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Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Save the World

How to Save the World

In my family, both of my parents are dying and my grandchildren are about to inherit the earth. Dad spent many years on an assembly line making cars. I worked at refineries making gasoline. He enjoyed traveling and drove to California 23 times, just for starters. I live in a very small rural town and don’t think twice about driving 60 miles round trip just for a special supper out. Have we made it more unlikely that our children’s children will have a world worth inheriting?

Thinking about the many issues of ecology and economics makes my head want to explode. Nevertheless, somehow, it still seems important enough to try to wrap my mind around it. If not for me, than for the ones I love. It turns out that smart people of good will are actually starting to get a handle on all of this. Some scientists are focusing on barely-imaginable details. Other researchers are backing off far enough to get an overall picture of the entire forest of environmental and social issues.

Surely, it is obvious that our finite world cannot sustain infinite growth. We must discover, meet and deal with limits to growth. Yet, we continue to expect that every nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) must always continue to grow to provide improving standards of living for a growing percent of our populations. Something has to give.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Forgiveness of Debt

Forgiveness of Debt

Jesus Christ taught his disciples to pray for forgiveness as they forgave others. Various translators have given this injunction as forgiveness of “trespasses,” “sins,” or “debts.” While we can speculate endlessly about how such Christian forgiveness should work out in practice, the sense of the idea reflects a certain recurring traditional social contract. When we owe something, we should attend to repaying it. Further, it is wrong to expect leniency if we ourselves are impatient and demanding. However, individuals should not be reduced to intractable permanent poverty.

Many cultures institutionalize forgiveness of both moral and economic debts. For instance, the Law of Moses to the Jews directed that there be a periodic “Jubilee” year in which certain debts were to be forgiven. This has been described was “…a self-regulating system that deleveraged itself before credit bubbles grew out of control…” Also, the Koran holds a similar instruction that “… if (the debtor) is in [serious straits], then let there be postponement until (he is in) ease … and that you remit it as alms is better for you…” For what it’s worth, the Jubilee law even prescribed that farm land be given a rest every seven years so that it had a chance to recover and restore productivity.

Many people were aware of the “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) protests at their peak, but now think that the movement has disappeared. Actually, it only got quieter while it organized a variety of initiatives. OWS volunteers were some of the most active responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

One of the many OWS projects is “Rolling Jubilee,” which uses donated funds to buy-up private debt (such as college loans) for pennies on the dollar – like collection agencies do. But, instead of hounding the debtor, it forgives the debt. In just their first month, they raised $474,723 to abolish $9,499,377 as an act of “mutual support and good will in pursuit of a new world based on common good, not Wall Street profits.”

Today, many people find themselves in increasingly difficult and overwhelming circumstances. Without adequate health insurance, serious illnesses in families account for 60% of personal bankruptcies. Situations such as ballooning mortgages, being laid off, or college loans without having a living-wage job, can be devastating as well. We don’t have to overspend to land in this kind of debt. The working poor and middle class have faced decades of degenerating economic headwinds (including fewer and poorer jobs) while bankers and corporations win increasing legislative favors and record profits.

OWS is not the only group that views modern investment banks and nonbank financial companies as increasingly predatory – using deceptive and abusive practices. That is why the Obama administration formed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and nominated Elizabeth Warren to be its head. The CFPB began overseeing debt collection agencies (including $850 billion in student loans) at the start of 2013.


Frankly, our national economy is currently “awash in unpayable debt.” Financial institutions are already sometimes obliged to “take a haircut” by canceling a portion of each other’s debt. International banks have allowed entire countries to recover their economies through debt forgiveness. We will be seeing a growing national conversation develop about the possible benefits of consumer debt relief.

David Satterlee

Monday, April 4, 2016

Jobs: Part 2: Disintermediation

Jobs: Part 2: Disintermediation

Whatever happened to all the travel agents, filling station attendants, and encyclopedia salesmen? It turns out they were middlemen – intermediaries between you and what you wanted. Therefore, you can say that, when we found ways to do their jobs more directly, they were “disintermediated.”

These days, it is ever-more-common to “cut out the middleman.” You book your own travel, pump your own gas, and easily search for information about any subject that interests you by using Internet search engines. The Encyclopedia Britannica has stopped printing paper volumes. Voluntary curators and editors contribute articles to Wikipedia, a free on-line encyclopedia with an increasingly solid reputation. Tesla Motors is working toward their vision of bypassing dealerships to sell electric automobiles directly to the public.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jobs-Part 1: Automation

Jobs-Part 1: Automation

Whatever happened to all the elevator operators, telephone switchboard operators, cabbage pickers and tollbooth collectors? These and many thousands of other jobs have been eliminated by automation technology. On the bright side, we can now directly dial almost any phone in the world and not have to worry about watching our seconds on long distance calls. But, these are jobs, for you and your neighbors, that will never come back.

Our losing so many jobs to machines is not the end of the world or the end of work, but it is traumatic. The changing nature of work (and availability of jobs) will create some economic challenges. You see senior citizens sacking groceries when they would rather be holding their grandbabies or nursing their bunions. You see college graduates assembling grease-burgers (hold the ketchup) when they would rather be building their families and paying off their student loans.

We’ve gone through this before. Whatever happened to tanners, weavers, cobblers, and blacksmiths? Those were the days of craftsmen, apprentices, and hand-carved ornamentation on furniture. You could tell who had made a piece by the personal touches in its design. You took care of what you owned because you knew that years of experience, hours of labor and, sometimes, sweat and blood went into its production.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The NRA Speaks Out Against Packing Heat

The NRA Speaks Out Against Packing Heat

It may surprise you to discover that the National Rifle Association has recently strayed quite far from its traditional moderate views to embrace much more radical policies. For instance, the position of the NRA on carrying guns in public has changed over time.

Has the leadership of the NRA embraced the developing maturation of American social conscience, or have they been lured to pander to the interests of weapon manufacturers? I usually try to resist cut-and-paste columns, but I want to offer some cherry-picked quotations drawn from “academic histories of the NRA” for your consideration.

“I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” - NRA President Karl T. Frederick, praising state gun control laws when he testified in Congress before the 1938 federal gun control law passed.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Research: Does Conservative Negativism Repress Rational Thought?

Research: Does Conservative Negativism
Repress Rational Thought?

Conservatives are fond of identifying “enemies” and using strong negative words and images to describe them. I wrote about this in the essay Conservatives Depending on Emotional Words to Persuade where excerpts of a GOP memo from Newt Gingrich suggest words to describe “our opponents” including: failure, pathetic, lie, liberal, betray, hypocrisy, radical, etc.

Psychologists have already discovered that emotions affect higher brain functions including attention, memory, vision and motor control. Now, researchers are discovering that negative language inhibits the lower level retrieval of knowledge and subconscious information processing. A Bangor University study initially expected that negative emotional words would be arousing and stimulate reasoning capacity. Instead, they found that negative words suppressed certain cognitive responses.

I suggest that combining these two observations may show that repeatedly describing liberals [or another race, or immigrants, or non-believers] in negative terms may reduce the audiences’ ability to reason critically about the information they are receiving.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

Speech: Superman is a Liberal

Shutterstock
In the United States, there are two major political parties that spring from two very different general inclinations. Both of these dispositions offer some benefits. They serve important and legitimate purposes for individuals and the American citizenry as a whole. However, these impulses work best in balance. 

That is also to say that both conservatives and liberals (at their radical extremes) are damaging. This country works best when all sides work to find a middle way – a balanced common ground that produces the greatest possible common good while still allowing the greatest possible individual liberty.

The terms liberty and freedom should not be misapplied. The privilege of personal choice cannot be separated from the obligation to public responsibility. Personal beliefs cannot be forced upon unwilling others. Internal thoughts and values are private. External acts are subject to limitations within a community.We defend personal liberties and freedoms up to the point that they tread on the personal liberties and freedoms of others. In this way, we create communities of common good and protect justice for all.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Choosing Your Values, Virtues, Vices and Sins

Choosing Your Values, Virtues, Vices and Sins

I want to thank all of you who have followed my last few months of political commentary. We have especially explored the differences between those who are uncomfortable with change and those who can face it with hope as an opportunity to improve matters – those who fear the risk of losing what they have and those who have the faith to work with strangers to achieve what they cannot do by themselves.

Values and virtues underlie our private and public choices. And, I want to move on to thinking about what makes us decide that something is good or bad and then choose what we will or won’t do. This column is about to make a shift. I thought a little fair warning was in order. Here we go…