The unlearned lesson

Institutions have a bad habit of not learning lessons. The unlearned lessons may even be from their own history, yet they go unlearned or unheeded. Examples continue to pile-up like a stack of unread reports or emails.

To compile just a short list of such examples, consider the following organizations and what each failed to learn: the Catholic Church, Toyota, VW, Wells Fargo, Penn State University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Congress and the current President just to name a few.

The Catholic Church has known about a significant problem for many decades with pedophile priests. Yet, protecting the institution was the first motivation, not stopping the abuse of children. Even after major scandals occurred in Boston and Ireland, signicant change did not occur to prevent future molestations.

The unlearned lesson is you focus on the abused as you fix the problem, not protecting the institution. When you address the problem openly and painfully, that is how you protect the institution. Cover-ups eventually fail, because the truth has a way of getting out.

Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State are major universities and sports marketing franchises. Leaders within Penn State and Michigan State have known for years that there was a sexual predator in their midst. Yet, they chose not to act, trying to hide it from the public. As a result, more young boys, girls and teens were molested. By not addressing the problem, they brought appropriate shame to their marketing brands.

Ohio State has a similar issue with a physician who worked with the wrestlers. It has been known for years by athletes and coaches to avoid this doctor due to his practice of checking for testicular cancer for any visit, such as the flu, cold, fever, etc. Yet, nothing was done until several men came forward about their experiences.

For-profit companies are notoriously protective of their brands, but the better solution is to come clean and remedy the problem. Toyota was very slow on their floor rug braking problem. VW purposefully cheated emissions tests and were very slow to fess up after discovery. Many car companies who used Takata air bags also were slow to reveal a massive and deadly problem.

But, it is not just car companies. Banks and financial entities have experienced issues with aggressive and even illegal sales practices. Wells Fargo has justifiably gotten a lot of press for setting up false accounts as staff tried to keep jobs and earn bonuses. Bank of America and American Express have been fined for selling products and services that people did not request or need. And, pay-day lenders have a business model of excessive usury.

Even our governments have a hard time learning lessons. When the incumbent dishonors the office, the institution must penalize the incumbent. It matters not what party the incumbent belongs to. This applies to local, state and federal levels of government. It must apply to Congress and the White House. The punishment can vary from formal rebuke to censoring to removal from committees or from office.

Trust in institutions has waned. Some of this mistrust is due to hyperbole, such as what the current President has done to protect himself, but much is due to institutions not dealing with problems openly and appropriately. It also is due to them being more concerned with image than substance.

On this latter point, another unlearned lesson is the best way to keep your job is to do your job. And, when others don’t and/ or harm people, the institutions should fix the problem and let people know that they have. It is the right thing to do and avoids covering up and abetting criminality.

Three Current Movies worth seeing

I just completed watching a triumvirate of movies that deal with three uphill battles against institutions, where the latter had either harmed or took advantage of others. These movies are based on true stories and are worth our time to learn from what corruption can do and how hard it is to fight and expose it.

The three movies are “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” and “Concussion.” I will give you a glimpse of each below, without stealing too much thunder. It is hard to avoid being a spoiler, as these stories are more widely known at this point. But, some of the challenges and stories beneath the corruption are not public knowledge.

Spotlight

The more sober of the three movies, but extremely well done, is the pursuit of a series of stories by reporters within a special investigative unit of The Boston Globe called Spotlight. This unit ties together what turns out to be a significant cover up of pedophile priests in the Boston area. This story helped shine a spotlight on a much bigger problem that was not restricted to Boston.

It has an excellent ensemble cast with Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel MacAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan and Stanley Tucci. Tucci, in particular, is excellent as an attorney who is painted eccentric, but is the stalwart behind the kids who have been abused. And, the young adults who played the abused kids as adults are marvelous.

The movie will have the feel of “All the President’s Men,” as a team with support from the Editor try to get the story right before they go public. It is what good journalism represents and what is missing in so many places today.

The Big Short

This movie was directed by a comedy director, Adam McKay, based on the book by Michael Lewis on four groups of people who saw the housing meltdown in the US coming and tried to warn others. When they were laughed at, they helped the same bankers create an insurance product that would, in essence, allow them to short the market before it fell. They were laughed at in doing this as well and the banks gladly took their premiums.The one problem for the big bankers and investment community is these guys were right.

The movie has an all star cast with Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Marisa Tomei and Finn Wittrock plus several other good performances. Since the topic could be very dry, the director, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Randolph, peppers the film with a few cameos to explain what is going in layperson’s terms. Pitt serves as the conscious of the movie when he tells the guys not to celebrate too much as their gain means people will lose their homes and jobs.

Many parts of the industry are not shown in a favorable light, nor should be. From aggressive mortgage sales people who sold complex mortgages to people who did not fully understand them because they made more money off them to lenders who packaged high risk mortgages together and then sold them to investors to the rating agencies who sold their ratings for market share growth, there are many who are at fault. Of all of these groups, I have always held the rating agencies as the most blameworthy, as we trusted them the most.

Concussion

This is the movie the NFL did not want people to see. Just like the Catholic Church with abused kids, the NFL leadership covered up knowledge about their concussion problem. The also went to great lengths to discredit a Nigerian born pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who had significant other credentials, when he discovered that trauma from football eventually took the life of Mike Webster, a retired Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Will Smith plays Omalu quite convincingly, with key roles played by Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, Adewale Akinnuoye, Luke Wilson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Mbatha-Raw plays Omalu’s wife and you may remember her from “Belle” and “Larry Crown.” Morse does an excellent job as Webster, showing what transpired following his career. But, the movie is about Smith and his excellent portrayal of Omalu.

Each of these movies shows what corruption can lead to. The Catholic Church and NFL were both more interested in protecting their institutions than considering the victims. The Church preyed on its faithful flock to remain silent while they moved pedophile priests around. The NFL was more interested in band aiding its players while they served their game’s interests, then abandoning these men when they needed help. The players were unaware that their brains were being harmed as much as they were.

The financial sector also preyed on people through greed and arrogance. People were selling and trading stuff they did not fully understand and people were being harmed. Countries were being harmed. As a result, their bossed did not fully understand the risk, nor did their shareholders. Nor did the regulators.

Why does it take a Bennet Omalu, team of reporters or savvy investors to uncover the truth. These are the modern day “Erin Brockovich” with different institutional targets. If you have seen these movies, let me know your feedback. If you have not, I would still love your opinions.

 

I must confess Saint Popes don’t excite me

There has been a significant amount of hoopla over beatifying two recent, long serving popes as saints. It is the first time two popes have been so honored at one time and also in front of two living popes. This may not happen again. I must confess I am not too excited about this event for a key reason. While I think Pope Francis is a wonderful new leader of a church that had lost its way and is focusing on helping those in need and the two new saints were good men, the new saints failed to do something significant that was harmful to many. To me, it is hard to call men saints when they let pedophilia of the worst kind continue unchecked under their watch when they had an awareness of its repeated occurrences.

You will note I have not mentioned their names as they are getting enough wonderful treatment for all of the good things they have done. And, they did. Yet, if you have not seen the documentary movie “Mea Maxima Culpa” I would encourage you to watch it. This movie will highlight that these popes did have an awareness of the pedophilia going on under their tutelage and failed to act to stop it. In essence, their actions showed they were more concerned about the church and priests, than the countless children who were raped time and time again. A link to a post I wrote a few months back on this movie follows: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/mea-maxima-culpa-piety-does-not-trump-criminality/

I am certain pedophilia has been going on in the church for a long time, but what makes the last sixty years different, is the practice was becoming more apparent. One of the violated children from a school for the deaf in Milwaukee eventually sued the Catholic Church. In “Mea Maxima Culpa,” you learn that his repeated rape was known for ten years before the lawsuit was filed and no action was taken. When a religious figure violates his oath to serve others and harms innocent (and in this case deaf) children who do not have a loud enough voice to fight back during or after the rape, it offends me in the greatest way. I should add there is a similar school for deaf children in Italy near the Vatican, where the same kinds of atrocities occurred.

So, yes these popes did wonderful things. Yet, to call them saints, when they did not act to help many children who needed them, does not seem appropriate.

 

Message to GM, Duke Energy and Toyota – If you only listened to a couple of us

Having witnessed the new CEO of GM, Mary Barra, testify before Congress yesterday regarding GM’s failure to remedy problems they knew about, I am moved by a comment from one of the mothers whose child died behind the wheel of a malfunctioning GM car in 2009. Paraphrasing the mother’s comments, “if they only listened to one or two of us, these other people would not have had to die.” I cannot find a more apt quote to surmise how many feel.

In fairness to Barra, she was not in charge of GM until this year, but she needs to get to the bottom of this and rebuild people’s trust. What we did learn yesterday is GM changed a part in one car model without changing the part number to track if it would be successful, which is unheard of. In other words, they tried to sneak a change in to limit risk. This is malfeasance on top of the decision not to heed warnings and fix something. People did not have to die.

GM’s woes follow closely on Toyota being fined $1.2 Billion for its covering up of accelerator problems. Toyota’s handling of this issue was extremely poor, at best, and it is not over. Several managers may face criminal charges for ignoring the cautions and requests of subordinates to fix the problem. Driving a run away car with an acceleration issue led to deaths and accidents. People did not have to die.

Not to be outdone, Duke Energy, who had a stellar reputation up until the late 1990s until it made some poor acquisitions and accounting issues tainted its image, decided to forego fixing problems with coal ash ponds after being sued last spring by several environmental groups. These coal ash ponds are near waterways, as the coal ash has to be kept wet so the pollutants in the ash don’t blow into the water and people’s lungs. Some of these waterways actually provide drinking water to local communities. Instead, Duke chose to work with a friendlier state agency and governor, who used to be employed by Duke and agreed to settlement of $99,000 (which is a tad shy of Toyota’s fine) and to fix the problem on their time. Now they have had a coal ash spill and some other leaks to contend with. No one has died as of yet, but drinking polluted water is not good for people’s health.

These issues are on the heels of Penn State not addressing a sexual predator scandal in its midst and it becoming more known that the Catholic Church has been covering up for sexual predators among its priests for years. I mention the sex scandals as well, as all of these issues relate to one key theme – leadership caring more about their image than their customers and people who have trusted them.

“If they had only listened to one or two of us, these other people  would not have had to die.” If they had listened to the first voices in the sex scandals, others would not have had to be raped by a priest or Jerry Sandusky. If Duke had only heeded the warnings and lawsuits, they could have been ahead of the problems, rather behind them. Leaders need to lead, not protect their hind end or organizational image. Hopefully, Barra can steer GM better toward being more trustworthy. Hopefully, Pope Francis can continue to rebuild the trust in the Catholic Church. Hopefully, Duke can remedy their failure to act. Hopefully, Toyota and Penn State have learned their lessons. You owe this to us. And, it is time we start demanding it.

Note: My friend Barney has an excellent post on GM which can be found with the attached link. http://mountainperspective.wordpress.com/2014/04/02/is-general-motors-good-for-america/comment-page-1/#comment-3513

 

Holy Smoke – Cardinals atop a burning platform

There is an old business saying it is easier to make organizational changes if the organization is on top of a burning platform. The thesis is it is much harder to change an organization that is running OK and it is far easier when the deck is ablaze as you know you must do something. The black smoke/ white smoke analogy of letting people know about the status of the Cardinals’ decision to elect a new Pope is apropos. Yet, I do not believe the Cardinals are cognizant of the burning platform they are sitting on. Nor do the American Catholics, at least per the surveys that have been recently conducted. I presume the Americans are not outliers on this issue either.

From my vantage point, the Catholic Church is very close to being in a death spiral. Per the post I wrote a two months ago before the Pope’s decision to resign called “Mea Maxima Culpa – Piety does not trump Criminality” I referenced the movie “Mea Maxima Culpa” which breaks your heart and trust in the church leadership. This breach of trust by the leadership of the church (which went to the very top) is the greatest issue facing the church. The only thing that can save the church is its membership and leaders who care about its members more so than the preserving a dinosaur of an institution.

But, this is not just my opinion. A survey conducted by Quinnipiac University of American Catholics said largely the same thing. The survey spokesperson said “Looking at adult Catholics, we see a conflicted group.”  As will be noted below, these Catholics disagree with the church leadership on a number of issues. And, the response of the church to say “we do things the way we do, as we have always done them that way” is not necessarily true.

It would be judicious of the Cardinals to vote for someone who can make sweeping changes, but that is unlikely to occur. To be frank, a number of the red-clad voters are less than pristine in their personal conduct and leadership. What should be changed to stave off the death spiral must include addressing the following issues.

Pedophilia – the Church leadership must address this issue in a much more abrupt way. It is past time. When the incumbents dishonor the role and are harmful to its members, you must take action. These are criminals. The church brand has been greatly harmed by the leadership’s failure to act. I believe it is a New York Times/ CBS survey that said 78% of Catholics disapprove of the church’s handling of this issue.

Married Priests – one way to address this going forward is to allow priests to be married. This will open up the market for more candidates for priests. I also think they would be better advisors if they were married. When the church says we have always done it this way, that is not true. Priests were married well into the 15th century and this is after it the marriages were made invalid in 1123 by Pope Calixtus II. I find it interesting, there was a caveat that said the priest could remain married provided he signed over his estate to the church and not his children. I will let you render your own judgment on that caveat. The Quinnipiac survey noted that 62% of American Catholics agree and believe priests should be married.

Women Priests – this issue is way overdue. Being a man, who said that priests would be better if they were male? Of course, a group of old men in red suits said that. Women are well deserving of being priests and would bring a different and good perspective of stewardship and outreach to those in need. It is not incoincidental that the “Nuns on the Bus” are criticized by the church leadership for “being too focused on helping the poor, while remaining silent on abortion.”  On CBS News last night, Victoria Fleming, a cantor for Our Lady of the Brook Church in Northbrook, Illinois said “I think women are highly capable and able to manage the emotional and practical needs of the organization.” The Quinnipiac survey said 62% of American Catholics agree and support female priests.

Birth Control – Dr. Everett Koop, who just passed away, as Surgeon General of the US set his personal feelings aside, and made a campaign for the use of condoms and other birth control. He said he is doctor first and saw this as a means to save lives.To be frank, the Church’s position on birth control has actually resulted in more deaths around the world. The posturing has prevented the wide-spread distribution of condoms and AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases have gone up when the Pope has made this an issue. This is important in its own right, but most people support the use of birth control and many Catholics ignore the church on this. The Quinnipiac survey said 64% of American Catholics believe the church should overturn in its ban on birth control. I would like to see the demographic breakdown on this issue, as I would guess it is much higher with women in child-bearing ages.

Inclusion – This is my pet peeve for all religions to do better at. Religions have to be inclusive and not exclusive. They have to embrace the diversity of others. Of all churches, the Catholic church should understand this. If you look at the racial and ethnic diversity of its global membership, it is very impressive. Yet, they need to not push people away with postures that do not jive with the membership. They need to embrace all and not shun people away because of their sexual preferences or other contrarian beliefs to those of the church.

Lack of Transparency – This final issue would get at some other major problems. The church has done itself a disservice by being so opaque in its dealings. They come across as Machiavellian more so than St. Peteresque. More transparency would do this organization wonders and would let some of the bad eggs be weeded out. And, from what we have witnessed, there are some bad eggs voting on the new Pope.

So, I hope the Cardinals can come to a conclusion that will help them make the changes necessary for them to survive. If they choose someone like the retired pope who embraced the history and institution more than the members, then they will continue the approaching death spiral. As the church membership does so much good for many, I pray they come to a decision that will anoint a change agent. And, he will need a lot of water to put out the burning platform.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Piety does not trump criminality

My wife and I watched last night one of the most disturbing film documentaries we have ever seen, “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.” Alex Gibney directed the documentary which talks with many witnesses in many countries about how priests routinely molested young boys for years with impunity. That is disturbing in its own right. Yet, the evidence is very compelling that the actions of these priests have been known for years at the highest levels in the Vatican, and efforts to take action were actually thwarted from Rome.

It is now available on-demand through HBO and I encourage each of you to watch Mea Maxima Culpa (which means through my very great fault). If you are raised a Catholic like my wife, the documentary will both break your heart and trust as well as making you furious that pious people would let this happen and then cover it up. If you are a parent, this documentary will break your heart even more. You see, in addition to raping hearing children, the priests preyed on deaf children who could not easily communicate with others what was wrong.

This is how the story of the molestations broke, as deaf boys, who attended St. John’s School of the Deaf in Milwaukee, had been molested for years by a priest named Father Lawrence Murphy. As adults, when no one would heed their pleas including the police, other priests, bishops, archbishops and even a Cardinal, they began putting wanted posters on car windshields with the Father’s picture and name on them. This was in 1972. People used to believe this was isolated to America, but Ireland had a huge scandal over priest molestation and the church handled it so poorly, the Irish government in a very Catholic country had to call the church on the carpet for tolerating pedophiles. Even in the shadows of the Vatican, a deaf school in Italy had the same issues as St. John’s in Milwaukee. And, stories of molestation have been and are being reported in many other countries and in the US, such as what is transpiring on Los Angeles and over time in Boston, where a significant sum of money was used to settle cases.

Yet, what the documentary reveals as even more troubling, is the Vatican has known about pedophile priests for years with some evidence going back to Spain in the year 400. And, to make it even worse, the current Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had all pedophile cases reporting into him. So, for some time, Ratzinger has had full awareness of the priests who were molesting children and led in the cover-up and attempted rehabilitation of the priests. You see, the problem was so significant, the church had a program to try to rehabilitate priests who were molesting children. Yet, the leader of the program wrote that it was his belief you cannot change pedophiles from preying on children and they need to be removed from their duties. His opinion was overruled by higher-ups in the Vatican and the rehabilitated priests were sent back to their parishes or to other parishes to molest again.

What also was revealed in the investigative stories is a contradiction that the US Archbishops did nothing. While they could have done much, much more and deserve a lot of blame, some begged Rome to let them take action and did so in writing. Yet, the Vatican would not let them do so out of good faith to a fellow priest. The troubling part to many of the reporters who were interviewed, some of whom follow the Vatican closely, was how certain church leaders focused more on the priests and saving the image of the church rather than the kids. The Archbishop in Ireland was caught on camera saying he is very busy in response to why he has not gone to see the victims and their families.

The Catholic Church has done an amazing amount of good for many in the world. We should not lose sight of that. The people who make up the church have donated time, energy and money/ goods to help those in need. And, for the number of priests who have done these evil things, there are countless others who do so much good.  Yet, these good-hearted Catholics deserve more than this from their leaders. I feel for the nuns and priests who have devoted their lives to the church to have their leaders breach the trust and faith of so many. I feel for those many parishioners who have the constancy of faith to keep them going to see them now have to question their spiritual guides. The position of priest is so important in the church, when the incumbent shames the role, they need to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. In these cases, piety does not trump criminality.

These pedophile priests are criminals and need to be prosecuted. They are actually worse than normal pedophiles as they betrayed the lofty trust placed in them and abused their authority as well as the rights of the victims. There are some who have called for Ratzinger (I cannot refer to him as pope at this point) to be tried for his crimes of cover-up. To know priests have done these horrible things and to not have taken action is criminal. One of the victims in Milwaukee has actually sued the Vatican without much success, yet he did bring suit against them. However, he gave up on his suit and recently joined with some other cases to get restitution for other victims and to prevent it from happening to future victims.

Unfortunately, it continues to happen. While these issues are of such great concern, the church continues to grow in South America and other parts of the world. A reporter who was chastised for her role in breaking the story, noted these countries are where America was on this issue back in the 1960’s. The victims dare not accuse a priest as they would not be a good Catholic. Their communities would quiet them just as the boys in Milwaukee were not heeded, even after they became adults.

I encourage you to watch this film. It will disturb you. We cannot tolerate letting people, but especially leaders, prey on children. And, it is even more paramount if the leaders are religious ones. They have a level of trust that makes it worse when it is breached. If we suspect something, we need to go to the police. To do otherwise, lets a pedophile harm another. To apprise the church would likely lead to more cover-up and denial than action. And, it does a disservice to all the wonderful priests who earn people’s trust every day. Most importantly, do it for the children. If we always remember that, we know the path, while hard, is the more righteous one.