Honor the troops, not necessarily the war policy, and maybe we need to have compulsory service and expand the military troop numbers

May 28, 2012

As we observe this Memorial Day 2012 in honor of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice to their country, even though I have mixed emotions on the subject, I am wondering if we should not have compulsory military service, say once people graduate from high school — and in this modern society this could include, perhaps, young women, as well as young men (or maybe not compulsory for women).

And for those qualifying as conscientious objectors, compulsory national service of some kind.

I just read an opinion piece the other day by a retired military man who noted that never before have we had such a gulf in society as we have with the all-volunteer military and the rest who are not required to serve, although he indicated that the all-professional military was the best way to go.

Certainly there has to be a cadre to maintain professionalism in the services, but maybe there ought to be near universal participation in the effort to protect our nation so we are all on the same page.

In other nations and in times past, the military was a completely different world of its own and it was in its interests to fight wars, because that’s what militaries do and that is the only way they could justify their existence and their ability to get what they wanted.

In other countries, militaries have their own interests separate from that of the people and sometimes intervene in governments by way of coups.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the military is supposed to be subservient to civilian authority, but with the military now separated from the common citizen, one wonders if it might not become a force of its own.

The main reason, though, I see for having conscription, a return to the draft, is that it is a check against unnecessary or unwise military actions or wars. If nearly everyone was subject to military conscription, the same risk of loss of life and limb, more prudent decisions might be made. Public will would dictate.

I also read that there seems to be a renewed respect for the military now that it is the all-volunteer and professional corps, even if not universal support of our war policy. If true, that is at least refreshing.

Even though I was an enlistee, I was not all that enthusiastic of a soldier, to say the least, but I am proud that I served — if nothing else, it gives me, I feel, the right, to object to our military policy. I served in the Army in the NATO effort in Germany during the Cold War and while the Vietnam War raged. I have a brother who served in Vietnam, and another who served 20 years in the U.S. Navy.

May dad and his brother were cadets in high school, wearing those World War I campaign hats and those funny balloon trousers.

And from my observation, it seems we may well have a much better military now with the all-volunteer force.

But I am wondering if we still could not have compulsory service, say for one year or two and then some reserve time — a kind of ready standby.

I also wonder if we might want to have an even larger volunteer force than we have now. It would create more jobs and potentially provide useful service to the country. Military members don’t always have to be fighting wars or even always training for wars. They could provide community services too, such as conservation work and wild land fire fighting and emergency rescue efforts in hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Meantime, I guess if we have a chance we might attend one of the many local memorial services in support of the troops — not necessarily the war policies misguided politicians sometimes enact.

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The only ways out of our fiscal woes are an unexpected economic boom or good old-fashioned pay as you go and elimination of debt…

May 27, 2012

 

The only two ways the United States government will ever be able to get its fiscal house in order are if there is some sudden economic boom and it quits borrowing so much money but instead depends upon taxes to pay for current expenses, or if it can somehow cut out unnecessary spending (always subjective) and collect enough revenue (taxes) to pay its current obligations, plus enough to pay down and eventually eliminate the national debt.

As some have suggested, it will take a combination of raising some taxes and cutting waste and/or extras.

The economy and the fiscal solvency of the federal government is the overriding issue (or should be) in the upcoming presidential election.

Mitt Romney might well be more likely to deal head-on with the fiscal problem, but there is no way of knowing whether he could actually make any progress, and he would more than likely do things to accommodate his own class, the wealthy, which is not the same as getting the economic house in order. George W. Bush made it clear that his constituency was the wealthiest in the nation and yet he presided over the meltdown of the economy and a dramatic rise in the national debt largely due to wars paid for off the books so there was no fiscal accounting or easy accounting to show the disastrous effect on the nation’s fiscal health.

President Obama campaigned on dealing with Wall Street and its vices but in reality has done little to nothing in that regard, as far as I can tell. He also threw tax money at failing auto companies when he should have let them make it on their own as Ford has done.

I am not an economist and some might say my notions are simplistic and even inaccurate.

But I say argue with this:

It’s better to pay as you go and stay out of debt, resorting to it only in national emergencies (of which wars of choice are not) and be willing to make tough decisions on what is necessary and/or affordable spending and what is not.

The rich have to be taxed and probably have to be asked to pay a higher percentage of their income because they have more discretionary money available to them, but it is neither right nor practical to simply expect them to pay for everything — they can and will move capital elsewhere (even though those who do should no longer be afforded the protections of the U.S. government). And besides, there needs to be an incentive to become rich. That has been what has made our American society so successful in the past and a beacon of hope for a better life world wide .

But as I like to say, not everyone can be rich if for no other reason than no one can be rich unless others are poor (it’s a comparative thing). It remains the responsibility of all in society to look our for the less fortunate. And often this is done through government efforts or programs — private charity cannot and will not handle it all.

P.s.

On a related subject, don’t we really need higher interest rates to create an incentive to save money through investment vehicles which in turn raise capital for economic/business expansion?


Farmers not always the biggest proponents of land preservation…

May 21, 2012

Farmers are not always the biggest proponents of preserving farm land or wide open spaces.

Sure they want to preserve what they have as long as it is providing their livelihood, but they also look to the future when they might want to retire or when farming seems no longer to be profitable.

So any restrictions on what they can do to their land, such as create housing tracts or shopping centers, is often met with resistance. After all, their land is capital. I am of course talking about those who own the land they farm, and not all farmers think alike.

But in my own neck of the woods there is an ongoing controversy about putting in a shopping center in what is now still a fairly rural and open-spaced area. There has been more than one effort through the years to develop this land. At one time there was a move to build a new truck stop across the street from an existing one there.

I can’t keep of track of what all the plans are. I know there was a plan to install something called an auto mall, and there is an existing plan for a shopping center.

(Actually, I know what an auto mall is. And they are ugly! Don‘t get me wrong. Cars are great things, but I see enough of them already. Give me the wide open spaces anytime. And we already have plenty of car lots in the area.)

Back to the farmers. Those who oppose the development often talk about preserving farm land or agriculture. But along the freeway there is some heavy farm equipment parked and a sign proclaiming, “preserve real agriculture” and vote for the development. Kind of sounds like a contradiction. But I think the idea is that farmers need capital to farm and if you devalue their capital, they can’t stay in business.

This also begs the question of what constitutes “real agriculture”.  Apparently to some it means large acreage operations with big expensive equipment, and probably run by people wearing caps with emblems of chemical companies on them. Raising a home garden would not qualify in their view. Or maybe running some type of small-scale organic operation for local consumption would not qualify either.

I’m not against big agriculture. As I have stated previously in my blog, I owe my living to it. I haul produce up and down the interstate. And nearly all of this produce comes from large commercial operations, many of them corporate farms, or family operations that are really corporate in size and nature. And certainly big agriculture has its place. It’s a necessity to feed the millions who do not live directly off the land.

I personally am opposed to the proposed commercial development because I think it is senseless to despoil the view, the aesthetic value, the agricultural potential, and the wild land that supports the ecosystem upon which we all depend (people do not seem to realize or accept this on a large scale).

Sure commercial development is necessary to the economy and to serve the public, but there is no shortage of space in the existing nearby urban areas. Many existing and relatively new shopping centers have empty buildings. And the distances people have to travel here are not far, that is to say the people who live in the area where the shopping center is proposed do not have far to travel.

If the locals — not the outside developers — would travel constantly as I do to the San Francisco Bay Area or LA, they would see the contrast to completely paved over land and the wide open spaces we have here. I believe the quality of life is much better here.

In addition, if land is to be developed it would seem that industrial development that both might produce high-paying jobs and actually produce something would be a better option. And we do have an undeveloped, or I should say, unfilled, industrial park for that.

The jobs this proposed shopping center would create would be relatively low-paying service sector jobs. The proponents point to all the relatively well-paying construction jobs it would create, but I ask, how many times do you plan to build this thing? Of course maybe they mean that is just the start. They won’t be done till the whole county is paved over.

The so-called service economy makes no sense (at least on low-end services). I mean it is like an army of clerks and no rifle-toting soldiers. Both are needed, but the solider comes first.

I just read a story today about the kind of farmer land use conflict playing out in New York State where some farmers want to be able to sell or lease, I guess, the mineral rights on their land for natural gas fracking, a controversial process of man-made hydraulic fracturing of rock, that reportedly in some cases causes environmental damage, such as water and air contamination. It’s being done in neighboring Pennsylvania, with mixed reviews. Some farmers enjoy the profit, while others report major damage to their land and livelihoods.

It seems to me long-range planning is the answer as far and land use conflicts go, so everyone knows what the rules are going in and so the best use can be made of the land. In cases where people are deprived of use of their own land due to new restrictions, possibly some type of compensation would be in order.

One thing I should add is that the area proposed for development locally which I was referring to is not in intensive agriculture overall — although there is some — and many former farms have already been turned into suburban acreages.

But again, long-range planning and then a will to stick to it, would help.

But in another life I was a local newspaper reporter. When the big money and folks in suits come in with rolled up plans and lawyers, planning schmaning! Money talks.

And it’s never fair. Back then I lived in a nearby county. I saw this old sloppily-dressed and grizzled farmer (I’m not putting down farmers; this guy was just sloppy — he was a local character) come before the powers that be with a plan to create a housing tract on his orchard land. Like me, they cited the need to preserve ag land. But I note that years later another rural landowner in the same area divided his land into housing tracts — must have had better lawyers.

And it’s also who you are. One time a group of local doctors and dentists came in with their rolled up plans for a development in a rural agriculturally-zoned area, and the local county supervisors nearly swooned. Whatever you want is fine with us.

Really what we need in all of this is whatever is best for all of us and God’s green earth.


Political right wing may be facing split over gay marriage and biological reality…

May 13, 2012

I think the political right wing may be facing a split in the homosexual (gay if you must) marriage issue due to biological and just plain human reality.

You see, no matter what your political philosophy or ideology is or no matter what your religious affiliation is or is not, it has now become apparent to the majority in our society that some folks are just born homosexual — they did not become that way by hanging out with the wrong crowd. We know this through observation, often of our own family members. I think you could classify homosexuality as an anomaly in biological development in the human and animal kingdom, but then again not all that uncommon.

Due to an evolution toward more liberal thinking (and maybe that should be just called “critical thinking”) homosexuals have been able to come out of the closet as they say, and this has allowed straight people to admit there are perfectly good and normal people who are also homosexual, even in their own families. That does not mean we are all comfortable with the subject or the fact.

So now the political hard right wing is faced with this and knows some of its own members may have come to accept the fact of homosexuality as something other than deviant behavior to be punished or curtailed.

That having been said, I personally think that by custom (and customs are important in a culture — although they can be changed over time) marriage is still something to be entered into by a man and a woman.

But it seems to me that right along side what we call marriage there can be (and there are in some jurisdictions) civil unions. There is a problem in that civil unions may not always have the same level of status as marriage and may not be universally recognized. They should, that is they both should have the same status and be universally recognized.

On a personal and cultural level I do not like the idea of men publicly displaying affection to one another as a man and woman would in public (and even men and women probably could stand to cool it in public, but we accept this). But I think it is not something I am going to worry a lot about. There are much more important and urgent problems to deal with.

And here is something that occurs to me: since the political right seems to think it is the friend of business, why would business want to alienate its homosexual customers?

President Obama has probably taken a wise stance in his new support of gay marriage (even though as I say I would prefer universally-recognized civil unions). Meanwhile Mitt Romney has made his stance against it. Whether he is just pandering to the evangelicals, I don’t have a clue. For that matter, Obama could be said to be pandering to the liberal element.

But it seems that the 21st Century reality is that Western society has accepted homosexuality as a reality that must be recognized.


As of now the Obama vs. Romney contest is a draw (but Romney might have an edge)

May 6, 2012

UPDATE: (Wednesday, 5-9-12) I make an indirect reference to the Tea Party (really there is no single entity called the Tea Party, so it should not be upper case, maybe) in this post, as the or part of the “fringe element”, and question whether it is more than that. Well on Tuesday a candidate supported by the Tea Party managed to push out long-time moderate Republican Sen. Dick Lugar of  Indiana in the Republican primary. So there is a sign. But then it is only natural that when the populace is frustrated it will call for a change. But Howard Fineman wrote a post about the trend of no compromise and the lack of any cohesiveness  and the impersonalization of society as a  whole that sums up things much better than I could or at least have. If you have not read it, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-fineman/election-2012-lost-middle-consensus-internet_b_1502845.html

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Here’s my update on Obama vs. Romney, who would (or will) win? Some months ago I did a post with a version of that headline and continue to get a lot of hits on it. But the post is way outdated — I should delete it, but I have deleted few of the posts I have ever done.

The answer to the question, though, is that the polls seem to show it is basically a dead heat at this time. But I think Mitt Romney could have a good chance to win — call it the voter frustration factor that things don’t seem to be getting better, or at least not fast enough, and mix in a little latent and even transparent racism, and add some disappointment that Barack Obama did not deliver on his promises of hope and change, and there is a good opening for Romney.

Romney seems to suffer from the phenomenon that he is hard to like and that his own party is luke warm towards him at best, even though grudgingly admitting that he will be the chosen GOP candidate for president — he has the money and he has the machine and he is, despite whatever else he might be, not a nut case or flake or extremist as some of his Republican opponents were (or are), supported by a likewise fringe element, that is hopefully still a fringe element and not really as big as it purports to be or seems to be at times.

Mr. Romney has a record of changing his positions through time on almost everything, apparently more out of political expediency than thoughtful reconsideration. But I get the sense he is middle of the road. So am I, although I have a hard time conceiving of me voting for him.

President Obama seems for the most part to be left of center (Romney right of center) and maybe would be far left but pragmatism on his part forces him toward the center.

One thing that stands out in my mind about Romney is that although his true feelings may be hard to pinpoint what with all his flip flops on various issues, it seems apparent that he holds the view that business elites, such as himself, are the ones who should govern society. He’s middle of the road enough to accept various programs or strategies that might reach out to the broader masses, such as his Massachusetts health care plan that is said to have been a blue print for Obamacare. But he now opposes it (Obamacare that is), but all this is probably out of political expediency, both in that he wanted health care for the masses because it would keep them healthy and happy to serve the elites but now must oppose Obamacare because that is the line of the Republican Party (which likewise can hardly support a Democratic administration plan), and he hopes to satisfy his potential voters.

I think Obama has done fairly well with foreign policy (fairly well, I say) and finally, ever so slowly, seems to be extricating us (the U.S.) from Afghanistan and has avoided new wars, while Romney seems ready to pounce on Iran and possibly get us mired in another unwinnable and costly war — although I agree that we cannot (or should not) let them get the bomb. But there is evidence that we have been successful thus far in thwarting their nuclear weapons program (the one they deny having) via cyber warfare and clandestine assassinations of scientists.

Obama can rightly and has spiked the ball over his administration’s triumph in killing Osama Bin Laden.

But Romney can play up his business acumen (even though government is not and is not meant to be a business), as evidence that he could resolve our economic woes and get our budget in line, while Obama just adds to the already sky-high deficit — so huge that it seems impossible to pay off (I’m referring to the national debt, not the phony yearly budgets).

And although it’s corny and phony at times, Romney would do himself well to play up capitalism, self sufficiency over using government as a crutch, and traditional family values (even if the traditional family seems almost to be a thing in history books), and of course that is what he is already doing. So for his sake he needs to do that without alienating groups that might benefit from government help (always tricky). Never mind that one of the largest or the largest interest group always seeking government subsidies of one kind or another is the business community (politics is always contradictory).

I note the things in my previous paragraph after viewing part of an Obama campaign cartoon about a mythical female named Julia who benefits from cradle-to-grave socialism and seems to raise a family or at least one child apparently quite willingly without a father (at least he is not mentioned).

I’m in my early 60s and still cling to the notion of the traditional family, Mom and Dad and the kids (male plus female), and the idea that socialism is something we accepted in limited doses, such as in Social Security and later Medicare, but not something we sought to replace self-sufficiency and the freedom to act without always getting government permission (realistic health and safety standards notwithstanding).

Yeah, Julia scares me.

But who would or will I vote for?

Not sure. 


Must we tear up and make blighted our earth and then depend upon computer-generated virtual reality?

May 1, 2012

 

BLOGGER’S NOTE:

What I have written here refers to specific geography, but it could apply to anywhere.

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Once there was a beautiful valley with a city and towns surrounded by beautiful countryside with farm fields and orchards — a Garden of Eden of sorts. Today it is a mass of concrete, urban sprawl, and much urban decay. Do you know the way to San Jose?

Once there was a bustling farm town in the center of California’s Central Valley, surrounded by rich farm lands. It had (and still does) an arch with the slogan on it that read or reads: “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health”. That was penned by a great-uncle of mine. He won $5 in a city slogan contest back in the early 20th Century. I can’t say whether Modesto was ever a pretty town — it hasn’t been in my time, but overall, it is one ugly place today — there are good parts too, but overshadowed by the ugly. Another victim of urban sprawl and then decay. At least the farm lands around it survive. Zoning regulations have protected much of the farm land from being concreted over.

Much the same story exists in Fresno, another major city in the Central Valley.

I spent many of my early formative years in Tulare, another Central Valley town. Back then (1950s) it had an overall clean look to it. It was a mixture of humanity, with its poor sections, and with its racially-divided sections, such as Colored Town and Mexican Town, its middle-of-the-road sections, and ritzier sections. And then as you drove out of town, there were farms fields, much of them planted to alfalfa and feed corn (dairying being a major agricultural pursuit there) and cotton, and they were just beginning to make plantings of walnut orchards. Toward the foothills, citrus groves had long been a major crop. I’ve driven through there is recent years, and it seems the town is still in pretty good shape, but growth and urban sprawl has also injured its aesthetics to some extent. And the urban sprawl has even reached into the farm fields.

Agriculture in the Central Valley, in fact, has largely turned from an endeavor with bucolic atmosphere to just another major industrial effort, complete with the smog and ugliness one might expect in a factory town shortly after the industrial revolution. And that is why it is good to preserve much natural, wild habitat from even agriculture. It not only is aesthetically pleasing, but supports all the bugs and creatures that make up our ecosystem upon which we all depend for life itself, whether all of us realize it or not.

And now the people who always want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot have their eyes on the beautiful area where I now reside, Redding, Ca., at the very north end of the Central Valley, which is actually the Sacramento Valley. (Oh, yeah, Sacramento, our state capital, is a beautiful city in its central core, surrounded by a mixture of palatable urban sprawl, and some awful, decayed urban sprawl.)

I wrote about this once or twice before. But developers (read, take the money and run) want to turn an area south of here, known as the Churn Creek Bottom, into one big shopping center/auto mall/ strip mall/convenience store/big box store/urban jungle. And this while a fairly new shopping section in the city, adjacent to where I live, has many empty buildings (as is the case in other areas of the city). It’s called leap frog development. You make a shopping center and then it gets blighted and you move to another one out in the country and so on, leaving behind urban decay and tearing up farmlands in the process.

Now I mentioned where I live. Sure it was once in a natural state and was torn up to build houses and apartments and shopping areas. But it was not prime agricultural land and it was contiguous to the existing city. And yes, people have to live and work and shop somewhere. And that is why we have towns and towns do grow.

Fortunately, so far, it seems that the powers that be have done a pretty good job of allowing growth but preserving the natural aesthetics of the city of Redding, which is nearly surrounded by mountains and has a river that runs through it — the Sacramento.

But times are tough economically and there is the appeal of commercial development that promises to bring in tax revenue.

The Churn Creek Bottom is outside the city limits for the most part, but the county government has its eyes on that revenue.

To be fair here, the Bottom has already seen development. It is no longer a simple rural agricultural area. In fact, I don’t think there is any longer much (some, though) serious agricultural efforts there (although to the extent some people have their own vegetable gardes, I consider that serious). It has been subdivided into sort of ranchettes as it were, for the most part. But it is still a nice green buffer zone between towns.

There have been multiple efforts in recent years to install shopping centers in the Bottom area (and actually there already is some scale of commercial development there). But as the situation stands now, a prime spot on the Interstate has been approved for development, but due to some opposition, is the subject of a local ballot measure.

Property owners are often pitted against each other in these kinds of cases. Some want to preserve the aesthetics they have and others want a right to cash in a sell to developers.

And that begs the question: are property rights, that is the right of one to do anything he or she wishes with his property, absolute?

The answer of course is “no”.

For one, the concept of land use planning and zoning, to accomplish that, has long been around. People don’t want to live in a nice quiet neighborhood and then have a cement plant put in next door. Airports have been pushed out when housing tracts surround them, due to safety concerns — a result of poor planning.

It seems to me a compromise is always in order. There must be some way to compensate landowners for the loss in potential value and preserve quality of life at the same time. Maybe a tax break for preserving land?

And as to the argument over whether someone bought land as an investment, with the idea that some day he or she would cash in, that is why long-range land use plans are needed and should be adhered to. 

Also, if you are religious, I ask this question: who really owns that property, you or God?

You are but God’s caretaker.

And I hope the powers that be (to include the majority of the electorate) do God’s work in the Churn Creek Bottom issue.

 

P.s.

Even though I do not belong to a church and even though I am not a religious person in the strict sense, my God being somewhere between the biblical version and some mystical, amorphous being or entity we can call “Mother Nature”, I often invoke the name of God almighty.

You know, there just is a force out there bigger and more important than we as individuals.

P.s. P.s.

And must we destroy our environment and our humanity in the name of progress and then have to depend upon some computer-generated virtual reality?