If there is no pay for troops at war, then there should be no pay for anyone in government and anyone with anything to do with withholding that pay should resign in disgrace…

July 31, 2011

While I find the mantra of “support the troops” tiresome in that it is a device used to blackmail people into supporting a particular policy, I find the idea of not paying them, especially ones in the field, to be unconscionable.

Yet once again we hear that threat, this time indirectly from the outgoing chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. I don’t mean it is his fault, but he says he does not know for sure whether troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere would be paid (immediately, most likely later, though) if the government defaults on its debts by congress and  the president not okaying a raise in the debt ceiling.

Seems to me that while the ultra-conservative and or/ neocon war mongers are the ones who usually use that mantra of “support the troops” as blackmail, this might be a form of blackmail from the other side, even though I doubt the admiral is part and party to it, other than the fact he has gotten no assurances from the administration that the troops would be paid.

Personally I think troops, especially those in combat areas, have to be paid if anyone can be paid.

I could not support any politician, whether he be the president, or he or she a  member of congress — Senate and House — and no matter what political party he or she is a member of who had anything to do withholding pay to the troops or did nothing to make sure they were paid.

As a matter of fact, I would expect anyone who had any part in withholding pay from the troops to resign and/or be subject to impeachment (although, technically that may not be an impeachable offense).

How could you pay anyone in good conscience without paying those who put their life on the line in your name (regardless of the merits of the policies that sent them there)?

The story that inspired this blog post is:

http://www.dawn.com/2011/07/30/unclear-if-us-will-be-able-to-pay-troops-on-time-mullen.html

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While the cities become blighted, developers move to pave paradise and put up a parking lot…

July 30, 2011

They’re at it again, trying to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. In the county where I live there is a nice, mostly green stretch between the city where I live and the one to the south.

It’s not all beautiful and it is not all in a natural state. There are some junkie places. There is the remnants of an old dairy farm, which was not all that pretty when it was functioning, especially in its final years, but which is a downright eyesore now.

But there is a lot of open land, called bottom land — a creek (not a river) runs through it — well actually a river, the Sacramento River, does form a boundary of the area I am talking about, so I guess a river does run through (or by) it after all.

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ADD 1: The specific area I am referring to is called the Churn Creek Bottom, between Redding and Anderson, Ca.

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But the point here is not this particular area, necessarily; it’s the idea that so-called undeveloped land has to be turned into shopping centers and what they call auto malls. And this even when there are acres of abandoned or nearly abandoned shopping centers right within the cities, especially in the one where I live.

It is a terrible waste of natural resources and destruction of the environment and contributes to blight and contributes to overall ugliness and has a deleterious effect on the quality of life. It makes the cities uglier, with all the abandoned buildings, and it makes the countryside uglier with all the asphalt and concrete — I mean we need both in our modern society, but not on every inch of God’s earth (I did not say green earth, because even in its natural state, not all of earth is green).

Over the years there has been development in this green zone, as it were. There is a truck stop, and there have been many proposals to build commercial projects around it, including the current one to build a shopping center, a shopping center that in no way is needed. We have plenty in the area, and as I have said, we also have a lot of abandoned buildings in shopping centers in the area, and these buildings are not all that old.

And that is how development spreads in heretofore green zones. Once any commercial project goes in, developers use that as a toe hold and say: one more development right next to it won’t change things, and then another and another and so on.

It’s really crazy. A lot of that abandonment of relatively new shopping centers came around 2008 with the great economic upheaval of the time. And now, even though that upheaval is in no way over, especially where I live, some of the  powers that be — especially professional developers and land speculators — want to leap frog out into the hinterlands and cover it all with concrete and asphalt.

Oh they say it creates jobs. Well those jobs would still be there if the businesses were located in the already-existing shopping centers. And those jobs are usually, make that always, relatively low paid. And I never have understood an economy, whether it be local or national, based on support services. You have to have something to support.

(In my area the reason the service economy works at all is because we have a lot of government workers due to the fact there are a lot of public lands in the surrounding mountains, and we have a lot of “equity” people who cashed in years ago by selling their houses in the LA and Bay areas.)

I believe in preserving farmland, and much of the area I am talking about is prime farmland. But the argument that prohibiting development there would be just to preserve farmland is not convincing to even me. For much of the area has been subdivided into small parcels, some of them called “ranchettes”, which for the most part do not produce food or fiber, with the exception that a lot of people raise vegetable gardens and I think some sell their stuff at local farmers’ markets, and that is worthwhile, I think. But at least the area is still relatively green and open, even with that subdivision of properties. It would be a waste of land just as bad as shopping centers, though, if it all were just little horse farms — and nothing against little horse farms per se — but that is not the case.

There is a lot of opposition from the local homeowners there, I understand. And of course there is a little hypocrisy there in a way. I mean I got my little green space, made possible by breaking up economically productive farms, now no one else can come in.

But the bottom line is the area overall is still beautiful and much of it in at least a semi-natural state, so it helps preserve the ecosystem, which is vital to the preservation of mankind, as well as quality of life, and there still is food-producing agriculture going on (not too much fiber, maybe, save for a few sheep; we don‘t grow cotton here).

I’m a long-haul truck driver and I see the difference between areas that preserve green belts and the ones that don’t. I prefer the green belts.

The oft-cited example of man ruining paradise is San Jose. The Santa Clara Valley used to be filled with farmlands and orchards. The vast majority of people lived and did their shopping in towns, such as San Jose. Today from San Francisco down the peninsula to San Jose it is one concrete and asphalt jungle (with some hidden islands of beauty), and overall not at all pretty.

And let’s don’t even talk about the LA basin.

Okay, when I was a mere child in 1956 my family went to Disneyland, not long after it had opened. It was in the country, surrounded by citrus groves. We also went to Knotts Berry Farm and it was really a kind of farm at the time, in the middle of the countryside.

Today you descend the Tehachapi Mountains into a basin with hundreds of miles of virtually nothing but concrete and asphalt, with only a little green space here and there. And it is not pretty for the most part. And with all the traffic, and pollution, to include smog, it is not all that healthy either.

Why people would be so eager to pave paradise in my neck of the woods is curious, except that often it is developers who have no local interest and just want to make money and landowners who see it as their retirement money — and they can move elsewhere if they don’t like what it becomes.

Now it is not always fair to put burdensome restrictions on private land and limit the right of landowners to make money on their investments. Sometimes tax incentives (and in other blogs I have called those tax shifts) are used to promote the conservation of farmland or green space.

Also it is important to have long-range land use planning. That way people know from the get-go what they can do with their land (of course unless the zoning is changed while they already own it). Also you get a more efficient and compatible use of land. Not good to locate houses next to a cement plant, or in my area, rock quarries are often controversial (but of course needed). And airports are often threatened by safety concerns once houses surround them.

But we do have planning where I live. But the way that works is that people who want to get around zoning hire developers and lawyers who specialize in getting around restrictions. I saw this when I worked as a newspaper reporter. When you see the suits and those folks with rolled up plans, watch out.

Where I live there is plenty of room for both commercial development, primarily within the existing cities, and farmland, as well as other forms of open space, and living room too. We have an empty, but ready-to-go industrial park on the edge of town.

But the leap-frog development, which leaves past developed areas blighted and gobbles up prime open space, is bad all the way around.

P.s.

The Shasta County Board of Supervisors has a re-zone of the Churn Creek Bottom property from agriculture to commercial on their agenda Monday evening in a meeting beginning at 5 p.m. at the courthouse in Redding, Ca. For more information: http://www.co.shasta.ca.us/BOS_Agenda/publishedmeetings.htm

P.s. P.s.

And thanks to Redding.com (the Record-Searchlight newspaper’s website) for keeping the public informed — that’s how I knew about this. But all opinions and descriptions and all content in this blog post are mine, except for the meeting date and the fact that there will be a meeting, which of course is just public record.


Where were all the conservatives when the debt was being run up?

July 29, 2011

I have a question for all those who say we have to let the government default because that is the only way to keep it from spending more than it takes in.

Where were all these people all these years?

Did they vote? Who did they vote for?

There are very few in Washington with clean hands in the dirty deficit spending scandal — I don’t know, maybe Ron Paul, the libertarian.

I suspect that a lot of the so-called conservatives were content to run up the yearly deficits and the overall debt (what is it? $14 trillion), such as was done under George W. Bush, as long as they could hold onto their tax deductions (tax shifts to someone else) and their tax avoidance schemes. But now that the revenues have dropped so dramatically because of the Great Recession (and didn’t the economists tell us not long ago that it was over? What happened?) the so-called conservatives are born again on fiscal responsibility.

But yes, something drastic needs to take place. The government should not even think about spending more than it takes in, except that right now what reasonable choice is there without wreaking havoc on an entrenched but vital system, our economy and that of the world?

The story in the news today is that if no agreement is raised on the debt ceiling and if the president himself does not take unilateral action to raise it, the government will have to go into triage and decide who gets paid and who does not. There will not be nearly enough money to pay all of its day to day, month to month obligations. The thinking is that Social Security checks will continue to be issued, because that is politically sensitive to the extreme. Even before them the bondholders will be paid, because if they were not the government could never issue bonds again (or at least interest rates would have to be sky high due to risk) to borrow the money it borrows to pay the bills.

After that, who knows?

I think the president should make an executive order to raise the ceiling for now to avoid making Uncle Sam‘s promise to pay worthless, which would seem to destroy our whole economic system.

But really, hard decisions on spending must be made and made soon and nothing should be off the table.

Nothing is really free in this life.

But the strategy of the far right for a long time now has been to starve the beast. If you can’t get the votes or support of the American people to get rid of various things such as social programs and environmental regulations, just cut off the funding somehow. Never vote for new taxes.

We have reached the ultimate starve-the-beast moment or almost, it seems.

The ultra conservatives are wrong when they suppose a government can be run and civilization preserved without sufficient taxation and the liberals are wrong, wrong, wrong, when they just say: “let the rich pay”

All have to pay and we all have to make tough decisions.


Huntsman says conservation is conservative; I like that…

July 29, 2011

Except for the fact that Jon Huntsman — one of two Mormon presidential candidates — looks like a clone of nearly every Mormon man I have ever seen (even more so than Mitt Romney, the other Mormon), kind of an eerie “Boys from Salt Lake City” thing, he could be the kind of conservative I could like.

I say that only because I just read a story in which he was quoted as asserting that conservation is part of being conservative. It seems that most modern conservatives eschew worries over climate change and the environment and even the idea of conservation (of the earth’s resources) itself.

To be fair, I think the idea of many conservatives is that although conservation and the environment are of course important, some people (they would say “liberals”) use the issue as a device to promote social programs and restrictions on individual liberty.

And the integrity of various climate change studies and the methodologies of them have come into question lately, with indications that some of their evidence was faked.

On the other hand, the yahoos I seem to hear all the time just spout ignorance and parrot what idiots such as Rush Limburger Cheese spout each day (and he does it just to make money, not that he necessarily believes what he says — at least that is the way I see it). Unfortunately, there is a lot of money to be made in promoting ignorance it seems.

And now comes Huntsman saying that the whole debate over climate change should be based on science instead of politics. Amen to that brother.

The fact that he has the guts to say this, knowing that it does not do anything to win votes among what is seen as the Republican base, and he is a Republican, makes me think that he might be sincere, if not politically savvy. Then again, a conservative who could draw in moderate (and even some liberal) voters might just stand a good chance of winning.

(He made his remarks at a meeting of Republicans for Environmental Protection. Sounds dubious, but then again Richard Nixon, a Republican, was the one who created the EPA — go figure.)

And this paragraph is kind of out of place here, but this is a blog — even liberals know that if the country goes broke all their social programs a schemes go down the drain.

But I doubt I would like much of what Huntsman stands for other than what I have just noted — don’t know much about him yet, though.

Like I always say: I almost could be a Republican at times if they (Republicans) would give me a reason to be one.

A link to the story I mentioned:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/29/jon-huntsman-climate-change_n_912884.html


Big business may have created a Tea Party monster that’s attacking its own interests, and maybe the president should just handle it…

July 28, 2011

Just some random thoughts on the continuing debt ceiling debate/crisis:

There was an interesting discussion on Hardball yesterday with one of the commentators saying that big business heavily promoted and funded the Tea Party and may have created a monster in the process that threatens its (big business) own interests. I don’t think the big business /Wall Street set want the government to default on its obligations and wreak fiscal havoc here and around the globe. It kind of reminds me of the moneyed class and business interests supporting Hitler in Germany thinking the loud-mouthed simpleton could be quite useful but could be controlled. Not a good analogy, maybe, but I see some similarities.

But the idea that someone, some group, the American people even, have to stand up and say enough is enough, let’s get our fiscal house in order, and let’s cut the crap of an idea that we can just continue borrowing money as we go ever deeper into debt, is compelling.

Here’s another one, lest you think the Tea Party is only a far right-wing Republican group or only would embrace far right-wing Republican ideas, I heard the leader of one of the Tea Party groups say yesterday at we should go back to the Bill Clinton budget that was balanced, Clinton, a middle-of-the-road Democrat, often portrayed as liberal. The truth is, though, that government budgets, even in the states were constitutions require they be balanced, are not really balanced. They just use various forms of financial gimmickry. Besides budgets are just plans. Spending realities are different.

The more I think about this, the more I think that the president should just order that the bills that have to be paid, such as obligations to bondholders, be paid, and let congress fight it out, bill by bill, program by program, as to how money should be spent and taxes levied. That is its job.

The only two things the public at large can do is communicate with their legislators and at election time vote out those who don’t seem to represent their interests and/or cannot handle their job, or I might add, have just been in there too long and have gotten stale.

And one more thing: I don’t want to see anyone’s taxes raised, particularly my own, but it is my understanding that tax rates in general are far lower than they have been in years past.

P.s.

And here is something to make your head swim, if you have not already read it, and something that indicates the president does have the power to resolve the current crisis on his own and something that seems to indicate that the way government creates money is all just so much hocus pocus anyway: http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/07/28/balkin.obama.options/index.html?eref=igoogledmn_topstories


The nation cannot continue to spend more than it takes in, but maybe the president has the authority to handle the current crisis unilaterally…

July 27, 2011

Maybe the president could end the debt ceiling crisis by executive order.

The debt ceiling debate is all very bewildering, whether it would be a catastrophe, with world-wide implications, to fail to raise the ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline to allow the federal government to borrow even more money to pile on to its multi-trillion-dollar debt (something it has routinely done over the years) and whether the government would have to stop issuing Social Security checks and paying contractors and so on, if it fails to raise that debt ceiling (I am not sure all of this is totally clear).

One has to wonder why the president can’t just order the ceiling to be raised so the government can meet its financial obligations. In fact there has been a suggestion that he has the power to do that under the 14th Amendment:

http://www.ctmirror.org/story/13411/larson-house-dems-back-14th-amendment-fail-safe-debt-ceiling-standoff

But it is unfamiliar ground. Never been done. Not court tested.

It seems to me regardless of how it is done, the United States must meet its obligations to pay those to whom it has issued bonds (borrowed money from) at the minimum. To do anything else would be on its face unacceptable.

At the same time, going year to year spending more than it takes in and piling up its debt so high that it can only pay interest and not even hardly get to the principle seems a sure way to ultimate disaster (that may or may not be upon us now). One day the debt will be so high that it will be clear that it cannot be paid and the creditors will want their money and no one will lend the nation more.

The whole system in which congress (both major political parties) can simply order money to be spent with virtually no check on it (save for the president vetoing a whole bill, a veto which can be overridden) and no requirement that such money or sufficient money be available makes no sense, regardless of whether that is what in fact our constitution calls for.

Perhaps this very emergency, maybe even default, is what is needed to wake the American people (who ultimately have control, not as individuals, but as informed citizens through voting blocks, organized or just natural), and make them decide what government programs and services and at what levels are worth it to them and whether they are willing to tax themselves to pay for it all. Their elected representatives have to work out the details, but they have to have clear signals, not just don’t spend money unless it is for me.

And it may take this crisis to stop all that “wasteful spending” that is often not always clearly defined.

But it seems to me that those who are owed money from prior commitments must be paid if at all possible. But going forward, nothing should be spent unless it can be justified and funds are available. If the funds are not there, nothing happens.

The Tea Party-backed freshmen in congress are said to be standing firm against any new taxes, even if it means default.

Maybe they are the only ones with backbone. But if they are, let’s see how much they have when they have to decide who gets paid and who does not. They are sure to find many in their own ranks deserting and constituents out for their blood. Welcome to politics.

P.s.

One caller into a talk show who seemed to be a Tea Party follower named her choices of wasteful spending: The Environmental Protection Agency, The federal Department of Education, and the TSA (Transportation Security Agency). I might agree on the education department because it seems like a duplication of local and state public education governing bodies, and maybe the TSA is incompetent (or not) and duplicates some of the efforts of the FBI and private security, but I do prefer clean water and an all-around healthy environment, although there is always disagreement as to what constitutes reasonable and needed regulation.

But she went on to say, if I understood her correctly, that the much of the efforts (and expense) put forth by the federal government should be handled by state and local governments. I agree, and let them pay for all of it too. More decisions for real people to make that cannot be so easily foisted on the federal government so it has to take the blame and bear the financial burden.

P.s. P.s.

I’m not sure that President Obama wants to be given the unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling, either by way of a recent short-lived offer from one leading Republican senator (with strings or a catch attached) or via the 14th Amendment idea. The president and the Democratic factions and more notably the split factions of the Republican Party, with the main party old-liners being cowed by the Tea Party, are all playing a political game, using the threat of a fiscal calamity as leverage in a battle over ideology and competing special interest (read campaign donor) interests. No statesmen yet, except John McCain seems to be getting pretty serious about criticizing the Tea Party faction for its intransigence on the debt ceiling issue and its willingness to let the country go into a financial abyss in order to make a point.


Nothing new in Obama address or Boehner response — How we got to the brink of default and what should we do? And why not pull out of Afghanistan and use that money to pay off the national debt?

July 25, 2011

UPDATE:  (Monday evening) Just listened to President Obama’s address to the nation on the debt ceiling crisis and then I missed most of Speaker of the House John Boehner’s response because of a computer glitch or the fact I tripped over the telephone cord and I was finishing dinner and putting the dishes away at the time, but I heard some of it and saw the first part of a replay on it, and all and all, nothing has changed, although it still seems as if the stalemate will be broken at the last minute with both sides, Democrat (Obama) and Republicans (Boehner), coming to a compromise of sorts and jockeying for political leverage and position the whole time.

As bad and dangerous as this all seems — the threat of the United States defaulting on its obligations — it may be necessary to make people figure out how they want their money spent — your really can’t have it all and borrow your way out of debt at the same time. But hopefully a compromise will be reached by the Aug. 2 deadline.

While I tend to be more on Obama’s side, I will say this: While most people want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, they are probably also smart enough to know that simply requiring the rich to pay for everything won’t work, and hardly anyone wants his or her taxes raised, especially not before it can be shown tax money is spent more prudently. Republicans, though, are playing a dangerous game. If Social Security checks don’t go out, they are ruined.

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To have civilization, as we know it, you have to have government, but to operate a government and to enable that government to do what you want it to do you have to have money, therefore you have to have taxes.

Most people seem to be cool with a graduated tax, where people who earn more money pay more taxes, the reasoning being that those higher earners have more money they can afford to part with and still live well, while those with less feel the hurt much quicker.

That is, most people agree with that until they become higher earners. Then maybe not so much (there are exceptions, such as Warren Buffet and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama).

I think that those who argue that making people pay a higher tax rate as they make more money is an unfair penalty on those who put in the extra effort to make more money and who by doing so help spur the economy have a point, to a degree at least. But what usually happens is that people who increase their wealth find ways to avoid taxes, often quite legal, with all the available deductions and such.

Meanwhile, taxpayers across the board, but I suppose especially in the vast middle, play the game of essentially giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan or loans through the year, only to get the money back at tax time, via what we call the tax refund (of course they don‘t usually get all their tax money back).

Pardon me if I ramble a bit, but there is a point here:

Except for those such as the super-fortunate folks I mentioned earlier, most people do not like to pay taxes. Because of that they prevail upon local governments and even state governments to keep taxes down as much as possible. Not everyone wants government to do all the same things, but in general people expect a lot from government. Therefore the tax money has to come from somewhere, so through the years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, the tax burden has shifted steadily toward the far-off federal government with its vast resources. But of course it faces the pressure to keep taxes down too. And that has led us to where we are today. The federal government has been borrowing money, much of it in recent years from China, and spending way beyond  its tax revenue.

The so-called tax and spenders in Washington are blamed for all of this. But why did they do this? It isn’t as if they simply took all the money as individuals (although there is some of that). No, they reacted to pressures from lobbyists and campaign contributors (probably not so much from individual voters) to pass legislation enacting a myriad of programs and services and tax deductions or deferments (read that tax shift to some other unfortunate people) schemes aimed at supposedly promoting some worthwhile endeavors for the good of the public and the economy.

It’s all the dirty little not-really-a-secret that people ignore for the most part — the government is really insolvent, but lives on payday loans, if you will.

Now that things have come to a head with the federal government facing default if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, really in a kind of artificial way, those in the political establishment who carry the water for the anti-tax crowd who really just want someone else to pay for all they demand, are using this all for political leverage.

I checked the news this morning and nothing has really changed: Democrats are calling for a combination of spending cuts and new taxes, and Republicans are demanding no new taxes, or not much new taxes, with a much larger amount of spending cuts (and they are really after social programs, which they abhor, except when they themselves benefit from them (That’s a tough one. Their constituents, by and large, really like Social Security and Medicare, for themselves anyway. But the business lobby does not like anything that means higher taxes).

Mixed in with all this is our foreign policy based on strategic military actions such as that in Afghanistan. Come to find out in a story running today, U.S. tax dollars are finding their way into the hands of the enemy there through private contracting. I say: why not pull out of Afghanistan, but continue to spend the money we would have spent there on paying off the national debt?

Right now the show is what will happen Aug. 2 (or even in the next few hours or this week) if Uncle Sam looks as if he or actually does default on his debt payments. It would seem that there would be economic chaos, with no confidence left in the American dollar.

But I also wonder if the battle over raising the nation’s debt ceiling is kind of meaningless in that we have lived beyond our means, in strict economic terms, for so long. Maybe a nation with the size and resources of the United States can actually continue like this virtually forever.

One reason we get away with borrowing so much money from China is that we have a symbiotic relationship with that nation. We need their money and they need our market.

But we do have to make better use of our tax dollars for sure, I would think.

I also think we need a more equitable tax system. I don’t know what that might be, but maybe we need to have a flatter tax rate and fewer deductions.

The other day I heard someone promoting essentially a national sales tax. He said that with that the vast underground economy, to include drug dealers, prostitutes, and even trades people and others who work under  the table, would be taxed when they buy goods and services.

The philosophical debate on the role of government will always be there.

But government needs to act responsibly. If the government does default and if economic chaos ensues, then all of those responsible, Democrat and Republican alike, should be swept out of office.

And I still think that most political positions out to be volunteer with only a stipend. People constantly running for reelection are far too beholding to lobbyists.