February 17, 2018

The Challenge of Being in a Service Business

Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.

Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.

At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.

The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.

I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.

I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.

February 10, 2018

The Death of a Special Christ-Like Priest

Georgette and I met on August 4, 1978, when we were both 21 years old. We were married in June 1980, while I was on break from law school. Ten months later, in March 1981, we had our first child, Harry. I graduated from law school in May of the following year.

We moved back to Peoria during the summer of 1982. At that time, Georgette was pregnant with our second child, Anna. I started my law practice in January 1983, and Anna was born the following month. We had our third child, Maria, 13 months later, in March 1984. When Maria was born, I was 26 years old.

It was during this period of time that my mom and my sister Colleen started commenting about how I had become too serious and I needed to lighten up. Colleen is a year and a half younger than me, and of my eight sisters, she was the one I was closest to while we were growing up.

When my mom and sister told me that I had become too serious, I hadn’t realized that my behavior had changed from the young, carefree guy who liked to have a good time and tease other people to an older guy who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of life.

But I wasn’t bothered by their comments about my being too serious. To me, that was what responsible adults did — they grew up and did their best to care for and support their families. In some respects, my mom and my sister were correct. My newfound responsibilities made me feel overwhelmed. At times, I felt as though I was doing well just to keep my head above water. Georgette and I had three babies in three years — Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday — and I was doing my best to support my family while managing my law practice.

Now, more than 30 years later, Georgette and I have 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. I’m still serious, but I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in years. I’ve given myself permission to lighten up and revert to my childhood when I’m around my grandchildren. Their parents sometimes get irritated with me because they think I get their children riled up too much. But that’s OK with me, because I’m finally able to do what my mom and my sister wanted me to do all those years ago.

February 3, 2018

A Dream & The Greatest Showman

I recently joined my wife and some of our children at a local theater to see the movie, The Greatest Showman. The movie is a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum. It begins when Barnum is a boy. He is the son of a poor tailor who does work for a wealthy man. The man looks down on Barnum and his father, because of their lower-class status.

Barnum is a fun-loving boy who is infatuated with the wealthy man’s daughter. The man knows that Barnum likes his daughter and makes it clear to Barnum that he’ll never be good enough for her. After that, the daughter is sent to finishing school for several years. While she is away at school, she and Barnum continue to keep in contact by writing letters to each other.

Years later, when the daughter returns home from school, she is reunited with Barnum. They end up getting married and starting a family. After borrowing money from a local bank, Barnum buys an old museum building in downtown Manhattan. He then sets up Barnum’s American Museum, which showcases wax figures.

After struggling to make his new business work, Barnum’s children tell him that instead of featuring wax figures, he needs to have characters who are “alive.” Barnum likes the idea and begins searching for and hiring “freaks” to serve as performers. As he is rounding up his new cast of characters, Barnum sings the unique and mesmerizing song, Come Alive.

As Barnum’s new show gains popularity in New York, a reporter for the New York Herald is highly critical of Barnum and his “freak show.” The reporter’s columns about Barnum and his show stir up trouble among certain people in the community, including the upper-class members of the community.

To enhance his reputation with the upper-class, Barnum convinces Philip Carlisle, a local playwright from a wealthy family, to join him in his business. To raise Barnum’s status, Carlisle arranges a trip to Europe for Barnum and his cast of characters to meet Queen Victoria.

January 27, 2018

Why is That Church in a Music Video?

I’ve written before about how I was involved in music during my high school and college years. When I was a senior in high school, I formed a barbershop quartet with three of my friends. I did the same thing in college. While my high school quartet had a limited number of performances, my college quartet performed at several community functions and events.

I’ve always been a big fan of quartets and other a cappella groups. One of the groups that I currently pay attention to is Home Free, an American a cappella singing group that consists of five young men. Home Free got its big break in 2013, when it won a competition on the NBC television show, The Sing-Off. The grand prize that year was $100,000, plus a recording contract with Sony.

Last month, Home Free performed at the Peoria Civic Center. Georgette and I attended the show with some friends. My favorite Home Free song is How Great Thou Art. The music video of the song is posted on YouTube. The video has generated more than 13 million views.

In the video, the group is standing on a hill that is surrounded by several hundred acres of land. The scenery in the background includes cascading slopes and mountains. The beautiful harmony of the group is matched by the gorgeous land that surrounds them. The only building in the video is a small country church, which shows up in a field near the end of the video.

I have the video saved on an iPad that sits on a stand on my bathroom counter. Ordinarily, when I’m in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for work, I use the iPad to play educational, self-improvement, or religious recordings. In the evening while I’m getting ready for bed, I usually use the iPad to listen to music.

My son, Harry, and his wife Kathryn live about five minutes away from where my wife and I live. Because they live so close to us, they’re able to stop by our house to visit on a regular basis. Whenever they stop by for a visit, their two oldest sons, Harry and Liam, immediately start looking around the house for me. Harry is 5 years old and Liam is 3 years old.

January 20, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Practice Patience?

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.

Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?

But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.

I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.

Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.

Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.

January 13, 2018

The Difficulties That Arise After Years of Marriage

Last week, I wrote about a couple who was having financial problems because of the husband’s inability to work. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the article:
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.

Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?

When couples get married, there’s always great hope for the future. With that hope comes the expectation that they will be able to work out all their problems. There is also an expectation that they will someday be able to overcome whatever bad habits or deficiencies they have.

Unfortunately, as each year passes, nothing really changes. Husbands and wives stop making the effort that is required to please each other. It’s almost as if they’ve been through too much together. They’re worn out and exhausted. They’ve run out of patience.

I’ve written before about a saying that is common in the business world: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This saying stands for the proposition that the more familiar you are with a person, the more contemptible that person becomes.

Over time, as people in the business world become more familiar with each other, their defects and weaknesses become more evident. They are exposed to and become tired of each other’s excuses, bad habits, broken promises, lack of respect, mood swings, angry outbursts, and lack of appreciation. Before long, their patience wears thin, and the slightest infraction causes them to treat each other with contempt.

January 6, 2018

Something Married Couples Face After Years of Marriage

Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.

Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.

Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.

Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.

Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.

I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.

December 30, 2017

What Did Mary Really Know?

Every year during the Christmas Season, there are articles published that are critical of the song, Mary Did You Know. As expected, in early December, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, published an article with the title, “The Problem With ‘Mary Did You Know.’” In the article, Fr. McTeigue criticized the following lyrics: “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

Fr. McTeigue’s complaint was that the lyrics imply that Mary was a sinner who needed to be delivered from her sins. This is contrary to Catholic doctrine which states that Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her immaculate conception, which allowed her to be a pure vessel in which the Son of God could be conceived and born without ever having come into contact with sin.

Another article that was published before Christmas stated that the song implies that Mary was not fully aware that she was the mother of God. The article went on to say that anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Mary possessed knowledge that she was the Mother of God, not only because of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement (Luke 1:26-56), but also because of her “song of praise” — known as “The Magnificat” — which indicated that she was aware of her role in the salvation of mankind. Here are the first two sentences of the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his handmaid. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty, has done great things for me and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)

Whenever I read anything about the life of Mary, I think about a book that I read in the early 1980s, while I was in law school. The title of the book was, The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary. The content for the book was taken from the recorded visions of the well-known 19th-century Catholic mystic, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824).

April 8, 2017

The Empathy Switch

Whenever I give a closing argument to a jury, I include comments about the importance of empathy. I tell the jurors that while the law does not permit them to have sympathy for my client, it does permit them to have empathy.

A person who has empathy toward another person is able to develop a deeper understanding of what the other person is going through, by mentally putting himself or herself in the place of that person.

We often hear about how important it is to step into the shoes of another person so that we can understand what that person is going through. That’s what empathy is.

Empathy is different from sympathy. The definition of sympathy is “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” Feeling sorry for someone is different from understanding what the person is going through by mentally putting yourself in the place of that person.

The opposite of empathy is callousness and cruelty. Can a person who is generally empathetic turn into a person who is callous and cruel? The answer is yes. It happens all the time.

There is the equivalent of a “switch” that is inside each of us that immediately turns off our ability to have empathy for another person. That switch is triggered when we become angry with that person.

During the time that we are angry, we are not able to mentally put ourselves in the place of the person we are angry with. Without the filter of empathy available for us to utilize, our thoughts, words, and actions can become callous and cruel.

Whenever I become angry with someone, I have to mentally remind myself that if I allow myself to remain angry, I will do and say things that can hurt the other person and cause grave harm to our relationship. If I don’t release my anger by practicing the virtues of humility, kindness, and forgiveness, I will not be able to understand where the other person is coming from.

March 26, 2016

Women Who Showed Up The Men

Women in the ChurchWhen Georgette and I got married in June 1980, I told her I wanted our first four children to be boys. The reason was that I wanted to form a barbershop quartet with them. While I was in high school, I organized a barbershop quartet, and while I was in college, I formed another quartet.

Georgette and I had our first and only son 10 months after we were married. Then we had six daughters.

I’ve written before about how I grew up in a family of 17 children — nine boys and eight girls. My experience growing up in a large family and the fact that I had seven children of my own have taught me that it’s much harder to raise girls than boys.

I learned a lot from my daughters while they were growing up. My philosophy about parenting and discipline changed dramatically over the years — so much so that I made a significant change in the way I treated my three youngest daughters compared with the way I treated my three oldest daughters.

While my son was like an energetic puppy who thrived on the adventures of life, my daughters were more like sensitive doves who needed to be treated with love, compassion, and humor. I discovered there was a delicate balance that needed to be maintained between forcing them to do what I felt was best for them and allowing them to choose their own destiny.

There’s an old cynical saying that men sometimes repeat: “Women! You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them.”

The problem we men have when it comes to our inability to peacefully live with a woman is that we don’t like being told what to do. That’s where the “you can’t live with them” comes in. Even Jesus seemed as though He was a little irritated when His mother suggested that He needed to do something about the lack of wine at the wedding in Cana.

There’s also the old saying, “Behind every successful man is a woman.”

March 19, 2016

The Real Story of the Young Messiah

The Young MessiahA new movie, The Young Messiah, was recently released and is currently being shown in theaters. The movie was adapted from the novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, which was written by Anne Rice.

The Young Messiah has received mixed reviews and is based on a fictional story about the childhood of Jesus Christ. The movie begins when Jesus is seven years old. He is starting to realize that He has supernatural powers. His parents struggle with when and how they are going to tell Him the truth about who He really is.

The only facts that we know about Jesus during the first 29 years of His life are the events surrounding His birth, His presentation in the temple as an infant, and when His parents lost track of him for three days when He was 12 years old. The life of Jesus as portrayed in The Young Messiah may be a nice story, but it’s completely fictional.

Let’s take a look at the real childhood of our Lord, starting with what St. Luke wrote:

Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was 12 years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great sorrow.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I would be in my father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Luke 2:41-50

March 21, 2015

Eradicating Weeds

Week BookIn the early summer of 1975, one of my cousins decided that he wanted to try his hand at gardening. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “James.” At the time, James and I were both 18 years old. I knew quite a bit about gardening because I had been in charge of taking care of our large family garden for the previous five years.

James was a “city boy” who knew nothing about gardening. He planted a small garden that consisted of a few tomato plants and some short rows of lettuce, corn, and sweet peas. About a month after James planted his garden, I stopped by to see him and noticed that his garden was overrun by weeds. I told him that the garden was almost beyond the point of no return.

When he asked what I meant, I told him that if he didn’t immediately get rid of all the weeds, they would completely overwhelm and kill off his plants. At that point, he surprised me with this question: “I didn’t plant any weeds, so where did they come from?”

I responded by telling him that the seeds for the weeds had been spread throughout his garden by the wind. I explained to him that because there were weeds almost everywhere — on the sides of roads, in ditches, around buildings, in most yards — there were always small seeds being produced, which were picked up by the wind and carried to other areas.

My cousin never got around to pulling the weeds. As a result, his garden didn’t produce any vegetables. I knew when we had our initial conversation that he would never take the time to pull the weeds or do the work that was necessary to keep additional weeds from growing. He was busy with other things that were more important to him and he didn’t have the time to tend to his garden.

If you’ve ever had a garden, you know that weeds grow faster and are much more pervasive than vegetable plants. If neglected, the weeds quickly and aggressively multiply until they crowd out and suffocate the vegetable plants.

February 28, 2015

A Ritual Worth Considering

ritual-de-havanaLast week, one of my clients asked me if I would say some prayers for her and her family. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call her “Julie.” After asking for prayers, Julie said that she’s been having problems at home with her teenage daughters.

I’ve known Julie for more than 20 years. She’s a committed Catholic who is devoted to her husband and children. When Julie asked for prayers, I replied that I would be happy to include her family in my prayers. I then asked her a question that I have periodically asked her over the years: “Are you praying your rosary every day?” When I asked the question, she hesitated. I knew from the expression on her face what she was going to say. She was going to make an excuse — the same thing 95% of all other Catholics do when I ask that question.

I’m not going to tell you what excuse Julie used, because it doesn’t matter. One excuse is the same as any other. We all have our own excuses for our failure to remain faithful to an active and vibrant daily prayer life.

I did not criticize or ridicule Julie for her failure to do what she knows she should be doing. I did, however, talk to her about the importance of developing daily rituals concerning prayer.

One of the definitions that the dictionary provides for “ritual” is “an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.” The word “ritual” is ordinarily used in the context of religion, but there are other social customs and protocols that can be described as rituals. Most of our daily behavioral habits eventually become rituals. Examples of daily rituals include shaving every morning and drinking coffee at the same time every day.

I told Julie that if she developed the habit of praying her rosary every morning while she was in her car on the way to work, over time she would see some improvement in her relationship with her daughters. She admitted that she was in the habit of listening to the radio when she was in her car and declared that she could easily develop the habit of praying her rosary instead. In addition to a daily rosary, I also suggested that Julie start setting aside one-on-one time each week with each of her daughters to do something that is fun and/or relaxing.

March 13, 2014

Controlling your Mind, Emotions, and Body

Mind Body SoulThe spring semester of my junior year in college (1978) was the best semester I ever had as a college student.  It was also the most challenging.  I had a full load of 300-level classes in accounting and business and competition among the students was very tough.

In one of my accounting classes, the teacher routinely assigned as homework 10 of the 60 problems that were provided after each chapter of the textbook.  At the beginning of the semester, in order to really learn the materials and gain a competitive edge, I decided that I was going to work through all 60 problems after every chapter.  But I had one problem.  The answer key for the problems was not available to students, so there was no way for me to know if my answers were correct.

I found out from one of my classmates, a foreign exchange student, that she could order the answer key from Hong Kong, so I gave her the money and two weeks later I had the answer key in my hands.  Each time I came up with the wrong answer to a problem, I figured out what I did wrong and reworked the problem.  The problems that were used by the teacher for the tests were variations of the 60 problems at the end of each chapter.

During that entire semester, I was at the top of my game.  Focused.  Motivated.  Disciplined.  But there was a reason I had my act together.  It was because I gave up everything that had sugar in it for Lent.  I stopped drinking my favorite daily soft drink (Pepsi), and I stopped eating my favorite daily snacks, which included Hostess Brands’ donuts and apple pies.  At that time, I was addicted to sugar.  My favorite breakfast cereal was Trix, which had sugar as one of its main ingredients.

As I recall, I had massive cravings for the first three days of Lent.  After that, each day got better.  Within two weeks, my cravings were gone.  In addition to having more energy, my mind was sharper than ever.  The biggest change that I noticed was the iron-willed discipline that I developed as a result of denying myself my favorite foods.

March 8, 2014

Ash Wednesday and Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman - Plutarch Heavensbee in Catching Fire

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Plutarch in Catching Fire

You may have heard about the death last month of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He died from an overdose of drugs.  I initially heard about Hoffman’s death from my 17-year-old daughter Teresa.  Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Teresa: Dad, did you hear about the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Harry: Who?

Teresa: Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Harry: Who is Philip Seymour Hoffman?

Teresa: He’s the actor who played Plutarch in the movie Catching Fire.

Harry: Oh, okay.  Now I know who you’re talking about.

Teresa then filled me in on the details of how Hoffman had been found dead on the floor of his New York City apartment with a needle sticking out of his arm.  He had apparently gone through rehabilitation for his addiction to heroin last summer, but had a relapse several months later.  In October, his live-in girlfriend of 14 years kicked him out of the residence they shared with their three children, and he rented a close-by apartment so he could continue to periodically see them.

Hoffman appeared to have everything going for him.  He was an accomplished actor who was respected and admired by his fellow actors.  He knew he was an addict, and he knew he was destroying himself, but he was unable to exercise the discipline or control that was necessary to deal with and overcome his addiction.

The cravings and urges of his body won out over his mind, emotions, and soul.

You and I have a lot in common with Philip Seymour Hoffman.  More often than not, we fail to recognize how pitifully weak we are — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Even Jesus talked about our weakened state when He said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Matthew 26:41)  He said this after His apostles failed to stay awake and pray with Him for an hour in the garden of Gethsemane.

February 20, 2014

A Legacy Worth Talking About

Veronica VeilImagine you are driving on University Street in Peoria and in the distance you see a large crowd of people gathered in a parking lot.  As you drive closer to the crowd, you see a man who you have met before tied to a telephone pole.  To your horror, you see two young, well-built men taking turns at beating the man with leather whips that have sharp pieces of metal attached to the ends of each whip.

You pull over and park your car and rush over to the area where the crowd has gathered.  The man who is tied to the telephone pole is on his knees, with his head down.  His back is covered with blood.  Several of the people in the crowd are cheering and encouraging the two men to swing harder when they beat him.

As you move closer, you see some law enforcement officers who are in charge of controlling the crowd.  You realize that what is occurring is a government-sanctioned beating.

You notice that there’s a woman who is standing about ten feet away from the man who is being beaten.  You know from having met the man that the woman is his mother.  The woman is visibly shaken and flinches every time one of the whips tears into the flesh of her son.  As you push through the crowd to get closer to the woman, you notice that there are tears in her eyes.

You try to move closer to her but one of the government officers steps in front of you and orders you to leave the area or you will be arrested.  You turn around and see that you have an opportunity to approach the man who is being beaten.  You notice that he has blood streaming down his face from thorns that have been pounded into his head.  You rush over to the man and wipe the blood from his face with your shirt.

You feel someone grab your arm and throw you to the ground.  You look up and there are two officers standing over you.  They both start kicking you in your stomach and back.  You quickly get up and stumble over to your car.  Your mind is racing, wondering if there is anything else you can do to help the man.

March 23, 2013

Modern-Day Goliath Crushes David

David-GoliathLast month, a “David vs. Goliath” case was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.  The “David” in the case is Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old farmer from Indiana.  The “Goliath” is the mighty Monsanto Company.

Monsanto is an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that has its headquarters in Creve Coeur, Missouri.  At one time, it was one of the top chemical companies in the United States.  You may have heard of some of the controversial chemical compounds used in products it manufactured: Agent Orange, PCBs, and the insecticide DDT.  Monsanto sold off its chemical operations in the late 1990s so it could focus on agricultural biotechnology.

One of Monsanto’s most popular products is its genetically modified seeds, which are known as Roundup Ready seeds.  These seeds were specifically designed by Monsanto to survive applications of “Roundup,” the company’s number one-selling weed killer.  The use of Roundup Ready seeds enables farmers to kill weeds with Roundup without harming the crops.

Roundup Ready seeds have become so popular that they now account for approximately 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.

In order to purchase and use Roundup Ready seeds, farmers are required to sign a contract that prohibits them from saving and replanting seeds from the resulting crop.  Since the offspring of the Roundup Ready seeds contain the same genetically engineered trait as the original seeds, farmers are not allowed to save and replant the second-generation seeds.  If farmers wish to benefit from the genetically modified seeds, they are required to buy new seeds from Monsanto for each new planting season.

Since the invention of Roundup Ready seeds, Monsanto has sued farmers on 146 different occasions for violating the terms of the contracts they signed.  The cases have involved farmers in 27 states.  Of the 146 cases, Monsanto has settled 135 in its favor and won the 11 cases that went to trial.