Monday, February 14, 2011

Our Dysfunctional Nation . . . with California and Berkeley Leading the Way

More than two decades -- 21 plus years to be more precise -- have elapsed since the Loma Prieta earthquake, and California still is struggling to replace the portion of the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge which that event showed to be unsafe. That's longer than it took an earlier generation to build entirely from scratch the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

Gas lines leak and explode, killing people and devastating neighborhoods at various locations around the country.

A bridge collapses in Minnesota and emergency inspections reveal that huge numbers of similar structures are at risk of failing across the nation.

The country's infrastructure has been ignored for too long as its 'leaders' have diverted resources to fanciful endeavors and efforts to curry favor with, and purchase political constituencies. As a result the physical infrastructure on which the nation's people and their economy depend is in a state of collapse.

Furthermore, we are laden with unsustainable debt that makes corrective action extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Nonetheless, California pursues an uneconomic high speed rail system and the nation's administration pushes to finance the project and to inflict similar unsustainable and delusional ones on other portions of the country.

These things occur because of a lack of accountability. Irresponsible holders of public office are unaccountable. The consequences of their actions only become known after they have moved to higher offices, retired, or passed off this mortal coil. There is no institutional memory or accountability. And the news media that once functioned as the peoples' watchdog over government and those in office have become cheer leading megaphones for those in power.

California's governor now wants to increase -- supposedly temporarily -- some previously enacted "temporary" taxes. That's temporary like the bridge tolls that were supposed to be removed once the modest initial tolls retired the bonds that financed construction of the bridges. Those tolls now are $4 to $6 a crossing. The last time a 'temporary' tax expired was five years ago when the government gave up trying to defend in litigation a three percent tax on long distance telephone calls that it had imposed 108 years earlier to help pay for the Spanish-American War.

The California tax extension is to help meet a deficit largely due to ultra generous public pensions to which now long gone officials obligated the state. Here again, the media failed to point out the consequences of these bestowals from the public treasury when they were being put into place.

How is that working out on a current basis?

Take a look at Berkeley, where the city council recently found it necessary to give the city manager a raise from his close to $300,000 annual salary because he essentially was working for nothing. He could have retired and received benefits equal to what he was earning while working. Of course the raise also will bump up his pension so they'll have to go through the same process again just a bit down the road.

Meanwhile, a small neighborhood ice cream store is continuing to struggle to get city approval to open for business. The shop has been ready to do so for nine months throughout which it's been paying rent and trying to work through the labyrinths of city rules and regulations.

At the same time, commercial spaces in formerly prosperous areas are remaining vacant. Nobody wants the travails of trying to do business in the city . . . and shoppers are going elsewhere to patronize establishments in places where a delay in returning to one's car won't result in a $50 expired parking meter ticket.

Is this a great country or what?

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