Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Thoughts - The American Dream Revisited

Good morning on this overcast, damp, chilly day at base camp. Fortunately, I'm sitting inside my friend's house in a warm comfortable room looking out at My McVansion parked out front.

A few things have crossed my mind this morning. First, I believe there are a lot of people who may believe I'm a bit radical with some of my thinking or, perhaps, at my "advanced" age, some of the tungsten in my light bulb is no longer active and I'm not shining at full brightness - put another way, I'm getting a little dull. Well, let me assure you, from what seems to be a mainstream perspective, I probably am a bit radical . . . and I'm PROUD of it. As far as the brilliance of my light bulb, I can also assure you, it's still shining very brightly. But, if I am bothering some people, perhaps, even you, with some of my ideas, opinions and attitudes, then I'm achieving my objective which is to make people think. I don't care if you agree with me, buy into my ideas or not - I just care that you are thinking.

Revisiting Sandy and the American Dream

So, revisiting Sandy and her devastation, I have some very strong feelings and thoughts. First, I certainly sympathize and feel a certain empathy with the millions of people impacted by this super storm. And, certainly, I feel for those tens of thousands or, maybe it's hundreds of thousands, who have lost their homes and all their possessions. There is no question that losing everything (materially) is more then huge. Of course, some lost loved ones and that is even more devastating. But, everything material (for the most part) can eventually be replaced. Life won't be easy or convenient or comfortable, but it goes back to what I said before, life isn't fair.

I also put forward the question as to the use of federal funds to rebuild homes and businesses and I reiterate that federal funds is a misnomer. These are the funds of private citizens and businesses that have been involuntarily appropriated by the government(s), supposedly to be used for the common good, not for financing the misfortunes of individual citizens. Since no one knows the future, especially with regard to nature and natural events, there is no way to appropriate funds to finance Mother Nature's various and frequent tantrums. So, where does this money come from? It has to be reappropriated from it's common good purpose, possibly education or police, fire or national defense or other areas of common good. This either reduces their allocated funds for the common good or money has to be borrowed, thus, increasing the government(s) debt.

The Question!

So, the question I have to ask is simply this, should taxpayer funds be used to rebuild private lives and businesses? My answer has to be, with no malice towards anyone, anywhere who has suffered a loss to nature or natural disaster, an unequivocal, NO! And, while that may sound mean spirited, I'm not alone in that opinion. I read an op ed in the New York Times this morning (and, believe it or not, I do actually read the generally regarded mainstream news media, living free doesn't mean I'm a complete dolt) that explored that very question. It was also the op ed author's opinion that taxpayer funds should not be used for this purpose. And, further, virtually all the comments supported his opinion.

The point is simply this. If anyone chooses to take risks, they must assume individual responsibility for their actions. Let's look at a few simple examples. If one chooses to be a sky diver, a rock climber, an extreme skier or snowboarder, a NASCAR or Formula race car driver, a wing walker, you get the idea, or participate in any other risky and hazardous behavior, who is responsible if something disastrous happens? If you choose to work on tall towers, be a construction worker on skyscrapers or choose any other kind of known, hazardous work, who is responsible? So, with that same thought in mind, if you choose to build a home or a business (or both) in a hazardous and risky location, who is responsible? In every case this was a personal choice and with those choices come the burden of responsibility. Now, I don't have a problem with anyone choosing to do any of the things I enumerated (and a myriad of other possibilities). Go for it! But, if disaster strikes, don't expect everyone else to ante up to fix your problems.

But, some will say, there has never been a disaster of such a magnitude here before, so it was unanticipated. This is not an excuse. Anyone who lives near any coastal area knows that nature is unpredictable and just because she never displayed this level of devastation before doesn't mean anyone else holds any responsibility for what happened now. There are some pretty simple measures of risk. If the private sector, who exist to make profits and by minimizing their risks against losses, choose not to build factories or provide insurance, etc. in a certain region. There is a reason private insurance companies do not provide flood insurance. They will provide secondary water damage insurance like a roof leaking, for example, due to some wind damage. But, that's different then water rising from oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, etc. That should tell one something. So, the federal government went into the flood insurance business - something they should not be in. Currently, they are something like $19 billion in debt in the flood insurance department. That could put several private insurance companies out of business. That's why they won't accept the risk.

What Insurance Companies Know That Some, Otherwise, Intelligent People Seem to Miss

Private insurance companies won't provide fire insurance in regions where wild fires are common. They won't provide earthquake insurance when someone chooses to build a home or business on a known earthquake fault. The same goes for mudslide, rock slide, avalanche, active volcano regions and similar high risk areas. That doesn't stop anyone from building anything they want to in that area, but AT THEIR OWN RISK. If you read your property insurance policies - homes, businesses, vehicles, etc. you'll notice a pretty standard clause that excludes damage due to Acts of God (i.e. nature), Acts of War and negligence. Why do those clauses exist? It's simple, really. An insurance company is in the gambling business. They make a bet that they'll never have to pay a lot of money out on covered claims for most policies, thus, they make a profit. But, they know that one can't bet against God or nature, the greed, corruption and inhumanity that is war or just the stupidity of human beings and their negligence. So, they opt out.

If these businesses know something we don't know, do you think we could figure it out by analyzing their reasoning? The reason the government(s) is (are) in so much financial trouble is because, first, they don't have the reasoning ability of private sector businesses who go out of business if they lose money. The government(s) don't really worry about that because it's not their money at risk - it's OUR money they risk and usually lose. Further, just as is being debated right now in Washington, DC, the government will simply find some obvious or nefarious way of taking more money from the taxpayer to fund their folly. Anything new here? Nope! What's new is that more and more people expect the government(s) to cover their asses rather then making good choices, limiting their risks and taking responsibility for their own actions.

No matter what position you or I take on the changing climate FACT, it's happening and it appears to be happening faster then predictions. Rebuilding coastal or flood prone cities that are below sea level is not only not smart, it's idiotic. Rebuilding the terribly devastated areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and other massively destroyed coastal areas is just as idiotic. But, we'll do it. We'll build sea walls, jetties, dredge up and replenish the sand on the beaches. And, we'll believe that man can beat nature at her own game. New Orleans will suffer more devastation in the future, it's inevitable. The coastlines of the U.S. will suffer more frequent storms and the water levels will rise. The tunnels connecting New Jersey and the various boroughs of New York with Manhattan Island will flood again and again. The subway tunnels will be underwater as well. And that's just part of the areas that will be impacted.

I for one, will miss the Jersey Shore of my youth. While I haven't lived in Jersey for more then 45 years, it's still part of me and I'm saddened to see the losses. But, I don't think it should be my responsibility as a tax payer to rebuild something that I KNOW is going to be devastated again and again. If those people who have lost their homes and businesses choose to rebuild and remain there, I have no problem with that, just assume the responsibility for your choice, do it with your own money and hope, as the movie "Field of Dreams" suggested, "build it and they will come." Then you can count on voluntary funding by those visitors and tourists who will spend their money at the local businesses. But, I will also say that whether these areas are rebuilt or not, I will still spend some of my time returning to the ocean.

The Volunteer Farm

Now, on another topic, I received an email this morning from my friend Bob Blair. Bob is a former government employee and long-time retiree. Bob has spent his retirement years in volunteer service. For a number of years after his retirement he volunteered for search and rescue missions during disasters, natural and otherwise. He had this huge dog that he took through specialized search training at his own expense. He then provided his and his dog's services through a faith-based organization, the Methodist Church, I think. When both he and his dog were getting long of tooth and not as capable of performing the necessary search and rescue tasks, Bob moved in another direction. He had acquired a 65 acre Christmas tree farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia either prior to his retirement or just after. Again, as he was getting older, the rigors of running a Christmas tree farm were becoming a bit much. So, with his attitude of service he decided, about nine years ago, to create a "volunteer farm."

He dedicated five acres that year and solicited volunteers from local groups, churches and so on, to prepare the land, plant, cultivate and harvest the crops. He had a yield of thousands of pounds of fresh produce that was all donated to the regional food bank. Of course, this donation was gratefully accepted as it helped feed families in several surrounding counties. Since that time, Bob has cultivated more and more of that 65 acres until this year he donated 82.5 tons of food and has helped feed over 150,000 people per month. All of this has been with volunteer help. Volunteers have come from all across the U.S. to assist Bob with his service of love that he provides. They come from high school youth groups, faith-based youth groups, civic service groups, local folks, Personally, I think it's pretty amazing what one man's dream has done for so many people.

I don't see Bob very often and most of my contact with him is by email and the occasional face to face encounter, but I know Bob has the dream and I know he's been working on it, to expand his "volunteer farm" concept to livestock volunteer farms, dairy volunteer farms and to spread the idea across the U.S. Think about it. The U.S. government actually PAYS (they call it subsidize) farmers to NOT grow crops or livestock. They turn the surplus of milk into dry milk and warehouse it, then send it to foreign countries when we have people in our own cities, towns and counties that are undernourished. If Bob is helping some 150,000 people - PRIVATELY - in just his region of Virginia, I know there are many millions of folks throughout the country who could benefit from this kind of volunteerism.

Bob has set up the Volunteer Farm in Shenandoah County, Virginia as a 501c3 non-profit organization. Unfortunately, this may and is probably already impacting Bob's volunteer venture negatively due to the economic crisis of the past several years and the Fiscal Cliff the government has created and may be about to toss all of us over. If the government cuts back on tax deductions for charitable contributions, Bob's and tens of thousands of other organizations will likely be severely impacted. It's too bad our generosity in this country is so based on "what's in it for me" tax deductions. There are several organizations, especially faith-based organizations who provide various kinds of services for their communities, the Mormon religion, the Salvation Army and others to mention only a few. I hope that people will still find it in their hearts to give something to organizations like these and to Bob Blair's Volunteer Farm.

And, here's the unique thing about organizations like Bob's farm, he can use financial donations, donations of cars, other vehicles and farm equipment. But, here's one that lots of people can donate who don't have large financial resources - TIME. One can volunteer their time - as I call it, tithing your time.

Living Free isn't about depending on the government. The government should have the smallest impact and influence on our lives possible. The way we make this all work is by first, determining our individual dreams and definition of personal freedom. Second, by taking full and complete responsibility for our own lives, actions and choices, including living in a beach house where it may be swept away by Mother Nature. Go for it, just don't expect it to be anyone else's responsibility if your dream is swept away. Third, let's see if some of Bob Blair's attitude about helping others can rub off on all of us. It doesn't matter if we're financially wealthy or poor as a church mouse, if as individuals (not a government collective) we can each do a little to help make this a better place, IT WILL BE A BETTER PLACE. Just saying . . .

By the way, Bob is facing a financial crisis this year. He may not be able to keep the Volunteer Farm going in 2013. If you're interested in knowing more about the farm and his needs, you can go to www.volunteerfarm.org or email Bob directly at bblair@shentel.net or you can even call him at 540-459-3478. You won't find much about Bob on the Web site. It's not about Bob. I know he'll be happy to hear from you and if you told him you heard about the farm from me, he'll know the connection.

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