Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Senate vote to allow debate on gun control legislation shows how much the Newtown school shooting changed the national discussion on guns. The Senate’s failure to end debate  and allow a final vote on the bill showed the politics of gun control remained the same.

The body failed muster the 60 votes to end debate a allow final votes on a series of gun measures just a week after 68 Senators voted to allow debate on the compromise bill to begin. The gun control measures included a proposal to close loopholes that prevent background checks of people who buy firearms at gun shows and over the internet.

The background check compromise failed despite being hammered out by two pro-firearms Senators – Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.). Toomey-Manchin failed despite opinion polls that show 90 percent of Americans approve of the compromise. President Obama and family members of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre assailed those voting against the compromise. Obama accused the National Rifle Association of “willfully lying” about the bill’s key elements.

Obama singled out claims that the compromise would force a father to conduct a background check if he wanted to sell or give a weapon to his son as untrue. The president and commentators such as Joe Scarborough called the no voting Senators NRA puppets.

Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vowed to reintroduce the bills, but gun control is dead. Issues such as immigration reform, the budget and terrorism top the legislative agenda. Senate passage would send the bill to certain defeat in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives,

So it’s easy to understand the disappointment of gun control supporters. They lost in Congress again, and that makes it hard for them to see what they won. Background check supporters won a chance for gun control to be an election issue in 2014 and 2016.

I see why they might not see that as a victory. Nothing sends Democrats into a fetal position like facing off against the NRA in an election. It is an article of faith that passage of the 1994 assault weapon ban played a big role in Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 election. LIberals can bring up the Florida recount. However, Gore would have been president if he carried New Hampshire or, Tennessee or Arkansas. Pundits think his party’s stance on guns cost Gore votes in those three states.

The NRA‘ has a reason to be confident. Democrats rely on the testimonials of survivors of gun violence or the family members of those killed such as Sandy Hook mother Francine Wheeler to sway public opinion.
However, gun control supporters are kidding themselves if they believe moral suasion will carry the day in gun control debate. Pro-gun groups ground their opposition to gun-control in the constitution. However, it’s fair to ask why the NRA should cede ground that the other side is incapable of taking. Anti-gun control advocates say that their side has won every election over the past 30 years in which gun policy was an issue.
 If gun control advocates want to break the NRA’s grip on Congress, they must win elections in swing states such as Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, New Hampshire and Florida. Obama won them all in 2008 and 2012. If pro gun control legislators lose ground in those states, the NRA can rightfully say that voters agree with them.  If pro-gun control legislators win state and federal elections, the political class will   notice.

The immigration debate provides a template. Prior to 2012, anti-immigration reform advocates on the left and right prevented action by Congress. Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates embraced nativist policies. Obama won three-fourths of the Hispanic vote in 2012 and GOP Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham are leading a bi-partisan push for comprehensive immigration reform.

What remains to be seen is whether the gun control advocates will show the type of leadership indicating their willingness to really have a debate on this issue. That means they will have to match  the NRA’s fund raising and lobbying efforts. At least one gun control advocate, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is willing to do just that.

Still, many gun control advocates treat lobbying like its a sin. They assail Supreme Court rulings such as Citizen’s United. Complaining about the rules is not leadership. If gun control advocates get outspent 10 to 1, it is likely that any new gun control legislation will meet the fate of Toomey-Manchin. And gun control supporters will only have themselves to blame.


Library visitors will find Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals” filed with the Abraham Lincoln biographies. Patrick Furlong, professor emeritus of history at IUSB, said that the book is more a study of personality and leadership.  Goodwin focuses as much on five members of Lincoln’s war cabinet as she does on the 16th president. Goodwin’s book is a leadership manual because the  historian examines how the 16th President managed the strong-willed men who helped him successfully prosecute the Civil War.

Furlong’s lecture at the Centre Township Library Branch was among the St. Joseph County Public Library’s One Book, One Michiana events.

Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, Attorney General Edward Bates and Secretary of State William H. Seward all ran in 1860. Furlong said that the three were all somebody’s first choice. Lincoln was everybody’s second choice. The compromise choice is often the winning choice, and Lincoln prevailed.

War Secretary Edwin M. Stanton and Postmaster Montgomery Blair rounded out the war cabinet.

Lincoln’s decision to include his three rivals in his cabinet could have been a disaster.  Chase  believed that he could manipulate Lincoln. Chase was wrong because Lincoln understood the duties of a commander-in-chief in war time – functions Lincoln created as he prosecuted the war.

Lincoln was also a deliberative and decisive leader who never evaded his responsibilities or tried to shift blame, Furlong said. Lincoln’s deliberate decisiveness connects Furlong’s lecture with one given by Yale law professor Steve Smith at Notre Dame in February.

Smith’s lecture detailed how Lincoln based decisions such as his response after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on the constitution. He showed the wisdom of Lincoln’s decision to move deliberately during the  Fort Sumter crisis.The Confederate military’s decision to attack the fort cast the south as the aggressors and swayed public opinion in the north.

The Battle of Gettysburg marked a turning point in the War. The battle occurred seven months after the Emancipation Proclamation “freed” slaves in the rebel states. Critics say that the proclamation freed no slaves. A Mississippi slave owner would not free his slaves because of an order signed by LIncoln.  Smith believed that the proclamation had real consequences on the battlefield because slaves living in or near areas conquered by the Union Army dropped their plows and escaped. The Union victory at Gettysburg gave Lincoln an opportunity to fully embrace the freedom agenda. As I state in another post, LIncoln did so in the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln refused to micromanage the war even as he created the modern model for a war president.  He allowed his generals to carry out battle field plans. However, Lincoln did expect his generals to fight battles and win. Those who didn’t measure up, such as the popular but ineffective Gen. George McClellan, got fired.

The passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution is the best example of Lincoln’s combination of deliberative decisiveness. The amendment’s passage is the subject of “Lincoln,” the film adaptation of Goodwin’s book. Lincoln embraced the freedom agenda at Gettysburg. However, he didn’t move on the 13th Amendment until 1865.

That turned out to be the right time. The north would emerge victorious in a few months. Attention would turn to post war matters. Lincoln realized the amendment needed to be ratified before the Confederate states rejoined the union. Lincoln used everything from moral suasion to the raw use of political power to ensure its passage.

Lincoln created the template for the modern wartime commander-in-chief, and both Smith and Furlong believe he did so by displaying an deliberate, decisive and accountable style leadership rarely witnessed in politics or other fields before or since. Those qualities explain why Lincoln managed to earn the loyalty of his former rivals, as well the other members of his cabinet.

We’ve used Feb. 12 lecture by Yale professor Steve Smith to examine Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style. Smith described decision making during the Civil War as being based in the constitution. “Team of Rivals,” the Doris Kearns Goodwin biography of LIncoln and several members of his cabinet also provides details about Lincoln’s leadership style.

Current day leaders use Goodwin’s book as a leadership manual. Goodwin’s book shows how Lincoln managed the men in his cabinet, including three who competed with him for the Republican presidential nomination. Some of those men, such as Salmon P. Chase, believed Lincoln was unqualified to serve. It’s easy to understand why Chase felt that way. Lincoln’s former rivals were men of privilege who rose to become highly regarded politicians and statesmen. Lincoln had little formal education and spent most of his life in what was at the time the undeveloped western frontier states of Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois.

Goodwin believes that  Lincoln’s decision to fill his cabinet with his highly accomplished and strong willed rivals explains why he  successfully prosecuted the Civil War. The implication being that the preferred leadership style is to tap advisors willing to challenge the leader’s preferred ideologies.

That sounds good on the surface. We don’t want our leaders surrounded by yes men. Yet, tapping advisers who have questionable loyalty is risky. How will you know if their advice is correct or self serving? Anyone who’s watched an episode of “House of Cards” can see the risk of employing an advisor with his or her own agenda and an axe to grind.

Lincoln possessed other qualities that allowed him to use his former rivals without being consumed by their pride and ambition. We will learn more about those leadership qualities when Patrick Furlong, Professor Emeritus of History at IUSB, discusses the book “Team of Rivals” as Centre Township Branch Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11. Fulong’s lecture is one of a series of events that are a part of the six week long “One Book, One Michiana” program. The St. Joseph County Public Library is encouraging people to read The Killer Angels,” Michael Shaara’s historical novel about The Battle of Gettysburg.

Of course, you can’t discuss the Civil  War or The Battle of  Gettysburg without discussing Lincoln. In an earlier post, I talked about how Lincoln used his address at the November, 19 1863 ceremony to dedicate a portion of the battlefield as a cemetery for Union dead to transform the war into a fight for freedom.

I look forward to hearing Professor Furlong and using that information to tie together all I have learned about Lincoln and leadership over the past two months. Hope to see you at the lecture.

Learning about the fate of Ron Johnson, the ex-CEO at JC Penny had me thinking about Robert Moses and his efforts to create The Algebra Project. Moses details his effort to initiate the program in his book “Radical Equations.”

Most don’t believe that the men have much in common. Both, however,  are turnaround artists. Moses worked in the most isolated and dangerous places in MIssissippi to fight for voting rights for blacks in the 1960s. Twenty years later, Moses launched The Algebra Project to encourage educators, students and parents in minority and poor communities to embrace math literacy with the same fervor that people embraced reading literacy.

Johnson helped create the highly popular Apple Stores found in big city retail districts and malls such as University Park. JC Penny’s board noticed Johnson success and tapped him to become Penny’s CEO. Board members hoped that Johnson could improve the experience of shopping at the department store and increase customer traffic and sales.

Johnson remained on the job for 18 months before the board fired him after his initiatives caused a customer revolt. Why did Johnson fail? Analysts believe he made changes too quickly and too soon. The changes alienated many of Penny’s customers.

You might recall receiving those burgandy coupons offering five, 10 and 20 percent discounts on Penny products. Penny’s customers loved them. Johnson, trained at Apple not to offer discounts, did not. He ended the coupon program and promoted Penny as a store that offered low prices everyday.

Johnson had good reasons for stopping the coupons. As this Marketplace story explains, coupon recipients think they are getting a good deal. But that’s not the case. The store made a profit, and the customer still overpaid for the product.

Post-coupon prices might have been in line with Penny’s competitors. Penny trained customers to believe coupons signaled a sale. Now customers believed the store was ripping them off. They took their business to Kohl’s, Target, TJ Maxx or

Johnson compounded the mistake by immediate chain-wide change. Retailers usually test major changes in a few stores.Customers stayed away in droves. Johnson got a golden parachute and the gate. Johnson made the twin mistakes of thinking his experience at Apple would apply at Penny and of not understanding or respecting his customer base.

Moses never forget the lessons he learned from Ella Baker while working to win voting rights for blacks in Mississippi – community involvement and buy-in is vital. So when veteran Mississippians such as Amzie Moore said winning it was crucial for black Mississippians to win the right to vote, Moses listen. Moses had these conversations in 1961 and 62 when headlines focused on sit-ins, freedom rides, and James Meredith’s push to integrate the University of Mississippi.

Moses and the other civil rights activists who worked on voting rights in the state faced harassment and violence. Some even lost their lives. However, 50 years later, Mississippi has more black elected officials than any state in the country.

As Moses wrote in “Radical Equations,” “the organizer becomes part of the community, learning from it, becoming aware of its strengths, resources, concerns and ways of doing business.” That is a lesson that Johnson’s successor at Penny (who is actually the company’s former CEO) will do well to take to heart

Undergraduate women attending Princeton University have plenty of things to worry about. After all, they go to Princeton. Princeton grad Susan Patton (1977) asks these young women to add one more thing to their to do list. Start looking for a husband. That’s right, Patton wants these women to pursue a Mrs. Degree along with the bachelor’s degree they’re seeking in accounting, computer science or whatever else.

Patton wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in the March 29, 2013 edition of The Daily Princetonian in which she encouraged the university’s female students to “find a husband on campus before you graduate.” Patton’s roots her logic in a couple of facts. First, you have to be a pretty smart woman to attend Princeton, and if you want to catch a guy who is your intellectual equal best to hook him now because all these single Princeton ladies will never have as much concentrated male brilliance at their disposal.

Of course, what’s good for the hen is good for the rooster. The men won’t be around a bunch of highly educated women when Princeton’s in their rear view mirror. Patton says that hardly matters because a Princeton man can marry a less educated woman – an option that becomes more viable if the woman is pretty. Female Princetonians can marry a good looking, but less educated man. However, Patton says they shouldn’t. “But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you,” she writes.

The jokes about snobby Ivy Leaguers Image make themselves. However Patton’s elitist arguments have the added vice of being wrong.

The obvious problem is that neither the male nor female students may be ready to get married at 22. Lets assume for the sake of argument that male Princetonians are as narcissistic as Patton assumes. Are they going to be ready to marry at 22 or 25 when they know that their elite education and the six figure salary it will command gives them entrée to women for the next six years? These guys know their worth, after all.

The co-eds and their parents know the worth of their college educations. Forty-one years ago, title IX smashed the academic and athletic barriers women faced Forty-one years after. Women attend college to get a degree or a WNBA contract. Do we really think female students and their parents will devalue  education by using it solely as a ruse to snag a man? I don’t see it especially when that single lady will still end up being saddled with $250,000 in student loan debt. Besides in an era when women comprise 55 percent of the enrollment on college campuses some women will graduate without one of their male classmates “putting a ring on it.”

These women will not become spinsters. Numerous studies show that Patton’s view is outdated. One of the most complete, a 2010 study by the Council on Contemporary Families shows nearly nine out of 10 women get married by age 40 regardless of education.The study also showed that college educated unmarried women tend to be happier and live longer than any other demographic although college educated married women aren’t exactly miserable. They are happier and less likely to get divorced than their less educated counterparts. Besides, contemporary men value intelligence in a mate.

Why? Because college educated women tend to marry highly educated or at least highly trained men. That removes the main source of marital tension – money. The ratio of men to women in college pretty much assures that some college educated women will marry a less formally educated man. However, the Council on Contemporary Families study shows that college educated women may actually benefit from marrying a man with less education. Why? Because he’s more likely to help with the housework.

For educated black women – a group believed to be consigned to a lifetime by them selves – the numbers belie that myth. Black women who complete college or have some college education are far more likely to marry than African-American women without post-secondary training. I know of at least one black woman, a lawyer and Princeton graduate, who waited until 28 to snag her Harvard educated lawyer. Her name is Michelle Obama. I think she’s doing all right.


Robert Moses uses the phrase minimum of common conceptual cohesion to describe how blacks in Mississippi mobilized around the importance of voting. He applies the concept to rally parents, educators and students around The Algebra Project.

Finding the minimum of common conceptual cohesion meant leaders had to find that one universally supported point. Moses writes in “Radical Equations,” that black Mississippians focused on voting.

Amzie Moore, Hollis Watkins and Fannie Lou Hamer saw how the white establishment used the process to keep resources from blacks. Injustices such as the acquittal of the men accused of killing Emmett Till showed blacks that fair treatment before the law would only come with the vote.

Moore and others told Moses that he needed to ignore elite opinions that blacks in Mississippi were too apathetic and afraid to vote, Moses and other activists explained the importance of voting to black Mississippians and led them to court houses. There they faced down hostile officials and challenged Jim Crow laws.

The success of that effort convinced Moses that he could use the same strategy to reach a common ground around the importance of teaching algebra to inner-city middle school students. Moses realized that The Algebra Project had one advantage that his fight for voting rights in the south did not – a minimum of common conceptual cohesion already started to form around the belief that all students could learn and that every kid deserved to receive a quality education.

Moses understood that most stakeholders paid lip service to the belief that “all kids could learn.” However,  that’s more fealty than leaders in the Jim Crow south paid to the concept of “one man, one vote.” That lip service gave Moses the “crawl space” to develop a program and movement to improve math literacy among working class students in Boston and other cities.

The Algebra Project differed from Moses’ 1960s era voting rights efforts in another respect. Moses had personal skin in the game.  The program grew out of efforts by Robert and Janet Moses to ensure that their four children got a good public school education. That meant their children would enter college without needing remediation.

The couple quickly surmised that meeting their goal required that the four children receive a first rate education in math. Moses probably remembered how technological advances in the Mississippi cotton fields gave plantation owners even less incentive to treat sharecroppers fairly. By the 1970s, Moses realized what didn’t become obvious to most people until 2000.

Technology would create winners and losers. The  winners would be the students proficient in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Moses set out the make sure his children performed well in math. Moses’ children worked on math even when they were on vacation. They hated it. But the kids knew their math. Most of their classmates did not.

Moses’ oldest daughter was algebra ready in the eighth grade when nearly all of the other students took general math. This presented Moses with a problem and an opportunity. The problem was that the teacher could not teach algebra to her class. The opportunity was that Moses – who had received a McArthur genius grant – had time to volunteer. He taught algebra teacher to his daughter and  three other students.

Working with the four students put Moses in contact with other students. He quickly realized that there was an achievement gap. Students from more affluent backgrounds performed better than poorer students. Moses developed The Algebra Project to address the achievement gap.

Yet, Moses didn’t seek to impose his concepts on the school community. He tried to build consensus around the importance of algebra instruction. He listened to educators, parents and students. Moses listened to students because he realized that students had to “buy into” the project in order for it to be successful.

By listening to the students, Moses learned about their struggles and fears. He also learned what motivated them. The project has grown over the years and can be found in schools from coast to coast.

My job as confidant to the newly diagnosed usually started with a phone call. Someone from Memorial’s radiation/oncology department – usually one of my nurses – contacted me with a name and number of a patient who just started their radiation treatments.

The nurses, doctors and radiologists knew I was doing them a favor. They might be around cancer patients all day, but most of them never had the disease, so they gave people information about side effects but they didn’t know how those side effects felt. They saw the fear, uncertainty and isolation on the faces of patients, but only another patient understood what went through the minds of the people watching television in the lounge waiting for their name to be called.

I wanted to help the patients. But I still had plenty of questions about what happened and was still happening to me. I was still dealing with my bouts of depression. And I wondered what help would I be. Would my advice be useful? Did I speak with the right mix of sensitivity, humor and fact based conversation? Did a provide comfort or was I scaring people?

I had no way of knowing. The staff told me that the new patients all appreciated talking to me, but I didn’t know if I was helping or making things worse. I didn’t know if I my advice helped because I never spoke anyone afflicted with a cancer similar to mine.

That changed a year later when breast cancer survivor and activist Joan Lennon asked me to model for the Secret Sister Society’s annual fashion show. The Secret Sister Society helps women pay for mammograms, and the fashion show is the group’s biggest fund-raiser.

All of the models are cancer survivors. The society pairs each model with a survivor who participated in earlier fashion shows. My mentor was Susan Coulter – an oral cancer a survivor who happened to also be the wife of a dentist.

Like me, Susan had children in grade school, meaning that she had to fight the disease while also preparing lunch and shuttling kids to school and extra-curricular events. Susan served as the Secret Sister’s liaison. For example, she sure that I knew when to get measured for the suit I wore at the fashion show.

She did so much more. A call to introduce myself turned into a hour long talk. Susan answered all of my questions about the disease that took away my sense of taste and my ability to produce saliva. You just don’t know how important spit is until you can’t spit.

Susan was a compassionate and calming influence. She understood the humor and the seriousness of the situation. She was patient and always willing to talk whenever I called. Her friendship became a source of strength, and our discussions about my illness, treatment and recovery became the model I use when talking to recently diagnosed people.

I’ve been cancer free for eight years. The nurses in the radiation/oncology unit don’t call me that much anymore. I’d like to think that maybe researchers have licked oral cancer, but I know that’s not true. It’s more likely that the folks in radiation/oncology recruited a new generation of survivors to guide newly diagnosed patients through the opaque and frightening empire of the sick.

I still see some of the people who I advised and they shake my hand and tell me how much they appreciated my help. That makes me feel good. We will always be united by our common diagnosis and by the fact that we are counted among that percentage who survived to watch children graduate or to pursue our own graduations.

I rarely talk to Susan. The Life of a cancer survivor resembles regular life the further removed you are from your diagnosis. So I imagine that she’s busy with the same concerns that occupy my time – working, raising a family, trying to stay healthy, involved in the community. I think of her a lot, and the example of compassion, patience and leadership she provided continually inspire and motivate me to be ready to help when I get a call from Memorial’s radiation/oncology unit.