Friday, 21 October 2011

It's not what you know, or how well you do it, but who you know that counts in the Verde Valley, AZ

The other day my wife Susan and I asked a local plumber to come to our house and advise us concerning the maintenance of our water conditioner. His name is Charlie. Susan found his name and phone number in the Yellow Pages. She spoke with him by phone and he sounded friendly.

Charlie was very conscientious and sincere. He also knew what he was doing as a plumber. He called a couple of times before coming over, to let us know he was on his way. His price for the visit was quite reasonable. And he gave us excellent advice. 

We were left with the impression that we could do the job of cleaning the water conditioner unit ourselves at minimal cost. Charlie would be available by phone, at no charge, if we needed additional help with the procedure. He would come to our house to assist for a reasonable charge. He answered other questions we had of a plumbing nature. Overall we were very pleased with the service he provided.

When our business with Charlie was concluded, we spoke with him about our previous residency in Southern California. He was from Northern California. Then we spoke about how difficult it is to find work in Northern Arizona, which is where we live. He agreed and told us that it took twelve years for him to find local customers. Before that he was just a laborer working for someone else. I told Susan, “I guess that means we’ll only have to wait 8 ½ years before I get local accounting business”. We’ve been living in Rimrock for 3 ½ years. 

I told Charlie that trying to find work around here is like trying to find work in a desert. He replied that most people he’s known here hire people that they already know or trust. It’s taken twelve years for people in the area to get to know him and recommend him to others. He’s the same way, as it turns out. He said he’d only hire someone that he knows, and that we should leave it at that. 

Based on my own experience, I have to agree with Charlie about the tendency of area residents to hire or recommend professionals based on how well they know the professional. Whether someone trusts you or not has just about everything to do with them hiring you. It doesn’t matter to most people here how good I am at accounting. Many individuals and businesses won’t hire me because they don’t know me. They don’t like to hire strangers to do their accounting work. Being known, as opposed to not being known, can make the difference between being paid $75 per hour and being paid $12 per hour for doing the same work. 

It was pretty much that way even when I worked in more cosmopolitan environments like Long Island, New York City and Southern California. In those places, however, professionals were treated as being less expendable than in Northern Arizona. In New York City you could make a decent living as an accountant working for someone else. In Northern Arizona, you can’t.

I didn’t tell Charlie that the reason we hired him was that we found his listing in the Yellow Pages and liked how he sounded on the phone. We didn’t know him at all before we called him to come to our house. I didn’t think he was ready to hear that. 

The basic flaw in that way of thinking, i.e. only hiring someone you know, I decided, is that it limits your hiring options. You may refuse to hire, or overlook hiring, someone who’s very well qualified to do the work you need done, just because you don’t know them. With all the information that’s available about professionals and people seeking work, including on their website or résumé, it appears to be an act of negligence to leave any stone unturned if you want the best job done.

It’s sensible to hire someone you know or trust. However, the person you know or trust should be hired only after all eligible candidates for the job have been considered or interviewed. It seems to me that a candidate should be given the opportunity to earn your trust.

But then, perhaps people in Northern Arizona don’t care if the work that’s performed for them isn’t of the highest quality. They’re more concerned about knowing or trusting the person they hire. That may be one reason that the economy here is stagnant. Hiring people on a political basis, rather than on the basis of merit, can lead to a less productive workforce. Consequently, the value of professionals in the eyes of prospective clients and employers is diminished. When this is combined with the economic hardship faced by so many people, it becomes easier for those in a position to hire someone to justify paying them less. That leads to less money being recirculated in the local economy.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Next Economic Solidarity Workshop meeting Saturday October 29

Our Government has bailed out the banks and Wall Street at our expense.

Yet for 99% of Americans, the Government has done little or nothing. We’re struggling to pay our bills and many people have lost their homes to foreclosure.

If you’re as angry about this as my wife and I are, show the banks and our Government that you won’t tolerate it! I invite you to come to our next Economic Solidarity Workshop meeting.

The Wall Street protests are a good start in the right direction, but more assertive action needs to be taken against a system that’s rife with corruption, greed and unfairness. A well thought-out plan for lasting reform is needed. 99% of Americans should prosper, not just 1%! This will be the focus of our next meeting.

When times are tough, we need to stick together.

The next meeting of the Economic Solidarity Workshop will take place on Saturday, October 29 from 10 am to 12 pm at the Beaver Creek Adult Center, 4250 East Zuni Way, Lake Montezuma, AZ. Admission is $1. For more information call Gary at (928) 592-0190. E-mail address:


Mahatma Gandhi, a pioneer of civil disobedience

My U of Va blog posting in response to "Guns don't cause crime, criminals do"

On July 20, 2011, a Mr. Cox posted this comment on the University of Virginia Magazine blog, concerning a Virginia law that prevents the U of Va from disallowing the use of concealed weapons on campus:

 "Ms. Allman, Mr. Rock & Mr. Lucas, you forget it is not guns that cause crime, but rather criminals. Obtaining a concealed carry permit with a criminal history is nearly impossible. If you do not understand the correlation between firearms restrictions and violent crime, it is your own common sense that is lacking. Feel free to contact me for statistics."

Here’s my reply to Mr. Cox’s posting, dated October 12, 2011:

Whether guns cause crime or not, what matters is the fact that guns are used to commit violent crimes. A murder committed with a gun cannot occur if there's no gun. If a knife, rope or hammer is used instead, there will still be a murder. But it won't happen as easily.

Violence begets violence. I believe that non-violent persuasion is a far more effective means of settling disputes than by the use of force. To that end, I'm in favor of educating schoolchildren about the value of seeking peaceful means of settling disputes, rather than by using knives or guns. Mahatma Gandhi proved that in India.

Many people carry handguns in their homes for protection against violent criminals and maniacs. If they want to keep a gun around for protection, they should be allowed to. However, they should be properly trained in how to use it, and make sure that no untrained or unregistered family member has access to it.

A college campus is no place for guns. A law that permits people to carry them around on college campuses makes it more likely that murders will continue to take place on them. Prohibiting gun use on campuses will give the students more peace of mind. They need to concentrate on their studies. They don't need to be fearful for their safety. An armed security guard should be sufficient to prevent most unauthorized entry. Beyond that, if a student feels the need to have a gun for self-protection, they may be allowed to, but their use should be strictly regulated.

The blog postings were in response to an article titled
July 19, 2011

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

My conclusions in regards to the Sedona Wall Street protest October 13

The protest that I took part in Thursday, October 13 had, I'm sure, a positive impact. Still, what's needed is more assertive, even disruptive action. Even if those in power pay attention to the protests, they still don't have enough of an incentive to act in our best interests. The protesters represent no real threat to them. If we're going to organize protests, we should organize them in front of or around banks, radio stations and gas stations. We should make it difficult for people to simply go about their business without being aware of our presence. We should even stage an occupation in Sedona like the one organized by Occupy Wall Street in NY. Think of how much more attention we'd get just by calling our local effort "Occupy Sedona". And we should alert the media before any protest or occupation is to take place.

The non-violent protests, or satyagraha, organized by Mahatma Gandhi were designed to evoke sympathy for the Indian protesters and their cause against the British occupiers. The method made use of non-cooperation or civil disobedience. No one yet has proved to me why this method won't work in this country against the plutocrats and greed-mongers. 

I've met individuals who insist on arming themselves against a repressive government and roving criminals, ecologists and advocates of sustainability who strive to take peaceful actions and educate others. I've met diehard capitalists, wealth seekers and spiritual individuals wishing to solve political problems through meditation. And I've met people who are simply concerned for their survival. Each group believes its way is the best way to protect our rights, our freedoms and way of life, and bring about more fairness if not accountability. Yet with all groups going in different directions, we still don't have unity as a people. We may as well be a rabble. If only we'd seek to unite and practice solidarity, we see that an approach like satyagraha could work very well as a unifying and effective force in obtaining the desired reforms. 

In my last post I mentioned that I encountered a certain timidity among the protesters. This is more or less to be expected, since Americans aren't used to taking collective political action in public. 

The timidity I encountered may also help to explain why Americans are reluctant to practice satyagraha as a political approach.  Americans have been used to being obedient towards those in authority: most Americans I know haven't wanted to confront strangers or upset those who are subjugating them. This includes everyone from postal clerks to bank tellers. In a country where so many people are financially insecure, a desire to please is very much the standard mode of behavior. This insecurity may be a cause of political correctness. And political correctness is a mild symptom of the so-called "dumbing down" of Americans. Civil disobedience requires an attitude of non-cooperation towards one's oppressors. It's an act of substantial courage. It's very much in conflict with the obedience practiced by most Americans.

My participation in a "tame" Wall Street protest

I participated in a Wall Street protest at a busy intersection in Sedona, Arizona last Thursday October 13. This is an account of that event.

I, and twenty to thirty other protesters, held up signs in opposition to the brazen economic injustice practiced by Wall Street and the banks. The idea was to attract attention to our cause and encourage others to get involved. 

I still don't know who organized the protest. I signed up to join it in response to an e-mail invitation from an "Ahmad F.", a member. I asked a fellow protester who he was, and she said she didn't know. Another protester told me that the Arizona Democratic Party told him when and where the protest would take place. Incidentally, the protest was announced as "Make Wall Street Pay - Jobs not Cuts Thursday in Sedona".

(Note: since posting this account, I learned who "Ahmad F." is. I called the AZ Democratic Party and they gave me the phone number of a Democratic Party member in Sedona named Angela. I called her cell phone and left a message. Ahmad F. called back the next day. He said he's with and it was he who organized the protest. A National Day of Action is planned for November 5, for which a planning meeting will be held next week. He invited me to the meeting. October 21.)

The protest was pretty tame by my standards. I've been involved in similar protests in Southern California. Cars honked at us and people waived or shouted encouragement. Hardly anybody driving or passing by came over to join us. Nearly all drivers and passersby simply drove by or went about their business. Most of the protesters didn't know each other. There was little sense of real solidarity, such as what Labor union strikers practice.
I heard one of the protesters brag about the people that shouted cusses at him or that made inappropriate gestures to him. He said it was on account of the sign he was carrying - it said something like "99% of Americans are fed up".

I heard that some have criticized the protests as being aimless. I did notice a certain timidity among the protesters. A couple of people asked if we had a permit to conduct the protest there. 

Another protester told me that the conservative states should secede from the Union, so that the rest of us who are more progressive have more influence over the Federal Government.

A couple of people representing local causes, i.e. local ownership of Hwy. 89A, and the Fire Dept. Board, came up to us to ask us to sign their petitions.

The protest was still fairly proactive considering that it took place in Sedona. The same protest effort will take place again at the Hwy. 89A and Coffee Pot Rd. location every Wednesday at 3 pm.

How we can capitalize on the momentum gained from the Wall Street occupation

The Wall Street occupations have gained a lot of attention. Yet I've been hearing that the protesters have no clear plan of action other than drawing attention to the immense gulf between the few who are filthy rich and the many who are poor or middle class in the U.S..

I've heard too that the protesters should consider lobbying for legislative action or forming a political party. The actor Alec Baldwin visited Zuccoti Park in New York City, the site of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). He suggested that "OWS needs to coalesce around some legislative policy" Alec Baldwin and OWS.

There's a problem with a legislative policy as I see it. First, it requires that the protesters agree upon a strategy of reform. There are many opinions on what should be done. Alec Baldwin himself acknowledged this when he asked "But what can each entity agree on?" The corruption is so widespread and deep-rooted that it's hard to determine what the best approach is. Besides, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to petition the Government for a redress of their grievances. This right extends to Corporate lobbyists.

Nevertheless, a citizen's lobby made up of thousands of people in the "99%" category should be at least as effective in advocating for our interests as the corporate lobbyists are in advocating for their employers' and clients' interests. A citizen's lobby requires active involvement by U.S. citizens is something we're not used to seeing in this country. The Wall Street occupations offer hope that the "slumbering giant", otherwise known as the American masses, is finally beginning to awaken from its political stupor.

But if we're going to become more assertive politically, why should we settle for lobbying Congress in the near-clandestine manner of corporate lobbyists? Why shouldn't we confront our Government directly, by organizing strikes? Why shouldn't we confront the corporate greed-mongers directly, by organizing boycotts? These measures would be the most effective because they'd be the most convincing demonstration of "people power". They'd take full advantage of our strength in numbers. They'd convincingly demonstrate our spiritual force, which would more than rival the military force used by the U.S. as a way to resolve conflicts. Anything less has the potential of devolving into political gamesmanship, which would be contrary to our interests as this country's true owners.