Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thursday Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Thursday, March 31, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner E. Cottonwood Ln. and N. Trekell Rd.

Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) will hold his weekly Peace Vigil this Thursday, March 31, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the corner of E. Cottonwood Ln. and N. Trekell Rd. in Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week: Oops! Slowed down this week with a cold, but I’m hitting it with my vitamin C recipe, as detailed on my website’s Columns page, and it’s on the run. Should be back to “normal,” as best that can be, by the weekend!

Positive thoughts and prayers for all, especially for all those suffering in Japan, the Middle East, and around the world!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, March 25, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner N. Pinal Ave. and W. Florence Blvd.

Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) will hold his weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, March 25, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the corner of N. Pinal Ave. and W. Florence Blvd. in Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week: Oops! I must confess that I neglected to post this notice of Tony Fasline’s peace vigil for last Friday. In spite of my lapse, Tony did stand faithfully at a well-traveled corner of Pinal Avenue and was greeted by many supportive commuters who passed by. We prefer to concentrate on those reactions and not the rare people who express their disapproval of everyone’s right to state their case in the Public Square. After all, that’s what the First Amendment is all about. One of the things, anyway.

Meanwhile, I’m making progress with my own agenda, especially by by posting Tony’s plans this week. Hurrah! However, I still won’t be able to stand out there with him myself this week, so if any of you can join him, Tony and I will certainly appreciate it. I hope I can be out there one week very soon.

Let’s all exchange positive thoughts, prayers, whatever you choose to believe and share!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My op-ed in

Woo-hoo! The online edition of the Salem, OR, paper,, just ran one of my op-ed pieces:

I'm doing many of these articles in between my Blog postings, so whenever they're published, I'll let you know in this space too. Several others are being considered, so hold onto positive thoughts!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Facts vs. Feelings: Looking at the reality

Years ago, a woman I worked with returned from a church-sponsored couples retreat--all heterosexual couples, of course--and raved about the inspirational messages she’d heard there. When she parroted the minister’s message that the reason men and woman are different is that men deal in facts and women deal in feelings, I had to speak up or bite my tongue clear through.

“Actually,” I said, “that should be something like ‘men in general deal with the concrete and women in general deal with the abstract.’”

I can’t deal with rhetoric about the inferiority of women in business, politics, religion, and family relationships. And to me, that was the message conveyed in the minister’s analogy.

I explained it this way: “The opposite of fact is fiction. Feelings are real. They are fact, not fiction. Men in general--not all men, thank goodness--learn the dangerous lesson to suppress their feelings. All humans have feelings. Even animals have feelings. When positive feelings are suppressed, a person’s better nature is suppressed and they eventually erupt in the form of negative feelings. That’s why war, the worst example of bad feelings gone amok, is viewed primarily as a male activity.”

Ouch! I’d touched another nerve. This lady was a super-warmonger too. Her main regret in life was the fact that her husband had joined the Air Force right after Vietnam, so he missed the combat experience. More importantly, she’d missed what she viewed as the “romance” of being a war wife.

It gets worse. Being older than she, I’d had to send two different husbands off to serve tours in Vietnam on three separate occasions, all while tending to one, then two youngsters at home. So, add her jealousy to the mix. It didn’t help that our experiences had convinced me and my husband that there must be a better way for societies to solve problems. By then, I was a budding peace advocate. Double ouch!

She had a hard time understanding why I didn’t think everything her minister said came direct from the Mind of the Almighty. Knowing the horrors that have been committed over the centuries in the name of God, that didn’t do it for me. That’s why I took the minister’s admonition with a huge dose of salt.

But anyone who claims women’s feelings are not real just doesn’t talk to me. And that’s the message I got from that analogy. What’s more, by that time in the mid-‘80s, I was already aware of the nascent research into the fact that what used to be dismissed as mere “feelings” has real physiological effects on the body. From adrenaline to brain chemistry, when we feel things, we’re actually experiencing chemical changes that can effect long-term changes in many of our internal organs.

So feelings are certainly not fiction, and that’s a fact!

Economics: Defining the language

In the three earlier articles of this series, I discussed the variety of impact on the economy by people who receive different amounts of income. The conclusion, supported by research, is that people who earn the highest salaries return a lower percentage of their earnings than lower-paid workers to the economic machine that keeps businesses and governments running smoothly.

Unfortunately, too many people who exercise the greatest control over policy believe otherwise. They reward wealthy people with even more political and economic privilege than anyone could ever earn. This is usually done by denying people at the lowest economic levels access to many of their most basic needs.

In fact, some people believe perpetuating a poverty class is vital to the economy. They believe it would actually be dangerous to implement policies to end poverty and allow everyone to earn enough money to purchase all the basic goods and services they need to enjoy a dignified existence.

These policy makers claim the only way to solve economic problems is to depend solely on capitalism, at least the way they define it. They warn that Americans should completely eschew any hint of socialism. They believe businesses must be free to operate without restrictions, and government should have only a minor role, if any at all, in the way American businesses are run.

The trouble is, their definition of capitalism leaves a lot to be desired. Especially when you consider the fact that over the years, their form of capitalism has cost millions of people their jobs, their health, and their lives. If they continue to have their way, things can only get worse for all of us as we face a very dismal future.

Understanding Effective Capitalism

That brings us to the real definition of “capitalism.” These days, economists, politicians, and even the people who compile dictionaries focus on the wealth-building aspect of capitalism. To put it another way, they see capitalism as the tool by which a few people become very wealthy through business enterprises that control the lives and well-being of millions of people.

Certainly, private ownership was always an important part of effective business practice. But capitalism began as a very different model than the one that’s in use today.

Capitalism first appeared early in human history. The turning point came with the introduction of basic technology into agriculture, which was the first human industry. When the plow first came into use, farming advanced from mere subsistence, the production of just enough crops to feed, house, and clothe family members, to the point that families were able to produce more crops than they needed for their own survival. With time to do more work than was necessary for basic survival, people also began to produce extra clothing, craft items, and even art.

From the beginning, basic capitalism was based on production, service, and sales. It began when people started to exchange and sell excess agricultural products and items they produced first in homes and later in small shops that gradually developed as many people prospered. Technology spawned not only an agricultural boom but social and economic revolutions.

At first, products and services were exchanged for other products and services in a crude bartering system. Eventually, volume demanded something to symbolize the value of sales, and currency was invented, using such items as rocks, salt, metals, and eventually paper. Over time, successful communities developed sophisticated economic models. Even while trading with neighboring groups and travelers from far away, people still understood that their economy was based on the model of production, service, and sales, using both barter and different types of currency.

As businesses grew, so did the employer-employee model. Workers provided labor to help owners run their businesses in exchange for wages. Employees used these wages to purchase goods and services from other businesses. Eventually both owners and workers paid some of their earnings to governments. That tax money was also used to pay workers and purchase goods and services, just like businesses, owners, and workers.

For businesses, communities, and governments, success depends on a fluid economic model. As long as money keeps moving around the community from one person to another, one institution to another, everyone enjoys a measure of success. That’s the basic nature of capitalism.

Along the way, the goal of making a few people rich slithered into the picture. But the original purpose was to develop creative ways for people to move away from mere subsistence up to gleaning profit from the extra product and time they gained from improved farming techniques. It began with a positive step in human progress but soon warped into a twisted model that now threatens to destroy us all.

The Role of Socialism

Socialism was a basic part of the community economic model even before capitalism appeared. Humans survived in their earliest years on the planet by congregating into small groups so they could share responsibilities and resources. As their numbers grew, they gathered together as families, then communities, but sharing resources remained a significant tool for the survival of the tribe and eventually the village. As societies began to develop into larger communities, the practice of group sharing and providing for people who were weaker or needed extra help to survive waxed and waned, usually guided by the philosophy and religious practices prevalent in each society.

Perhaps the first and best-known American socialist was Benjamin Franklin. His printing business was the basis for one of the earliest American rags-to-riches stories. As a capitalist owner, he began making other entrepreneurs successful by franchising his printing empire. He also invited local businessmen in Philadelphia to join a social networking group so they could exchange creative ideas to enhance the success of their businesses and their community.

Franklin’s networking group became the intellectual and financial incubator for the first municipal fire department, lending library, and other public service projects in the American colonies. Today, almost every community of any size uses tax money to provide various services based on Franklin’s socialistic model of using public money to pay for fire and police departments, libraries, roads, clinics, and other basic services to residents.

According to Benjamin Franklin’s model, well planned socialism is an effective tool for enhancing the quality of life for citizens of any community and is certainly not antithetical to the success of capitalism. In fact, successful communities manage to balance responsible capitalism with basic social services in a way that guarantees residents will have the best opportunity to enjoy productive lifestyles.

Welfare and Unemployment: Payment for no labor

The tradition of welfare and unemployment benefit payments have come and gone throughout history, finally gaining a measure of consistency over the last century. These payments fall into the “good news, bad news” category. They’re supposed to be stopgap measures to help people through temporary economic downturns. Sadly, political circumstances have turned welfare into a multi-generational anchor that prevents entire classes of people from escaping the prison of poverty. And now that we’re well into the worst recession since the 1930s, unemployment payments are literally smashing all previous records in both numbers of recipients and lengths of time people receive those benefits.

Certainly there’s an immediate economic benefit to providing people with the means to meet their most basic needs, especially when virtually all the money that’s handed to them goes right back into the economy. On the other hand, 100% of these payments are provided with no reciprocal exchange of labor contributed to the economy. Unlike the standard work-salary model, social benefits like welfare, unemployment, and other public and private grants cannot be considered a positive benefit to the economy.

What’s more, as I explained in my book, The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace, it would be possible for truly creative leaders to turn these problems around and fulfill the goal of the book’s title to end poverty, which would help to eventually end armed conflict as the most expensive political policy of human endeavor. There is simply no reason governments should have to pay people not to work when so many community needs continue to go unmet.

I offer this friendly challenge to everyone to read the chapter in my book on “Universal Employment.” After you’ve had a chance to ponder some of the ideas I’ve collected from many sources, I’d love to hear your creative ideas for solving the education and employment crises that have become the permanent anchors that prevent most members of society from enjoying dependable and long-lasting economic success.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The real economic value of the privileged: Working hard or hardly working?

In the first article in this series, I suggested we need to take a close look at the real value to our economy of people at different income levels. In the second article, I explained why people at middle and lower income levels return a greater percentage of their income directly to the economy than do the highest earners, which keeps both government and business machines turning efficiently. Still, there’s another factor to consider when determining the value differences of people at each income level.

For several reasons, the person at the top of the income ladder is also the one whose labor contribution makes him the biggest drain on the economy. To begin with, there’s that large chunk of his income that doesn’t go directly back into the economic machine, at least not right away. Then there’s a more ephemeral measure, the economic value of production from his labor when compared to that of the folks who work lower down the corporate ladder. That’s where the “protect the rich and they’ll take care of the rest of us” philosophy really goes astray.

What is the millionaire’s real economic value to the company that pays his salary when compared to the value of folks working on the line? To put it another way, how much effort would the CEO have to put into his job to be worth a high percentage of the millions dollars he receives each year? If he doesn’t deliver enough to provide a profitable effect on the company’s real income--and I’m not talking about creative bookkeeping here--then he’s stealing a huge chunk of dough that he never earns.

In any well-run company, workers produce products or services at a rate that makes them worth more to the company than the value of their salary and benefits combined. The extra money earned above their take-out is called “profit.” In a well-run business, the more efficient employees the company has, the more profits the company is likely to make. But the profit value per employee tends to be lower at the higher levels. That’s been the accepted norm because executives are traditionally expected to provide leadership and creative ideas.

Leaders or Charlatans?

The problem with paying inflated salaries for people at the top to lead is that the real production leaders, that is, the people who make sure the work gets done, are usually the workers themselves and their immediate supervisors. As people move up the chain, their value comes less from leading people and more from setting policy and providing creative direction so the company can move forward into the future. That’s where higher-paid executives in many American companies have been dropping the ball in recent decades.

For policy, consider two issues regarding employee behavior: bullying and sexual harassment. Effective leaders in these areas will set and enforce rules that protect the rights of every employee and client. If problems arise, good managers provide a means of discreet reporting and investigation, and any judgment against wrongdoers is handled quickly and efficiently in order to ensure the behavior is not repeated and victims, real and potential, feel completely safe.

Unfortunately, companies have been more interested in protecting their reputations instead of stopping the bad behavior and protecting victims. In a shocking number of cases, the person who suffers most at the hands of management has been the victim who dares to report the problem in the first place. In the long run, this lapse costs companies money, which further diminishes the true value of any executive involved in such a crime.

It also means value is lost in any employees who are victims of harassment of any kind. If justice ever does prevail, the company loses by having to pay the victims, who usually take the cash and don’t return to work at that company again. That means the company must hire one or more new employees, train them, and possibly lose them later on for the same reason the earlier employees left. So, real leadership skills are too often lacking in many of the high-paid “big brains” who receive tons of money to lead companies into an expensive legal ditch.

Creators or Dinosaurs?

Then there’s the need for creative thinking, delivering new ideas that move a company forward in the market. One of the best examples--or worst, depending on your point of view--of the lack of creativity has been the American automobile industry in recent decades. While auto manufacturers in Europe and Asia were designing and building more and more efficient vehicles, stodgy U.S. companies continued to turn out gas-guzzling behemoths that cost a mint to operate and blew tons of filthy carbon into an already polluted planet.

As sales of American autos went down each year, these companies cut back on workers’ benefits and eventually their jobs. But contrary to economic logic, even as they were running their companies into the ground, the salaries and bonuses of executives at the highest levels mushroomed. Like the bankers, most of these miscreants finally came crawling to Congress with their hands out to grab the taxpayer green that would keep their operations afloat. Only when they’d received this new capital from the public trough did they finally begin turning out the green products they should have been producing since the first oil crisis in the 1970s.

The conclusion, then, can only be that many of the highest-paid corporate “leaders” need to overhaul their attitudes and start moving their companies in the right direction, in both policy and creative management. If they won’t do that, the only honorable thing for them to do is take advantage of those “Golden Parachutes” that were assured them when they came on board and let somebody with real brains take the helm.

Self-made or User?

And while I’m on the subject, this is an excellent time to explain one more thing about millionaires and billionaires: Have you ever heard the term “self-made” man? Or woman, since success certainly isn’t limited by gender, especially these days. Fact is, there is no such thing.

No one could ever build a successful business without depending on the efforts of hundreds, or even thousands, of loyal hard-working employees. The lower-paid workers deserve as much credit for a company’s success as the person at the top. Even someone who’s spent his life in a cave in the woods while turning a creative idea into tons of cash needs some kind of help to do that. Maybe it was the animals that did it, but it certainly couldn’t be that one person alone.

Whenever I hear the term “self-made,” I’m tempted to look for the big guy’s footprints on the backs of a horde of “little” people. No one can build a multimillion-dollar business alone. There is no such thing as a self-made person. Period.

Next, I’ll discuss the real meaning of several economic terms that are woefully misunderstood and misused in current political discussions. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Comparing real economic values of people by their income

In my previous article in this series, I introduced the fact that varying income levels of people has a lot to do with their impact on the economy. Understanding these differences can help people decide whether the current political policy of favoring the rich at the expense of the poor is a valid economic model.

Recent history provides an unmistakable clue to the facts: Policies of the past decade almost totally devastated our economy. We need to understand the financial realities if we’re ever going to turn things around and climb out of the recessionary hole we’ve been trapped in for the last few years.

Worth Millions, Maybe

First, consider arguments for continuing to let the rich wallow in piles of man--uh--money: When they get their fat paychecks, they dine at the finest restaurants, stay in five-star hotels, frequent luxury-car showrooms, and buy lots of real estate, from mansions to vacation homes to investment property. The economic advantage here is that lots of “little people” work at all these places, catering to the demands of wealthy patrons. That arrangement boosts employment numbers and allows some money to trickle down from the wealthy to the masses.

The rich also invest lots of money in stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. But many of them also tend to move a significant chunk of their wealth to banks in other countries, especially places where they’re less likely to pay taxes. The combination of tax deductions, loopholes, and offshore banking means the best return, in spending, investment, and taxes, that the U.S. economy can expect from people who are worth more than a million dollars is about two-thirds of their income.

Middle Class, Middle of the Road

Next, consider the schlub who schleps to work every day so he can bring home around fifty thousand dollars a year. He can’t treat his loved ones to a meal at the Four Seasons, at least not often. McDonald’s is more his style--or Subway, if he’s watching his calories and carbs. He has one house, and these days he’s more apt to take a “staycation” than be seen sunning on a beach in Acapulco. That’s good news for The Home Depot, bad news for Hilton Hotels. And he will spend a higher percentage of his money, in taxes, groceries, rent or mortgage, insurance, and so on, than the aforementioned rich guy. In the end, this middle-class earner will return close to 90% of his paycheck directly back to the economy.

Since these middle-income earners greatly outnumber the wealthy, the value they return to the economy creates significant working capital for both the government and businesses to keep on providing goods and services for other customers. By earning money and spending a big chunk of it, this middle-income guy is a basic, average member of both the “public,” as far as the government is concerned, and the “market,” according to Wall Street’s point of view.

Poor but Valuable

Now, let’s look at the poor--and I do mean poor--fellow who barely earns fifteen thousand dollars a year. If this person has any family at all, he--or she, because many such families are headed by single women--can barely make ends meet on that amount of money. The family will usually require extra help from the government and/or private charities, such as food stamps and food banks, to make it through each month.

Then there’s the medical help. A shocking percentage of people in this range have no medical insurance. They’re more apt than the average middle-class person to have chronic health problems, especially because what care they do get isn’t the kind of comprehensive support that helps them improve and live as well as they could. Any care they do get is most likely delivered through some sort of public assistance program.

Another area where services are hit and miss is education. Schools in such low-income areas as inner cities and rural communities rarely have enough resources to serve their students as well as they should. Add the fact that a high percentage of low-income parents are likely to work long hours, if they’re around at all, and too many lack the education to provide the kind of help and guidance their children need to succeed. There are exceptions, in students, family members, and schools, but those are notable because of their rarity. That’s the biggest reason economic problems tend to continue from one generation to the next, ad nauseam.

When you consider how much of his or her income this person will spend, that is, return directly to the economy, it comes as close to 100% as anyone can possibly get. Trouble is, that contribution is usually offset by the value of the help, in cash, goods, and services, that the family requires just to survive. So, they’re more of a drain on the economy, right? Actually, not when you consider that just about every cent of the value of those payments to the poor goes directly back into the economy.

So, who’s more valuable to the economy? We’ll look at the meaning of these percentages later in this series. Before that, I’ll discuss the actual economic value of the labor of one person who doesn’t have to labor as hard as the rest of us. Watch for it!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, March 11, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner N. Pinal Ave. and W. Cottonwood Ln.

Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) will hold his weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, March 11, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the corner of N. Pinal Ave. and W. Cottonwood Ln. in Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week: I’m finally getting some serious writing done! Just before this notice, you’ll find the first of a multi-part article that will end up being a complete chapter in my next book. Several of my op-eds that are currently making the rounds before I keep them for myself and post them here. They’ll also be in my book when it’s done So, small steps, always forward!

Positive thoughts, prayers, whatever you choose to believe and share, and I’m sending them back your way too!

Fixing the Economy: Enrich the wealthy? Or end poverty?

Okay, which economic class is more beneficial to the economy:
  • The top earners?
  • The middle class?
  • The people who live in poverty?
Most people have an opinion about this matter, but what are the facts? What are the economic effects of spending by people who make a million dollars a year? Fifty thousand dollars? Fifteen thousand dollars? How does capitalism really work? Is socialism good or bad for the economy? What is the real economic impact of continuing to allow people to depend on welfare or unemployment insurance payments, along with other public and private charity benefits?

Several studies have been done to clarify this issue. The numbers generally agree and fall within predictable ranges, so I won’t bore you with statistics here. The important lesson is not the numbers extrapolated from the studies but the principles demonstrated by those numbers. It should come as no surprise that the numbers support the practice of more humanitarian principles than current policies that favor the rich and place undue burdens on poor people.

To put it bluntly, the real cause of the failure of our economic system is greed. More to the point, a society that caters to demands of the wealthy by penalizing poor and middle-income citizens and accepts unemployment and poverty as standard economic policy is doomed to eventual failure. That conclusion runs counter to the commonly held belief that economic success depends on perpetuating the super-wealthy lifestyle of a small percentage of the population.

During recent banking disasters when taxpayers shored up failing financial institutions, top executives continued to receive hideously huge salaries and bonuses. The mantra, according to corporations and economists alike, was that companies have to pay big bucks for the big brains. The apologists totally ignored the fact that these “geniuses” were the same ones who brought their companies, and the world economy, to the brink of disaster. With brains like that, we’d have been better off with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Pluto running the Wall Street circus.

Meanwhile, whenever anyone suggests raising taxes for the wealthiest among us, loud voices shout down the idea by claiming the economy depends on making sure the already filthy rich keep on getting richer. The unspoken opposite side of that policy requires ripping as much money and as many rights as possible away from the most down-trodden in society.

Never mind the morality, or lack of it, with this policy. People who favor the rich certainly don’t. In my next postings, I’ll take a good look at the economic effects of continuing to steal from the poor and middle class in order to support people who don’t really need any help. In fact, later in this series, I’ll discuss how capitalism works, or should work when it’s done right. Watch this space for these articles in the next few days.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Casa Grande, AZ, and surrounding area:

Friday, March 4, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Corner N. Pinal Ave. and W. Kortsen Rd.

Tony Fasline (520-426-0070) will hold his weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, March 4, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the corner of N. Pinal Ave. and W. Kortsen Rd. in Casa Grande, AZ. Tony invites anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join him. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week: It’s finally getting warm enough here in southern AZ for me to function like a halfway-normal person. It’s a great feeling!

I’m working on several ideas, and I hope to be able to post an announcement here next week with the link to my latest interview. We tried to get through the discussion yesterday, but the phone equipment kept failing. We’re going to try again on Sunday. If we can get through the whole thing then, the entire interview will be posted online. I’ll definitely let you know, and I’ll try to put it on my website’s Multimedia page as well. Check back soon.

Meanwhile, I’m also getting some writing done, working out several ideas. It feels good, and I’ll have a few things to post here very soon. Thanks for staying with me!