Old Editorials
Preachy Editorial from the Fringe Editor: Non-Profit Organizations and the Neighborhood

Photo borrowed from National Lampoon

There is a whole broad pallet of non-profit, not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations doing everything from promoting self-esteem to girls who are short for their weight to saving old buildings to providing specialized medical care for the morally confused. While not all non-profits are “benevolent” or charitable, the defining feature of a non-profit is that someone, or everyone, is supposed to benefit, and someone else is not supposed to benefit.

Ideally, a non-profit is formed when people in the community (either a geographic community or a community of steamfitters, for example) identify a need and seek to remedy it. They organize, form a corporation, appoint a board (generally volunteers) who have no benefit from the nonprofit or what it does (thus, no “conflict of interest”).

In truth, though, non-profits have become ways that professionally educated people create jobs for themselves. If you can’t get a cherry job in a lucrative for profit corporation, maybe you can have your kin form a non-profit and hire you. Mother Teresa could be an example, but there are other, more nefarious examples where no one benefits but the staff of the non-profit; Hurricane Katrina spawned a host of those. People working for a non-profit behave just as all bureaucrats behave. Social workers are famous for creating non profits to give jobs to friends, and in moderate sized communities it is not uncommon for such professionals to sit on each other’s boards, creating the “interlocking directories” effect which large corporations use to good effect. Some non-profits exist to receive money from specific sources, as some Child Abuse Prevention Councils funnel government money into their counties for adjunct services.

The benefit a non-profit brings its community has to be weighed against certain costs. To some degree the supporters of a non-profit control this cost/benefit analysis. It would be hard, for example, to get funding by declaring that all stray pets should be killed. The Society for the End to Hungry Pets (SEHP) is non-profit that proudly proclaims “there shall be no hungry pets in our community” and then sets out to drive around shooting hungry pets at large. That might fulfill their mission statement, and they might seem to be doing good if you squint at it just right, but are they? Would they receive the funding they need for the 12 gauge shotgun shells and court visits?

In the case of the humane animal murderers, outside forces would step forward, probably in the form of people who’d been getting the morning paper when SEHP popped a cap on little Fifi and scooped her still quivering body into a black plastic garbage bag before asking for a donation and then speeding off.
After a few of these people complain to the cops who can’t do anything because blah blah blah, they’ll likely get together to do something, and likely they’ll form a non-profit, so they can assign tasks and accountability, and configure themselves to receive funding and other forms of support. To do this they’ll create a mission statement or some similar statement which will incorporate what they do, who they serve, and how they serve them.
But, what would the new non-profit do? How would the Society to End Pet Hunger (SEPH) differ from the SEHP? Would they create a fund to provide food for poor pet owners? Would they print and distribute pamphlets about the importance of keeping your pet within ten feet of you at all times to avoid the confusion that they are stray? Would they sell, at a modest profit, doggie and kitty sweaters bearing the logo “I couldn’t eat another bite!”?
Their name (and we presume similar mission statement) prohibit them from arming themselves to blow away the SEHPs; indeed, they would have had to configure themselves to be the Society for the Prevention of Hungry Pet Assassins (SPHPA) to appropriately proceed against the SEHP (again assuming the cops can’t blah blah blah).
However, they would not be wise to do that, and not only because the SEHP might shoot back, and will have had more practice shooting. They might find that community members tired of their roses being dug up might suddenly come forward with a showing of support for SEHP. Worse, they might actually eliminate the SEHP, and then their reason for being would disappear. As the SEPH they would never run out of hungry pets, and could even fluff the numbers to suggest that many pets were “on the verge of hunger”.
The last thing a non-profit bureaucrat wants is for the problem to disappear, because then funding disappears. This is why various non-profits occasionally “shift” or “manage” or “reorient” their mission statement and even the target of their efforts.
Indeed, in the long run, the SEPH and SEHP will probably reach an equilibrium, perhaps sniping at each other in the press, and always each using the worst of the other to encourage supporters to give yet more. Think the NRA and any anti-gun lobby.

Most non-profits have transparency; funders sometimes require it. Very large non-profits may even create user committees and councils to spread responsibility and accessibility. Citizen’s advisory committees are very common for non-profits and may also be required by funders. Nearly all genuine community non-profits have community members involved in their project selection.

In every case, the community non-profit is susceptible to the community it seeks to serve. SEHP and SEPH serve the same community, even though some of their contributors will give to only one or the other. If, at some point, the community at large dismisses either group, it will become, at best, vestigial. If, however, both are threatened with oblivion, they might find their common ground, and form a single non-profit, AF of L/CIO style. They would then divvy their hungry pets, with only the most decrepit being booyayed and the most salvageable being publicly saved. Their support could be spread over all people who were “potentially concerned about the problem of hungry pets.”

In each instance, the group is angling for that most valuable of commodities, public recognition and community support. In each instance, the community determines the value of the services against the cost of supporting or tolerating them.

Which brings us around not to ARF (the Animal Relief Fund found HERE) but the HSRA and the newly forming non-profit. Currently, the community has found the cost of HSRA to be higher than a realizable benefit. For the nonce, the community is slowly coalescing behind the nascent non-HSRA variant.
However, this new group enters the same community as HSRA. The community is watching, and weighing the possible benefits against the probable costs. It remains to be seen if the Rural Alliance of the High Sierra (or whatever variation) can provide more useful benefits at a better cost.
On the other hand, if the new group proves only to be negative and punitive, providing no greater community benefit, they might find themselves in the position of the Society for the Prevention of Hungry Pet Assassins, with their quarry enjoying new support in the community, or worse yet, having HSRA dis-incorporate, leaving the new group with no mission.

The benefit a neighborhood non-profit delivers is calculated by the community it serves. Let’s see what you’ve got. 


Editorial Weekly: Sierra County, the Community, and High Sierra Rural Alliance

This Tuesday at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting the community came to a watershed. At first glance, the only glance some want for the matter, there was a battle between High Sierra Rural Alliance and those who want strong private property rights. Really, though, it was more than that, it was the community trying to have a discussion with itself over where we are willing to draw the line in caring for the environment, and our communities.

Ideally, the environment and the community should not be at odds; the community can’t thrive if the environment is dead. Unfortunately, there are times when something suffers and something benefits. It’s where we’re willing to place our values.

As a mostly objective observer, I saw anger in the crowd, and frustration and bewilderment on the part of the representatives of HSRA. McCormick and Duber explained as carefully as they could that they simply wanted due caution. They aren’t wild-eyed, they have a rationale.

The problem is, we can’t afford that kind of caution. High Sierra has simply crossed the line.

We are plagued with regulations which were intended to protect, but end up oppressing. The State and the Feds both are trying to erode our water rights. It’s getting to the point where owning property is too much of a liability.

HSRA, with these appeals, simply makes matters worse.

Their actions stem, I believe, from two factors.

First, land use is what they, particularly the Executive Director Stevee Duber, know. They are able to pick too many nits. This is the appeal the community showed up for, but they’ve simply been waiting, because of other recent actions against residents. Even those moderates who often support the actions of HSRA have been alienated.

The second is that their structure makes them impervious to criticism. They simply aren’t open to community input. This is how they so quickly find themselves opposed to the community they intend to serve, and why they seemed somewhat bewildered and disheartened by the community response.

Those who have been opposed to HSRA for some time, mostly the growing list of community people they’ve screwed with or threatened to screw with, have been slowly coalescing into a movement against HSRA. They will be able to summon supporters for the next appeal.

Strong public support could benefit High Sierra, but without that, their detractors will begin to pick away at their out of county support, and to mount stronger local opposition. As they grow more skilled and get more community recognition, they will force the Board of HSRA to choose between actions, either to try to defend themselves, or to change how they do business.

But, aside from HSRA, I think the community has said something else. We don’t care if life is completely safe. Being completely safe is not what living in the Canyon is about, any number of inevitable natural disasters could shred the town.

Out the window of the appeal hearing: houses cling to the hillside.
Neither do we care so much if there is poogas in the river. It isn’t our river anymore, those who are charged to protect it for us, the Fish and Game, the courts, the legislature and the bureaucrats who thrive off regulation, they’ve stolen it from us. We get it now, our water doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to those down south, and they want it clean. I say, as I’ve said in the past, piss in the river.

I personally believe there is a continuing need for HSRA in the community, but it has to significantly change how it does business. The group might still sue on one or both of the appeals; there would be strong, organized community response to that, including a rumored attempt to raise funds for those sued by HSRA. The group claims to work with the community interest at heart, it needs to demonstrate a stronger bond with that community.  It needs to be a friendly partner in the discussion about our community values and the environment, and not a foil in the discussion.

Otherwise, I’ll predict its days are probably numbered.


Gunshop Life

Posted 11.18.09

Not surprisingly, our 2nd Amendment article got a lot of attention.

Gun articles are called "preloaded" because you know that no matter what you write, people will read it. Only child abuse and teen pregnancy are better grist for a preloaded story. It’s because these stories strike right at the emotions.

The emotion associated with guns is fear, but not only anti-gun people are fearful, pro-gun people are too.

I’ve worked in gun shops and I’m here to tell the truth.

If you are an anti gun nut, things are worse than you think, in some ways. I made a good living out of guys who would come in and tell wild eyed stories and buy gun after gun, having to have the most powerful auto pistol with the biggest magazine. I sold crates of ammo to people with federal automatic weapons permits, and was glad to see them even though they were mildly wacky. Didn’t I worry that any of these people would use one of the guns they bought from me to commit a terrible crime? Nope, because hurting people isn’t what they were about. They were about being wild eyed and buying guns. These really aren’t the people who go nuts and clean out a shopping center. It’s quiet, law abiding psychiatrists who do that.

But the big thing about the wild eyed preferred customers is that they were all afraid. They were afraid of rapists and muggers and home invasion and most of all they were afraid of the government. Who among us can say they shouldn’t be afraid of rapists and home invasion, let alone the freaking government? One guy actually asked me once, "what caliber would you recommend to use against Hell’s Angels?" I showed him a special, very expensive Hell’s Angels gun; there was no danger he’d ever hurt a Hell’s Angel with it, but I worried the heavy recoil would keep him from shooting it, and coming back for ammo.

It’s fear that unites pro-gun nuts and anti-gun nuts in their struggle.

The pro-gun nuts didn’t worry me. It was the group that composed my second best customers that worried me: local cops, particularly the "SWAT" team. These guys all watched too much television. They weren’t wild eyed, their eyes were keen and focused. One day one guy brought in a cheap .25 caliber auto pistol he’d taken off a homeless guy. "I’m keeping it for a throw down gun" he told his pals sitting at my counter. They nodded. A "throw down" gun is a gun you throw down at the scene to justify blowing away some unlucky citizen. They weren’t afraid, indeed, they carried fear on their web belts, it was one of their weapons. Of all the guns and ammo I sold I worried most that the stuff they bought would actually end up killing someone. Still, they bought a lot of expensive nylon and kevlar gear and I never worried about being robbed when they were in, though they scared off the gun nuts. Start a political movement to control SWAT teams, that I’ll sign on for.

Then, there was the bulk of my customers, by far the majority though they weren’t big spenders. They were the people who came in once a year for a box of .30-06 for their bolt action Remington Model 70, or occasionally to buy a .22 rifle for a grandkid or nephew. Sometimes they’d get a bug and take up skeet (clay pigeons) or "sheep shooting" where the targets are metal chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams, and they’d spend a little more, for a scope or maybe even a new pump shotgun or single shot rifle. One day Longs Drug opened a gun counter, selling popular rifles and reloading supplies at bargain prices. The average shooter disappeared from the gun shop.

The gun nuts stayed, though, because Longs wouldn’t let them hang around the counter and run out their horrible fantasies, and the cops stayed because they couldn’t bring out their trophies at Longs.

Gun control laws didn’t effect my clients at all, except to make everything more expensive and take longer, and the obvious insult to their civil rights.

A guy did come in once, shaking, angry with a "cheating slut of a wife". I refused to sell him the used revolver he wanted. I wasn’t worried he’d shoot his cheating slut of a wife, I was afraid he was going to use the gun to kill himself. I sent him down four doors to the local hardware store. If he was going to kill himself, let the anti-hemp movement blame it on a piece of rope, instead of my used revolver.





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Busted Government


I never really liked paying for government, but I look at taxes like I look at insurance: it’s protection money you pay, a kind of bet you make against yourself. I don’t like it, but it’s the smart thing to do. Besides, I may be a decent, honest person but somebody has to watch the rest of you.

Lately, I’ve become even more dissatisfied with government, not only with the unreasonable economic burden it puts on us, but also for the crappy service they provide.

Here are just two examples, there are many others.

The first is the Air Resources Board. Gretchen Bennitt of the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District was kind enough to bring two researchers from the Air Resources Board to Loyalton to discuss possible airborne grunge. They provided detailed material which seemed clear enough to me, but a reader (and a right smart boy) expressed doubts to me.

I emailed or called both of the researchers with a clear question about the data. A while later someone got back to me. One of the researchers? No, a PR person. They certainly couldn’t have answered my question, since they lacked the scientific expertise, and it was too late anyway, we’d gone to press. The agency provided us with a thick packet of information, but when we try to have the authors clarify a simple point, we get a paid know-nothing whose job is to prevent information from escaping the agency.

In the second instance, we got word of a local incident with a bear. We don’t get to publish hearsay, unless it’s concocted hearsay from a public talking head, so we had to check up on the facts. We tried to contact the Fish and Game cop who responded. We spent over an hour on the telephone and on the internet trying to find someone from F&G who knew anything at all. Trying to contact the region was a waste of time since neither the contact information on the internet nor the phone number given us by Sacramento would put us through to a live person, or even a reasonable voice mail. We were finally able to leave a voice mail for someone who never bothered to get back. If they ever do, it will be too late.

And the Board of Supervisors wants another fish cop in the county? Please, save my tax dollars.

When you call a private company and ask them prying questions about their financial dealings, you can understand when you get through to someone who will tell you nothing in the nicest possible way, or who might even just ignore your questions. But, when we deal with someone who sucks their living from the public bloodstream, they should be more forthcoming. They’re busy? Who isn’t? I’m busy too, why is their time worth more than mine? If they take an action in the name of the people, they should be available to respond to public inquiry.

I’ve personally been a paid bureaucrat in charge of releasing data, but not information. I understand the whole rationale of "cover the agency, your funder, and your ass". Some information is confidential to protect innocent people, or the original rat (sorry, "informant"). Some information is withheld because of pending litigation. We all understand that. But sometimes the information isn’t available because someone is doing too good of a job of covering their ass, or because the people are inept or overburdened, both a sign the system is busted.

These are two examples, but there will be more this week or next. The information we really need to know is either tangled in bureaucratic cobwebs or there’s no one on the other end of the telephone. Calling a government agency and getting an informed response happens about half the time. The other half, our question receives secrecy or ignorance.

At times like this a person likes to go on about being the Fourth Estate, or being a tax payer, but the problem is much more serious even than that. Society works because there is a social contract. These people not only take our money to operate, they do so in our interest. We cooperate with them because they claim to represent the public good. When they stop representing us, why should we cooperate with them? Why in the world would I rat out my neighbor for having a burn barrel or a cousin for taking a deer out of season when I owe them a social bond, and I owe an unresponsive government nothing? That is the most serious consequence of government in the role of distant master.

This is not to say that we don’t sometimes get too much government. The drive to Quincy is so thick with CHP it’s like driving through a Palistinian occupied zone, and God save your butt if you try to nail two boards together in Sierra County. At least in those instances you know where your tax dollars went.

It is also important to mention all the government people who do an excellent job of informing the public. It is rare to contact a Sierra County employee without getting a prompt, intelligent response. It does happen, yes, so please don’t telephone and email with examples of bad County response. But, most of the time, probably more than 90% of the time, busy County workers interrupt their work flow to reply to a telephone call or email if we have an intelligent question. We’re very appreciative, particularly when comparing our local people to the overpaid wonks at the state.

Fringe Goes Carry Nation

I never thought I’d write this piece. I have long believed that the product of life is death, and a person can choose the death they like as a God given right. Like fat? Choose heart attack. Like to drink? Choose liver failure.

Even so, I’m here to say, too many of us in the county are alcoholics.

Like most people, I consider drinking and driving as stupid. This was not always the case, and as a younger person, I considered a blazing death in an alcohol related car crash as just an act of God, like a tornado or unwanted pregnancy. We all drove drunk; it was just bad luck if you crashed from it. For several years, an evening for me started with a trip to the liquor store for a bottle of Ballentine’s scotch and a twelve back of Schmidt’s, "the brew that grew with the great Northwest." Oh, and a burger or frozen TV dinner.

Eventually, though, I had to admit that alcohol wasn’t good for me. I wasn’t going to be one of those guys who quietly drank through their whole lives, ending up a little stupid and a little pitiful but essentially oblivious.

No, that isn’t the kind of drunk I was. I was ten foot tall and bulletproof. My natural inclination towards defiance and belligerence was magnified, and I took to carrying a Kabar Korean war issue knife on my belt. I was a "wattayoulookinat" drunk. I was one tired cop away from prison or worse.

Then, one day I found out a friend was giving a party, and I hadn’t been invited. "We just don’t like you drunk."

I was crushed. Then I talked to an old drinking buddy and realized he was a drunk, and I probably was too.

I gave alcohol up, and eventually, all the drugs that went with it so well, until eventually I didn’t even smoke tobacco.

Still, I have steadfastly stood up for people’s right to drink themselves to death.

Until recently. Recently, I have seen too much, even I can’t pretend alcohol isn’t out of control in our county. Currently, I don’t think there’s a single community that doesn’t have someone on probation, in jail, or in rehab over alcohol. That’s too high a price. We have people driving shitfaced drunk; sooner or later someone is going to die, probably someone who was just in the wrong place.

I’ve always though crystal meth was the biggest problem our community had. I thought that since alcohol is legal, people could get help when they wanted. That isn’t how it plays out, though.

It plays out in escalating problems; in warnings from the cops; in domestic violence; in arrests; in failed chances; in prison.

Good women and men given to self-destruction. It’s too painful to watch, and more painful to be part of. Maybe sometimes the drink is a symptom, not the cause, but it’s a symptom you have to deal with first.

If you have a problem, cousin, get help. I know you will, too, when you have a problem.

And, that’s part of the problem, knowing when the problem is bad enough.

How do you know? I still have good friends who are "evening alcoholics". They get up and go to work sober, and when they get home they get a comfy buzz on and they keep it. They have someone else drive if they’re drunk, and they don’t cause trouble, they just fall asleep early. Charles Bukowski spoke for a whole bunch of people who simply can’t take life straight, and I get that. I’m not comfortable lecturing those folks. Their lives might be better without drink, but maybe not.

There are all kinds of lists available to help you know if you drink too much, but most of them have a pretty low threshold. I think you can boil it down to relationships and finances.

Here’s how you know if the problem is bad enough:

Did you hit your spouse or kids, or keep your kids awake screaming because you were drunk?

Do your non-drunk neighbors avoid you?

Did you miss work and say you were sick because you were drunk or too hungover to get up?

Do you drive drunk?

Do cops come to your house?

Do you have an attorney?

Is a divorce in your future?

Have you been arrested for an alcohol related incident (not counting "drunken holidays" like New Years or the 4th).

If you can answer "yes" to even one, get a grip on your drinking.

There are lots of roads you can take. Some people can simply drink less. If you can’t, and most people can’t, then do something else. Go to your church, or your doctor.

I’m the last person to say life has to be taken straight up. Some of us can take it, others simply can’t. Still, you have to know when you’re in too deep, when your alcoholism is a problem to your family, your friends, and all of us in your community.


Do us all a favor: save yourself.

The Problem of Clear, Simple Thinkin’

There’s nothing like clear thinkin’. These days, there are too many people talking. Every time we try to do some simple thing, it gets all complicated and people give us excuses as to why we can’t do the simple thing we want to do.

A nice, clear thought helps straighten things out, set the world right. How refreshing it is to hear someone state things clearly.

Too bad that in real life almost nothing is ever solved with clear, simple thinkin’.

Clear, simple thinking is linear thinking, A plus B equals C. Almost nothing is that simple, because we live in a complex physical and social universe. Things are relative to each other; when one thing changes, other things change in response, often unpredictably. Driving a car at a safe speed on a dry road is linear; add some snow, some deer and six cars close behind, and it becomes complex. Most of social and political life is snow and deer.

A good example is the old children’s story about the king who loved cheese. The palace was plagued by mice after the cheese, and so the king called his wise men together and they started him on a clear, simple path that lead to the palace being infested with tigers. The social and political world is full of things like that.

Take crime. There are hundreds of ways to view crime, but the clear, simple way is to see people doing stuff wrong, pass laws to prevent that, and catch the people and put them in jail. Very simple.

Except it simply doesn’t work. What we view as "crime" is a complex social creation that represents the whole of society; the economy, religiosity, cultural values, public fear, and most of all interpersonal relationships. Our attempts to prevent a crime eventually lead to a criminal class, increasing all crime.

This is partly because our measures of crime are founded more on what cops call things than what people actually do. Because we want the world simple, for most of us "crime" summons the image of someone breaking into our homes or hurting us. Those are things to worry about, and they are very common forms of crime, but they aren’t the big crimes, the institutionalized crimes. We don’t know about that world, it’s too complicated, it’s the stock market, it’s government regulation. At the highest levels of crime we hope the criminals will catch each other. That’s what has put the economy where it is now, and nothing much has changed at that level.

All legislation is plagued by "unintended consequences." Those things that happen as a result of a law, that no one anticipated. The simpler the solution, the more unintended consequences.

A great example is Nixon’s war on drugs, which Reagan turned into an industry. The war on drugs is a simple idea: "people shouldn’t have this stuff, and if they do, we’ll put them in jail". That simple idea has driven funding for law enforcement, prosecution and prisons, leaving us with more of our people in prison than almost every other nation. You have cops and lawyers and prison guards whose bread and butter depend on a simple approach to drug use. Along the way we’ve seen government justify terrible assaults on the Bill of Rights. Our reward for this wasted money and lost civil liberties? More drugs than ever, more violent gangs than ever, more of our people in prison than ever.

As a result, our poorest people go to prison, which pretty much assures they won’t be able to get a living wage, meaning they’ll likely go to prison again, creating more crime.

The more laws you have, the more criminals you create, now that’s simple but true.

Clear and all wet.

The Republicans at the state are complaining because "not one drop of water has been added to California by the Democrats."

Clear, simple thinking: we don’t have enough water, we need more, make getting more a priority.

The problem is, it isn’t a simple problem, it’s a very complicated one. Further, you can’t "add water" to California, unless you truck it in from somewhere or spend billions on desalination. Currently, no state wants to give us water, and taking the salt from sea water is still rather expensive. Beyond those two solutions, you simply can’t add water to California, all you can do is re-allocate existing water and lower environmental standards. The first is theft, the second is suicide. Simple thinkers look at the delta smelt and see a little fish. People who struggle with complex thought realize that the smelt is only part of the problem, an "indicator" that the whole system is becoming unhealthy. It takes time for an ecology to die, but by the time the problem is undeniable, it’s too late. Anyway, simple answers won’t do on such a complex issue, the problem continues until the palace is full of tigers.


Our problems are complex, whether we are worried about crime, or water or any social problem. When someone comes forth with a nice, clear, simple answer, see them for what they are, either liars, or idiots.

The Fringe Editor Confesses:
I may be wrong!

After careful consideration the Fringe Editor lists a number of issues on which he has recently written editorials, and about which he may have been wrong.

"I have been wrong many times in my professional and personal life. Perhaps I am wrong on these issues as well."

Maybe we should blame a few local people for the effects of the global recession.

Maybe we should wrap our hopes and dreams around a development boom that will hit Sierra County but miss the rest of California.

Maybe we should accost the few people who are trying to bring modest prosperity to the county, particularly when we ourselves actually have no better plan.

Maybe we should ignore the resources we do have because developing them properly might take time and money.

Maybe we should think primarily of ourselves; a few of us can become rich even if our neighbors remain poor. Perhaps we should make heroes of the greedy and mean-spirited.

Maybe it’s foolish to rely on and invest in each other, when there are people we don’t know somewhere else we can do business with.

Maybe we should stiff those who work on our behalf, harangue them, reward them no more than we have to, begrudge them every penny, perhaps that will make them better employees.

Maybe we are right to expect first class service on our roads, our trash, our fire protection, our mental health care, but should pay nothing.

Maybe we should regard anyone who lives among us as untrustworthy and unprofessional, and maybe we should spend our money with similar people elsewhere, maybe that will improve local service.

Maybe we should insist that everyone live and believe as we do, or accept that they are second class citizens, undeserving of the privileges of real patriots, like ourselves. Perhaps we should pry into their lives and enforce our beliefs on every personal decision.

Maybe doing these things will make the county stronger and more prosperous, and make the world a better place. I may be wrong.

Living Here







Sierra County is one of those places where people live by choice. A person can go south and live in one of the hundreds of thousands of identical houses in indistinguishable developments, but rarely does someone move to one of those places because that’s where they want to live. Most of the neighbors you see in the course of a day live here because they want to, there’s something about the place, and part of that something is that there are very few people here.

There are a lot of reasons few people make this place what it is. Few people means every one of us is more important. You could look at it that each of us is worth 1,000 people, if there were 3,200,000 people here. It means that when you drive the roads, you recognize vehicles; you look for a familiar face behind the pickup window, you wave. That doesn’t seem like much, that wave, but in a real sense, it ties the community together. In some cultures you greet someone you know by saying "I see you, Joe." The wave is like that: I see you, I know you’re still alive in my world, we anchor each other to the community.

Imagine driving the roads around your community and seeing thousands of people and no one you know, or could expect to know. How much more lonely is that than seeing only one pickup on the road, but that you know.

Times are hard here, and they aren’t over by years. Our blessing is our curse: our few people mean our communities have little resilience, every person leaving is like a thousand people leaving somewhere else. The 24 jobs at the cogen plant are like losing 24,000 jobs. When a drought comes it hits the grass on the margins first and worst, and the current economic drought is leaving us yellow brown. It’s easy to yearn for a flood of life giving money to turn us green, and fill our schools, and busy our little towns. We hope and plan to bring money in but there are always impediments; it’s easy to want to look around us for the source of our problems.

That can leave us doing the first thing we shouldn’t do: blaming our cousins. Are we a ragged clan plagued by ignorance, hoping that stoning one of our own will atone for a sin and please an invisible god who will finally make it rain? There isn’t any one person, or small group of people, who are keeping the rain from falling; stoning those who are doing what they can for us isn’t going to make us healthy. It’s adding depravation to our desperation, that’s all.

There isn’t any grand project that is going to turn our county around. Having the cogen plant shut down was like the last small puddle of a once brimming lake evaporating. Is it still a lake? Even so, we can’t become so desperate we pray for floods.

The times are hard, it is a drought that is hitting far and wide. We have to know that it is going to take some hanging on. The answer isn’t going to come by changing who we are. If Red Emmerson has taught us nothing else, it’s that we can’t rely on grandpa corporations from somewhere else. We are also not going to be saved by houses. There is no scenario in which changing few to many is going to benefit us. We do need more people, we need more kids in school, but that doesn’t mean becoming some place else. It means we find a way to keep our children in the county. The houses we build should be for our children; the schools should be filled with our grandchildren. We should be able to support our own population growth; we can’t. Bringing more strangers in won’t change that. Planting more grass won’t make us into the middle of the meadow, it will simply mean more dry grass.

If ever there was a time to invest in each other, it’s now. We need to create a local prosperity. When you’re the grass at the margins of the meadow you have to learn to have deep fast roots. You have to learn to catch the dew. You have to learn to share.

There are other little communities who have pulled together to protect and profit from what they have. We need to invest in what we are.

It has to come down to this: do we want to live in Sierra County? Or do we want to live where we are lonely among a thousand cars, some place else.


NOTE: The Dissenting Editor has determined this piece may offend some readers, and has labeled it a "rant."

Cruelty and injustice are most easily seen in other societies. We know our culture, understand our themes and institutional rationales and so the cruelty in our own society seems reasonable to us. The same is true of other societies, and perhaps viewing the arbitrary nature of justice in others can be self-revelatory. This commentary is "ironic", and does not propose the measures mentioned.

The Parliament of the Indonesian province of Aceh has recently passed a law making adultery punishable by public stoning. Stoning is where the guilty party faces their cousins, who throw nice round rocks at them until they are dead. Some places even have official stones that are used. Interestingly, it turns out that in such places women are many times more likely to be punished for adultery than men, proving how much more permissive women are. You might have thought it would require both parties to commit adultery, but no.

The sentence is not as harsh as it might seem at first glance; four reliable witnesses must come forward and swear they saw the adultery. Further, if the guilty parties are unmarried, they are not stoned, but given a paltry 100 lashes with a cane, known as "caning". The procedure leaves a pattern of scars on the backs of survivors (not everyone survives the shock).

The Parliament of Aceh also prescribed similar sentences for homosexuality, alcoholism, gambling and, oddly, rape, although in such countries forced sex is not always considered rape. Sometimes it’s considered "adultery".

These new laws were passed by God fearing men who decry the permissive society. They aren’t extremists, their suggestions make good sense to many in their society. Such things are a matter of degrees. I suggest the God fearing conservatives in this country come right out of the closet and propose similar things here.

Putting people in prison forever is fine, but it isn’t public enough. Punishment wouldn’t have to be limited to stoning and caning, there are many other punishments used by Godly men to prevent permissiveness in society. There are the stocks and pillories, once very popular in the Americas. People held in stocks may be publicly humiliated including being spat and urinated on. True, people held in stocks (usually seated) and pillories (standing) do die from exposure and thirst, but that isn’t anyone’s fault, since the person wasn’t sentenced to death, but merely died, which is thus the will of You Know Who.

There is also dunking, which was re-popularized by the Bush administration, and there is burning at the stake, though Air Quality meddling will no doubt make that difficult. Let’s not forget impalement.

There might be problems, though, since some permissive conservatives object to death by stoning, and insist on death by electrocution or lethal injection. They will, at least, allow mentally ill and developmentally disabled people to be so killed.

There is the further complication that for Christian God fearing men, the first stone has to be cast by someone with no sin, not the sin of greed, or envy, or pride, or bearing false witness against innocent people, or the sin of judging others. Still, there are probably plenty of such sin free people in the pro-stoning community.

The capital sin/crimes could be expanded to include smoking pot, illegal immigration, preventing development, or having inadequate health care, since illness, too, is the will of You Know Who.

Someone clearly needs to bring these anti-permissive measures to those who hate permissiveness. It will have to be someone else, though, I don’t belong to that faith.

Life and Dying

Day of the Dead, Shewalkssoftly (link)

I saw a statistic on a website the other day that talked about the number of people who would still be alive if it weren’t for cigarettes. That’s a blatantly stupid thing to say, since no one alive knows the destiny of another, but it outlines how ignorant we are about life and dying. At a time when we are having a national discussion on health care, it would be a good idea to have a discussion on death, too.

I would like the discussion to be frank, and reality based, and so that means almost no experts should be allowed to participate. Certainly no health educators, or anyone who steps to the public trough in the name of saving us from ourselves. I’m a trained statistician, and I can pretty much promise you that, for a variety of funding and retirement related reasons, statistics are always inflated. Once created, they are repeated over and over by a cadre of mid level practitioners who’ve never seen the data and wouldn’t understand it if they did.

That’s part of our national problem: we don’t so much believe in life as we believe in people not dying.

But, no one knows what you’ll die of. People die of lightning strikes, bee stings, logging accidents, and flesh eating bacteria. Indeed, doctors and hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (really, read this very sobering link)

Congressman Tom McClintock, during his most recent visit to Sierra County, made some remarks about tobacco use that were courageous and even a little mind-bending. He said that, allowing that tobacco use was bad for a person, it should be their choice. I was personally disappointed he didn’t continue his line of thought to cannabis use and abortion, but pot growers and pro-choice clinics aren’t big donors to the Republican Party, whereas big tobacco companies are.

Still, what McClintock said was revolutionary: it should be their choice.

There are several places, in the national discussion of wellness and health care, that choice should be resurrected as a value, and the inevitability of death as a given.

Currently, our nation is locked into a mindset in which everyone can be saved, even against the will of those who don’t want to be saved. In the nation that supposedly "invented" personal liberty, one can’t even end one’s own life. One’s bad habits, and the illness that may or may not arise from them, are often sited as "man hours lost" or "cost to industry". Our lives aren’t our own, they belong to the government, or perhaps to corporations who we steal from by being ill and not at work.

The right to live, which is to say the right to die, since regardless how one lives death is the essential product of life, should be left to the individual as much as possible. Smokers should be able to smoke without public harassment. If you’re fifty and you’re comfortable with death by fat, you should be able to scarf all the artery clogging burgers you want. Preventative health care might indeed save lives in general, but no one can say much about any specific life.

As we wrestle with the cost of health care, death needs to be part of the discussion. People need more help preparing for death. We can no longer afford to keep everyone alive forever; it was never a very good idea anyway. People should be the judge of their own lives; the state has no place in such a personal decision. Finally, we've watched the "experts" tell us not to eat eggs, then to eat eggs; eat oat bran, or not; stay out of the sun, or go in (the deadliest cancers increase with decreased exposure to the sun). It isn’t a choice of having a bad habit, it’s a choice of dying this way, or some other, and it’s our decision.

No one alive knows the destiny of another, or the meaning of their life.












 July 22 09

The right to live


A health insurance premium is money you pay on the right to live.

If that seems like an exaggeration, consider this:

A hundred years ago in America people commonly died of dental infections, and in many places in the world today they still do. It is true that improvements in hygiene and nutrition have contributed the most to our expectation of a long life, but medical science has lengthened our lives, and improved them greatly. Health care is important. It also costs money.

Right now, our society is struggling through a discussion about health care. Is the longer, better life medical provides part of the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" we believe is a birth right, or is it something else?

That’s the discussion our nation is having right now.

There are political elements to the discussion. The Republicans, regardless of any merit to the situation, don’t want to see Obama succeed. It wouldn’t be very different if the Republicans were trying to solve the problem, the Democrats would disagree simply because. That is inexcusable, but we have to live with it.

But, beyond that, there is the essential question: what does America owe her people?

The "Sides"

There are still some who believe that each person should rise and fall because of his or her own merit and the government shouldn’t help people survive. These people often rise on their own merit, meaning a host of paid professional advisors, or they’ve worked hard and been lucky and don’t want to have to divide their modest pie with others.

If you restate the situation, "you mean you want America’s underclass to be sick?" these folks generally insist that isn’t what they want, merely an unfortunate outcome of what they want.

But, it’s outcomes we’re talking about.

On the other side are those who believe that a humane society provides a certain level of social support. If someone is mentally or physically ill, they deserve help from the rest of us. They might not get elective surgeries, but medical and mental health care which will improve the length and quality of life should be available to everyone. If asked, "would you like to increase the burden on taxpayers to the point they can’t afford to do business" these folks generally insist that isn’t what they want, merely an unfortunate outcome of what they want.

Again, outcomes are what matter.

There are a host of other reasons people don’t want health care tinkered with, but those concerns are the details we’ll iron out once we, as a society, have decided that central question: what does "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" mean? What does America owe her people?

Dead as California

I was talking to a timber worker the other day who had once made a living wage in the woods, but was now working for peanuts. He was behind on his truck payment, driving without insurance and he was not going to be able to pay his property tax this year. What made it bearable, he said, was that so many people he knows are in the same boat. His financial life was essentially dead, like the rest of California.

He introduced me to a friend of his who had been a successful contractor. Contractors don’t have a lot of capital investment, when the business starts to go, it goes fast. He is now living on a piece of land he’d one day hoped to retire to, in a house cobbled from an old park model trailer and some building materials he had left over. He hopes the county doesn’t find out about him, since there is no way to ever get engineered plans for his house, and he’ll be homeless.

Another worker has given up any hope of being out of debt in his lifetime. He and his family had been doing OK before the crash in the economy. He has skills for doing construction, and working in the woods, but that isn’t good enough anymore. His problem is compounded by the fact that he pays child support, and fell behind. He isn’t able to catch up, though he denies the children in his home to pay the state for the children he no longer gets to see. The debt grew quickly, thanks to compound interest; he pays the interest, when he can. "You’re better off to owe money to the Mafia than to the State of California," he told me. He’s accepted the fact that he’ll die in debt.

You don’t have to travel far to find more stories like these, hard working people held captive to a system that, while broken, still manages to bleed the people it "serves".

Indeed, even as the structure of California comes crashing down, the average person is still held to blame.

First, there’s prop 13, the People's Initiative to Limit Property Taxation passed in 1978. Because it makes it difficult to raise property taxes, the measure is blamed for everything from library closures to lack of medical care.

But I’ll propose that the railing against Prop 13 is misguided, that it has had some very beneficial effects on the state. First and foremost, those of modest means are encouraged to hold their property; families are encouraged to keep the ranch, or have someone take over Grandma’s old house. Further, prior to the housing market crash, Prop 13, by holding taxes below the actual value of the house, allowed people to keep homes even though the value rose, allowing them to cash out and so benefit when they needed it most. It is certainly true that corporations, being "persons" under the law, have also benefited from Prop 13, but the biggest beneficiaries are the people, who have kept more of their cash safe in their homes.

The increased difficulty in increasing taxes brought about by Prop 13 and later Propositions including Prop 218 force legislators to do what we do in our homes: live within our means.

Next is the proposition system itself. The aristocrats, those who believe the people are incapable of governing themselves and need to be cared for by their betters, blame the people for not accepting new taxes and for not passing the emergency budget measures put forth in May, 2009. Those measures might have staved off the $23 billion deficit, but none would have really done more than mortgage the future. The voters were right.

Finally, there are the social services that some (those who don’t need them) claim are keeping others (those more fit to survive, we suppose), from generating as much money as they could. These avid followers of Ayn Rand, long discredited philosopher of "objectivism", believe that if they get rich, and if all people who deserve to get rich, are allowed to get rich, then the chump-change they drop will support those who will not (or can not?) work. This fervent belief that capitalism can take care of everyone is reflected in tax cuts for the wealthy. It is a system that is easily as successful as communism was in the Soviet Union. It’s like suggesting that if everyone who wanted to drive fast could have hot cars and speed all they liked those who couldn’t drive very well would be sucked along in their exhaust.

In truth, the cost/benefit of social services to the State is difficult to determine. We know one thing, the chief beneficiaries of the system are professionals: social workers, psychologists, doctors, substance abuse counselors, nurses, even attorneys. The poor and sick, yes, do somewhat benefit, though their participation is rarely without some personal cost, and rarely ends in a sound retirement plan.

Further, social services benefit everyone in the state. Even if all the "welfare queens" used their meager allotment to buy beer for their abusive boyfriends, it’s still money going back into the system, through the local store. A lot of that money is federal money. Further, the dollars saved by quick and effective responses to domestic violence, drug addiction, mental health and other everyday problems of real people is incalculable. Quoting from a Beacon report

"…on average, human services expenditures generate 1.32 dollars of economic activity for each dollar spent. Further, because of federal matching dollars, particularly the enhanced matches newly available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) multipliers for specific programs currently range up to 5 or 7 for a single additional dollar of state expenditures. In terms of costs, the report concludes that increased incidences of homelessness, poverty, child maltreatment, poor health outcomes, and other negative consequences of reduced service provision result in considerable costs to society."

Arnold is proposing drastic cuts, he’ll need federal permission to make those cuts without endangering federal funding. Read some of the law yourself;  read this and this.

What’s the answer for us, for the County, and for the State?

Learn to live cheap. Christopher Thornbergthe economist who has most accurately predicted the housing market behavior in California, recently said that there isn’t going to be a "recovery" in the way many people mean it. He suggested we’ve been riding on an unreasonable wave of prosperity for a decade and probably more, and that it is over. There will be modest recovery, but not the wild market we’ve had in the past.

This is hard news for a little cow county still waiting for the first wave of prosperity to hit. It does, however, reflect the decade long prediction of some globalogists that the United States, in relation to the rest of the world, is going through a "realignment" after which the average person will live like the middle class of Brazil lives.

Unfortunately the lot of the middle class in Brazil is balanced on the backs of the very poor.

In our society the very poor are the underclass, a class created by ceaseless, imperceptible, selection against certain people. In other words, if you have been to prison, it is harder to get a decent job; if you have a pass/fail high school diploma, it can be harder; if you have a record of mental illness, or drug addiction, or child neglect or abuse, it can make it impossible to find a job. If you aren’t computer literate; if you are missing some of your front teeth; if you come off as "odd" or "ADD"; if you use "aint" it can make it harder. It isn’t something anyone intends, it’s just that there are more "normal" and "professional" people than jobs available, so that we don’t hire some people, and those people are often not hired enough that they learn to live without a real job.

The underclass functions as illegal immigrants do: they take the temporary, low paying, dirty, difficult, and dangerous jobs. They also take "black market" jobs like street level sales of drugs, prostitution, sales of stolen goods.

California’s current plan, to cut services to the poorest and pump stimulus money into high end public construction, only creates a few jobs, and probably won’t net the state that much.

Instead of being "dead as California", and struggling to perpetuate a failing corporate centered system, I recommend that the state, and eventually the counties and all of us, lower our expectations. The State should re-examine its wedding to large projects of the sort that silt rivers and salt farmland, and re-invest in individual Californians. Instead of making it easy for corporations to meet ordinances and regulations, California should work to encourage individuals to become profitable.


Beacon Unemployment Link:











McClintock and what is wrong with America

Congressman Tim McClintock visited the county on Monday (see related story here), and what a demoralizing event it was.

McClintock played his part perfectly. His posture was perfect; his hand gestures were precise. He mined history for quotes, mentioning several of my favorite patriots and even dragging up an occasional Greek. That’s pretty sophisticated stuff for us locals. He played the crowd, going where they were happy, tax and spend liberals, government over-regulation. He resurrected Ronald Reagan, took a kick at poor old Jimmy Carter, avoided mentioning Obama by name, except when giving his deteriorating poll numbers. He even managed to make Arnold Schwarzenegger seem liberal. He gave a little frown as he talked about the things they all hated; was wistful about the glory days of dead Republicans; set his jaw and was resolute when he invoked the crowd to talk to their friends, warn them. He hit most of the favorites: environmentalists, pork barrel Democrats, reverse racists, socialized medicine. He even said, "I don’t believe global warming is caused by humans." He balled up his fist and insisted we close our borders to illegal immigrants. He carefully skirted gay marriage; turns out a lot of Republicans are gay, and not just congressmen.

The crowd was great, too, being mostly old school conservative Republicans. They murmured where appropriate, shared his horror at the growing national debt, worried with him over four years of tax and spend, scowled at the thought of Mexicans flooding over the border to take all our great jobs and luxuriate in our healthcare and schools. One hoary, self-proclaimed veteran even periodically erupted in threats, encouraging his fellow septuagenarians to use violence to rid America of these liberals before it all goes down the drain, giving McClintock a chance to look moderate for a second.   In the age of Terror, the old boy violated a couple of sections of the Patriot act, making him a terrorist, but Sheriff John Evans, while present, wasn’t called on to arrest him.

It was a perfect dog-and-pony show.

I found two things to be profoundly discouraging. The first was the complete lack of substance in the discussion, and the satisfaction everyone showed at that. The second was the crushing realization that a Democratic representative probably wouldn’t have done any better. Those two observations made me realize how completely dire our situation is.

As I sat listening, I mused (mostly) to myself at how full of crap McClintock was. He completely ignored the role Republicans played in our current economic free fall, indeed, he managed to ignore the last eight years of the Bush administration. It was Bush that ripped the guts out of our economy, screwed up air travel, and left us with a trillion dollars in unresolved wars. McClintock cursed Obama for giving money to banks and car manufacturers, but those people are all his people, oil users, capitalists, his contributors. His science on global warming wouldn’t have passed the eighth grade, which still put him a whole year ahead of a few in his audience. His view of the U.S.-Mexican border is completely myopic, ignoring the complicated and often exploitive relationship we have with Mexicans on both sides of the border. He took no responsibility for the ravages his party had visited on the Bill of Rights, and even suggested that Homeland Security is a great idea (it’s an anti-American idea).

He turned the event into a rally for the Republican party, even though his henchman, Chief of Staff Igor Birman insisted "he serves Republicans AND Democrats".

But, that isn’t the most insidious thing he did. The worst thing he did was the worst thing a Democrat would have done in his stead: make it seem like our two parties span the universe of political thought.

By setting the Democrats up as the devil, he establishes two poles. The problem is, they aren’t very far apart. Our nation’s political dialogue is really just a discussion between two old, familiar adversaries, both of which profit from the false dichotomy.

I doubt a Democrat would have done differently. Democrats complained about the way Bush stole power for the Executive branch, but there is no indication they want Obama to give any back. In the long run, it probably would have been the same dog-and-pony show but with a slightly different spin, to make it seem, again, like the only colors in the political rainbow are red and blue.

In the end, Igor was right, just not specific. Congressman McClintock serves the Republican and Democratic parties, making it seem like they contain all thought, and keeping truly innovative thought out of the discussion.

A final moment of discouragement came when I actually looked at the folks in the audience. They weren’t fanatics, they were my neighbors, and I counted not a few damn good men and women in the crowd. They are not fools and (mostly) not lunatics. This is the best we could do?

To be fair, there were one or two good questions (see story), but mostly, it was a mutual admiration society meeting, nothing more.

That’s what substitutes for politics in our country, and it’s our fault. We like it when this or that dignitary from the Party shows up and curses the opposition. It allows us to believe that things might get better, that we know what the problem is, and most satisfying, we know who to blame: the other party. That’s a satisfaction that voters in other countries, where there are many voices, many parties, aren’t allowed.

One thing is undeniable: no real democratic discussion will ever take place at one of these party hug-fests, and it is to our detriment as a people.


 Are the nations of the rest of the world, where there are dozens or hundreds of parties, better governed? It’s hard to find a measure to judge by. Britain is the home of the "civil servant," the life long bureaucrats who actually govern. France has arrived at a stable coalition of a few main parties with smaller parties switching support between them to gain benefit. Germany has two parties getting about 30% each, and four other parties which variously support/oppose those two main parties.

 To answer a couple of McClintock’s worst propaganda:

1. Illegal immigrants, and "gray area" immigrants don’t just come from Mexico, they come from the whole world, and they make a large contribution to our economy. Further, our economy is so bad, some family members in Mexico are sending money to relatives in the U.S. He’s apparently ignorant of the true relationship between the U. S. and Mexico, or the Philippines, or Central America, or perhaps, anywhere.

2. Regardless his cute story about realizing in the 8th grade that Earth’s climate changes, or that the rest of the solar system is warming, too, so it can’t be "your SUV’s," McClintock is completely unscientific. Yes, some other planets are warming, but it is a known, predictable, and very small amount. It has nothing to do with the increase in energy on Earth as a result of human conversion of fossil fuels to carbon, and the other heat-increasing things we do, like cut down forests and pave meadows. Yes, Earth’s climate changes, but it changes in response to things like the CO2 levels, which have to be in balance if we are to continue to enjoy the moderate weather we’ve had the last few thousand years. Venus is the poster child for "greenhouse effect" and the reason we should take this seriously. His "not your SUV" position is counter-scientific and simply encourages the squandering of the last of our oil reserves. Go Here

3. Obama’s numbers are dropping; that’s pretty typical for the "post honey-moon" period of a presidency. As things stand now, no one knows what the best thing for the economy is, so opinions tend to run along party lines. Go Here.

4. McClintock’s plan of giving tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations is hardly different from Obama giving the same people money. There is no real evidence that tax breaks for the wealthy consistently benefit the economy as a whole.

5. McClintock’s remarks are simply wrong, Obama is not suggesting socialized medicine, just a health system that serves everyone. McClintock’s analysis of people who are not covered is naïve and uninformed. Further, "socialized medicine" as McClintock liked to call universal health care, is a good deal. France and other nations use a two tiered system of state and private pay, and they spend about 12% of the GNP; in the U.S. it’s been as high as 14%. We do not have the greatest health care in the world by any means. People who have lived in Canada and the U.S. most often prefer the Canadian system. In 2006 the American Journal of Public Health did a review of the U.S. vs Canadian health care systems and found Canada’s system better on almost every measure, and particularly better for poor people and working people without insurance. It seems to me that helping poor people is what the Republicans object to most, a mean spirited and short sighted approach to social policy. Go Here and Here

  Why George W. Bush was one of America’s Greatest Presidents

DeVita Note: this editorial does not necessarily reflect the view of Sierra County Prospect or other staff or editors.

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

OK, from the perspective of six months, a few people out there are saying that George W. was one of our ten worst presidents, or maybe even the worst president ever:
And Here:
Or Here:
This one

Even so, I disagree.

I concede he did make a few mistakes:
he puffed the power of the presidency to king-like proportions;
he led us into two "tar baby" wars that make Vietnam look like a speed date;
he stripped our treasury and gave the money to privateers;
he gave us the "patriot act" which gutted the Bill of Rights;
he gave us "Homeland Security" which has turned us into a paranoid police state;
he made us a nation of torturers;
he set science in government back a hundred years;
and he mixed religion and government.

Still, I can make the case he was a great president. He claimed to be a change agent during his first campaign, and he worked tirelessly through his entire administration to literally change the world.

  1. He proved that absolutely anyone can be president. You don’t have to be intelligent, or know anything about government, or even business.
  2. He proved once and for all that the age of empires has passed, and the entire  notion of super-states acting alone against the world is dead .
  3. He destroyed the unreasonable cultural influence America used to have over the rest of the world (the demand for blue jeans abroad has plummeted.)
  4. He convinced the rest of the world that only an idiot will still deny global climate change.
  5. But, most of all, he was directly responsible for our nation electing its first Black president. Had his administration been anything less than an absolutely brilliant train wreck Americans would never have been so sick of patriarchal despots and Republicans in particular that they would elect a Black man, even one named Hussein".

It is true, the United States and the world will spend some time undoing the mess George W. left us, but it is worth it.






"Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, 'Vote for me. I'm an agent of change.' In 2004, I said, 'I'm not interested in change --I want to continue as president.' Every candidate has got to say 'change.' That's what the American people expect." --George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., March 5, 2008


------------------------------------------------6/3/09The upside of the down economy:There is no doubt, there are no jobs.  Even the golden goose of jobs in the rural world, government jobs, are threatened.  Banks are curtailing credit, reducing limits and lowering ratings.  People have had to walk away from homes, which now stand derelict. Money is tight, and that’s hard for people who’ve been used to getting everything they want, in bulk.  In our homes, in business and in government, we’re having to adjust.And, that’s the good news!There is a possible up side to the current strangled economy.  Google hits for information about the Last Great Depression are through the roof.  People want to know: how did people survive in great grandpa’s day?In many ways, they were somewhat better off.  Poverty was rampant in rural areas, but hunger was not.  People still farmed, still grew food that was edible (unlike most corn grown today) and they still bartered.  Government rules on selling meat and cheese weren’t so specific, or so carefully enforced.  Indeed, government in general wasn’t so big or so intrusive, local governments still got along by consensus and compromise.  That is not to diminish the porch sales of farms and homes, particularly in the Dust Bowl.But, that return to former values might be good for us.  Let’s be honest with ourselves: as a nation we were like a forty-five year old high school football star, fat around middle, diabetic and hypertensive, prematurely past our prime.  We reacted poorly after 911, doing far more damage to ourselves than our attackers did, as if a bee sting had caused national anaphylactic shock.  Right then we should have known it was time to get a firmer grip on reality, but instead we went into denial.  Instead of putting down our fatty spending habits, tightening our world image and tempering our involvement, we whipped out the plastic and bought a bunch of new stuff.  People in other nations might buy gas by the quart, and our most experienced oil diviners talk about the end of oil, but we want tax breaks for buying Humvees. Even now car companies make money from stupidly huge SUVs than from more rational cars.  A computer on the lap might be nice, but why not one in the hand, or better, hanging from the head?  Best of all, your house is worth twice what you paid, buy and sell and build, we’re all going to be rich!But, eventually we had to notice the pain, the shortness of breath.  The housing spike was down, and it was not getting up.  Casual jobs disappeared, then better jobs were cut, and more small businesses went out and governments stopped filling vacancies and Mexicans started going back across the border, or getting money from home to stay in the U.S.  Suddenly, we couldn’t feel our left arm, and Bush gave the first massive dose of money, to try to restart the heart, and now Obama is pushing debt and thumping away madly and we’ll probably make it, but the cost of saving us will kill us.We all know we’re going to make it, but let’s not just come out of it, let’s come of out it in better shape than ever.  To do that, we need to abandon some of our fondest fetishes, drugs that have kept us feeling artificially high.When we say “drug” we aren’t kidding.  Psychobiologists tell us that when we buy something or get something new, we get a shower of endorphins which make us feel great.  Unfortunately, like meth or any such drug, it wears off.  You have to go back to Costco, or more recently, the Dollar Store, and get a new buzz.  That’s the first addiction we have to curb, the dazzle of new.  It’s something we like to blame television advertising for, and it’s responsible for bad credit, low self-esteem and negative body image.  Still, we can’t blame advertisers for tickling our buttons and giving us what we want.  It has been decades since the rush for the new has really been good for us, but we’re still strung out on it. Advertisers will sell us what we’ll buy.     Instead being addicted to the new, let’s curb that addiction and develop a value for the old.  Simpler technologies can be cheaper and use less energy.  That doesn’t mean drive Grandpa’s ’58 all steel Chevy truck.  Even new technologies can reflect old values.  As a society we should develop the value of, and demand for, cars that are not only clean and safe, but simple.  Cars are so stupidly expensive to build and run because they are a bad idea developed to the millionth generation.  It takes a computer to make one burn halfway cleanly.  Starting a fire and then spending energy to throw it out, sending something in one direction and then forcing it to change course almost instantly, those are not great ideas for motive force.  It’s time to kill the internal combustion, petrol-burning engine.  If there were no petroleum what would we use for power?  That’s where we should look, as a nation.In the meantime, the poorest of us have no choice but to push our gas-guzzlers, spending more per mile but less up front.  The demand for simplicity, like the demand for the technological link of hybrid cars, has to come from the well off.Our food is certainly the next place to improve our habits.  We are dependent on one crop, corn, and not yummy corn, but high starch inedible corn.  We spend less of our income on food than most nations, and it is killing us.  Corn makes high fructose corn syrup, it makes big beef quickly, but it robs the land, and the corn is itself completely dependent on petroleum.  We need to be prepared to pay more for food, and eat less meat and less corn syrup.  If something akin to the Irish Potato famine hit corn, our people would starve.  In the mean time, the calories and fat that corn liberate in our diet are literally killing us.  We need to eat more like they did in the First Great Depression, more rabbit, more goat, more goose; animals that eat less high potency foods.  We need to eat more beans and rice, the staples of the developing nations.  It would be good for us as a nation, and as a people. Editor’s note: I’m fat, I eat pork and beef; I’m struggling with this myself.  Beans make me fart.The next big improvement we can make is to re-institute the multigenerational family.  That’s right, kids, grandkids, grouchy old smelly grandparents, all living in one house, putting their feet under the same table and their destiny in one boat.  The post WWII fetish for single generation families was great for construction and real estate, but not good for families.  It put grown children in their own houses, and had mom and dad sell the family house in favor of a small place, where they can pamper cats.  Sure, it is a real pain in the ass to live with your in-laws, elders, and kids; multigenerational households are noisy and alive with bickering and social intrigue, and that’s why they are good.  Instead of getting life second-hand through the tube, or in an abstracted way as with online “friends”, people face real people, learn to deal and compromise.  It is a truism in child welfare that grandmothers raise the next generation; skip the middleman and have grandmother move in, and keep everybody under her eye and reduce the need for the state to parent.And, speaking of the state, with less money, there will be less intrusion, less enforcement.  Some of the freedoms we had in the Last Great Depression might be returned to us, simply because there aren’t enough bureaucrats to enforce every niggling ordinance. Finally, we need a new view of medicine.  Some things we can detect and treat.  Some things we can’t fix.  As a society, we need to focus our medical dollars where they count, in the productive days of our lives.  Instead of spending dollars on medical technology, as a society we need to be more realistic and pragmatic.  Instead of spending dollars to prolong the worst of the end, there should be more focus on hospice, and “transitional care” for the family and the patient.  There are already strong trends in this direction; we should welcome them.There aren’t too many alive today that have memory of the First Great Depression.  However, many of us have known elders who lived through the depression.  They held those very values of thrift, simplicity, and durability.  Let’s draw on that cultural memory and work our way out of this depression, instead of trying to bail our way out with debt.Let’s do it, as a society, let’s make a virtue of necessity.  Let’s curb our childish need for newer, shinier stuff, and develop a demand for quality, durability and simplicity.  Let’s work on making life better, by letting go of the fetish of the new.  It will never be easier than it is now. 

Obama Chuckles













By now we have all heard, probably more than once, the following from Obama’s recent "question and answer period" with America:

"I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation. And I don't know what this says about the online audience," Obama said, with a knowing chuckle. "This was a fairly popular question. We want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."

Here is what it says about your on-line audience: they aren’t stuck in the mind dumbing propaganda of Nancy Reagan’s "just say no."

America stopped asking intelligent questions about drugs over twenty years ago behind that witless mantra, and it became "disloyal" to suggest that ignorance might not be the best foundation for social policy. Other nations in the world, for awhile lockstep behind the American prohibition, have since thought better and are breaking ranks. Several states including California are reconsidering prohibition. It isn’t just a bunch of dope heads with nothing to do but surf the internet.

I supported Obama for president for one reason: he could use words longer than two syllables. I’d hoped that more complex speech patterns might indicate more complex thought, the ability, even, to think critically. Of course, the ability to think critically doesn’t necessarily imply the courage to speak critically.

It wasn’t the answer that bothered me, because no, legalizing pot wouldn’t grow the economy. True, it would save over a billion dollars a year in prison costs for incarcerating pot prisoners every year. True, it would save unknowable millions in lost work and lost opportunity for those busted under the current laws. It would save even more human misery. But, though hemp certainly might help the economy, legalizing pot wouldn’t do too much against a national debt of over 1.8 trillion dollars.

It was the way the answer was given, the chuckle. I like Obama’s easy laugh, but it was misplaced here, even though the sycophants present at the interview tittered and nodded approvingly: sure Obama smoked pot, but that was when he was a kid, he’s mature now, the subject of legalization isn’t serious politics.

We put more of our people in prison every year than any other nation including Russia. If liberty in the U.S. is not a serious issue, what is?

The drug war in Mexico is threatening the security of the government, a drug "war" started in the United States almost thirty years ago. Everything has only gotten worse since. Billions of dollars and millions of lives wasted in prison, and things keep getting worse.

When I voted for Obama, I wanted the illegally held prisoners in Guantanamo given their due process rights. I wanted American torture oversees, which was degrading to the values we hold as Americans, to stop. He is working on that.

Now, I want the illegal prisoners here in the United States given due process. I want the anti-American dogma of the prohibitionist exposed, and stopped. We simply can’t afford what the drug "war" has done to us. We have become a police state; our rights are in the dumpster, every civil servant is now a cop, we put more of our people in prison than any other nation: seven times the rate of Germany. Are we really such a more ugly and criminal people than other nations?

I expected Obama to do more than chuckle. Here is the answer I would have thrilled to hear:

"No, legalizing marijuana and attaching a ‘sin tax’ isn’t a sound way to grow the economy. However, the damage done to our society by the application of an uncritical approach to substance use has costs not readily observable in a discussion of the economy. Yes, I think decriminalizing our people for using cannabis is an important step toward a more thoughtful, mature and stable America. It is a topic we should discuss again in another venue."

Instead, he was a chucklehead. For the very first time since I began to support him, I looked at Obama and thought, "what a disappointment."

I’m perhaps asking too much. He was facing the most reactionary class of a depressingly conservative and retrograde society. He has an important agenda; even I agree he has more pressing problems that our draconian drug laws.

Obama has already returned science to the decision making process, literally a 180 degree turnaround from Bush, who used policy decisions to restrict science. Maybe it doesn’t matter if he smirks at the very internet users who elected him, maybe that’s the price of keeping the ultraconservatives at bay.

Obama has appointed R. Gil Kerlikowske drug czar. Kerlikowske is an advocate of a more intelligent response to the problem of substance use in our country, and we are likely to see some improvements.

The long sleep of thought, legacy of the Reagan years, might be passing. Maybe we should be chuckling.

Prison State America:

Here are some facts about our country:

The Pew Center has determined that the United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The number people incarcerated for drug related offenses has increased 1200% since 1980 (the year Ronald and Nancy Reagan took the White House).

In 2003, 718 out of every 100,000 Americans were in Federal and State prisons, Russia's rate is 584, England's is 143, Canada, 116, Germany, 96 and Japan, 54.

People who are convicted under Federal marijuana laws often can not apply for student aid, can not sleep in a national park or forest, indeed, can not access any programs with Federal Money. 200,000 students have been denied higher education financial aid since a question regarding drug felonies was added to the Free Application for Student Aid form in 2000.
War on people:

The "war on drugs" kills people, not drugs. Mexican policy makers are starting to say in public what thoughtful people have known for a long time: you can’t control something that is illegal. I recently heard an analyst state: "Until the United States legalizes and controls drugs in its own borders, Mexicans will die… legalize drugs, and stop sending automatic weapons to Mexico."

A capitalist nation, one would think, would understand capitalism. It isn’t drugs people are being killed over, it is MONEY, the king drug of them all. As long as something is illegal, it is worth a lot of money. Marijuana is a weed, it grows everywhere. It takes a lot of government money, cops, lawyers and prison guards to make it worth $450.00 an ounce.











Hue and Then Cry

Fire Fee Editorial
Supervisor Adams asked for a Hue and Cry on the Fire Fee; at least 15 people took time to show up and testify.  It wasn't hue enough.

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I think this is a high quality Board of Supervisors. The supervisors, individually, bring a lot to the table, and when they act in concert, they can be an example of old style town hall democracy at its best. When one of those times happen again, I’ll welcome it; this wasn’t one.

The Supervisors failed in a couple of ways.

First, they failed to understand their role, and so failed our highest democratic ideals. To the bitter end the intent of the public hearing escaped some supervisors. Mr. Curtis answered questions and cited law, but I never got the feeling that the Board firmly understood where their authority lies. It isn’t simple, but it is important. Supervisor Adams expressed the need to address this hearing receptively, and others agreed, but from the floor it felt pro-forma, or simply for show, to meet the minimum requirements. Peter Huebner, understandably concerned that the Fire Commission not be insulted by Board oversight, was hesitant for awhile to decide against them at all. He seemed angry that someone might not want to contribute to fire protection. Only Pat Whitley clearly heard what people were saying about the negative effects of the fee.

The more serious error was that the Board failed to take a leadership role. They felt their job was simply to decide whether to have a fee, and if so, how much. Person after person who spoke AGAINST the fee, spoke in FAVOR of a tax for fire protection! Several people suggested that this fire fee was not only unfair, but inadequate. Sierra County Prospect spoke against the fee and advocated a more comprehensive approach at the end of January. Tim Beals described for the Board a more significant leadership role, but was largely ignored. It wasn’t until he repeated the idea of a comprehensive fire plan linked to the general plan under a later agenda item that the idea began to take hold.

The Board bought critics off by haggling the fee down by $2.26, but they didn’t solve any problems. In a room full of advocates, the Board couldn’t think of anything else to do. The reduced fee quiets, but does not satisfy, most critics, and it also quiets their interest. Part of the opportunity Tim Beals identified has passed. Instead of taking fifteen or so citizens before them at their offer and galvanizing the community into taking aggressive steps for fire protection, the Board sidestepped.

I was left with the feeling that the Board was satisfied with whatever the Commissioners might do. All right, if you guys want to continue to take care of it, go ahead.

In the end, it was left to Riz Martinetti and an unidentified Citizen’s Advisory Committee to figure out how to get voters to pass meaningful taxation, now that the Board has approved the Fire Commission’s fee mitigation.

Good luck, Riz!







Truth and Reconciliation

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and White House Chief Counsel Greg Craig met to discuss a plan for a thorough investigation of possible crimes of the Bush administration. The senator, and many others, have called for a "truth and reconciliation" committee.

Typically, the word "truth" from a politician means the same thing as "free" from a corporation: nothing. But in this instance the truth is so huge and the lie is so ragged something might be achieved.

What could be achieved? Truth might be hard to pin down, but reconciliation is more important, and that we can accomplish.

Some of the acts of the Bush administration are not crimes for a president, but are none-the-less heinous. These are:

Gross mismanagement of crisis. These resulted in loss of life, and if you or I were responsible, we’d go to prison, and if a corporation were responsible, there would be large fines. These include not only Katrina, but the terrorist attacks. People in New Orleans were trapped because they followed lawful orders; the dead lay in the street for days. Long after the towers collapsed people were still being injured because of blowing dust and burned industrial building materials, but there was no emergency management to mobilize properly equipped workers, and the dust blew for days and days. Without going into greater detail, government both completely failed to prevent loss of life after the events, and made every effort to lie about the situations afterward.

The next reprehensible act was to confuse the American public about what our real threats were. We were not attacked by Afghanistan, and certainly not by Iraq, but in the months and years after the attack many Americans were confused, thinking we were going to war against the people who had harmed us. The war in Iraq was a separate issue, allowed to become cloudy for nefarious ends. Some say the Bush administration didn’t so much lie, as choose to believe, because they wanted to believe, whatever thin evidence there was. In other words, Bush and Company wanted a war with Iraq, wanted a war time economy and the power the executive branch gains in war, and so they chose to believe, and cause us to believe, a lie.

The decimation of our economy and the economy of the world, and the creation of trillions of dollars of debt. This was accomplished in two ways.

First, in order to stay in power, the Bush administration created hysteria in us. We gave up freedoms and wasted a terrible fund of tax dollars on "homeland security." What Bush and Company really did with this money was to arm our police and fortress our courts, not against "terrorists," but against us. Money that should have been spent on infrastructure was spent on the war against us. The hysteria crippled air travel, it bound international trade. It complicated our lives. The body of our country was like someone dying of a bee sting: we were harmed not by the sting but by our reaction to it. The attack didn’t make it impossible to travel, our shock-like reaction to it did. A true leader would have led us to clearer thinking; a despot would drive us to greater fear.

The second attack on our treasury was the way Bush fought the wars abroad and at home: with corporate mercenaries. The age of Bush and Cheney is the age of Blackwater. Security of every type was turned over to private companies under Bush, and as a result our military was weakened and our pockets picked.

Very likely, the war against Iraq was illegal, but Bush will never be called to answer in court. We should answer for him, we should admit it: we had no justification for attacking Iraq, and our presence there has caused great suffering. Perhaps something needed to be done about Saddam Hussein, but it needed to be a legal action, taken without bloodshed, by the world community.

Finally, it was not a crime, but still an offense, to destroy our government’s credibility at home and abroad. The actions of the Bush administration have been the acts of thugs, especially the acts at Guantanamo Bay. Fear overcame our principles of liberty and justice and we began to act like those we despise. Moving people off our landmass shouldn’t have moved them out of our moral philosophy. Torture is wrong. Imprisoning people without due process is wrong. Bullying other countries into committing crimes against humanity on our behalf is wrong.

Those of us with friends or relatives in other countries know what a laughingstock we have become. The French make public remarks about us and even the Germans snigger. Our government’s credibility at home is at an all time low, and while congress gives billions and now trillions to the very people whose greed and incompetence cause our economic crisis, our families suffer, we have to scramble harder than ever to stay "middle class" and we have created a debt our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will labor to pay. We’ve been lied to, we’ve been robbed, and many people feel government is broken. A month into his administration Obama has only made a weak beginning to mend it.

When the truth is acknowledged, the reconciliation can begin. We acted badly after the terrorist attacks. Very few of us were ever in danger from terrorists, our diet is far more dangerous to us that Osama Bin Laden. We should not have allowed ourselves to lose our values and our freedoms in the face of adversity.

Leahy has promised to continue the investigation in the Senate even if Obama isn’t on board; the president so far has stated he has "no opinion" on the plan.

Regardless what the investigation finds, Bush and his associates will continue to do well; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we reclaim our government, our dignity, and our stature abroad as a moral leader.


More on the plan here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/02/10/exclusive-leahy-talks-to_n_165774.html








Editorial Weekly: Local Cottage Industry and YOU!

Life, work and jobs in our county








We see that the economy of the county is in poor shape and that many of our residents can’t make the living here they need to. We want to follow the example of other communities and encourage people to make things and do things from their homes to make money.

Sierra County Prospect has adopted as a "decade goal" (our goal for the next ten years): the improvement of our local economy and the security of local families through small business and cottage enterprises. It is a system which has worked in poor and rural areas all over the world.

To be clear, we don’t mean the same thing by "small business," as some government agencies, who consider 50 employees "small." By "small" we mean 1-5 employees. A cottage business takes place at home, and people aren't necessary employed, but are part of a "coop."

In our view, a true small business is something that requires regulation, for example, contractor or massage therapist, or that has employees and makes enough money that there are separate accounts and so on. The threshold is the amount of paper work and regulation involved. Paper work is work you do for no profit; regulation is risk. A cottage business is generally done from a home or garage, there are usually no identifiable employees, and there is little regulation.

People worry…

People, when we encourage them to advertise their home business, become worried about the government, particularly the Board of Equalization or "sales tax" agency. We can’t give legal advice, but we can direct you to our links for small businesses here. Many times, the legal problems are less than one might think, and the better you are at filling in forms, the easier it is. If you don’t hire employees, or if you use "independent contractors" (that term has specific legal requirements) there is less paperwork.

The main thing is, don’t let the legal part of it discourage you; there are people who can help you with that.

The Remedy: Your Business Plan

We also encourage you consider other factors, which are less scary than the government but really more important:

  1. your manufacturing or service capabilities (how much you can do),
  2. the need for your product in your marketing area,
  3. possible competition
  4. your supply of raw materials, qualified employees, or the other things you need to do your business
  5. what it actually costs you to produce/supply your goods or services, and how much it costs you to get them to your customers.

In other words, you have to do some leg work to be sure how much of your manufactured goods (sweaters, hand made fishing poles, varnished cowflops with googly eyes) or services (medical transcription, massage, wood splitting) are needed in your area. You have to figure out who else is, or could be, making that thing or providing that service. You have to be sure you can get enough materials make enough things (for example, don’t plan to make 10,000 bald eagle feather broaches). And, you have to get it to your customer at a price low enough for you to make money.

All of these things would be easier for us if we had a strong community and local government commitment to small business and cottage industry, and that is growing in the county.

For right now, though, you might be able to fine-tune your hobby into a cottage business by thinking realistically about those factors, above.

For example: Sierra County Prospect

We’ll use this paper as an example.

We started with the skills we had, and the equipment needed. Our skills include all of our editorial staff, which between us was many years of research, writing, networking, and even some newspaper work. We needed computers, which we had.

Next, we considered our competition. Primary among those were the Sierra Booster and the venerable old Mountain Messenger Newspaper, but we also looked at the other newspapers in the area which had an on-line presence, including Tahoe area and Central Valley newspapers, who often do features on our areas. After looking at all these available resources, we thought we saw a niche still to be filled: an on-line newspaper which would feature our very special and distinct local culture, people and land, which would have news and commentary of local interest and features of general interest. When you put your product on the internet, the market is the big round world.

Our product, like nearly all media in the United States, is odd in that we provide our product to one group, but get our actual money from another group. All newspapers are like that, the coins you drop for the newspaper scarcely covers the printing; most actual income comes from advertisers. You please the public, they create a market space in your media, and you sell the market space. If you plan to sell varnished cow flops with googley eyes, be glad that at least you deal with a single level of customer!

Once we decided we had the skills to produce for our identified market niche, we looked into the regulation and paperwork and decided that, since there are organizations and associations which provide help and support to newspapers, we could deal with the regulation and paperwork. We determined which professional organizations would best support us, and joined or will join.

Then, all we had to do was write a bunch of stuff, and try to convince you to read it!

Home Business Blues

There are stresses involved with starting a small business or even a cottage industry. Often, you work harder for less money that if you just had a job. Starting a business might mean you work ten or twelve hours a day (as we do). Sometimes, because you work at home, for example, or because you have to be tied to a cell phone or beeper, you simply can’t get away from work. Starting and maintaining a home business can be stressful and hard on your family and friendship relationships.

Still, many things are stressful, including unemployment, poverty and dependence on others. Many times, a cottage or small business lets you work with people you know and like, and you can sometimes call your own hours and If you plan carefully, have all your helpers and support people onboard, are prepared for long hours, a small business can give you more than just money. It can give you a little more control over your own life, and every dime your business makes also benefits the county, and your neighbors.

Partner with us

People really do read the Sierra County Prospect; more people every week, as our site statistics show us. If you advertise for free on our Made in Sierra County page, people will see your ad. If you go to the Made in Sierra County page before you buy something somewhere else, you’ll keep your money local.

Let’s build a community value for small businesses, cottage industries, and self sufficiency in general!












The Sierra County Board of Supervisors approved the Fire District One developer fee. The fee adds $3.56 per square foot to the building permit fee; about $4,000 on a 1100 sq. ft. home or building.

It was an act taken on behalf of the public, according to Fire Commissioner Bill Copren, because "they do it in Nevada County." I suggest that Nevada County is very different from Sierra County.

Likely, we all would have done what the Fire Commissioner and Board of Supervisors did. The temptation to do what others have successfully done is strong, and something had to be done. The Board passed the fee because it is the best they could do.

Who could do a better job?

We could. The real solution lies with us, the residents. We need to submit ourselves to a reasonable tax for fire services and create a fund for the Board of Supervisors to provide money to the Fire Commissioners.

The measure would take 2/3 approval. In times like these, it seems unlikely that voters would pass such a tax, but it would have less dire consequences, in the long run, than the developer fee "everybody" uses.

Why would we do this?

There are several very good reasons why the voters would pass, by a 2/3 majority, some kind of a revenue generating system. I suggest a system based a small percent based on the value of the buildings, trees and so on.

1. The first reason is that we must have enough money to support our volunteers. The fee system recently approved does not do that.

2. The second reason is that it is fair. Each parcel pays according to what they have at risk.

3. The third reason is that the amount would fluctuate as our fortunes do. The current system discourages building in poor economic times. The better system would reduce the amount of the fee in hard economic times, because property values go down.

4. The fourth reason is that it puts control of the money in the hands of elected County officials.

5. The fifth and best reason for taxing ourselves is that we would insist on the abolishment of the developer fee, which is not good for the county.

There is a caution, and a sixth reason, for supporting such a tax now. Increasingly, professional firefighter lobby groups are squeezing volunteer fire fighters, just as, in many areas, they’ve squeezed out paramedics. I am not debating the good or ill of the matter, but the upshot is that professionals are very, very expensive. Well trained and equipped volunteer firefighters are the best bargain imaginable. A well-equipped, well trained volunteer force is the best argument against a far more expensive but only marginally better system. It is possible that some day we will have no choice but to support a professional fire protection system. By setting up the mechanism to pay for it now, we save money down the road, and we keep the funds in control of the Board of Supervisors.

It is very important to keep the funds under the control of the elected Board as a means of controlling costs.

Could it pass?

Would such a tax pass in these terrible economic times? I think it might. For one thing, many property owners don't vote in the county, but it is voters who would approve the measure. The property or out of towners would still benefit. Many voters are renters. It is true that landlords pass costs on to renters, but in practice, renters tend to support services which seem to be only indirectly passed on to them. The people who would pay the tax are property owners, and they are also the people who would directly benefit, since it is their property which would be protected. Lucky owners of Sierra County property also live in Sierra County. Further, we're not talking a great amount of money. We could afford a prudent tax increase.

I’ll go on record as supporting, in principle, such a tax. I’m willing to join with other interested people and discuss, and work on, a fair and dependable source of funding for our firefighters.

Who’ll help?

FEMA: When the FEMA engineer Kathleen Schaefer told the Board and the Loyalton City Council that "the job of government is to protect people from natural disasters" I realized how far gone our society is in "protecting" everyone from everything. At some point, informed people make their own decisions, it isn’t up to government to protect us from acts of God, or our own choices.

Larry, you scum sucking slug...

your editorial on the "attack on families" fire fee is so off base and lacking in factual information it is pathetic.

According to Sierra County Fire Protection District #1 Commissioner Bill Copren, your argument is "simply erroneous". The one time fee is used by almost all the surrounding fire departments to cover the cost of new capital assets needed to maintain the service provided and paid for by all properties presently existing. Copren believes this is the fairest fee he has ever come across. He says the Commission looked at Truckee and Penn Valley’s buy-in fee systems and based District One’s on those templates. Different but similar. They have held Public Hearings at the Board of Supervisors and at the District One Fire Commission. Everyone who spoke at both of the hearings did so in favor of adopting this fee. No person spoke in opposition.

Copren said the Editorial in the Prospect was incorrect and demonstrated a lack of research on the subject. Both the fire commission and the Board of Supervisors adopted it unanimously. Almost all other fire jurisdictions, similar to SCFPD #1 have already adopted this particular fee so people are not going to go somewhere else to avoid the fee.

The statistics cited in the editorial were taken from state and federal databases, which have been shown repeatedly as incorrect. Copren managed the census in both 1990 and 2000 and in both cases the pre-census data underestimated the population of Sierra County growth by 10%, a growth rate that exceeds the rate in surrounding areas. The County is so small that it is hard for data gatherers to get a good sample so they go with what they find, often-erroneous information.

Copren concluded that as a Sierra County Fire Protection District #1 Commissioner he worked hard at marshalling the fee through the system as part of his commitment to public service.

As for my personal position having been a member of a volunteer fire department as both a fire fighter and an EMT for fifteen years I am offended by your classification of "woe be gone firefighters and their tales of woe." If you volunteered your services and understood what it is like to be on a fire with lousy equipment, poor water pressure and not having the tools you need, you might have a different tale.

This fee is not up scaling anything; it is maintaining the same service the people who already live here have been receiving for years. The fee allows all residents, whether now or in the future, to have protection and medical response for their families.

I applaud Commissioner Copren on this accomplishment and appreciate his commitment to providing our community with continued fire protection.

Liz Fisher,
Dissenting Editor

SSS replies:
My Dear Liz,

I concede immediately the following points, which I have never debated:

  1. The fee is used by many counties.
  2. Fire Commissioner Bill Copren worked hard on it and considers it fair. His work is professional quality.
  3. I am a smart-aleck
  4. We all like Firefighters, especially in late autumn.


I agree with the U. S. Census Bureau statistics, and disagree that the county has a normal distribution of ages. I am willing to do a trend analysis, not with projected numbers, but with past numbers. We can do an analysis against same year numbers for the state and determine (1) whether the Census Bureau’s Sierra County numbers fall into the curve of distribution for the state. Or, we can go to Sierraville and look at a mostly quiet school that once bustled with kids. The Census Bureau says our population is old, and dwindling, and I agree with those numbers.

I also find that, because it is a per-foot fee, a person who builds a $750,000.00 house of 1500 sq. ft. will pay the same fee as a person pulling in a $75,000.00 manufactured home. Is that not true? The fee will add $5340.00 to each house, but that is 0.7% (less than 1%) of the value of the first house, and 7% of the value of the second. A good deal for the more expensive house!

If we look at who might build our "boundary case" house of 1500 square feet, we can image two different instances. The first instance is for a retired couple from out of the area, who would have the resources to build a house worth $750,000. In the second, a local family, trying to live on the Sierra County economy, maybe on land given to them by relatives.

A wealthy family might build the $750,000 mini-manse, and a prudent retired couple might pull in the manufactured home, but typically, people with children who live off the local economy (and aren’t government workers) will purchase the more modestly priced home, since they have less income and more on-going expenses. The addition of $5340.00 to the cost of their house might just be a deal breaker. How long does it take to put aside $5340 in our economy? Why build a house here when they can build one somewhere with a functional economy?

My final criticism is that it simply won’t provide enough money to fire protection. How many houses are being built in Fire District 1? I hear what you are saying about firefighters, let’s support them some more reliable way.

I recognize that state law mandates fire protection, and I realize the law ties the hands of our County Board of Supervisors to raise money.

So, Liz, I challenge you, and others, to work with me to find a better way to fund fire protection and more equitably spread the cost.


Original Editorial:

Three Dollars Fifty-Six Cents a Foot

The Sierra County Board of Supervisors is preparing to approve a fee of $3.56 per square foot on building permits in Fire District 1. The fee increase is believed to be allowed under the "The California Mitigation Fee Act, Government Code sections 66000" and so on, which allows local governments to gouge end users without calling the slice a "tax." The state allows this because the state requires a certain level of service from the county, as in the case of fire protection, but then doesn’t provide funding; instead of funding they make it legal to mug citizens for the money.
     This kind of fee is popularly called a "developer fee." The reason it’s called a "developer fee" is because that makes it sound like some fat cat developer is going to pay the fee, but they aren’t, families are. It should be called a "family fee" except that isn’t quite true, either; an "anti-family fee" is closer to the mark.
     There are no end to justifications for the fee: firefighters in threadbare equipment, grim statistics about increasing fires as the climate dries, increased chances for fire in Wildland-Urban interface zones and so on. Don’t we all care about the safety of our fire fighters, or the safety of our homes? Don’t we remember the lessons of the Angora fire?
     All true, all good reasons for spending money on fire prevention. Not necessarily good reasons for increasing the cost of a very modest 1100 sqft house by nearly $4000.00. Everyone in the district will benefit equally by the upgrade in fire protection; everyone should pay. Fires aren’t fought only on homes, but on forest land, too. Make it a parcel fee; better yet: throw it back at the state, whose constant tinkering with laws makes it so expensive to have a fire truck and volunteer fire department.
     Sometimes people like to imagine that fees like these go to someone else, someone "new," to use the favorite term of advocates. Why should those of us already here pay for the new guy? Let the developers pay.
     But, fee increases like this pretty much guarantee it will be someone new, someone not really on the county economy. Who can afford to build in the county? Retired people from somewhere else, people with money to spend. The more it costs to build, the less likely a local family will be able to build.
     In the first six years of this decade the rest of California gained almost 8% population, while Sierra County lost almost 3%. In California, the percentage of the population under 18 years of age (also known as "children") is just over 26%; in Sierra County, it is just under 18%. We are an old county, getting older and getting smaller. How much sense does it make to discourage families with children in the county?
     Four thousand dollars is a lot on the local economy. It costs more than ever to build locally, and stacking fees on building permits discourages those we most need: young people who can live on the local economy.
     The fee is supported by heavy hitters like Bill Copren, former Tax Assessor and sworn Democrat do-gooder. Many of the supporters of the fee increase already have houses, and will enjoy the improved fire protection.
     The Board has waived two readings of the fee increase and has the gavel poised to approve it, since it will only effect "new" people and "developers" and pretty soon we’ll have new fire trucks.
     The county might find funds for better fire prevention, if the economy weren’t in the dumper, and if the state would pay its bills. Since it is, and they aren’t, we’ll pass the cost on down the line, to families. Just one less reason for average people to want to live in Sierra County.


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