Monday, May 28, 2007

Honoring Memorial Day

How to best honor those who died to give us the chance to be free?

It's often said that on Memorial Day we honor and remember those who fought to make us "free." Every Memorial Day politicians fall over themselves in speeches and press releases to proclaim their "support for the troops." The streets of Manteca are filled with flags, and the bumper stickers are on display. A nearby church even has a full scale styrofoam replica of the tomb of the unknown soldier.

I'd like to take this Memorial Day to re-affirm my own support for "our troops" who fought and died and remember that no one gives us freedom. Defending our nation in war is required for a nation to be free. However, no amount of fighting in any war, no matter how just or how horrific, has ever given us "freedom." It would be more proper to say that our military gives us the right to freedom, not freedom itself.

There's nothing magical about destroying the enemy on a foreign or domestic battlefield that automatically makes us free -- or gives us any particular political system. The political system we live under is up to us to make. Military security preserves our right to live as free people or, conversely, allows us to squander that right and live as slaves. It's up to us, not the military. All the battles in all the wars ever fought have never, by themselves, made a single person free unless that people decide by their own will to live as free people. Military security is necessary but not sufficient to ensure our freedom.

So, this Memorial Day, when the politicians are loudly proclaiming how we are free because so many died to give us that freedom, and urging us to honor that gift of freedom, ask yourself, "how free are we?" If the answer is that we're not very free, then what does that say about our personal commitment to honoring those who fought for that right to be free?

It's my belief that freedom doesn't come from politicians in Washington D.C. or from the president, or the senators or congress, or from Sacramento, the county or from any of the plethora of commissions and councils that infest California. Freedom starts right here, in Manteca, with us. What have you done to increase our freedom? I ask the political leaders the same question. When deciding any of the various political issues that always seem to "come up" in a small town, how much do we consider the question, "which side of the issue is most consistent with American freedom?"

By choosing or permitting ourselves to give up a little freedom, usually for some promise of a better "quality of life" or "security" or some other high minded collectivist goal, are we dishonoring those who fought and died to give us the right to life as a free people? By failing to take upon ourselves the burdens of freedom, are we dishonoring those sacrifices? And sometimes freedom is a burden because living free often means doing for yourself instead of accepting the easy promise that some government agency will do something for you. Freedom is messy, you have to tolerate things you don't like and fight the urge to make everyone, at gunpoint if needed, live in a way you would prefer, or some social expert tells you ought to prefer.

So when you're pondering where you're going to put your support the troops ribbon, wave your flag or complain about high gas prices, think about how a free people should have decided local issues that we have faced in the last years:

Ask yourself:

  • Why are your children educated in prison-like compounds, with wire fences, searched, sniffed by dogs, wanded, with frequent "lockdowns" and taught by a policeman who may or may not have finished high school himself, who often has his own office in many schools and is paid more than most teachers. Young people are indoctrinated to do and say and think as they are told. You are forced to pay staff in California schools more than anywhere else in the nation, yet students score near the bottom in performance.

  • Why does it take the permission of a dozen commissions to start a business, or build a house? Why can't you run a hot dog stand or a "taco truck" without running afoul of some regulation? Why can't you sell a teddy bear, or a flower or tamale on the street corner for one day? Why can't you park a restored historic truck on your own property? Why can't you pursue your own happiness or your own dream or your own "vision" unless it meets with the approval of a commission of experts and deal with a gaggle complainers? Why can't you protect yourself from those who may attack you on the street or at your home?

  • Why are you not only denied the opportunity to work as you see fit, but also you are forced to pay, through your tax dollars, to help pay for someone else's dream or vision. The poor people of Manteca are being forced to pay as much as $61 million to "help" the immensely prosperous Bass Pro Shop just to build a store here. You are paying another roughly $60 million (after interest on the debt) to pay for someone else's "Big League Dreams" ballpark/bar/restaurant. To build a house you have to pay thousands of dollars to an unnamed mysterious farmer to "mitigate" the so called "loss of farmland." The owner of the downtown movie theater is forced to pay taxes that go to help his competitor -- some of his money is given to the movie theater at the "lifestyle mall" project.

  • Why are you subject to relentless propaganda from all directions, government and the "free" press? Persuading you by telling you what you think has become an art form in the age of power wielded by popular delusion. We are constantly told, and many accept, that all this freedom is bad for you, and you should give up your freedom to "the greater good" or the "quality of life." Someone's quality of life is improved, but that someone is usually not you. Unless you are one of the politically favored few.

  • Why are you sent to prison for choosing to take the wrong medicine or growing the wrong plant, or various other (sometimes unwise) life choices? Why are more persons in prison (per capita) in California than any society on earth or in the history of mankind, including the old Soviet Union, South Africa or communist China? Is California the most criminal society that has ever existed?

  • And other seemingly endless threats to our freedoms.

The politicians, the expert consultants, the committees and commissions have decided not only where and how you should work, but also what store you should shop. Milton Friedman put it best when he wrote, "What most people really object to when they object to a free market is that it is so hard for them to shape it to their own will. The market gives people what the people want instead of what other people think they ought to want. At the bottom of many criticisms of the market economy is really lack of belief in freedom itself."

This Memorial Day, honor the sacrifice of those who fought for our right to freedom by getting informed, then getting involved and then telling the government to get less involved. Demand that leaders honor the fight for freedom by actually preserving our freedoms.

Or you could have a barbeque on Memorial Day. I recommend the bison burger.

    Thursday, May 10, 2007

    Have some water

    Some consultants developed a new "water plan" for Manteca and presented the results of their study at the city council meeting. As usual with these kinds of presentations, they brought some powerpoint slides and spent most of the time simply reciting the requirements of CEQA and talked very little about the actual results of their study.

    Only a few details were given. It looked like they thought the public didn't need to know too much. But my favorite was when they noted the "substantial and unmitgatible impact" of "population growth." They said this (presumably bad) "impact" was caused by the fact that the main goal of the project was to facilitate the growth of the population. In other words, what the high priced environmental experts told us was that this project designed to help the population grow will have the effect of increasing the population. Hmm.

    Thank you to all of you who have sent me supportive comments. (I've gotten more comments from people in Manteca about that Q&A session than any other for some odd reason.) Since the Q & A session degenerated into a debate of the meaning of a "public hearing" some were wondering what I was "getting at?" Am I opposed to the water plan? Is the cost too much? Is the plan wrong somehow?

    Well, the simple answer is I don't know, that's why I was asking the questions. I don't know if $110 million is a lot. It is for the water supply for 130,000 people, and paid over 20 years. That could be anything from $7 or $20 a month extra for each household. Water isn't free, so who knows. Maybe the plan is great. But I still don't know because they never addressed any other question.

    What I asked was three questions. First, what was the estimated cost? (they said about $110 million over the years to 2030). By the way, even getting that answer was difficult, they started in with a song and dance about how it was to spent over many years, etc etc and I had to rephrase the question to "if we were to build all these things today, what would it cost, about?"

    That was when the mayor interrupted and told the consultants they didn't have to talk to me anymore. But anyway, I also asked if the end result of the project was 39,000 Ac-ft/yr of water, how much do we have now? It was a simple question -- Does that $110 million give us a lot more water or just a little more water? That's why I was asking what's the capacity of the water supply now. The last question was where they came up with that 39,290 Ac-ft/yr figure. They really didn't like that question for some reason. I must have stumbled onto something but I don't know what yet. Maybe it's related to the way that water will be obtained.

    Let me explain one other thing. Why ask such questions? Most questions at the public meeting fall into two classifications. One is the questions from consultants, builders, "stakeholders" etc. These are usually highly technical discussions about some particular aspect that affects their business. The other type of questions are the "personal" type. Things like "you'll have to tear up my cow pasture to put in that line..." and so on.

    The questions I was asking were neither of those. But I want to make clear, there is a purpose for them. It's not my intention to waste the time of the public officials or the people who make the effort to attend the public hearings. The questions I was asking were what, in my view, were the questions that would be important to you the readers and you, the people of Manteca.

    That's why I asked the simple questions that were basically "What will this cost?" And, "What benefit do we get for that cost?"

    If you were there, did you notice that I pointed out that the purpose of this public meeting is to provide the public the opportunity to ask questions, and people have a right to have those questions answered! (any reasonable question that is).

    After I took my seat and my "time was up" the mayor asked city manager and clerk to clear that up. I'll have to review the tape but one or both of them said that the purpose of this meeting is just to take public comments and they have no obligation to answer or address anything.

    Which is completely wrong: Check out the "staff report" on this very issue. This document was issued by the city in preparation for this particular meeting. It tells what the purpose of the meeting is, what is to be discussed, etc. Go to page 92 in the pdf , look under the instructions for this very item. It says:

    1. Hold a Public Hearing to respond to questions or receive comments relative to the 2005 Water Master Plan and the 2005 Water Master Plan Final Environmental Impact Report.

    Note the phrase "respond to questions."