Friday, October 28, 2011

To Vote or not to Vote

First morning in the 30's today.  Possible snow tomorrow morning. Yikes.  (I have used that word a few times lately.  Kind of like it).

This past Monday's Phila. Inquirer had an interesting juxtaposition of lead articles. 

One recounted the lack of faith in either American political party in this current election cycle.  Republican voters are dissatisfied with their cast of candidates while Democratic voters are disappointed with President Obama and the economic direction the country has taken since 2008. 

The second lead article portrayed the hope and excitement of the Tunisian people who were voting, at a 90% pace, in their first free election. 

Clearly, if given the option, most Americans would express preference for our democratic process as opposed to a totalitarian regime or military dictatorship.  We pride ourselves in the belief that we invented both democracy and capitalism, and seem more than willing to spread the good news of both systems to the far corners of the world, even if by gunpoint if necessary.  So why are we so complacent in exercising our voting obligation?   

Notwithstanding the current Occupy Wall Street protests, we decry the proliferation of money in our political system, cry foul when we hear of elected officials riding on corporate jets to "meetings" in warm climes (why don't they ever fly off to Alaska for these "research meetings"?), and shake our heads in disgust when we hear of another Wall street insider fraud scheme or another round of obscene bonuses paid to the CEO's of corporations recently bailed out by taxpayer money, yet we continue to shy away from the polls as if voting itself is the cause of our ills.

We watch without response as our representatives in Washington routinely pass "defense" spending bills that include the building of infrastructure and schools in Iraq and Afghanistan, while cheering the same politicians who propose plans to balance our state and national budgets by slashing education budgets or eliminating the Department of Education.    

If we are less than excited about our choices for this next election, perhaps we need to take a few moments, put down the sports page, the TV remote and the I-phone, and spend some time finding a candidate and/or party that we do believe in.  And, if that candidate or party lets us down, find another.  Perhaps we should pretend that participating in the electoral process, local, state and federal, is actually important.  That knowing the names of the people who represent us is as good a conversation starter as the judges on American Idol.   

Perhaps we should remember that the alternatives to free and fair elections are being jettisoned in countries all over the world, in some cases after dozens of years of the killing of those advocating democracy.   Is that what we need, to have to fight for the right to vote all over again?  

And speaking of voting, why are we suddenly so focused on making it harder to vote?  Shouldn't we be promoting policies that encourage voting?  Perhaps make it a weekend long event?  Or, gasp, close all our schools and businesses for a day and make voting the focus of all activity.  We know that sex is used to sell everything, perhaps the right marketing campaign featuring just enough titillation and call for patriotism will work. 

I keep hearing that our government doesn't work any more.  Or that our political system is broken.  When only 1 in 3 people can expend the effort to vote, when more people watch the Simpsons than a political debate featuring the (possible) future president of the country, when the understanding of civics is considered either the study of underwear of a course on operating a Honda, then what is broken is the American belief in its greatest export; democracy.  And that is truly a sad state of affairs.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Liberal and a Libertarian

This past summer I became acquainted with a young man who is a libertarian.  I know he is a libertarian because he sometimes wears a T-shirt that defines and spells out, in syllables the word libertarian.  I also know because he has more than once uttered that famous libertarian phrase

Republicans stay out of my bedroom,
Democrats stay out of my wallet!

During the initial phase of our discussions, we often focused on topics in which we disagreed.  Business related items and the recent health care reforms were front and center.  But recently, we decided to broach subjects which produced an agreement, if not in total then at least an agreement that could create a "bipartisan" response.  Here are a few of those topics.

Gay Marriage.  This was a no brainer.  Any person who values and reveres the Constitution of the United States would be hard-pressed to find justification for preventing two consenting adults to marry.  It is such a basic tenet in our belief in the individuals right to "pursuit of happiness" that only a strong discrimination against who and how someone chooses to express their love prevents this from passing the way of intolerance that discouraged ethnic intermarriage, religious intermarriage and interracial marriage. 

Abortion.  Again, consensus.  While neither of us encourage abortion as a means of birth control, and had not (to our knowledge) has a sexual encounter that led to an abortion, we were clearly on the side of a woman's right to choose.  Again, considering that abortion is currently legal in America, and considering the alternative of unsafe, "back alley" procedures, and tens of thousands of unwanted children, it seems completely arbitrary that America would continue to treat abortion as anything other than a woman's right to decide issues related to her body.  As a side note, we postured (rather cynically, I admit) that if men could bear children, abortion would not be as important an issue.

Taxation.  Surprisingly (to me), my libertarian friend was not opposed to taxation.  He understood the need for the government to have money for national defense, and to assist its citizens when they were in need.  He even agreed with our current progressive tax system which has higher tax rates for those earning more incomes.  He could not see the logic of a flat tax which asked someone making $20K per year to pay the same rate as someone earning $200K or $200 million.  We both felt that taxation was a method to raise the necessary capital to run a country, not a way to punish those just starting out or of a limited earning capability.  Of course, we do not see eye to eye on many areas in which the government uses our tax money but at least we could agree to debate where to spend the money as opposed to whether we should tax at all.

Religion.  No surprise here that we saw too much religion in our politics but not enough spirituality.  Who can sleep with who, which religion is Christian and which is not, what does the bible say, etc, are not topics that belong in our political debates.  Strangely, we both noted the strange bed partners that many who expouse the most "religious" beliefs and their overwhelming support for military solutions to the world's problems.

War.  Constitutionally, the duty of our government to protect the citizens of our country is undeniable.  Whether we should be spending upwards of 25% of every dollar we collect in taxes, and approximately 65% of the discretionary money available in our national budget was something we both questioned.  Too many foreign bases, too many military actions, too many lost lives, too many big budget war toys that we will never use, too much wasted resources outside our country while our infrastructure slowly crumbles and our citizens remain unemployed.

Individual responsibility.  Surprisingly (to my friend), I advocate individual responsibility first and foremost.  Are you doing all that you can for yourself, your family, and your country?  Have you exhausted all resources before looking to the state for help?  I know that liberals are accused of expecting the government to help everyone, to provide equal results as opposed to equal opportunity.  I am able to acknowledge that there are times when we go too far to create a more equitable life style when a libertarian acknowledges that there are times when working class people lose their jobs through no fault of their own, when disease and accident prevent people and families from living the American dream and, yes Virginia, when corporations and businesses operate under the maxim "let the buyer beware" thereby justifying all the corner cutting and inferior products they produce in the name of profit.  We agreed that both regular people who sometimes give in to the easy way out and let someone else provide for them and the people with the resources and the ambition who ignore their place in the family of man are at fault when it comes to forgetting the importance of individual responsibility.

If my new libertarian friend and I can find common ground in discussing the topics of the day and together develop solutions towards solving those issues, why can't our elected officials in Washington do the same.  Do they not represent a range of viewpoints just as he and I do?  If they cannot, perhaps we need to elect a new bunch that can.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Death Less Noticed

Rain returned this week.  Nothing like the drenchings we had a month or so ago, but still enough to require double bagging of the newspapers.  Fortunately, the temperatures were mild so I was able to deliver in my shorts and sandals a few of the days.
And again, so many deer this week, including a family of three on the front lawn of a house in a neighborhood that I would not consider rural in the least. 

I mentioned in my last blog that the remarkable Steve Jobs died last week.  Clearly, his mark on history will be far reaching.

Perhaps even as important but far less publicized was another death, that of Frank Kameny.  I was completely unaware of Mr. Kameny's existence let alone his importacne in the gay rights movement.  As someone who likes to think that I am cognizant of the "players" in today's society, it disturbed me that I was so ignorant of this special person.  And makes me question just how our awareness of what is news and what is not reported is so influenced (and so controlled) by the very media outlets that we depend on for our information.

As I read the one column obituary of Frank Kameny, I was struck by the length of his battle to gain equal rights for the gay community and the changes that have occurred since he "came out" after being fired from his government job in 1957 (yes, over 50 years ago), and the apparent anonimity in which he operated. 

As early as 1965, he was included in a small group which staged a protest outside the White House during President Johnson's (yes, Lyndon Johnson) term.  He founded and cofounded many advocacy groups which fought using legal means as well as civil disobediance to bring light to gay discrimination in the military and other government agencies.  I can only imagine his amazement and satisfaction when, in 2009, he stood in the Oval Office when President Obama signed a directive extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.  This past May, his papers became part of a Library of Congress exhibit on US constitutional history.  At this solemn occasion, he was hailed as the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement.

Whether he was the ultimate behind-the-scenes force for the gay rights movement or someone whose contribution was not fully
understood as it occurred, or simply that his cause labored in the darkness of the deep rooted discrimination against gays that permeated our society until recently, I find myself saddened and disturbed that only in his death did I know of such a person.

In honor of the progress that has been made in the past 50 years, and as a reminder to those that have used religion to suppress the rights of minorities of all races, creeds and preferences, I submit a story I wrote a few years back which described the struggle surrounding another, perhaps future debate regarding rights, in this case marriage rights.

                                                                               The Debate

The debate had raged in the streets and in the Senate for the past 6 months. Parties on both sides of the issue had dusted off their tried and true arguments while painting the position of the other side in an unflattering a picture as possible.

While the specific point of the law was new, the nature of its meaning was as old as humankind itself. Those in favor cited progress, the evolving nature of society, compassion for everyone and the obvious as well as hidden discrimination that the law would eliminate. Those against the pending law cited tradition, values and the very real possibility of the end of the human race.

On Intervision, from the driest of business shows right on down to the trashiest talk shows, representatives from both sides of the issue could be seen on a daily basis, sometimes cajoling, sometimes imploring the viewing public that the bill must or must not be defeated. Every institution had weighed in, every level of political agenda was heard from, every citizen-based organization was involved. Finally, after 6 months of posturing and propaganda it was decided that today’s session in the Senate, in the presence of the world ruling counsel and with what was expected to be the most watched Intervision broadcast on record, a decision would be rendered.

At 10:00 the Senate was called to order.

The pending law was read aloud, simultaneously translated into all the languages of all the world’s peoples. Immediately, both sides as represented in the Senate scrambled to position their speakers in a beneficial sequence, as the tradition of alternating presentations would be followed. This pattern of speeches, one for, one against the new law, continued for 4 hours as was the custom. As the end of the 4 hours neared, tension in the room began to climb as did viewership of the preceding.

At exactly 2:00, the last speaker was cut off, her final words inaudible to both those in attendance and those on Intervision. All eyes turned to the seven members of the ruling counsel.

Surprisingly, counsel member #3 stood up. He was a very old Senator; in fact, his exact age was not completely known. He was not known for his speaking abilities; in fact, no one present could remember the last time he spoke publicly. But it was known that his influence was great and that his opinions, invariably made known behind closed doors, often ruled the day. The air was still, all eyes were upon him as his voice, quiet yet clear and strong, spoke these words.

“My fellow humans. Today we make a decision that will change the very course of human destiny. It is not a decision to take lightly but not unlike similar decisions made years ago by our predecessors. I know of what I am speaking because I was present for some of those momentous choices.”

Counsel member #3 paused. He looked at each of the other six ruling counselors, then gazed out at those in attendance, and finally his eyes locked on the nearest of the Intervision transmitters.

“Just as it was decided a dozen generations ago that marriage between the races of our world should be recognized, just as it was decided 2 generations ago that marriage within genders should be supported, now it should be our decision to pass this law legalizing marriage between sentient species.”

And so, in the year 2060, the people of earth and the beings of Vega officially began the first of the universe’s joined species.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jobs and Jobs

Cool, crisp mornings last week, then a slow warming to the point where I was able to deliver my route in shorts and sandals this week, culminating in 2 days of clear skies filled with the light of a full moon.  And deer everywhere.

I have been reading some commentary on the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon that has spread to many of the country's major cities.  Of course, the comments are skewed based on one's political and social bias.  One of the more interesting comments, directed to the protesters, was nothing if not succinct; get a job.

With unemployment in the 20-25% range for young people, perhaps that is part of the reason for these demonstrations.  Many recent college graduates are finding themselves in the unenviable position of facing $40, $60, $80K dollars in school debt, in competition with dozens, if not hundreds of other similarly positioned people, clamoring for every job, and feeling betrayed by the system which promised them opportunities that have not appeared.  Of course, there are many jobs to be had in the service sector, but $10 an hour does not cut it for those who believed that a college degree would set them on a better road than their non-educated counterparts who settled for the local burger joint or big box department store job.

And then there is Steve Jobs, the genius of our time who helped transform, in literally one generation, our method of communication and entertainment.  When I was in my mid-20's, computers were confined to large, sterile rooms on college campuses or large corporations.  Then, when you could first purchase a personal computer, you needed to go through a series of steps to get it to work, and, invariably, you found it necessary to call the support line to may it start.  Some people were just starting to carry beepers, which still required you to find a phone to call the source of the beep.  Music was confined to tape decks, vinyl records and a new, smaller thing called a cassette tape.

Now, my daughter has a phone upon which she can access her grades via the Internet.  Thousands of songs are contained on a devise that fits in a back pocket.  And, although Jobs was not the brains behind facebook or twitter, we are able to communicate with people experiencing earthquakes in Japan or the Arab spring in Egypt, as the events take place.   The world eems much smaller yet the hopes and dreams ofr our young are even bigger than ever.

Perhaps then, it is only through the energy and protests and dissatisfaction of the status quo that is represented by those involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement that people like Steve Jobs find a market for their brilliant ideas and innovations.  And, perhaps it is only because of the truly unique individuals like Steve Jobs that new generations are able to make their mark on society.  It is a necessay and symbiotic relationship that would not exist without both sides of the equation.

So I say, march on young men and women.  Let those in power know that you expect more of them than they seem willing to give.  Remind those who possess the trappings of material success that it is not the bling that produces happiness.  But more importantly, when your time has come and you are beginning to attain your dreams, don't forget the reasons for today's unrest or tomorrow's generation of protesters might be at your door.      

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Killing Abroad

Cool and rainy weather these last few days.  The calendar says October so I guess upper 50's should be expected but wasn't it just a few days ago that it was 80 degrees?  Is this the end of shorts and sandals for 2011? 

While not as heralded as the death of Osama bin Laden, there was another assassination of a key al-Qaeda leader this past weekend when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by a drone strike.   Al-Awlaki was the very visible leader of the Yemen faction of
al-Qaeda, a branch which has upgraded both its reputation and its activities in its violence against America.  To some, he was the heir apparent to bin Laden, as the center of the radical Islamic movement has shifted away from Iraq and Afghanistan towards Yemen.  He was fluent in English which enabled him to penetrate an audience not easily reached in the past.    

And, al-Awlaki was a US citizen.

For most people, killing this terrorist was a no brainer.  He had long ago dissolved his connection to the United States by calling for violence against our country and its citizens.  He has been linked to various terrorist plots and actions including the Ft Hood shooter and the Christmas Day bomber.  All crimes that say treason in big, bold letters.

Yet, he was a US citizen.  This simple fact was enough to cause the Obama Administration to request the justice departments Office of Legal Counsel to issue a memorandum (same office that, under Bush II, ruled that water boarding was not torture).
In the end, it was decided that there was no way to arrest and try the man so that in his case specifically, assassination was legal.  Of course, we all know the power of precedence so to me it opens the door for other overseas killings of American born enemies of our country. 

The danger is whether such a precedent could be used to authorize the killing of an American for other reasons that might be considered treasonous.  Perhaps someone plotting a cyber attack on our financial or military computer systems.  That would be pretty serious, so would it also justify suspending the constitution?  How about using it to authorize the killing of an enemy with American citizenship within our borders?  Someone who has been linked to a credible attack on a nuclear reactor?  Do we kill him/her outright also?

What is ironic is that most people who have been quoting the constitution when attacking Obama are generally quiet on this one, even though, clearly, due process of law as guaranteed by the constitution has been waived for this particular American citizen.
(Although I did see that Ron Paul was quoted as saying that Obama could be impeached for this act; could be but shouldn't be was his statement, I believe.  Another reason that Mr Paul can not win the Republican nomination as when his opponents hear that he is defending the rights of an American terrorist, he will be pilloried).

Obviously, in an ideal world, we hunt down the likes of al-Awlaki and bring him to justice through a military or civilain trial.  Perhaps he is killed in the process of that arrest so our legal conscious can be clear, but there is no middle ground when we target and kill someone with a missile shot from hundreds of miles away.  There was no intent to capture, only kill.  And for those killed with him, whether guilty by willing association or merely the driver who drew the short stick, I guess we don't even blink an eye as they were not Americans.  (One was a Saudi national; funny how so many terrorists are Saudi Arabian by nationality or supported with Saudi money). 

State sponsored killing to insure the survival of the state.  If you were against state sponsored torture to insure the safety of Amerians, should you also be against killing?  If not, then are you not accepting the premise that it is OK to kill but you can't beat them up?   And if you are OK with torture and killing because they are obviously our enemies, then are you OK with suspending the right to trial for other "obvious" miscreants?  Mass murderers?  Child molesters?  How about admitted frauds, like Bernie Madoff?  Everyone knew he was guilty of massive financial fraud and was responsible for the loss to hundreds of people of millions of dollars; should he have been convicted and sentenced without trial?   

It is certainly a tough call, but if we are to be a nation of laws, don't we need to apply the law to all of our citizens, even those we abhor?

Another, less obvious side of the story is the ever increasing use of drone strikes by Obama.  Effective use, some might say.  Again, not much flack from the right for this upswing in remote killing of our enemies.  I guess this is the kind of thing that a liberal president can do without fear of repercussions.  Can't work to form a policy that will provide health insurance for all Americans, but he can kill as many terrorists in whatever way possible.  The fact that al-Qaeda has suffered great losses in its leadership cadre, that our troop presence in Iraq continues to dwindle and that there is a plan to withdrawl American troops from our expensive and (in my opinion) wasteful war in Afghanistan is given short shift when compared to the daily difficulties of our economy.  Again, people vote with their wallets so Obama will need to win his re-election, not on the strength of his actions as the commander in chief (an area that many said would be his weakness) but on his ability to get our economy back on track.

Strange how politics works.  Supplant the constitution to kill an enemy and you are praised.  Expand the reach of government into the life of a particular American via a complete disregard of the laws of our nation, and you are a defender of the freedom of our country.  As is always the case, we must constantly be vigil of what we wish for; we just might get it.       

Money, money, money

I have recently begun some new corresponces centered on discussing economics.  In today's heated political environment, a chasm exists between the two camps as to the best method of circumventing our current economic malaise.  Even the prospect of the Super Committee to draft a proposal that will be palatable to both sides while still actually accomplishing something seems remote.  In my corrresponces, I have played the role of defender of government intervention to stimulate the economy.  I unquestionably believe it is the government's role to provide money/stimulus when the private sector is unable (as in the case of the Great Depression) or unwilling (as I believe is part of our problem today). 

There seems a strange juxtaposition of morality prevalent in today's discourse.  We have those who honor the sanctity of life by advocating the elimination of abortion in our society but who don't seem to extend that same honor to those whose only crime was to be born in a country other than America.  We have those who would stand at attention in an airport as a group of soldiers passed by in recognition of their bravery yet would hurl hateful epitaphs at the funeral of one who died for the very freedoms that they cherish merely because of who that person chooses to love.

And then there is money.  I am sure that most of us would seek justice against those who would steal lunch money from smaller schoolmates yet at the same time we frequently repeat sayings such as "Let the buyer beware" when faced with the sad story of someone who invested their savings unwisely or purchased an advertised product that was faulty.  We seem all to willing to admire those who are materially successful regardless of how they accomplished such success.  In the ultimate example of greed over man, there are many who have no qualms with the thousands of Wall Street derivative brokers who made untold millions of dollars pedaling financial instruments that held no value.  Even when the buyers of these worthless funds turned out to be the pension funds of working Americans resulting in the net loss in the billions to these retirement accounts, there were those who fought every and all regulation changes designed to try to prevent such future occurences.  Their belief in capitalism and the right for an individual to attain wealth seems to completely obliterate their examination of the methods one might use to become wealthy.

And then, of course, is the obvious teachings of Christ who equated the chances of a rich man to reach heaven with those of a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  Do we just not believe that particular parable, or do we believe that God has altered the game so that those with the most money get the best seat in heaven?

Anyway, I would certainly prefer that the movers and shakers of this world, those with the best brains and the most ambition, the real job creators among us, would voluntarily come to the conclusion that a sustainable economic system builds from the bottom up and that no amount of trickle down will work if the tricklers are too consumed by attaining wealth, and those to be trickled upon believe that they might one day be a trickler so let there be no restraint.  In that  vein, I thought it relevant to reprint my story The Change for any new reader of my blog who has not encountered it as of yet.   

                                                                          The Change

Strangely enough, the change had begun from the actions of an athlete. Not one of those athletes who points to the sky whenever he performs admirably but clearly one whose spirituality matched his athletic prowess. He was twenty-eight years old, just in the midst of his prime, as he was reminded incessantly when he first proposed his idea. In the previous three years, he had led the league or been close to the top in every category that mattered, and it was expected that the negotiations for his next contract would set a new standard for compensation. When he first mentioned the plan to his agent, she immediately appealed to the his wife, mother, and teammates, even going as far as bringing in star athletes from other sports to talk some sense into him. But to no avail. He was adamant that it was time for someone to make a stand and who better but someone who could maximize the effect.

The process, as all significant social and economic changes are, was gradual and not readily noticed by the populace. In fact, at first the trend was a positive one. Starting after the second of two great world wars, there was impressive growth. And for the first 40 years or so, this growth penetrated virtually all levels of society. Within two generations, the ideas and ambitions of the best of the population helped drive the development of a thriving middle class whose labor made those ideas and ambitions come to fruition. This symbiotic relationship, while not completely inclusive of all people, for the first time bridged many of the gaps that had excluded women and minorities.

But the growth was unsustainable. In retrospect, it seemed obvious that a slowdown or a time of flat growth was inevitable after such a meteoric rise. But expectations had risen as well and so rather than taking a breath and revising expectations, the country's leadership continued to stoke the belief in unfettered progress. When natural resources seemed to be straining, new technologies were developed to enhance the processes. When investments could no longer rely on new ideas and hard work to produce the required gains, new financial vehicles were created which traded on expectations, opinions and trickery. When people working together for a common goal no longer resulted in enough profit, influences were popularized that inflamed class warfare and class envy even as jobs were moved to areas and countries where labor was cheaper and profit could be maintained.

Some said it was a purposeful slide, orchestrated by the haves to keep the have-nots in line and confused about their degrading state. But if the truth be told, it was everyone, rich and poor, liberal and conservative, who let it happen. Rather than looking in the mirror in acknowledgement of individual responsibility, they continued to buy when they should have saved, to waste when they should have conserved, and to believe the easy answers rather than demanding that someone tell them the hard truth. And so, a mere four generations after the biggest surge in opportunity and standard of living ever experienced in history, the trend began to reverse.

Where once school age children could by a ticket for a ball game on a sunny summer's day, now only the well-connected or lucky employees of a large corporation could afford to attend. Where once anyone could attend a college, even if just the local community college, now only those with status or money could attend an institute of higher learning. Where once, everyday people visited other parts of their country or even foreign lands, now only the rich even had vacations, let alone the money to spend on one.

"I don’t want the money, at least not just for me”, the star athlete began. “I expect you to spend the hundred million dollars you are offering me but I only want fifty of the hundred million. The remainder you must split amongst all the non-players in this organization, all the people who work at the stadium, all the faceless workers who set the stage for this sport”.

It took the organization a few months, but eventually they executed his request through direct bonuses and a trust fund to disperse the money over the course of the next four years as the contract stipulated. The owners and CEO did their best to keep the news a secret, but the secrecy did not last long. Surprisingly however, there was no need for the concern that drove their desire to keep the news from reaching the public. While there was certainly discord from many camps, the fans of the city quickly expressed their support. And the workers who had benefited from this unusual arrangement, displayed a new energy and pride in their jobs.

Later that year, two other athletes in a different city demanded a similar contract but went even further. One of them took the same tact with regards to splitting the money but the contract of athlete number two required the “excess” money to be applied to a lowering of the ticket prices. As a result, a few Sundays after the contracts were signed, a standing room only crowd included thousands of fans who had not seen a game in person in their lifetime.

From there, the trend spread to all of the other major sports. While competition on the field was still as intense as ever, the competition for innovative ways to share the wealth was just as feverish. Days featuring free food for all children in attendance, then games with free attendance for the children and their parents from entire elementary schools, then sporting events with no money changing hands at all. This is not to say that profit was removed from athletics. Business was still conducted, profit and loss still evaluated. But the idea that this was a game, played to entertain the everyday citizens who made the city work, became just as important.

Due to the overlap of friendships among many star athletes and those in the entertainment business, the change next penetrated that industry. The first star to embrace the notion reduced the face value of the tickets for his 20 city tour by 50% over the previous tour. When some scalping was reported by some fans at the third stop of the tour, the entertainer made a 30 second commercial asking those responsible to stop while also asking his fans to stop paying the extra money. For the most part, his plea worked and three other big name acts matched his 50% reduction of tickets.

Of course, at this point the movement was still a minor ripple. But as even the smallest pebble will create a wave that while tiny will still reach as far as the eye can see, news of these actions reached all levels of society. In the next year, a weekly series TV star took a 50% pay “diversion” which was passed along to the innumerable people who toil behind the scenes of every successful TV show. This same decision was quickly copied in short order by three movie stars, a radio talk show host, two television news anchors, and even an author who needed all her creativity to match the generosity of those who came before her.

But the tipping point occurred when the CEO of one of the most profitable and influential companies in the country called for a press conference one beautiful spring afternoon. With press from all over the world in attendance, he calmly walked to the podium and made the following announcement.

“Friends, family, members of the press, and those of you watching me live on the internet. As you know, in the past 2 years there have been some recent decisions by some high salaried individuals to share their compensation. This was accomplished in various ways, sometimes by strictly improving the salaries of the various support staffs, sometimes by passing along the difference to their fans and customers, sometimes a combination of both. Regardless of the method, the intent was the same; to reverse a trend that had led to an ever increasing income inequality in our country”.

“When I first became aware of these individuals and their actions, I was skeptical. I had become so used to gauging everything by profit and loss that these actions seemed ludicrous. But, as you all know from my history, I am nothing if not interested in new ideas, new trends, new ways to improve my company. So, about three months ago, I held a weekend long meeting with the top minds in business today. We started with the premise that this trend might be bad for our companies and business in general. We studied the available numbers for those companies which had been affected by the change and found very little difference in profit. Salaries, which are always a significant percentage of a company’s expenses, had only changed by distribution, not quantity. But the biggest surprise was that in some cases, profits had inched upwards. How could that be? These companies were paying well beyond market value for all but one position yet profits were not affected”.

The CEO stopped, took a short sip of water, then smiled.

“So we went beyond the numbers and talked to the people involved. Those that had given back some salary were proud of their achievements. A few of the individuals told me that they still had plenty of money but were experiencing much more satisfaction from their lives. It wasn’t more money they needed, just more happiness, a feeling that they had made a difference. And on the other side, those everyday employees who had been taken for granted, felt more appreciated. They knew the support nature of their roles but had grown frustrated that no matter how hard they worked, they couldn’t get comfortable. There was always a lagging bill, always something out of reach. But now, they had that extra buck to get to a movie or replace an old appliance or spend a Sunday at the beach”.

“And then we discovered something completely unexpected. The communities where these people lived were also experiencing an upswing in business. All that money that had gone exclusively to the top earners in the past was very rarely spent in the local area of the company. But a huge percentage of that diverted money was now staying in the communities. In short, it seemed to be a win-win situation and it made us reevaluate our original premise that perhaps those companies were not paying salaries beyond the market value of the work but were investing in their employees and the communities in which they worked and lived”.

At this point, about a dozen men and women approached the podium. For those familiar with business, they were witnessing an unprecedented gathering of the movers and shakers of the industry. They exuded confidence and comfort. They seemed relaxed while still possessing an understanding that they were about to expand the change into a country wide movement.

"Behind me you see many faces that you recognize. They are the faces of people who have accomplished a great deal in their lives. By any current standard of success, whether you use wealth, influence, power or possessions, they would be considered some of the most successful people in the country, if not the world. Together however, we have concluded that we may have missed the boat in some respects. We placed too much emphasis on personal wealth and the profitability of our companies, and not enough on the welfare of our employees and the communities in which we operated. We bought into the rationalization that we were providing jobs and forgot that if the jobs did not provide our employees with an acceptable standard of living, then we were not providing enough. In short, our bottom line focus sacrificed people for profit".

"As you know, our influences extend beyond the direct holdings of our organizations; we sit on the boards of dozens of other corporations across a wide spectrum of industries. After hours of meetings with these boards, we are here to publicize a few simple changes to the operations of those businesses. A list of these companies and these alterations is being passed around now so you can see how widespread the change will be and so you can publish the names in hopes that those businesses not on the list will seek to follow our example. As you can see, the change will include a reduction of our personal compensation so everyone will know that we are so confident in this strategy that we are starting with our own salaries".

The CEO stepped to the side of the group and raised his arm in their direction.

"We have accomplished a great deal during our business careers. But too much of it has centered on ourselves at the expense of our fellow man. Today, we chart a new course where our accomplishments are shared more equitably with the people doing the work. A course which values the welfare of all our employees on a more equal footing with that of the corporation, and values the people of the community in which they live as an extension of those employees."

With that, the CEO and the group of individuals with him departed the room. And while there was no instant revolution, the pendulum had been stopped. Over the next twenty years, the income gap between the top and bottom salaries began to diminish. The definition of rich no longer just included material possessions. While wealth still existed, excess wealth was definable, and avoided. Not because of a law but because it did not lead to the advance of the community. Business schools began teaching the concept of equitable compensation not just because it was fashionable but because it created a more motivated employee who produced a better product or service. Those in the entertainment industries accepted less compensation, not because they did not value their work but because they valued it as they valued other public servants; teachers, firefighters, police officers, and social workers. And so it didn't come as a big surprise when just three generations later, the definition of success had evolved from making a million to making a difference.