I read a fascinating article in The Economist today. Entitled The Staid Young, it pretty much describes the way I look at the world. I realized that my husband and I, when we were very frugal and not adventurous in college weren’t actually 50-60 years behind the times, we were more like 10 years ahead of our time. Which makes perfect sense, as our parents fit the description of the parents of the young people acting this way now — our parents were just raising kids this way 10 years earlier than these other parents.

Today’s young adults were thus raised by a generation of parents who had fewer children later in life, and took the process more seriously.

And what does this mean for this generation’s outlook on life and the world?

Faced with economic crisis, they prefer to put their heads down and push through, rather than try to find collective solutions. Perhaps this is progress. … A lack of political action does not mean no implications for the body politic. Young people tend to take their habits with them as they age, so as this generation grows up, problems in the past thought irreparable — crime, addiction, family breakdown — may diminish further.

Read the entire article. It is truly fascinating.

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Don’t Care or Already Decided — Which Camp do you fall in for the November Election?

In my newspaper today was a column by Richard Cohen, arguing that the American people have been lulled to sleep by the presidential election. He claims that the only important issue is the economy, and that neither Obama nor Romney is terribly magnetic or charismatic, so people are not paying attention to the election and don’t care. He concludes,

This is a campaign of immense consequence and, paradoxically, torpor. It’s as if it is being conducted by men who will not — or cannot — control events but are waiting for events to control them. They campaign dutifully but dully, going through the motions until Election Day. Maybe then they’ll get the audience back. In the meantime, America has gone for a beer.

I would disagree with Mr. Cohen. I don’t think Americans are torpid, I think they have already made up their minds. Now, having decided, all they have to do is wait for November and vote. In the meantime, there is much more important stuff to do — finding and keeping employment and income in this terrible economy, housing and foreclosures, the hot weather, and summer vacations.

Are you planning on voting?

Primaries are upcoming here in Idaho, and the general election will be here before we know it (however much we seem mired in campaign slog right now). Many states have passed new laws requiring identification at the polls. This identification must be current and up-to-date, with your current, legal name and address. And before you say that doesn’t apply to you, of course you have current, updated photo identification, an article by The Nation came out last week, and it quotes a Brennan survey that 10% of Americans don’t have it. Most of that 10% are women, who have last name changes due to marriage and divorce. Read the entire article.

Sunday Service: Compassion

Avalokiteśvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion,...

Image via Wikipedia

Every major world religion aspires to teaching compassion and holding its adherents to task to live a compassionate life. These aspirations often fall aside in the face of human greed and desire, but the aspiration is still there. I recently learned about a new website offering accountability for compassion in our lives. Charter for Compassion was started by Karen Armstrong, theologian and author, as a way of bringing more compassion into the world.

From the website:

The Charter of Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems. One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace.

I encourage you to act with compassion this week and every week, to be mindful of the people around you, and follow the Golden Rule.

Sunday Service: Vaclav Havel

A moral and intellectual state cannot be established through a constitution, or through law, or through directives, but only through complex, long-term, and never-ending work involving education and self-education.

Neither I nor anyone else will ever win once and for all. Yet I still think it makes sense to wage this war persistently because it is the right thing to do. It is an eternal, never-ending struggle waged not just by good people against evil people, by honorable people against dishonorable people, by people who think about the world and eternity against people who think only of themselves and the moment. It takes place inside everyone. It is what makes a person a person and life, life.

from Summer Meditations by Vaclav Havel, via Democracy as Spiritual Discipline by Peter Montgomery

New Year’s Resolutions for Politics

So much we hear about politics today is about how dysfunctional it is. The two parties can do nothing but bicker and squabble while the citizens either take sides or watch in apathy. A few of us are still interested, despite the rancour. David Adler, director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho, gives us five resolutions for the still interested citizen (subscription only link).

  1. Stop political labeling.
  2. Listen.
  3. Citizens must be fair to one another.
  4. Avoid the politics of destruction.
  5. Avoid ideological rigidity.

I especially agree with numbers one and five. As Professor Adler writes for number one, “The practice of endorsing or dismissing an idea merely because it is characterized as liberal or conservative is the lazy citizen’s way of avoiding the work of citizenship.”

I resolve to follow these resolutions in my political discourse for 2012 and beyond. How about you? Would you change anything? Add anything? What are your thoughts on political discourse going into 2012?

Halt The Stop Online Piracy Act

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is currently proposed in the U.S. Congress. If passed, it would allow court orders against Internet domains (entire websites), both foreign and domestic, that were found to be allowing illegal trade in copyrighted material.

The Economist describes SOPA’s provisions:

The bill aims to cut off Americans’ access to foreign pirate websites by squeezing intermediaries. Rights-holders, such as Hollywood film studios, will be able to request that a credit-card firm or advertising network stop doing business with a foreign site; or ask a search engine to take down links to the site; or ask an internet-service provider to block the site’s domain name, making it harder to reach. The intermediary then has just five days to comply or rebut the complaint; after that the rights-holder can go to court.

I am afraid that this bill, if made law, would cause Etsy, where I sell my crafts (with no copyrighted materials in them, except my own) to be shut down.

Read about the bill on Wikipedia: House Bill HR 3261; Senate Bill S.968

Read the (House) bill on Thomas

If you live in the U.S., contact your senators and representative and let them know that they should vote against SOPA. In the House, the bill is HR 3261. In the Senate, the bill is S.968.

This is a copy of what I wrote my representative:

Dear Representative,

I am writing to you to tell you to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, HR 3261). There are many concerns with this bill, including its effect on the usability of the Internet, but I want to tell you about how it will affect me.

I own a small business, Lizbeth’s Garden. I make and sell handmade beaded tassels and other crafts. All my creations are my own invention and do not involve copyrighted materials. I sell my creations through Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods. Etsy is the main outlet for my items. If Etsy were to shut down for any reason, I would lose over half my revenue.

Unfortunately, some people, through ignorance or malice, sell copyrighted material on Etsy. Right now, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides for the copyright owners to notify Etsy and have the materials removed and/or the offending shop closed down. The rest of Etsy and the law-abiding shop owners continue to function normally.

The provisions in SOPA for an entire domain to be shut down for copyright violations frightens me. Am I to lose half my revenue because of a few bad apples whom I do not even know?

Vote against SOPA, HR 3261.

Sincerely,

Feel free to use my letter as a template for writing your own Congress-people. Be sure not to copy it exactly. Make sure you have the correct bill number for whom you are writing, and replace the info about my business with your own concerns.

Find Your Representative

Find Your Senators

Occupy Wall Street

Day 50 Occupy Wall Street November 5 2011 Shan...

Image by david_shankbone via Flickr

I am not sure what I think about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

On one hand, I think that the financial sector of our economy has definitely gotten out of hand. However, I don’t believe that working with finances, or investment, is necessarily wrong.

Banking is an essential component of a capitalist society, and while capitalism is not perfect, it’s the best way of organizing an economy that humans have come up with in several thousand years of trying (unless you think we should all return to a hunting-gathering society, but that’s another argument and blog post all together).

Yes, there are better ways of caring for the least-fortunate members of society than straight-up capitalism, but that is a matter of nuance, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with people using their creativity and intelligence to make money, but there is something wrong when company heads make millions of dollars while their employees make much, much less. There is something wrong when companies rack up millions and billions of dollars of profit in a year and don’t return that to the economy, either in the form of wages to their employees or in the form of infrastructure investment (building a new factory, perhaps).

I appreciate the Occupy Wall Street protesters, and their counterparts around the country, for exercising their First Amendment rights. And while some, like this Economist correspondent, argue that there is no explicit right to occupy public spaces, there is a long history of long-term public protests in this country. Examples can be found in this history of strikes and occupations at Alternet, and this history of the Bonus Army at Wikipedia. It has been too long since large groups of people spoke out against the direction our society is taking, as the gap between the richest and the rest of us grows.

However, I am deeply worried by protesters’ statements that democracy is broken in this country, and that is why they are out protesting.

I assure you, if voting worked, we would all be home right now.

Brendan Burke
Head of de-escalation security
Occupy Wall Street
New York

That is all well and good, but how exactly are they planning on making changes if they aren’t planning on participating in the democracy we’ve got?

I firmly believe that our democracy is not broken, we simply have extremely poor choices of candidates. The mainstream politicians are polarized and uncompromising, and no other viable choices have appeared (except for the Tea Party, but they seem to only be increasing political polarization, leaving nothing for moderate independents).

However, I do not believe that the system as a whole is broken. Anyone can go down to their local elections office, register as a candidate for the office of their choice (you may need to gather some signatures first), and start campaigning, being sure to follow local and federal rules about campaign donations. Yes, it sounds complicated, but I don’t believe it is any more complicated than opening a sole proprietorship business, which I did in 4 hours two years ago on a Sunday afternoon (with a little more time the next day at City Hall and my bank, which weren’t open on Sunday).

If the system were broken, there would be armed thugs outside the polling stations. There would be mysterious disappearances of people who register as candidates. People would lose their jobs, their limbs, their lives, for voting for the wrong candidate. These things happen all around the world in supposed democracies. We don’t know how good we’ve got it here.

The outward trappings of the system look broken, in that huge amounts of money are involved, rentseeking behavior follows, and Congress cannot pass a budget without threatening the country’s economy and finances, but I believe that this can all be fixed with a large enough influx of candidates and elected officials who will change the system.

Protests are a good place to start, but from that we need new candidates and parties who will work to change the system for the better, from within. If this is the eventual destination of Occupy Wall Street, then I’m all for it. But if it is a thinly disguised movement towards mob rule and/or a dictatorship, then I’m against it.

Newspaper Column: Why does the working class scorn healthcare reform?

US residents with employer-based private healt...

Image via Wikipedia

There is a mystery puzzling me lately. How have the poor and working class of this country and this state been persuaded that the people fighting against healthcare reform are on their side? And how have they been persuaded that healthcare reform is against their interests? How have the people and organizations fighting for healthcare reform lost the interest of the very people who most need it? Rich men have funded the Tea Party, but it is populated by the working class.

Without health insurance, the costs of having a baby or repairing a broken arm can wipe out any savings a family has. The medical costs of a heart attack or cancer can drive a family into bankruptcy. One of the most common causes of bankruptcy in this country is medical issues.

One way families deal with these unexpected costs is fundraisers. It is admirable that the community often steps forward and assists with huge medical bills. However, there are a few problems with this approach. First, in this difficult economy, more and more people need help with meeting their household needs, whether for food, winter coats, or medical bills, and those who can give have less to give as they cope with their own financial setbacks.

Health care systems

Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes the money doesn’t come in time. I read just yesterday of a man who had a liver transplant lined up, but couldn’t raise the money in time and the liver went to another patient. He must now wait three years for another chance.

Third, and unfortunately, occasionally people commit fraud. They are not ill, but claim to be, and the community gives them money that then goes on luxury items, not medical bills. Thankfully, we have not yet had an example of this in our local community.

Traditional economics tells us that if a good is too expensive, then people will either go without or the price will come down. However, people are unwilling to forgo expensive medical care. The price only continues to rise because prices are set in a way that makes it impossible for consumers to comparison shop, and sometimes only the best will do, anyway.

The pricing and delivery system we have for healthcare is obviously untenable. The rich have no interest in reform, because they can pay for whatever they need. Instead of letting them dictate the terms of the debate, and shutting it down by creating a frenzy in the working class, the rest of us need to sit down and decide exactly what we want in our healthcare system, whether it is low cost medical equipment and clinics, health insurance for all, or something else entirely.

This column was originally published in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 19, 2010.

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