Monday, November 17, 2008

This and That . . .

My sister-in-law forwarded this photo to me. It reminded me of a friend whose sister just found out she's got breast cancer. I'm joining the fight against breast cancer bandwagon. In fact, I'm up for fighting all types of cancer.

And now, before I forget, here's a link to the report created by the consultant hired to look into the costs of a County Wide Library system. I'd love to know that you think about having a county-wide system. My gut reaction is that there's no time like the present to work toward providing library coverage for every county citizen. But I haven't read the report. I don't know what tax increase would need to be made to fund a county-wide system. Give me a week to read the report and do a little thinking before you hold me to my opnion. :)

Finally, let's not forget that is Money Management Monday. USU economics professor, Tyle Bowles, wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in Thursday's edition of the Herald Journal. I think it is great food for thought, and I'm reprinting it here. Let me know what you think.

Bailout Gets More Disturbing

To the editor:

In this paper (Oct. 31) and in a series of radio interviews, I spoke out against the $700 billion government response to the nation's financial problems. My opposition was based on the economic merits, or lack thereof, of the specific legislation. As it turns out, I did not fully appreciate the most negative aspect of this legislation. This grandiose extension in the role of government has resulted in a substantial movement of the line in the sand that separates resonable from unconscionable proposals for government intervention into the economy.

Now, U.S. auto companies are asking for a $50 billion handout. (This is in addition to the $25 billion already promised.) They are not even going through the fiction of making the arguement that their failure would constitute a systemic failure. Rather, the auto companies are being slightly more honest than were the financial firms. They acknowledge that government money would be used to fund, among other things, the health costs and pension benefits of members of the United Auto Workers Union (UAW). And here is the rub: this proposal has immediate and considerable political suport, and few are pointing out the immoral nature of this proposal.

Democratic government derives its strength from its moral legitmacy. When the primary function of government becomes thinly veiled policies that take from the politically unpowerful (and who could be less politically powerful than unborn future voters) and give to the politically powerful (e.g., UAW, teacher's unions, the ethanol lobby, Fannie Mae, etc.) it loses that legitimacy. The effect on society is corrosive and dangerous.

Although our democracy has been gradually sliding toward this corrosive state for a generation, the recent dramatic increase in the pace is remarkable and deeply disturbing.

Tyler Bowles, Weston, Idaho


Science Teacher Mommy said...

Woah. When we talk about unborn children having greater "moral legitimacy" than "powerful unions" he has an emotional argument, but there is another way to look at this: he is giving greater (or at least equal) weight to people who don't even exist than teachers (or autoworkers or whatever) who have served their companies or communities for a lifetime in exchange for certain promises. I am not exactly comfortable with a bailout of Ford's pension fund either, but if the alternative is for billions in lost retirement funds? Um . . . I have to be on the side of the workers here.

The irony is the ultra-conservatives (like Bowles, and yes, ironically, the CEOs at most major corporations) are so anti funding any kind of universal health care on the grounds that taxes will go up. And now, what has brought industry in America to ruin (or non-existence)? Health care and pensions that cannot be funded. Corporations go overseas in order to take advantage of workers whom they not only can pay lower wages but to whom they have to pay no health care costs or pensions. If health care had been fixed on a broad scale a generation ago (when the problem first began to be seriously addressed) then the whole argument about jobs overseas and a shrinking middle class would be moot. Conservatives hate the unions so badly, but at the end of the day, what choice do employees have?

I have heard many argue against what they call a "redistribution" of wealth attributed to what a democratic majority will result in. I was in Houston when Enron impoloded as a result of low corporate taxes and de-regulation. There were people in our ward whose life savings were nearly wiped out. I think the last eight years has seen a redistribution of wealth already--upward. I think the real immorality is that a person who works a lifetime to put food on the table and provide for his family is expected to just suck it up and do the best he can while the sweat of his labor allows a very thin layer of people at the top of his company to live like kings. It can be argued that worker X should have gotten a college degree or whatever, but our society cannot function if everyone wants to be a business major. Someone has to teach in inner city schools, take out the trash, build the cars, wipe bottoms at the rest home and whatever other distasteful service-type job you can think of. Don't get me wrong: I don't believe in equal wages for unequal work and education, but government regulation is at least an attempt and infusing some fairness into the system.

Obviously, people need to live within their means, but when houses cost an average of 280,000 dollars and starting wage with a masters degree for teaching in Oregon is 40,000. . . well, the math becomes a little bit problematic. In larger districts, superintendents might make half a million dollars a year. In manufacturing, the disparity between the workers and the upper eschelons of management is even more striking. Talk about a redistribution of wealth!

I know, I know. I'm such a socialist. Well, truthfully, in most of the world socialism is not seen as a swear word. Even in the US, a lot of our programs are fairly socialist--medicare, medicaid, public schools, libraries . . . and others. Contrary to what many people think, unfettered capitalism is not a God-given right. (I promise, I'm not lumping you into this category.)

The problem, in my mind, is that corporations will generally always act in their own best, short-term interest, which usually means profits. Any organization run with primarily a profit-motive will not generally make good decisions when it comes to people. In the absence of a moral decision-making paradigm, government must pass laws in order to protect the people. The government's role is NOT to give a pass to every idea capitalism can make profitable.

For the latest evidence of this, President Bush's office just sent a proposal to the BLM (unannounced) about his plans to allow the public lands outside Delicate Arch to be open to bid for drilling rights. (He can do this without congressional approval in much the same way Bill Clinton made much of Southern Utah wilderness area at the end of his administration--a whole other can of worms.) So ten years from now, I can take my kids on a hike up to Delicate Arch and lovingly point to the view of the oil derricks. Profitable? Possibly. Right? No. Way.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Okay, a quick PS and then I'm done. Sarah Palin, who is being tagged as the possible great hope of the future Republican Party, has made some very interesting statements about how great it is in Alaska to have "community" property resources. She cites as a positive the distribution of the high lease fees oil corporations pay to the population. This is exactly socialism. The Alaskan government can set these taxes on the oil companies at any rate they want. If the co's want to drill, they have to pay everyone. No other state works like this. In the upper midwest right now, oil has been found in pockets. It is turning some farmers into millionaires and leaving their neighbors penniless. Just because the property line is 80 feet to the left? I don't know which answer would be more equitable--the Alaska way or the Nebraska way--but I think it should at least be consistent. (People in NM and AZ might be more likely to agree to large scale solar farms if there was a profit-sharing; the same with wind farms in Wyoming. If socialism could make us more energy independent and leave less impact on the environment, then what, exactly, is the problem?)

Flashlight Girl said...

My goodness, STM. I'm glad that you recognize your socialist views and maybe someday "socialism" won't be such a dirty word in America. I often find it ironic that Americans gripe about a national health care system when the U.S. is the only nation in the developed world that doesn't have nationalized health care. Yes, we have medical assistance such as medicare and medicaid, but it is not the same thing. For those that worry about technology being sacrificed due to lack of competition or incentive, they only need to look to Europe and Canada. Techology is keeping up there. I know many folks that enjoy duel citizenship with Canada and go there for expensive medical treatments rather than receive them at home.

To address the "bailout" dilema. . . Where does it end? That is my concern now. The government has come to the rescue of so many, how do they say to the next organization that asks for help, "Sorry, but we're done bailing out companies"? I worry for many of my neighbors whose retirements have shrunk to nearly half of their values of a few years ago. How do they make up for that now? I'm not worried for my children's long-term financial future as they have a long time to prepare, plan and adapt to what is ahead. It is my aging family members, friends and neighbors whose income earning days are nearing an end that I'm worried about.

And what about the devaluation of the dollar? Where is the government getting all of this funding? Who is lending it to the U.S. when our national debt is in the trillions of dollars? At work this past week, budget cuts were announced to the tune of 4% and raises or bonuses will not be given in the next year and likely beyond that. How does the average family find the extra money to pay the taxes assessed by the government to pay for the bailouts when less is coming in? It is all such a mess!!!

Suko said...

There are no easy answers to these matters. As far as health care is concerned, I grew up hearing about the wonderful, free health care in Russia from my Armenian grandmother, so I am at least slightly biased towards "socialized medicine" or universal health care of some sort. Currently, my family (along with countless others) pay an arm and a leg for health care, yet it doesn't cover very much. We pay for our insurance, then we also pay our doctors' bills. There has to be a better way! I don't know what to say about the auto company bailout $$$$$! But I'm not at a loss for words regarding the photo, which is adorable and has a worthy message. My comments are this and that as well!

Linda said...

I've been bothered ever since I read the blog comments last night. Rarely do I delve into the political realm in such forums, but today I feel I need to. I hold very conservative views about who should decide how to spend my money. I think the best person to decide how to spend my money is ME!!! For example, after moving here we were looking for a place to build a house. We had found a charming lot in Smithfield. We found out the developer was splitting the area into 5 lots. It was on it's own lane, and was considered a "private lane". Then we found out that owners on the "lane" could vote for a gated community, a guard to watch over it, or any other improvements as long as 3 of 5 neighbors voted for it. Basically, we could be required to pay for things we neither wanted nor could afford. It looked like problems to us for 2 reasons: First, we did not want to put ourselves in the position to pay for what others decided we "needed". The more I let others make my financial decisions, the less financially stable I am.

Secondly, when people are required to pay for things they do not care about, it causes resentment. In our potential little "lane", we could see where there could be hurt feelings if one group didn't agree with what others wanted. There could be lobbying within the 5 families to get their position to go through. We wanted no part of it. In the end, it was a great decision for us and we are very happy where we are.

In our family we have taught our children that things are not always equal. If one gets a piggy back ride, all 5 don't get piggy back rides. If I find a deal on something for one, I do not need to buy 4 more things to make it equal. I believe we spend so much time trying to make things "equal" that we forget to do what is best for people and for our situation. That breeds resentment from all angles.

I'm using the private lane example to point out that not all people care about the same issues equally. That is human nature! If you require me to pay for what is important to you, it leaves me less of my own money to pay for what is important to me. If you want to volunteer your money for a cause, go for it. I will do the same. But to mandate that I pay for something that you care about just isn't right nor financially sound.

There has been alot of talk about who is to blame for the financial problems in housing. I have heard all sorts of things going around, but rarely have I heard anyone point out that most people got into houses they could not afford. Some were speculating on values increasing, some were sure they would not be in the house in 5 years when the ballon mortage took effect, but it all comes down to the fact that they took risks they shouldn't have taken and they couldn't pay their mortgage. It is unpopular to say that, so no politician will, but if our country is going to be strong we need it to be financially sound and to have financially sound citizens. You can not give what you do not have!

If you haven't noticed, I am against socialism because it takes away my free agency. It puts me in a position to pay for things I do not want or need. I do worry about people on a fixed income. I worry about them because every year there have been new taxes they have to pay because of the things other people have decided they "need". I propose that the thing they need most of all is to be in charge of their own money so they can spend it for the things they really need, not what others decide they need.

Christie said...

Oh my brain cells, they are a firing! These comments have given me a lot to think about. And because I filter everything through the lens of the gospel, I'm left wondering, What will Jesus do? We're told that at his second coming he'll rule temporally as well as spirtually. What will he make of this fine mess?

I believe that we should do all in our power to support and encourage government to best meet the needs of its citizens. That's one complex task! I'm glad Linda mentioned her example of sharing a lane and how it relates to government. I like to simplify complex things, and I do that by relating large and complex things to a scale that I can understand, knowing full well that complexities multiply as size increases.

So here's the thing. I've been thinking about writing another letter to my federal representatives encouraging them to take a close look at the "economy" of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Remember when Time Magazine did that report entitled, "Mormons Inc.?" One thing I remember is that Joseph Smith received revelation early on to get the church out of debt. I think that our government would do well to follow the same advice. Yes, it will be difficult to whittle away at a trillion dollar deficit, but difficult doesn't mean impossible.

I can see that STM has her heart in the right place. Along with her, I've noticed that ultra-conservative policies seem uncaring and hands-off in a 'we don't care' kind of way. That's not right either.

I like to think of myself as a compassionate conservative, but what does that mean? I'm idealistic and a Christian too. And in my heart of hearts, I know that the Lord is aware of each individual person on this earth. He knows our needs and knows this earth, His creation, down to every millileter of oil. He has created this world to support our lives with enough and to spare. I'm sure he weeps to sees how some have hoarded resourses and sold them off to the highest bidder. But he does not over-ride agency. Ever. Not even when it was His son they were hanging on a cross.

Our United States government was founded on providing freedom for its citizens. This means that some will use that freedom to exploit those underneath them. It also means that every one of us is free to "lift where we stand," as Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf expressed in his talk in the General Priesthood session of General Conference.

I believe that when more of us lift, we need less government. I'm going to do what I can to spread the good news of the gospel to those in my circle of influence. It lifts in ways that government can't.

We are in the hands of the Lord. I'll be praying for our leaders and supporting and encouraging them to look for ways to provide the greatest good while preserving the greatest amount of freedom.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

Linda, very interesting, and I'm actually in agreement with a lot of what you say: agency, people taking responsibility for their actions and using wisdom about how much and what kind of debt and when do the bailouts stop.

However, almost everyone will argue that in the long run are MUCH more economical when handled collectively: cops (and a whole array of other public services), schools, insurance (private or pbulic), shelters. For example, if all federal and state aid to homeless shelters and schools was cut next year, giving everybody (maybe) 5% more income, how many would be thrilled to homeschool? To invite a half-crazy homeless veteran to live with them? I am a believer in agency as well, but I have to balance that belief with another that I have: that sometimes what is best for the group is better than what is good for me personally.

As far as a land use argument--my dad and I looked at this one several weeks back: In Oregon, there are strict laws about what land-parcel owners outside of a city by a certain number of miles may do with their land. These urban growth boundary laws were designed in the 70's and 80's to prevent Oregon's cities from becoming another victim to urban sprawl. Effective, yet controversial. My dad argued that a land owner ought to be able to do what he wants. It seems obvious that the answer should be yes; but what if my dad, who lives in very conservative and beautiful neighborhood in Utah, decided that he wanted to turn his home and land into a strip club? Would his neighbors just have to say, "Well, it IS his land!" I know that higher fees associated with a gated community you neither expected or wanted is not the same thing, but 3/5 is still a majority, however small. The democratic process is full of argument and compromise, but at the end of the day the votes have to go yea or nay and be counted.

Prop 8 passed with what? 51% So 49 out of 100 people support gay marriage? And yet, it is ultimately a democracy and so the law for now will be upheld. (Ironically, we have minority, democratic voters to thank for this who vote conservatively on this one issue and turned out in record numbers for Mr. Obama.) What I'm saying is that to me, it seems that the idea of "my individual rights supersede any kind of collective right" is a recipe for complete and total anarchy.

And if the gate goes in, you can still make choices--you can pay the fee and enjoy the security and no more visits from salesmen. You can give the code out to all of your friends while keeping it from your mother-in-law ;). You can sell.

Christie, as far as the WWJD question. I think He'll put His arms around everybody who tried to the best of their understanding make their communities, states and nations a better place, then he'll scrap the entire system and start over under the order established in the Doctorine in Covenants. (The order we have already agreed to live) And we'll have all things in common. Please don't take me to imply that socialism is the same as consecration, but if you compare socialist type programs (NOT communist) to capitalist ones and look at the criteria of all things in common and no poor among them, well . . .

I know, I know you and I have had this discussion via email before. Government CANNOT and WILL NOT do what righteous church leaders can, but if we grumble about our lazy-neighbor-who-is-always-looking-for-a-handout now (whether we have all the facts or not), then who is to say our basic natures will be any different when we are given the directive to consecrate?

I wasn't going to blog today. Thanks a lot for sucking me in.

Christie said...

STM, you more than anyone else, have helped me to be more compassionate in my politics. After I added the links to the Time Magazine article, I read it. The church has many business holdings that don't have much do to with our religion. They use the money generated from these to support church functions. If I decide to encourage our government leaders to follow the example of the church's economy, what am I really saying?

One thing is certain, I would like our government to look upon tax funds as being a sacred trust, just as churches look on tithing funds as sacred. Hard working people paid those taxes. People like Linda who do a very good job of providing for themselves without asking for much back from the government. I would like to see less wasteful use of taxes. Things like overpriced toilets, pork barrel politics.

STM, you're probably the most left-leaning person that I know and love. And Linda, you're one of the most righ-leaning people that I know. And I'm somewhere in between. But, oh, isn't the exchange of ideas exhilerating!

Christie said...

Linda, I meant to write "know and love" after "you are one of the most right-leaning people I know." And LOVE. Really!