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Do You Have Enough Freedom?

Last night, Chris Guillebeau started his book tour talk by asking the important question: “Do you have enough freedom in your life?” What an important and not usually asked question! After reading the $100 Startup ( Chris Guillebeau I knew I had to meet the author and be around people who are thinking in the same vein about life as I am. The book is a how-to guide to all those wanting more freedom in their lives. It chronicles a diverse array of people who, many unbeknownst to themselves, have become (yes, the big word) ENTREPRENEURS!  The book is an “account of people who found a way to live their dreams and make a good living from something they cared deeply about.”

Chris Guillebeau speaking about the $100 Startup model at Booksmith in San Francisco

The criteria to have your story included in the book were:

  •  Follow-your-passion model (building your business around your passion)
  • Low Startup Cost (businesses that required less then $1,000 in startup capital)
  • At least 50,000 in year net income
  • No special skills (for example, no do it yourself dentists etc.)
  • Full financial disclosure
  • Fewer than five employees

The lesson most poignant in the book was Guillebeau’s explanation that, a business can be made by converging your passion and skills in creating something valued in the market. You may think—oh no, I do not have any skills!—But you do, if you become creative. An example in Chris’s book is Michael Hanna who after being fired from his job was given a truck full of mattresses that he successfully sold individually on craigslist. After the first few sales he had an idea:  He could create a mattress business built around the family and so different from the seedy nature of many mattress dealerships. Thus, thanks to his ability in selling and desire to help others he started a business where the whole family would be involved in buying the mattress. He set up a play area for the shopper’s children and a coffee bar for the adults. He also became the first person to have a bicycle mattress delivery service—free if the shopper arrived on bike himself to find the mattress!  Thus, VALUE can be created by deploying a skill you already have in another form.

Chris handing out cupcakes to the packed book store. standing room only!!!

Value, Guillebeau writes, means helping people. Business does not have to be so cutthroat. It does not have to be so sterile and corrupt. By thinking in the terms of creating a tool that make people’s lives easier and less-stressful and, which people see value in buying—you have yourself a business.

San Francisco is a beautiful bubble. Last night at the book signing I met fellow bloggers and people that want more freedom in their lives. I have never received more “congratulations!” on not returning to college next year. So bizarre and so awesome. But, I realize that I am in a very unique position: I live in the Bay Area. I understand that the sentiments of San Franciscans and Tech-Valley people are dissimilar from the majority of the world. It is not that others cannot create businesses stemming from their creative enlightments BUT, it is just much more common and accepted here. In San Francisco“What startup are you building?” is never far from anyone’s tongue, while elsewhere the question may be, “My God, are you sure you want to take the risk of starting your own business?” Bay Area people tend to see entrepreneurship (I am sorry to use that pretentious word again—I will start thinking of another word!) as a conservative choice in the unstable job economy of today.

Saying that, Chris Guillebeau has an extremely big following globally and his book explores micro-businesses from around the world. I can just imagine that people in the Bay Area are much more supportive of this type of do-it-yourself employment than others. Reading this book and meeting with Chris (He recognized me out of his 77,863 twitter followers after tweeting him earlier in the day) further encouraged me to live by Steve Job’s saying: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Chris measures the success of his book by the action people take after being inspired: Chris, you are successful in my book as I already have an idea in mind which I will start working on in Beirut!

My own signed copy of the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

My own signed copy of the $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

Our Constitutional Rights Going Out The Window Again?

Tableing at Occidental College to ask our Senators co-sponsor The Due Process Guarantee Act

Eleven long years after the preventative detention policy was implemented under President Bush, the United States is once more enacting unconstitutional legislation that infringes on our civil liberties. The annual National Defense Authorization Act, passed this past December 2011, allows the government to detain innocent Americans indefinitely if it suspects they are involved in terror-related activities. This could be the reality unless the Due Process Guarantee Act (DPGA) is passed, a bill currently in consideration by the Congress and sponsored by Senator Feinstein and Congressman Geramendi. Even though you may think you are not be an explicit target of the new provisions, the NDAA threatens the natural rights of all Americans in taking away the right to a fair trial. I ask,  wasn’t this country  founded on the basis of freedom and justice for all?

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a bill passed annually by Congress and signed by the president to provide the military with a budget. Often, it includes additional language surrounding military and defense policy, but in the most recent NDAA signed by President Obama, legislators have added new provisions stating that all individuals can be detained indefinitely, without a due process guaranteed, if under suspicion of terrorist links.

This country has witnessed similar events in the not-too-distant past. The internment of Japanese Americans following the Pearl Harbor attacks, as well as the blacklisting of suspected communists in the 1950s give light to instances in which the government suspended the constitutional right for a due process. In the aftermath of 9/11, federal and state legislatures enacted similar laws that threatened immigrant communities, justifying their policies on the basis that the country was in a state of national emergency. Never having been charged with a crime, 2,870 Muslim immigrants were detained during that time, and many were not released until months later. A decade after 9/11, the government is still passing laws aiming to prevent terrorism, laws which invariably revert to discrimination against the Muslim community. Their passage is most striking considering how they contradict both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of our Constitution.

After recognizing the NDAA’s clear breaches of the Constitution and discrepancies, Senator Feinstein and Congressman Garamendi responded by proposing the Due Process Guarantee Act (DPGA) in January 2012, which would amend the NDAA to ensure a fair hearing and trial process for all American citizens. The bill currently has 63 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 26 in the Senate, crossing party lines and agendas. It has been endorsed by the likes of Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky and Congressman Gary Ackerman, a Democrat from New York.

The NDAA expands the power of the government to detain Americans without being charged with a crime, which will disproportionately affect minority groups inside the United States, just as the PATRIOT Act’s racialized surveillance policies affected the African-American and Hispanic communities. Under the PATRIOT Act, the government expanded its wiretapping and surveillance programs aimed at both demographics, as well as the Muslim and Arab immigrant community. The FBI and police departments across the country could take advantage of the indefinite detention provision under the NDAA to detain Americans without due process, simply by claiming a link to domestic terrorism.

Organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) have rightfully taken interest in the Due Process Guarantee Act, as the Muslim community fears that without protections, they will be extremely vulnerable to state-sanctioned discrimination and unwarranted detention. The Council advocates for not only the passage of the DPGA, but also proposes a revision to the DPGA to include due process for all individuals both inside the U.S. and as they travel overseas. MPAC, as well as other advocates of the Due Process Guarantee Act, are pressuring Congresswomen Judy Chu to push the bill through committee. She sits on the coveted committee currently holding the DGPA bill hostage–the House Judiciary Committee.

While President Obama has said that he would not enforce many of the most reprehensible elements of the new NDAA, his commitments have not been written into law, nor do they represent anything more than a politician’s oral pledge. His personal assurances bind neither himself nor future presidents, and all people should be alarmed. In the practice of American foreign policy, diplomats and politicians often preach democracy and due process. But ironically, it might be said that back home, America is hardly a model for those very same virtues.

Note: A version of this article was published in the Occidental Weekly, April 2nd edition. This article was co-written by myself and the wonderful Dina Yazdani of Check out her insightful blog on Middle Eastern political complexities!

Yet To Come: The Best Years of My Life

It hadn’t hit me until a friend said to me, giggling with that vacation glow, “I am on summer break but you are just beginning everything.”  Now I understand why being on summer break has felt so anti-climactic. In college, I would continuously remark how my every day life felt like summer camp (No, I never went to sleep away camp but this was how I imagined it). My friends would agree and chime in, “Yes, I was thinking the same thing earlier today.” I have left that campy bubble and entered another: that of the “real world.”

I keep recalling the relief I felt one year ago when I graduated high school. My IB exams were done and I was off to college– “the best years of my life.” Now, I feel relieved but for a different reason: I will be 20 and in charge of my life. I will be 20 and living the life I create and want. I will be 20 and out of the machine I was put in and, it will be my choice if I want to go back. Curiously, I will be studying this summer out of desire to gain a valuable skill while dissecting cultural complexities–my greatest hobby.

I have only been out of school for four days but my to-do list has grown with my many scattered plans, which I have begun to act on. In fact, I will be attending my first skillshare class this Wednesday evening!  Some may say I am all over the place but I truly feel that I need to try out as my different things as I can in order to find my focus. And so my journey, which many do not understand, scorn and become defensive about (I am not saying you should change YOUR path) has begun.

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