I need it”.

Maybe they’re (very sadly) right.

But what if everyone had this selfish attitude?

I learned my lesson about insurance very early, two weeks after I got out of the Army in 1963.

My wife was a new teacher, then, and coincident with my return home she had to quit teaching due to an undiagnosed kidney disease which would ultimately take her life two years later.

I could have gotten hospitalization insurance before she was diagnosed, but “couldn’t afford it”. As it turned out, she was uninsurable even then. Her condition was, it turned out, almost life-long pre-existing. Back then, I learned about things like public welfare, and the role of the greater community as a protective umbrella.

Yes, there are people so selfish and cynical that it doesn’t occur to them to consider themselves part of society. Rather, they prefer to cling to the fantasy that they, and only they, are in charge of their destiny, and everyone else should have the same responsibility.


That’s how I see Ted Cruz Inc.

#776 – Dick Bernard: A letter to the Audience* of the Minnesota Orchestra

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

NOTE: The ongoing “parking lot” for all links regarding the Minnesota Orchestra is at August 30, 2013, here.

Ongoing information from the musicians point of view is here.

Outside Orchestra Hall, Sep 6, 2013

Outside Orchestra Hall, Sep 6, 2013

On Sunday, September 8, 2013, a full page ad appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, paid for by the Minnesota Orchestra Board, headlined “Eight Days Left. But We CAN Get This Done!”

By my count, “eight days” was yesterday. It’s not yet done.

I’m simply an audience* member. Here are a few thoughts for you, my colleagues, my fellow listeners and patrons of the Minnesota Orchestra.

Yesterday I took time to review the first e-mail from the Orchestra Board announcing what began 50 weeks ago, October 1, 2012. The e-mail was dated October 1, 2012, and in relevant part says: “Today we regret to report that…[w]ith no contract in place, the Minnesota Orchestral Association has suspended salary and benefits for musicians until a new agreement can be reached…we’ve made the decision to cancel concerts through November 25 [2012]….”

The entire e-mail is here: Mn Orch Oct 1, 2012001. It is useful to print it out and read it again, while keeping in mind that it is a perfectly written advocacy document for one side, unencumbered by other facts or opinions which might differ with the official conclusion the document was intended to convey to us: “it’s their fault”. Also remember, it was sent 352 days before today.

At the demonstration outside Orchestra Hall on September 6, one speaker most aptly noted that the organism that is the Minnesota Symphony is like a “three-legged stool”.

Coming from a rural North Dakota background, it caused me to think back to Grandma and Grandpa and Uncles and Aunts sitting on three legged stools milking the family cows. It is a rich memory – we even had occasional opportunities to practice when we visited.

The long empty barn, rural North Dakota, September 20, 2013

The long empty barn, rural North Dakota, September 20, 2013

Later this week I’ll be in that very barn. It is now essentially abandoned, awaiting the fate of all old barns.

But I digress.

The speaker noted a particular problem with the three-legged stool that is our Minnesota Orchestra.
1. One leg, the Orchestral Association, is omnipotent with all the benefits of what we traditionally call “power” in this society.
2. A second leg is the Orchestra itself, which is a union, which has sacrificed all, literally, to reach an equitable settlement. And then there is the…
3. …third leg, which includes we listeners in the seats; the “farm team” in youth band programs in schools everywhere; people and little kids who come with their parents to be introduced to great music by great musicians; people who for assorted reasons cannot come to hear the Orchestra in person, but love great music, etc. etc.

This third group, in assorted ways, seems powerless, or so would go conventional wisdom. We’re along for the ride…if invited (best I know, I’ve been dropped from the Orchestral Associations e- and mail list. Stay tuned….)

My ancestors, attempting to sit on a stool of our current model, while milking a cow, would encounter some difficulties. Maybe that powerless leg would fall off; or that dominant leg would demand all the attention…. It just wouldn’t work. Three legs are three equal legs.

So, here we are, Audience*. What to do?

We Audience members are basically invisible (or so it seems).

When I hear talk about the Audience*, the talk is not about those of us in the seats, but the empty seats. There could be an entire essay about this topic: where was the marketing to fill those seats? The point is, those of us in the seats don’t seem to much matter. Someday, they’ll open the doors, and we will come back….

We are, those of us who make up the Third Leg of the stool, far more powerful than we give ourselves credit for being. All we lack is the resolve to empower ourselves.

For myself, and I speak only for myself, I have resolved never to darken the door of Orchestra Hall again, until the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have ratified an Agreement on all terms and conditions. (This doesn’t count an interim “kick the can down the road” agreement – we know how those work in our Congress in Washington D.C.)

And I choose to be outspoken.

For you? Your choice.

But, please, refuse to be powerless.

* – Audience? Anyone who has ever attended, even a single time, a concert by the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, or anywhere else the Orchestra has performed.

So, how do I fit in?

1. Over the years, at bare minimum, we’ve been to 75 concerts by the Orchestra at Orchestra Hall, almost all in Row Four Center. Maybe we qualify as “average” – I don’t know. We saw some memorable ‘side’ events, live, from those seats in Orchestra Hall; the roses on the chair of a violinist who had recently died; Itzhak Perlman’s fall; Eije Oue conducting the Star Spangled banner at the beginning of the program in September, 2001.
2. We have attended other concerts of various kinds at various times, including during Sommerfest, and occasional public events in parks, including Sep 15 at Lake Harriet.
3. We came for the music, not for the Lobby, or the Cookies (though the caterers were certainly good!), or the coffee.
4. Of course, we parked, we ate downtown (usually at the Hilton). Orchestra day for us was usually at least six hours.
5. We supported the minstrel of the evening in the skyway; we occasionally bought tickets for others, including for one program which was cancelled.
6. As my wife would attest, I used intermission to wander around, to just see who was in those seats, out in the lobby. We were certainly not a cookie cutter bunch.
7. The list could go on. What are your memories? Your tradition? Your stand?

Dick Bernard Sep 12, 2013

Dick Bernard Sep 12, 2013

#752 – Dick Bernard: “Detroit”. The Minnesota Orchestra as Metaphor

Friday, July 26th, 2013

Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska February 3, 2013, performing a portion of their Grammy nominated performance, here.

Locked Out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Concert Oct 18, 2012, with Maestro Skrowaczewski

Locked Out Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra Concert Oct 18, 2012, with Maestro Skrowaczewski

July 23 and 24 I did two posts related to “Detroit” (see them here and here.) I put “Detroit” in quotes, since the word itself has become a useful hate word, a label: “look at THEM, failures…”

The issue, of course, is who “THEM” is defined as being.

The battle lines are now drawn, as to whose fault “Detroit” is: Capitalism itself; or the poor people of Detroit who, it is suggested, lacked the good judgement to have their city efficiently run by…Capitalists. I’ll let that debate rage on.

Meanwhile, here at home, largely unnoticed, the Minnesota Orchestra ten month Lock-Out by management (it is NOT a strike, as some suggest), is at a crisis stage. A Big Dog, George Mitchell, has been engaged to attempt to mediate a settlement within the next month or so. It is impossible to guess the outcome. But the conflict is in the news again, thankfully.

Disclosure: I’m a longtime Minnesota Orchestra fan and subscriber – a “listener” who pays plenty of money every year to hear world-class music in Minneapolis. Here’s my position, filed June 21 and occasionally updated since then.

So, what does Minnesota Orchestra have to do with “Detroit”?

More than a bit, I suggest.

The Twin Cities has been my home since 1965. And it has been a place to be proud of, a “Major League City” of over 3,000,000 residents.

“Major League”, of course, means Major League Basketball (1947), Football (1960), Baseball (1961), Hockey (1967), and Women’s Basketball (1999), and probably some other sports I’m not aware of.

In the Twin Cities, we apparently take “Major League” seriously.

And long before those sports, there’s been Major League Music, first known as the Minneapolis Symphony (1903, later renamed Minnesota Orchestra in 1988), whose last concert as an orchestra was over a year ago, and whose new “stadium”, a remodeled Orchestra Hall, particularly a fabulous new lobby, is supposed to open in September, perhaps without an Orchestra.

This Minnesota Orchestra, locked out, has been known as one of America’s five top tier Orchestra’s: the Minnesota, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago Symphonies.

Minnesota’s “Detroit” has come to be the unresolved dispute at the Minnesota Orchestra, and it is useful to consider the implications of the potential loss to this community if the Orchestra is downgraded.

Alan Fletcher, President and CEO of the prestigious Aspen Music Festival, on June 24, 2013, defined the four key players in an orchestra as follows: “musicians, donors, administrators, and listeners”. (His entire remarks are here. Note especially the three paragraphs beginning “Classical music in…”. He will be speaking here, in Minneapolis, across the street from Orchestra Hall on August 20. Details here.)

Of the four groups, I have been “listener” since 1978, and a small additional “donor” for quite a number of years. I gave when asked. (“Donors” in Fletcher’s context probably refers to the mega-buck folks who donate millions to the Orchestra endowment; “Listeners”, on the other hand, are the ones who fill the seats and pay substantial money for the privilege.)

In this four-cornered “quartet”, it occurred to me, it is the “listeners” who were not so much as asked for their opinion. Perhaps I missed the memo, but I do pay attention to such things.

And it is we listeners who pay a good share of the ongoing bills; the endowment from “donors” is a savings account, the nest egg to be used to help out for things like building the mega-bucks new lobby which, apparently, is more important than the music inside the hall.

In the case of the Minnesota Orchestra, it seems to me, it was the Administration, the big people unknown to listeners like me, who made all of the decisions that have put me and my colleague listeners out on the street for an entire year.

Sooner or later, this conflict will be settled – they always are. I reiterate what I said June 21: “I have taken my stand, as a listener: Until the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, through their Union, encourage me to return to Orchestra Hall or to Orchestra programs, I will not pay for nor attend any event at Minnesota Orchestra Hall, nor any other event scheduled by the current management or Board of the Orchestral Association.”

I may be just a “grain of sand”. But I am that….

October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012

July 27, 2013, The Lobby from 11th street...

July 27, 2013, The Lobby from 11th street…

...and from 12th Street

…and from 12th Street

#750 – Dick Bernard: “Detroit”

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

MORE: See followup post July 24, 2013, here.

For a long well-written summary of “Detroit” and (alternatively) “Pittsburgh”, check this. (I’ve been to Detroit several times between the 1960s and 1987; to Pittsburgh several times from the 1960s to 2011.)

In yesterday’s e-mails came a long and hideous recitation of the problems in “Detroit”. It was what I expected – the guy who forwarded it, forwards similar stuff frequently: a dozen hideous photos of destroyed places in Detroit, surrounded by an endless recitation of words like “corruption”; and helpful words like “illegals”, “Muslims”, “Mexicans”, “Sharia Law”…. “Detroit” is one scary place.

The preface to this “forward” apparently came from two, perhaps three, different people, exactly as stated:
“Maybe you’ve seen this one before. Pretty scary stuff…….L”;
“This may be construed as racism which is not the intent.The devastation of a once vibrant city in the US today is appalling….DETROIT IS THE FUTURE OF U.S. AND CANADA”
“After 5 Democratic Black mayors in a row [three are in jail and the other too have been indited] all for theft, fraud,lying and other meriad [sic] charges, what result would be expected?
The city is now in bankruptcy and now run by a bankruptcy chief appointed by the Michigan State Governor and the debtors will get 10 cents on the dollar.—D”

All the invective is to be expected, and typical of the venom sent around, e-mail box to e-mail box.

Granted, “Detroit” is a disaster, but far more complex than conveyed by racist invective. It is a very large example of a failure of far more than just a city or its citizens, as pointed out very well by Michelle in a comment at the end of this post.

As it happens, the guy who sent this to me graduated from the same tiny high school in the same tiny North Dakota town in the same year I did. We were classmates. In fact, both of us were in the same town a short time ago for a 100th anniversary of the local school, which has been closed for eight years, likely never to open again.

It was a nostalgic couple of days. There is an unexpected opportunity, now, to compare our little town with “Detroit”.

Our North Dakota town is typical of hamlets everywhere. Put together, they would equal or exceed “Detroit” of far-right legend: vacant buildings, etc., etc. There may not be the crime, but there is a logical reason for that: what self-respecting crook would waste their time in these tiny places? Maybe a meth lab in some abandoned country building, or such.

But these thousands of unfortunate little places share a great deal in common with Detroit. They are casualties of our “free market” system and their survival depends on the ever fewer people who live within their bounds, many of whom survive on hated things like Social Security and Medicare, and are in no way equipped to rehabilitate a disaster beyond their control.

The larger community, called State or Nation, has for all intents and purposes deserted them.

In the little town where my classmate and I were on July 6, there always was a single block Main Street with a few outlier businesses. When I returned there 55 years ago, there were, best as I recall, 13 businesses on that Main Street. Today there are two – at least I think there are two, there may be only one. (There were a few businesses on side streets years ago; all but one has disappeared today.)

The rest of the town is similar. The empty school, left to its own devices, as it likely will be since it is expensive to heat, even minimally, will just continue to deteriorate and ultimately become uninhabitable – just like many Detroit buildings.

While in my little town, I did an informal count, and it appeared that only a bit more than half of the buildings I knew as a youngster remained 55 years later.

There is no way up for this little town for which I, for one, have fond memories. And I think it’s a typical small North Dakota town.

It is really no different than Detroit, except that it is small and anonymous….

As for “Detroit”, it has become a stock hate word for overtly racist commentary like the forward I received.

Read Michelle’s comments, below the photo, and give this some thought.

We all, in one way or another, have helped create Detroit, and my little town….

(click to enlarge – this photo is from another little town in which I once lived.)

A decaying North Dakota public school, 2007.

A decaying North Dakota public school, 2007.

Comment from Michelle, July 23, 2013:
I lived and worked in the heart of African American communities in St. Louis during the late 80’s-early 90’s. And like a good liberal, white Minnesotan, tried to make positive changes in an urban city that, while not as bad as Detroit, had and still has it’s share of challenges – it’s still the murder capital of the midwest. Like St. Louis, Detroit is surrounded by super-wealthy suburbs that exist in isolation with no “metropolitan planning commission” like we have here in MN. Again, I would say that here in MN, while people sometimes feel the Metro Planning Commission seems meddlesome, our good government nature here has allowed our communities to thrive by helping to balance resources regionally vs. let cities battle it out on their own.

My perspective is this – like what I experienced in St. Louis, everyone is to blame for Detroit – This is not some “bad Republican corporate white man problem.”

The State of Michigan should have put a regional planning and development commission together a long, long time ago.

The business community should have diversified from automobile dominance many, many years ago.

The unions should have worked harder to disassociate themselves from the “mob” and other illegal activities that still plague the biggest unions.

African American communities should have worked harder to find and groom strong, moral leaders who when they got their chance at running Detroit, which many, many did, could have been more effective in representing the true needs of the community.

And “liberals” like us on this email blog… could and should remember that business is not all evil – we need to champion strong companies to fuel our inner cities and speak out against corruption in the unions when we see it as well.

On issues this big – the complete collapse of a major American city – we all share blame and it’s a wake-up call for the future.

#739 – Dick Bernard: Celebrating N. American Country Relationships at the Canadian Consul-Generals Home, June 26, 2013

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Ours is an extraordinarily complex society which, perhaps defensively, too often retreats into shorter-than-shorthand descriptors to describe ourselves and others.

So, one says “Canada” and it means something, as does “Mexico”, or “NAFTA”, or on and on and on. Snap judgments often based on little information cause all of us serious problems.

Thus, it was a privilege to view for a moment, yesterday afternoon, positive relationships between neighbor countries on a Cedar Lake shore lawn, hosted by the Minneapolis Consul-General of Canada and his spouse, Jamshed and Pheroza Merchant. The occasion was an early celebration of Canada Day, and the specific purpose, per the invitation, “for a special tribute to Canada-U.S.-Mexico cooperation, from twenty years of NAFTA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Like any negotiation, these agreements are imperfect, but better than no agreement at all. They provide some “rules for the road” to trade relationships, and they are constantly being reviewed and, likely, re-negotiated.

(click to enlarge photos)

Canada Consul-General Jamshed Merchant, Minneapolis, June 26, 2013

Canada Consul-General Jamshed Merchant, Minneapolis, June 26, 2013

Perhaps I was invited to attend because I am “French-Canadian” representing a fledgling organization “French-America Heritage Foundation (F-AHF)“. The words hardly begin to define the complexity – there are hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans who share in one way or another French-Canadian roots, and many more whose roots are directly from France, or have as native tongue the French language, or interest in same. I am only one.

Then you expand this to the word “French” and it becomes far more complex still. My friend and fellow F-AHF Board member Francine Roche, Quebecoise, also at the gathering, could discuss this complexity at a much deeper level than I.

Suffice to say that on that lawn we heard representatives of Canada, Minnesota (the U.S.) and Mexico speak of the trade relationship between their three countries which this year involves over $1 trillion dollars in economic activity this way and that. I saw this relationship this afternoon in the local Toyota dealer while having my car repaired. The new car stickers invariably cited where the car components were made and assembled, mostly U.S. and Canada (“U.S./Canada”) and Japan….

We might pretend we are omnipotent: “the United States”. As one of the speakers described us, for them it is like “sleeping next to the giant”, but the relationships are far more complex than that, going back many years, transcending that hideous wall of separation along the Mexican border that supposedly is needed to resolve the illegal immigration question in our congress; or the much more benign symbol of international friendship, the Peace Garden between North Dakota and Manitoba, which goes back to the 1930s.

Several handouts at the gathering help define the terms, especially U.S. and Canada, and I’ve attempted to reduce them to readable pdf’s, as follows:
1. Canada-U.S. Partnership Map:Canada-U.S.001
2. Celebrating the Canada-Minnesota Partnership: Canada-U.S. Brochure001
3. Minnesota-Canada-U.S. Brochure: Canada-Minnesota001
4. NAFTA Works, from the Trade and NAFTA office, Mexico’s Ministry of the Economy: Mexico-U.S.-Canada002

In addition to Mr. Merchant, great weather, fine wine and magnificent food, those of us in attendance heard interesting remarks from representatives of the respective countries.

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon spoke of the close relationship we share with our neighbors to north and south; as did Alberto Fierro Garza, brand new Consul of Mexico in St. Paul; and Mr. Lyle Stewart, Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture.

Boundaries may divide us, but in so many ways, we are all part of North America, and indeed, of the entire planet. And I felt honored to be part of the gathering to see this demonstrated.

In our nation and world the political issue will continue, but we are lucky to have people in all countries who can see beyond differences and the short-term, and view the greater good of all.

Here are a few photos from yesterday:

MN Lt Gov Yvonne Prettner Solon June 26, 2013

MN Lt Gov Yvonne Prettner Solon June 26, 2013

Consul for Mexico in St. Paul, Alberto Fierro Garza June 26, 2013

Consul for Mexico in St. Paul, Alberto Fierro Garza June 26, 2013

Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture Lyle Stewart June 26, 2013

Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture Lyle Stewart June 26, 2013

Listening to speakers at the Canada Consul-Generals lawn party June 26, 2013

Listening to speakers at the Canada Consul-Generals lawn party June 26, 2013

Cathy Bernard and Francine Roche at the Consul Generals gathering June 26

Cathy Bernard and Francine Roche at the Consul Generals gathering June 26