Category Archives: Public Safety

A More Perfect Union

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 2005: Situation...

Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 2005: Situation in South Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana near Empire, Buras and Boothville, United States of America (2005-08-29, 7:10 EDT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years ago hurricane Katrina left us wondering how such a tragedy could happen in America; not the winds, the rain, or the storm surge, not even the broken levees.  The failure and frustrations related to relief efforts are what prompted us to ask how such a thing could happen here.  This time it’s the fiasco in the wake of hurricane Sandy.  People are without power, water, shelter, and hope.  Despite the best efforts of many, and despite the generosity of millions, there is simply not enough being done fast enough to keep children warm and safe at night across New Jersey and New York.  New York!  Rudy Giuliani, America’s Mayor (so dubbed after 9/11), is blaming the federal government, FEMA, and by extension President Obama.  Others are pointing the finger at the state governments of New York and New Jersey, local governments included, for not having plans in place for such an event and for not having the resources required to respond effectively to such a disaster.

But, let us be fair.  People are standing on line across the Northeast waiting for gasoline.  Gasoline is a commodity that is privately produced and distributed by the private sector—the same oil companies that have been posting record profits throughout the nation’s greatest recession.  Government has virtually nothing to do with local gasoline supplies or pricing.  In the same light, non-governmental charitable organizations are providing what they can, but it’s obviously not enough.  Organizations like the Red Cross are responding admirably—as always.  There are web sites, hash tags, text messages and celebrity, all-star, concerts raising tens of millions of dollars for the relief effort.  But almost two weeks after the storm there are still families without generators or shelter.  Why are we not blaming Home Depot, Lowes, Walmart, Target, and every other retailer of basic goods for NOT rolling out the truck convoys with emergency supplies for storm victims?  Why are hotels and motels across the region refusing to accommodate storm victims unless they can pay up front (they are not willing to wait for FEMA reimbursement)?  Take notice people.

We live in a nation that depends on the combined capacity of government, the private sector, and non-governmental, not-for-profit, organizations to produce and allocate all of the things we need to live the lives we live.  We are just coming out of a long campaign year and we know who the President will be for the next four years.  We know which party will control the House of Representatives.  And we know we will be subjected to politics-as-usual—both sides arguing about the proper role and size of government.  My suggestion:  Force President Obama and Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to meet and talk about recovery in the wreckage of a family home somewhere in Staten Island, New York.  Surround them with families and small business owners that have been wiped out by the storm (have Mitt Romney sit there and listen just for good measure).  And, finally, don’t let them leave until they strike a deal that last longer than the photo-op.

We the People, of the United States of America, in order to
form a more perfect union . . .



Government is the Problem, Not the Solution?

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Federal Emergency Management Agency (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, works together with state and local emergency management officials to coordinate governmental responses to disasters that overwhelm the resources of local and state authorities  in the United States.  In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, FEMA can provide food, water, shelter and medical assistance for disaster victims as well as longer-term recovery assistance through low-interest loans to businesses and homeowners. FEMA has been involved in recovery efforts following natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires, and following man-made disasters, such as the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003 and the September 11th terrorist attacks.

However, half the country believes the government, specifically the federal government, is never the solution and always the problem. Yet, they were silent during the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, the September 11th terrorist attacks, the destruction caused by hurricane Irene, and now the inevitable devistation of hurrican Issac. Moreover, the governor of any state impacted by a disaster will only receive assistance if they declare a state of emergency and formally request from the president that FEMA and the federal government respond to the disaster. Not surprisingly, all the governors representing states impacted by hurricane Issac have accepted the serviced of the federal government despite the fact that some have openly questioned the purpose and function of such services in the past.  Clay Bennett posted a cartoon on his blog with which raises a serious question concerning the function of government and federal assistance.  Is government the solution or the problem? Is there a state in the union that is truly self-sufficient?


The Colbert Report: Obamacare & the Broccoli Argument

The Tool of Taxation

Old hammer during reconstruction of the buildi...

Old hammer during reconstruction of the building in Pleszew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In graduate school a professor of mine often referred to the “toolbox of government.”  The characterization must have resonated with me because I still use it in my own classes almost fifteen years later.  Of course he was referring to the variety of actions that governments at all levels have at their disposal to implement and otherwise enforce public policy.  For our purposes we can narrow the contents of the “toolbox” down to the bare minimum:

  • The power of government to deprive a person of liberty (think incarceration and in the most extreme form, the death penalty)—the hammer.
  • The power of government to deprive a person of property (think real property and money)—the hammer.

Confused?  Don’t be.  Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) is credited with expressing the position that the power to tax is the power to destroy.  In this regard the power to tax is the power to punish those who violate the law, ignore regulations, or otherwise challenge the general welfare—the hammer.  The power to tax citizens and residents, businesses, corporations, is generally available to most governments—from Congress to your local water district.  Check your text books, one of the first concurrent or shared powers listed is the power to tax.  Moreover, taxes are ubiquitous—fees: taxes; assessments: taxes; dues: taxes; levies: taxes; taxes: taxes.  The power to tax is the power of government to deprive.

In the months following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) , much will be made of the taxation aspect of the now upheld health care reform package—especially the individual mandate, which requires people capable of paying for health insurance to do so or risk a penalty (tax).  What do you think, is it the most intrusive tax ever devised by government (in this case by democrats)?  Is it a new tax?  Is it a tax increase (even though it only applies to people who don’t buy their own health insurance—and wouldn’t we otherwise call these people free-riders or equate them to people who don’t buy car insurance and drive up all of our rates)?  With all the hammers we get hit with every day, is this the one we’re really going to object to?  Ouch!  I know how to fix it; where’s my hammer?!


Occupying Free Speech

The “occupy” movement of 2011 will go down as a lesson on the limits of the First Amendment and free speech rights for groups and individuals that have little more than something to say.  The real free speech battle on the horizon is the looming explosion in campaign spending that will dwarf all previous records set in that regard.  On the heels of the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, corporations—newly bestowed with the rights of personhood—and by extension, unions will stage movements that only the too big to fail can dream of.  Where the “occupy” movement took over public spaces, corporate and union money will occupy both public and private space with little regard for the “time, place, and manner” restrictions that have limited activists around the country.

Generally speaking, government can restrict free speech by using any number of time, place, and manner justifications.  After all, people can’t do what they want whenever they want; or wherever they want; or however they want—that would be in invitation to anarchy.  Free speech is like coloring; you have to stay within the lines.  Forget the fact that the lines are only there in the free speech sense when there is an enforcement mechanism of some sort.  Across the country it has been law enforcement agencies of one kind or another that have stepped in on the behalf of largely non-complaining others to bring the occupiers back into the fold.  In a recent blog, Professor David Hollinger of Berkeley suggests that actions like “occupy Berkeley” are misguided representations of free speech and are distracting probably well –intentioned people from focusing on the larger issues with which the occupy movement should be concerned.  He’s partly right.  The evils of capitalism and Wall Street are hardly issues we can lay at the door step of local and state public institutions (like UC Berkeley).  Unfortunately, it is local and state governments that are enforcing restrictions on free speech and assembly, with the likely consequence of having a chilling effect on some of our most cherished freedoms.  History Professor, remember Shay’s Rebellion?  The rebels seized government institutions that were involved in enforcing evictions and repossessions.  Every campus police officer, every local sheriff or cop that arrests a protestor, is indirectly siding with the powers that be.  Flower petals in rifle barrels.  Peace.


Weekly Poll: Your Opinion on 9/11 and Terrorism

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 some Americans fear the possibility of another terrorists attack on the country. What about you?

Main St. Anytown U.S.A.

To close budget deficits, New Jersey cuts its police force, Pennsylvania turns to gambling, and Illinois raises taxes.

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