Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving forward: From the Three R’s to the Four RE’s

In these troubled times, the Republican mantra is that we must make sacrifices. Shared sacrifice, they call it. Except they expect the sharing to begin at the bottom and move up just far enough to envelop all those who’ve sacrificed for the past 30 years, whenever right-wingers have been in charge.

Heaven forfend anyone in the upper economic classes would ever have to cut back on luxuries. In fact, the GOP policy is to take whatever is saved by cutting benefits and services to the poor and middle classes and reward their rich cronies with lower taxes and higher corporate salaries and profits.

Meanwhile, the economy is in the toilet and no one seems to know the way out. Worse, by cutting educational funding, among other services, the GOP is not only hurting society now but stunting future economic growth.

Danger signs have been obvious for years, even when Republicans claimed things were great. While they worked well for politicians and their rich buddies, policies that also seemed to benefit folks closer to the bottom contained hidden booby traps.
For instance, when the Bush administration claimed they’d led the nation into the greatest era of home ownership in history, banks were giving lower-income people complicated loans deliberately designed to collapse later on. At the same time, corporate leaders plotted to lay off hundreds of thousands of those new home owners and reward themselves for their crimes.

When the multitude of foreclosures struck, the ensuing costs of unemployment and poverty quickly destroyed the consumer market that their much-touted capitalist economy needs to function. Their greedy plot to grab as much gold as they could as quickly as possible was destined to destroy the economy, first in this country and finally throughout the world.

That’s just the tip of the problem, and it’ll continue as long as Republicans stubbornly impede change. Still, the solution is simple. The journey from this point to prosperity could be short. We just have to agree on the goals, plan the steps, and get to work. Consider this blueprint:

RE-TEACH: Education is the basic building block of a successful society, but too many young people are poorly trained in reading, math, science, and the entire range of skills necessary for 21st century jobs. Besides streamlining primary and secondary educational methods, we must establish a comprehensive public-private system to train people of all ages for today’s jobs.

RE-SOURCES: Plenty of jobs are waiting to be done, from rebuilding aging infrastructure to providing services to people and communities everywhere. All that’s missing is the resources to make it happen. Step One, above, would provide well-trained workers; governments from the local to federal levels, must plan and organize projects; and businesses, from small companies to multibillion-dollar corporations, should sign up to lead projects, even investing resources when and where they can realize eventual returns. Rather than treating this plan as a short-term stimulus, it should be viewed as a firm policy for the long term.

RE-TURN: This is the most controversial step, but if done correctly, it’ll be temporary. Taxes on high-income earners must return to 1990s levels to provide seed money to implement the plan. As I explain in Step Four, below, success would mean these funds would eventually be replaced by revenue from a newly active work force.

RE-WARD: The payoff is win-win-win for workers, governments, and companies. Well-trained, fully employed workers return wages in the form of taxes and payments for goods and services needed to enjoy a dignified lifestyle; tax revenues allow governments to provide necessary services; and sales ensure that companies thrive. This is truly vibrant capitalism--the direct opposite of the reward-the-rich-at-the-expense-of-the-lower-classes system that Republicans have touted for three decades.
This idea isn’t new. Even as the Bush administration claimed things were fine, I began writing articles explaining the plan in detail. I compiled 47 of those essays into The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace. The book can be purchased from online bookstores, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com, as an e-book from Outskirts Press, and downloaded to Kindle.

As bad as things seem, planning and implementing simple positive steps could turn the economy completely around. All it would take is the political will to organize governments, companies, and citizens into a work force for the future, a future in which prosperity and peace are the norm, rather than the exception.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taking a station break: Having some commercial fun

When I wrote a column for the Arizona City Independent/Edition, I sometimes took a break from serious think pieces by sharing opinions on some of the more (or less) interesting commercials on the tube. It’s been too long since I’ve done that sort of thing, so I’ve decided to throw in a few entries like that now and then. Feel free to post your comments, especially to share your thoughts about the many ways in which companies try to sell products and services to us.
I’m probably not the only person who’s happy to hear Burger King is dethroning the plastic-noggined monarch that tried in vain to increase their share of fast-food customers. Trouble is, the plastic-headed ruler was a rip-off from more successful Jack in the Box ads.
Not only does the King’s expression never change, he’s stuck with that weird grin that generated the judgment from pundits, from CNN anchors to a USA Today columnist, that he’s just plain “creepy.” Jack’s head might be merely an outsized pingpong ball, but at least he displays situationally appropriate expressions during his always funny ads.
My first thought was that at least the King won’t need embalming when he’s buried. My husband suggested they melt him down and make something useful from the plastic, maybe toys to lure in kids to ask for the food they claim is fresh and healthy. We’ll see how that goes.
A couple of commercials that get under my skin come under the heading of something my father used to say. Dad was a master of turning around old sayings to make statements that reflected more truth than the originals. One of my favorites: The labeled need not be obvious. (Think about it.)
“The World’s Greatest Spokesperson” isn’t and neither are just about all the Nationwide ads featuring the duller-than-dishwater company rep. The only two that might raise small smiles are the one with three-handed shadows to show how policies are bundled and the one about vanishing deductible in which the spokesperson does too. Trouble is, neither ad holds interest the second time around. Besides, I’d rather have the check Allstate sends to the best drivers twice a year than a deductible that pops back into effect if you have an accident.
Then there’s the guy who Dos Equis calls “the most interesting man in the world.” Every commercial he’s in is just a boring string of reasons why the guy’s supposed to be so cool, including the fact that “both sides of his pillow are cool.” If that’s the case, then it’s time to bury him along with the BK King. He’s been dead so long, he’s beginning to stink.
And while I’m at it, I’d like to report a commercial that turned out to be a lie. Earlier this year, we purchased a dishwasher from Sears for two reasons:
  • Many of their appliances are Consumer Reports Best Buys.
  • Their RAD (responsible appliance disposal) commercials generated trust that the old appliance would be recycled.

I especially enjoyed the ad where two teenage boys accuse the Sears delivery person of dumping the old refrigerator he’s replacing. When the man explains the RAD program, the expression of the boy on the left, with one raised eyebrow, is priceless. Unfortunately, we learned first-hand that the truth is far different from the promotion.
When I called to order the dishwasher, I explained to the agent several times that the RAD program was a big reason we chose a Sears appliance. Since I always take time to make sure of all the details, I assumed everything was set the way I wanted it. But when two men delivered the dishwasher a week later, they informed me no arrangement had been made--or even requested--for installation of the appliance.
Minutes later, I was on the phone chewing out everyone, from the first agent who answered all the way up to the supervisor I demanded to talk to. I finally learned Sears no longer installs dishwashers--I don’t know about other appliances, but I’m not about to test them again--so their RAD program doesn’t apply in such cases.
Instead, they depend on another company to do the job, but they don’t volunteer that detail when they sell the appliance. I had to call the other company and set up a date three weeks later to get my new dishwasher installed. You can be certain I made sure they recycle the old dishwasher. Otherwise, I’d have looked elsewhere for the service.
Because I was so adamant and had all the names, dates, and call details carefully recorded, the supervisor did refund our delivery charge, but it barely makes up for the fact that we had to wait a full month until we were actually able to use our new machine. When I shared my experience with my sister, she regaled me with an equally vexing problem she had when ordering a trash compactor from Sears. Our negative experiences apparently aren’t isolated events. Suffice to say, the company has lost a couple of customers from way, wa-a-ay back.
Meanwhile, I have not seen another Sears ad touting their RAD program. I wonder if complaints like mine are the reason the campaign ended. I’m happy they’re no longer claiming something that isn’t true, but do miss that kid with the raised eyebrow.
Okay, your turn. I’d love to hear what you think about some of the spots that are supposed to get you to buy a product or service but just don’t make the grade. Do your darnedest. I can use the (station) break.


Sunday, August 7, 2011


Note: I originally posted this article in two parts on my Examiner.com page in May 2009. I’ve updated several small details, and even though there has been some progress in marriage rights, all the points are still relevant.

As I explained in a posting when I wrote a column on Examiner.com, when Carrie Prejean was ignoring her contractual duties as Miss California USA to appear in venues where she could speak against gay marriage before a friendly crowd, I felt compelled to explain why her position was wrong. Her latest move was no surprise after she babbled: “I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose, same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.”

Besides being inarticulate--what kind of relationship is “opposite” marriage?--this statement is false, which is the crux of the criticism against her.

Prejean followed with a Freudian slip: “In my country . . . ,“ but quickly corrected herself: “In my family, I think that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.” Though she ended with, “No offense to anybody . . . ,“ she’s now doing everything in her power to offend gays and lesbians everywhere by campaigning against the “freedom” that her cohorts have made sure doesn’t exist in the first place.

The time has come to explain why they’re all wrong. Following are the primary arguments that conservatives make against same-sex marriage, along with facts that show just how incorrect they are:

Point: Marriage has always been between a man and a woman because it is an arrangement for the purpose of procreation.

Counterpoint: If that’s the case, then marriage wouldn’t be valid for people who cannot have children, such as women who’ve had a hysterectomy or have been through menopause, or men and women who are sterile for any reason.

Point: Gay marriage will destroy traditional marriage.

Counterpoint: Only the people in an individual relationship can destroy that relationship. Any marriage is good or bad, a success or a failure, because of the behavior of the two people within that union.

Point: Gay marriage violates the religious rights of the . . . uh . . . religious right.

Counterpoint: No church can be forced to sanctify a union that the leaders or majority of members refuse to recognize. For instance, remarriage of divorced people is perfectly legal, yet many churches refuse to marry people who’ve been divorced, or even to recognize such unions. On the other hand, churches that use politics to force their beliefs on those who are not members of their religion are violating our religious rights. They are preventing us from enjoying our right to celebrate the spiritual union of same-sex couples within our religious community. That should be our choice, but fundamentalist churches deny us that choice.

Point: The Bible calls sex between two men an “abomination.”

Counterpoint: Leviticus chapter 11 lists numerous types of animals whose meat is considered unclean so eating it is considered an “abomination.” Today, the most popular of those foods is shellfish, which Christians today only refuse to eat if they’re allergic. Then there’s the uncleanness of people with leprosy, as described beginning in chapter 13. Yet that disease is now so well controlled by medication that in most parts of the world, people who have it are no longer quarantined. Chapter 19 warns against cross-breeding cattle, sowing two kinds of seeds in the same field, and wearing fabric woven of two different kinds of threads. All these unclean/abominable things are in common practice today, even by Christians. So they’re pretty selective about which “abominations” of the Hebrew scriptures they choose to avoid.

Point: But what of Genesis 1:28, in which God commanded Adam and Eve to: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth . . . “?

Counterpoint: Right-wingers quote the fruitful/multiply part all the time, but they conveniently ignore the meaning of “fill.” In fact, it is a qualifying statement that foretold a point where all that multiplying would not only not be needed, it would actually be counterproductive to the survival of both the species and the planet. At the time humans received that command, if it did come from on High--and I’ll leave that question to others--there were few, if any other, humans on the planet. For thousands of years, procreation strengthened family, tribe, and nation by increasing the population, while there was still room to accommodate the increase. But some years ago, the planet reached its “fill” point, and it’s been going downhill ever since. Genesis 1:28 does not say “overflow,” so the importance of procreation must be put into its historical context and the wisdom of moderation should now prevail.

Point: Sex between people of the same gender is unnatural.

Counterpoint: If same-gender sex occurs in nature, then it is natural. And it does occur among many species of animals. In fact, scientists have discovered that same-gender sexual activity occurs most often at times when animals are struggling to survive in areas where they’re dealing with overpopulation and limited resources. Looks like animals are even smarter than humans when it comes to managing natural resources.

Point: Then we get to the ultimate lie, that marriage is primarily a religious issue.

Counterpoint: Marriage was, first and foremost, a legal arrangement between families involving--not love or personal relationships--but property. And the primary property in the transaction was the bride, who was given by the bride’s father to the groom’s family. Thus, the tradition that the father of the bride give her away to the groom is an archaic practice best left out of modern marriages, but that’s a personal choice that should be made by the bride and no one else. The second property issue in marriage was the issue: the children that came from the marriage union. They were important because the more children a family/tribe had, the greater their influence in the community/nation. Then there was the dowry, an archaic custom in which the bride’s father paid the groom and/or his family to take her off his hands. In some societies it was the other way around: The man purchased the wife from her family. Either way, money or property changed hands so that the bride could too. This is very much a legal matter, and it’s about time it was completely separated from religious control. The United States Congress should pass a law that would grant the same legal marriage rights--or whatever they want to call them--to all couples, no matter their gender makeup, then let each church decide whether they want to bless those unions, just as it’s done in so many European countries today.

Point: Marriage is a tradition that has not changed in 5000 years.

Counterpoint: Those who think marriage has always been hearts and flowers are dead wrong. The institution has long been in a state of flux as the rights of women and children have slowly come to be recognized and protected. Throughout history, traditions that are morally wrong--such as spouse and child abuse, discrimination, slavery, and war--have changed with our growth as an enlightened society, though we still have a long way to go in all these areas. And if they’re really interested in following traditional marriage practices, they’d allow polygamy again and stop providing the cover of secrecy that allows people like Warren Jeffs to get away with all their crimes. The time has come to finally end one more form of bigotry by allowing any two people who love each other to enjoy the same rights and privileges now granted to “opposite” couples, whether money changes hands or they plan to have children, or none of the above.

Point: Gays and lesbians should be satisfied with civil unions.

Counterpoint: Civil unions, civil partnerships--whatever they’re called--only grant a handful of the more than 1400 legal rights and benefits given to straight married couples in the United States. Even marriages honored by individual states are not recognized in most of the other states, and many federal rights are not recognized for same-sex couples whose unions are fully blessed in the small number of states that allow gay marriage. The battle will not be over until everyone in the U.S. can marry whomever they choose and their relationship is recognized and honored in every state and county in the country.

Point: Children need both a mother and a father in order to grow up to be psychologically healthy adults.

Counterpoint: The American Academy of Pediatrics is only one of the many professional organizations that have debunked this piece of lunacy. While it is true that children derive great benefit from developing close relationships with people of both genders, even single parents manage to overcome the missing-parent gap by having relatives and/or friends act as psychological surrogates for their children. And when two people of the same gender live together, they tend to develop roles that span the range of psychological behaviors that address a child’s needs under most circumstances, just like “normal” couples, and provide models for good behavior as they’re developing and once the children are adults themselves.

Point: Children who grow up with gay parents of the same sex are more likely to be homosexual themselves.

Counterpoint: This is another fallacy created, fostered, and promoted by the anti-gay marriage crowd. If this were true, then no one who grows up in a family with heterosexual parents would ever turn out to be gay, but that’s simply not the case. And neither are children born to and/or raised by same-sex couples any more likely to be homosexual themselves. In fact, the percentages generally follow the same average in the population that they always have: Throughout history, approximately ten percent of the population, in every part of the world, have been gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (born with organs of both sexes). In most times and places, they were forced to hide their true nature, but they were everywhere, in all eras of history.

Point: Gay marriage violates conservative values.

Counterpoint: Traditional conservatives focused on economic issues, rejecting the notion of delving into people’s private lives. In fact, Barry Goldwater, the uber-conservative of the previous generation, believed government should stay out of the issues of abortion and gay marriage, and that churches should stay out of politics--as in the First Amendment tradition of separation of church and state.

Point: The majority of people in various states continue to vote for laws and constitutional amendments that define marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Are they all bigots?

Counterpoint: In fact, the name for this situation is: “tyranny of the majority.” In fact, the history of our country is a saga of growing beyond the bigotry of the majority to the enlightenment that sprang from small minorities, such as slavery, Jim Crow, anti-Asian policies, etc. And since the debacle of Proposition 8, polls are beginning to show that more people in California have come to regret their failure to understand the true meaning of that odious law, and polls reflect similar changing attitudes around the country. It won't be long before the votes will begin to turn things around.

Point: But what if, in spite of all these other arguments, same-sex marriage is just plain wrong?

Counterpoint: Whether same-sex marriage is morally right or wrong is not up to us to decide. We should heed Jesus’ advice and leave the judging up to God (Luke 6:37). Since the legal--and even religious, in the case of liberal sects which accept gay marriage--arrangement is between two consenting adults, it harms no one, and actually has beneficial effects on the parties involved. In the end, there is no basis for using the law to prevent people from honoring what is, after all, a basic human right.

Point: The current (now former, as of this updated posting) Miss California USA claims she meant “no offense” by declaring her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Counterpoint: Carrie Prejean can say all she wants about her belief in “opposite” marriage. But she is using her notoriety to make sure millions of same-sex couples in this country--their country too!--continue to be denied the same rights and privileges granted to her married “opposite” friends. In the end, her ongoing attempt to continue denying this basic civil right to millions of Americans is offensive!

Encounter with 2011 Equality Walkers from Right to Marry Arizona

Today, August 7, Jim and I joined a group of courageous and energetic walkers for gay rights at Casa Grande Library. We regret that we can't walk with them, but if I can get my shaky video of the conversation onto my computer, I'll post it all over the place, including here. Anything we can do to help spread the word that everybody should have the right to marry--or not--as they wish, not just according to the whim of the state or the community in which they live.

They told me about the great website, righttomarryaz.org, set up specifically for the issue of promoting marriage rights for all in the state of Arizona. We need to do what we can, talk about it, write letters, post the message wherever we can on the internet, and donate money if and when we can. Every little bit helps!

So, do what you can. And check this schedule to see if these wonderful people of all ages are coming through your town. If so, you can check the route page to see where they’ll be stopping so people can meet them and chat with everybody for a while. They’re a really fun bunch, and they’ve got a lot of knowledge about the issue. You could learn something. I know I always do!

Coming up, it’s time for me to repost my originally two-part article on why conservatives are absolutely wrong for opposing a positive change to the marriage laws so everybody can marry the person they love, no matter where they live. Watch for that later today!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Friday Peace Vigil, Youngstown, OH, and surrounding area:

Friday, August 5, 2011
4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Courthouse, 125 Market St.

Ray Nakley (330-506-1999) and Ron Dull (330-518-9881) will hold their weekly Peace Vigil this Friday, August 5, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the Courthouse, 125 Market St., Youngstown, OH. They invite anyone who is interested in showing their support for ending conflict in the world to join them. Hold out positive thoughts for that!

This week:

This week we begin the next-to-last month of Jim’s employment at the Gila River Indian Community. He’ll retire in October and we’ll enter the next phase of our lives. We have several things to do to prepare. Meanwhile, we breathed a temporary sigh of relief at the “compromise” that was reached in Washington that allowed Social Security and Medicare to continue--for now. But that doesn’t mean retirees and disabled people can relax and be assured they can depend on the current system. That’s why a big part of our work will continue to be my writing about the need to elect candidates to Congress that care about the needs of real people, not just corporations and millionaires.

As I wrote in my previous article, “Rewarding the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class: Bad economics, bad citizenship,” believing that our economy depends on making rich people richer while ignoring the needs of people in the lower classes is an upside-down approach to running a successful economy. That’s why the economy is in such bad shape now. And those who try to blame everything on the current administration are completely ignoring the fact that conservative Republicans have stood in the way of every positive step that Democrats and President Obama have tried to take in the past year and a half. Jim and I plan to do our best to encourage the election of people who care about the needs of everyone, not just the rich.

Meanwhile, let’s all send out our most positive thoughts and, for those who are believers, prayers to support and benefit all those suffering in so many parts of the world!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rewarding the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class: Bad economics, bad citizenship

It’s time to face the facts: We live, work, plan, rule, and most importantly, are ruled by one major principle: Economic success in a capitalistic society is measured by how well the highest earners are doing. There’s a vital corollary to that theorem: Poverty doesn’t matter to those who are working.
Nothing could be farther from the truth!

The basic planks in this platform are:

  • Capitalism depends entirely on investment money from the wealthy class.
  • Since rich people spend more than lesser earners, especially on luxury items, their capital input is worth more to the economy than anything we lower-class schlubs can ever do to feed the economic machine.


This attitude ignores two vital sources of capitalistic funding:

  • All the money from people in the middle and lower classes pooled into mutual and retirement funds, including 401Ks and IRAs; bank and credit union accounts; interest collections from loans; and much more.
  • The combined spending of people in the lower classes who pay for goods and services they need and even more.

When you compare what one member of the upper crust is able to throw around compared to that from any one of the rest of us, the rich have the edge. But when you consider the small number of people who earn a million dollars or more with the combined economic power of the rest of us, we’ll always be the overwhelming majority. That’s why our economic value should always be respected in financial decisions, whether they’re made on Main Street, Wall Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue.

Regardless of the cumulative investing and spending power of the lower classes compared with that of the rich, conservatives insist the country’s economic health depends on protecting the wealthy by cutting basic services for the neediest among us. As a result, they’re destroying the economic life of not only the U.S. but the entire world.

It’s time to turn this ship around. Let’s consider some of the worst problems:

Conservatives want to direct more money toward construction and management of prisons than schools. However, studies show that every dollar invested in education is returned many times over in productivity and taxes and much less is needed for law-enforcement and prisons, which actually have a negative impact on the economy.

Conservatives don’t want to spend any public money on health care for low earners, people with disabilities, and senior citizens. But investment in promoting healthy lifestyles and nutrition, preventive care, and timely care for people with illnesses or injuries is much cheaper than denying adequate and necessary care. Besides, healthier people are more productive, which is good for the economic health of the country.

Finally, conservatives claim global warming is a myth and cleaning up pollution and dirty industries is too expensive. But the rising cost of pollution-related health problems prove that eliminating and preventing pollution and building green industries ace the most logical investments for a prosperous future.

The upshot is that investment in quality education, health care, and environmental cleanup and protection pay off in the long run. Those investments provide well-paying jobs for people, many of whom are unemployed because of financial shenanigans of the rich and their conservative political allies. That strategy will strengthen the impact of the real economic machine, all the rest of us.

Even if it takes a temporary rise in the taxes of the highest-earning citizens--which would actually just be a return to the tax levels of the last time the economy was doing well--it’ll pay off in the long run even for those “put-upon” rich people. So much for the argument that raising taxes on the rich is too much of a sacrifice for conservatives to allow.

So, when politicians and big spenders think about where to put their money, they should consider investing in America and Americans--the real Americans who work for a living and whose money keeps the doors of businesses open for the long haul.