Letters to the editor

Why you shouldn’t invest in the stock market

The stock market is usually an irresponsible place to invest. Stock investors often have no idea what their money does to people and the Earth. It is an absentee ownership so far removed from accountability that many think only numbers are involved.

Because no one feels personally responsible for what stock-market companies do, the companies are often willing to go to any lengths to make profits. Many of them make money by finding people desperate enough to work extremely long hours, for almost nothing, in horrible working conditions. Others find ways to force already-abused workers to work harder. This theoretically greater efficiency allows “downsizing profits,” which is a way to make money by firing workers and casting them into the street.

Other profits come when stock-driven corporations search the globe for countries that can’t afford to have any environmental laws. Even so-called environmental portfolios rarely consider the effect such companies have on workers. Besides, the stock market is the greatest growth engine on Earth, and thus, is inherently unecological. It exponentially accelerates the irreversible consumption of our finite planet.

We allow this destruction because the money markets have mesmerized us with the fabulous products they finance. Our economy is an assembly line of miracles, leaving us gaga and addicted to “what they will think of next.” Unfortunately, what’s next rarely has anything to do with sound ecology.

The Dow Jones index is the authoritative indicator of how the American economy is doing. It has increased from 1,000 to over 7,000 since 1972, but the American gross national product, at most, has only doubled since then. Five thousand of those Dow points are thus just wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the average Dow investor has made seven times their 1972 investment. Much of this seven-fold increase comes from the raw hides of workers and the battered crust of the Earth. The rest arises from a Madison Avenue/Wall Street promo scheme, a Ponzi pyramid based on the ludicrous notion that we can have infinite growth on a finite Earth. The pyramid will crash because it’s financially inane, because it’s ecologically insane, and because it pits person against person and country against country in a giant competition over who can consume the most of what’s left of the planet. This brutal conflict will probably end in war. In the middle of the carnage, we will still be worshiping the Dow more than God.

A responsible investment is one in which the investor personally knows and approves of how the company treats its labor and the environment. It is an investment in a business that understands the ecological and human limits to growth, and whose production leads toward the necessity of environmental equilibrium, rather than toward the illusion of infinite increase.

— Bill Branyon

Cable proposal needs further study

I appreciated your cover story on the proposed cable franchise for Asheville [“Let’s make a deal,” Jan. 14] and the work Margaret Williams put into developing a comprehensive overview for the public. Since the franchise negotiations were not open to the public, it is vital that a full discussion take place, now that there is a contract proposal before City Council.

For me, there are some worrisome features in this proposed contract. I would like to hear the public voice their opinions on the following questions:

1) Length of franchise: Does this community wish to commit to one company and its vision of cable service for the extended period of 17 years? Would we like an option after, say, eight years, to decide again whether we are getting what we want and deserve from the cable provider?

2) State of the art: Do we want to potentially limit our community’s prospects for advanced business technology? Why do many planners and engineers feel that future business expansion of state-of-the-art digital services demands a standard different from the one proposed? Will this handicap us — in moving forward to attract new, technology-based employers, and in upgrading services to businesses already invested in this community?

3) Comparisons of service: Do we want the standards of our service to meet only that of other InterMedia franchise areas in our region, or would we like to know that we are being offered the best service available in the country under one of the best contracts in the country? Why does this contract restrict these comparisons? Just what might we be missing?

4) Franchise-fee settlement: Exactly how much money in franchise fees has the city failed to receive over the length of the current contract? Why is it willing to settle for less than the full amount?

5) Public-access provisions: Are we being provided with an appropriate level of support for public-access start-up in this community (channels and equipment available to members of the public to produce their own programming)? How does the proposal compare to the best and most successful provisions among the 2,500 public-access stations in the rest of the country?

6) Customer service: Does the community feel that a $5 fee is appropriate for late payment of a cable bill? Would we rather have late-payment charges more in line with the percentages attached to, say, utility bills? Are there other customer-service provisions that we want changed or added?

7) Community-needs assessment: Who was contacted in the community-needs assessment provided by the city’s consultant? Who was not contacted? Were you contacted? Were the cable subscribers polled?

I hope there will be no franchise ratification until these questions are fully answered and the community is comfortable with the commitment it is asked to accept. There is plenty of time to hold this dialogue and to reassess the proposal’s provisions.

— Nelda Holder

A modest proposal for regressive taxation

Early in this century, the 16th Amendment was added to our Constitution. It established the progressive income tax. Under this system, persons are taxed in proportion to the amount of their earnings. The theoretical basis for this method of collecting taxes is the assumption that those who reap the largest benefits from their membership in this society should pay taxes that are reflective of the benefits they enjoy.

I propose that we abandon progressive taxation and replace it with a tax system that is designedly regressive.

There are those who will protest that this would be unfair. But life is unfair. Why do we persevere in promoting, through government policies, the perverse notion that life can or should be otherwise?

Under the system that I am proposing, the economically successful would be rewarded for their success by exemption from taxation and the failures — all those making less than $50,000 per annum — would be punished by being heavily taxed. Can anyone doubt that failure would then become a condition to avoid? In one stroke, we would greatly increase the numbers of the successful. And since the weight of taxation upon the failures would increase as their ranks were depleted by defections to the ranks of the successful, the failures would suffer increasingly severe punishment. Under these circumstances, only persons who willfully persisted in being failures would pay any taxes at all.

The tiresomely sentimental among us will, of course, claim that failure is not always a condition that is chosen, but that it may descend upon persons who are, for instance, the victims of accidents of fate, like being born disabled or untalented, or persons who suffer because decisions made by others deprive them of a means of livelihood.

Others may question the feasibility of extracting sufficient taxation from the failures to provide enough revenue to pay for public needs. But conceding any merit to such picayune considerations as these would undermine the elegant logic of the idea of regressive taxation.

Persons who are otherwise in agreement with this proposal may question the likelihood that the failures would submit to punitive taxation without protest. This need not concern us. We are fortunate in having a national ethos which implants the convictions in all of us that financial success is the only measure of real achievement, and that failure to become affluent is a clear indication of lack of personal worth. The consequent guilt that the unsuccessful feel about their condition would ensure their mute submission to the most punishing taxation.

Perhaps the most compelling argument against this proposal is that it is unnecessary. It is true that every tax reform that has been enacted during the past 30 years has taken us closer to the magnificent ideal of regressive taxation. And, admittedly, both the flat tax and the national sales tax would move us within a whisker of that ideal. Yet all of these advances share the same defect, which is that they fail to honestly acknowledge their real purpose. That purpose is to shift the tax burden from the successful to the failures. My proposal can claim one merit which no other tax plan can boast: It is entirely devoid of hypocrisy.

— Hal Hogstrom

N.C. may get real transportation planning

I’d like to note the significance of Gov. Hunt’s proposal to create a new planning-and-environmental division at the Department of Transportation.

Since at least 1992, conservation groups, transit advocates, planners, some local-government folks, and editorial writers have advocated transferring transportation planning and programming out of the Division of Highways and into a neutral division of transportation planning. The state highway administrator’s control of planning and programming is his major source of power, an arrangement that significantly disadvantages all other modes of transportation — and the DOT’s environmental programs.

If Gov. Hunt’s proposal is implemented, and if a strong director is found for the new planning-and-environmental division, I believe it would be the most significant change in state transportation policy since the Highway Trust Fund was enacted in 1989. It would not only continue the slow evolution of DOT from a highway agency into a transportation agency — it would position DOT to actually carry out Gov. Hunt’s Transit 2001 initiative, establish a balanced multimodal transportation program, and improve DOT’s environmental record.

— William Earl Holman

Think of your grandchildren, Rep. Taylor

It is a sad day, indeed, when the will of the people is not heeded by an elected official. Congressman Taylor, you have opposed every “environmental” legislation that has come your way, as if you wish to be the champion of environmental degradation.

I wonder how your grandchildren will feel, knowing that their grandfather scoffed at environmental initiatives, while each day there was a little less beauty, inspiration and natural resources for them to appreciate. I wonder how they will feel, knowing that their grandfather did nothing to help the environment, but rather voted against it every time.

Harsh words, yes, but equally harsh will be history’s judgment of your service as a United States congressman.

— Gawain Mainwaring

Starts Friday, everywhere but Asheville

As a true fan of film, first and foremost, I thank you for [Ashely Siegel’s] excellent reviews in the Xpress. I really appreciate [her] insights and gift for conveying these insights.

Now, a question: Why is it that nationally televised ads [about a particular movie often] say, “Starts Friday Everywhere,” and then Friday rolls around, and the movie is nowhere to be seen in Asheville? A recent example is The Boxer.

— Greg Lisenbee
Mars Hill

Ashely Siegel responds: Thanks for your kind words. Regarding the distribution of films (a source of frustration for many of us in this small but growing market): To my understanding, within the studio system (which produces films), there are marketing-and-distribution folks whose job it is to determine how and when a new film is released. Many variables go into their decision — primarily, an area’s demographics and projected box-office receipts. Often, the studios try to predict national-audience response by first releasing a film in large markets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and then going on to the second tier, such as Houston, Cleveland and Detroit. If a film is performing well in these markets, finally, the little guys like us get the go-ahead. Films like The Boxer should not be advertised as “Starting everywhere,” which indicates a broad-scale national release, when that is not the case.

Frustrating, huh? But what we are witnessing are mistakes on the part of marketing professionals who overprojected the distribution of these movies when they bought advertising and later changed their minds, switching to the tiered approach described above.

P.S. An informed source has indicated to me that The Boxer will open in Asheville on Jan. 30.

Story was superficial, frivolous

It was with a great deal of sadness that I read the article “A wizard for our changing times,” featuring McMillan Taylor [Jan. 7]. Sadness because — as we know that any form of media/entertainment can be only a reflection of what people already believe and want to see more of, or a new idea they are willing to entertain as a group — Asheville might accept such a superficial and frivolous rendering of the state of the healing arts.

Helping people release trauma has been an advanced art for a long time. So has intuitive reading. There are practiced specialists everywhere, in many forms. Were it the ’70s and this article appeared, I would say, “Good beginning.”

But this is the future. To display a “wizard from the moon” as the current psychological condition of the healer is to create, or at least encourage, three negative things: a) You keep in obscurity the clear and powerful presence of a true healer (so people don’t know what that is). b) By exclusion, you hide the fact that there are those [true healers] here. c) You muddle the fact that healing is neither mystery nor mirage, but an intuitively based science which is and has been producing literal transformation for those who deeply pursue it. Instead of inspiring freedom and empowerment, the article generated a feeble hopefulness (which is really hopelessness) because of its white-bread representation of the subject.

Please understand that this note is not about Taylor. He is a victim. It is about what we as a “local bubble” of ideas, feelings and beliefs are willing to see. If Asheville would make higher life-quality a reality, here or for anywhere that it would like to be an example, I would ask that it demand depth and substance in what it presents to itself, and how.

— Alexander

Kiwanis should study Terrific Kids program

Asheville Kiwanis Club member G.M. Lakins described your Dec. 10 article on that organization’s Terrific Kids program as “outrageous” and “full of distortions” [Letters, Jan. 7]. His reaction is, unfortunately, typical of the Kiwanis organization, which has good intentions, but has refused to do a substantive evaluation of the program since its inception 12 years ago.

One wonders if Mr. Lakins has read the Black Mountain Kiwanis Club’s own task-force report, where 41 percent of 500 parents in 22 schools responding to the survey had reservations about or opposed the program.

Neither the Mountain Xpress article nor we concerned parents said that children pay for their awards, as Mr. Lakins implies. What was pointed out is that Kiwanis International headquarters in Indianapolis takes in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from the clubs and sponsors for Terrific Kids bumper stickers, pencils, banners and other materials. Our contention is that a small percentage of this revenue should be used to fund a professional, objective evaluation of the Terrific Kids program. (Interestingly, a Kiwanis printing contractor who was described in the Mountain Xpress article as printing thousands of Terrific Kids bumper stickers for Kiwanis Clubs around North and South Carolina apparently failed to identify himself to the journalist as a recent secretary of the Carolinas Kiwanis District.)

Kiwanis International told us in February 1997 that its board had decided not to put any money into evaluating the program, but would have corrective recommendations ready by October 1997. Kiwanis International’s director of program development has now told us, almost a year later, that “higher priorities” have prevented that from happening.

We are well aware that Kiwanis does much good in communities around the world. We are equally aware that most Kiwanians are unaware of the design problems with the program, and are swayed by anecdotal success stories, without ever hearing the hurtful stories or coming to terms with the negative impacts of the program. That same local Kiwanis task-force report found that there is a “negative element” in the program not foreseen by its originators.

Our organization has worked patiently with Kiwanis for a period of three years, without going public with our concerns, in hopes that Kiwanis would take the initiative to fix the program. With the International Board’s apparent refusal to do so, we feel obligated to do what we can to alert the thousands of schools and families affected by this program in 50 states and 74 countries about what lies below the feel-good PR of the Terrific Kids program.

We also welcome hearing from teachers, parents and students recounting their positive or negative experiences with the program. Please send them to: Parents Concerned About The Negative Impacts Of The Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program, PO Box 1341 Black Mountain, NC 28711. Or call us at (704) 669-6677.

— Monroe Gilmour, coordinator
Black Mountain

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