Saturday, October 9, 2010

Please Put Your Fire On Hold While We Check Your Account

This post was written a couple of days ago and I sat on it, wondering if it was appropriate.  This morning, I decided I don't care about appropriate so here goes....

I sat in my lawn chair, my ancient laptop balanced on my knees and watched, mouth open in stupefied horror, as Gene Cranick described to Keith Olbermann how firefighters refused to put the fire out as and watched as his house burned to the ground, taking with it all the Cranick's possessions and killing a cat and three dogs.  Because Cranick hadn't paid his $75 fire fighting subscription fee.

"What does that remind me of?" I asked Keith who reflected my horror. Keith didn't answer even though I tweeted the question to him.  I know he had a lot going on at that point so I forgive him.

Then it came to me.  When we lived in Des Plaines, Illinois, there was a controversial area between Des Plaines and Park Ridge that was commonly referred to as Unincorporated Des Plaines.  If memory serves, the residents who lived there had to pay extra fees for things like 911 and trash pickup.  The kinds of things we take for granted when we pay our property taxes, for example.

In the twelve years we lived in Des Plaines, I don't ever remember hearing about someone's house being left to burn because the residents hadn't paid the "subscription fee."

I felt a certain kinship to Mr. Cranick as he sat there before the TV cameras and lights in his own lawnchair.  My heart ached for his loss and for the eye-opening reality that his despair is a shared on no doubt.  His just made the news.

When you move from a metropolitan or suburban area to a more rural area, you learn that services you took for granted are no longer available without a fee.  In Des Plaines, we paid a tax for our trash collection.  Here, you have to hire a private company or haul the trash to the dump/recycling center yourself.  Once a week, I fill Roxannes's trunk with trash bags and recycling and go say hi to the nice people who work at the dump.  I understand the people who rented this place before us didn't hire the private company nor did they haul off their trash.  Instead, they piled it onto the deck until it was waist high.  The neighbors complained of the smell and the growing rat problem, but there was precious little they could do.  It's every man for himself out here, right?

As bluegal points out in this really fantastic post (that's me saying be sure to open this link), this story also highlights the disconnect between what's available to rural folks versus city folks.

The internets are full of righteous indignation about Cranick's story.  For good reason, I might add.  Some of us are pointing out that what happened to the Cranicks is just the beginning.  It is the thing that Ayn Rand wrought.  Others are saying that society's sponges like Mr. Cranick get what they deserve.  In this case, you don't pay for the service, then you have no right to expect the services.  And you're an asshole if you think your neighbors should pay for you. It's every person for themselves, personal responsibility reigns!  Their thinking can be boiled down to this - if the firefighters make one exception for a deadbeat, then everyone will become deadbeats.

These are the same "thinkers" who believe it's fine to charge fees to individuals for a possibly needed service, but we should cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations who use our common good resources every day.  I tell you, I do not get it.

As I listened to the second installment of Mr. Cranick's Fiery Adventure last night, I wondered a couple of things.

First - is Mr. Cranick a Republican?  Has he, like so many of my neighbors here in Georgia, fallen for the current Republican claptrap that government is bad, taxes are evil, that every person should only have what they can afford and the hell with the common good?  Or does he go to a church where the pastor equates being a good Christian with voting Republican?  Or is he an R because, like so many old Southern Democrats, he switched parties after the Civil Rights era?

And when the county proposed to raise property taxes by 0.13 per $100 of property value, was Mr. Cranick one of the farmers who didn't like the plan?

Does it matter?  Well, it doesn't mean that Mr. Cranick deserves to have lost his home or to have had his animals perish, but it does point out that your vote does have consequences.  Follow the money.  As Republicans have taken over states' legislatures and local governments, they've cut taxes especially for the wealthy and corporations.  Cutting taxes and tax subsidies are a centerpiece of any campaign to bring new business to a state or a municipality.  Meanwhile, those same Republicans have pushed for and passed Balanced Budget Amendments for their states.  To offset tax cuts and the resulting reduced revenue, services must be cut to balance the budget. It's the law.

Therefore services are reduced, become fee for service or go away altogether.

People who think we can have nice, safe, clean communities with good educational systems, and up to date infrastructure without having to pay the taxes to support it are simply idiotic.  Someone has to pay for it.  That's why we have the common good and the tax structure.  We all contribute and if we don't, our houses may not burn to the ground, but the taxing body has some kind of legal way of getting the money from you.

Being opposed to the common good and the taxes that support it seems just fine until your house is on fire or you get hit with a bunch of new fees (shifted from taxes to fees) when you go to renew your license plate or your kids are now in classes with thirty kids or more or you flatten your tire because the road debris on I75 is left to lay because budget cuts mean road maintenance has been reduced to next to nothing.

I also wondered about the insurance implications of this huge national news story.  Will insurance companies now write into their policies that if you live in a fee for service area and you don't pay the fee, they won't cover your losses?  What about renters?  Would I be responsible for the fire subscription fee or would my landlord handle that?  If it's the landlord's responsibility, what happens to us if he doesn't pay it, just forgets, for example?

These are things to think about as some of our fellow Americans continue to promote the ideas of immature Libertarianism masquerading as Conservatism.  This idea that you don't owe anything to anybody, that you should not participate in the common good is akin to being an ideological adolescent.  You want all the rights of citizenship, but none of the responsibilities.  And equally bad is this crazy libertarian scheme of privatizing everything.  You really think that companies can provide better services while making a profit is sustainable?  And the accountability in such matters is for shit.  Just look at what's been done in Iraq by military contractors.

I want to ask this:  You don't want government?  Fine. Go a day without using the common good.  When you're finished emptying your chamber pot in your backyard, let us know how you liked it.  And while you're at it, imagine all your neighbors carrying their chamber pots looking for a place to dump, too.  That guy who lives in the house on your left?  He eats mostly cabbage and drinks lots of beer.


  1. Great job, Lisa. I have been contemplating a post about this too. We who live in the rural area's have a different perspective than the big city folks

    Thanks for this.

  2. If I'm not mistaken, if someone comes to the ER with a real emergency, they have to be treated even if they have no health insurance. You'd think the same compassion would have been extended to the house fire guy.

  3. "...the current Republican claptrap... to hell with the common good."

    A perfect summation of the philosophy that is dragging this once-great nation down.

    Fifty years ago, John Kennedy got applause when he said, "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

    Today a line like that would lose him the Presidency.

  4. Girlfriend, I mentioned the same incident in my black magpie post today. That whole situation illustrates how philosophy plays out in Reality. I haven't been watching Keith this week, though, even though I loved the purple ties he was wearing after Congress fucked up with DADT and DREAM

  5. Lisa, this is a great post on a set of complicated issues. Things are so bass-ackwards in this country, it's hard to know where to begin to unravel them. For starters, we need visionaries in government, and for the most part we don't have that. There are major societal/governmental systems that need to change here, and a basic one is taxation/financial priorities.

    No one likes to pay taxes, but most of us don't really mind if we know everyone is paying their fair share. And they're not. Taxes are not "bad" as the TP/Repubs claim. A long time ago, George Lakoff said the Dems should frame taxes as the dues we pay in order to belong to the really cool club called the USA and all the perks that come with that: education, police, fire protection, transportation, etc. I think the government has a responsibility to provide for the health & safety of its citizenry, and letting someone's house burn to the ground with pets in it is certainly not that.

    As time goes, it will be more difficult for local governments to provide services to outlying areas. At the very least, fuel resources will become more expensive. But the resources would be more readily available if federal tax rates were back to what they were a few generations ago for the high bracket earners. (And if the wars ended, but that's another post). Then the feds could pass $$$ to the states which could pass them down to the counties & cities for services, etc.

    Of course, a great deal of this takes us working together as a country, and we don't seem to be doing a good job of that these days... wish we could. I guess I needed a little rant, too...

  6. I think that some industries should go back to being private, and if they fail...well...some things NEED to fail.

    HOWEVER. Allowing the home of another human being to BURN DOWN and have creatures perish? Horrifying. Especially since it's due to a measly $75. I can not imagine the backlash that will occur because of it.

    Then again, I don't know why I'm surprised. I have seen people lose their homes to foreclosure because they didn't pay the "mandatory" HOA fee.

  7. Nicely stated. Unfortunately the tide is currently out on human kindness and the general feeling is, everyone for themselves. Of course, with that attitude, there will never be forward progress.

  8. Whether you agree or disagree with the message, this is a good post.

  9. Well said as always. Like Elise, I'm sharing this on FB too.

  10. Lisa, THANK YOU for this post. So eloquently put all the thoughts I have had about this story into words. I frequently say that I will gladly pay HIGHER taxes if the money is going to human needs. If I pay more than what I consider my fair share while my neighbor doesn't pay, so be it. Don't get me wrong -- I would love to see my CORPORATE neighbors paying their fair share as well, but until government changes (campaign finance reform anyone?) that's pie in the sky. So I take my role as someone who loves my neighbor seriously. Jesus was a Socialist.

    I fear for what's coming, but I remind myself that there have been other periods in recent history like this. We have to be the Dorothy Days and the Jane Addams's, while we agitate for change.

  11. one wonders if they would have just watched as humans died trapped inside and would that be murder?

  12. BTW, the rise of charter schools is about this "every one for themselves" mentality. "I want MY child to go to a school that's 'green' so I'm going to open a charter school." "I don't want to sacrifice MY child to some ideal of integration …" (I actually had a member of our Quaker meeting say that to me. Yikes.) I'm thinking of 2 bumper stickers:" Jesus was a Socialist" and "I Stand for the Common Good."
    <3 you Lisa.

  13. great post, LIsa.

    yeah, and what if there were children trapped inside?

  14. If only America had enough resources to pay for these services, but we must take our chances with death by house fire, because if this great nation steps off the path it's on, then Al-Qaeda will *surely* set *everyone's* house on fire, is that what you all want?

  15. I read this with such anger. Time and Time again, I hear people say: Oh you liberals--you want everything to be a matter of right--like healthcare and a house, and education.

    I just wonder, what kind of people are these who simply are willing for people to die rather than distribute things fairly. You have to hand it to the right--they've got these idiots doing their bidding, and they won't realize they're the last to give up what they have until they foreclose on them and make them work for pennies and live in tenements.

  16. Well put, Lisa.

    As always.

    What the hell is this world coming to?

  17. In a similar vein, many rural (and not so rural) areas are allowing paved roads to revert to gravel because they can't afford to maintain asphalt or concrete. The no-new-taxes-ever-for-anything mindset is working really well at turning the US into Somalia.

  18. Great post Lisa. I have been talking about this for some time but even some of my quote liberal friends resent paying taxes for things that don't benefit them directly, for example a tax to support the CA state parks.

  19. THAT'S WHY I love you.

    You know we just moved to Canada where taxes are very high but the good news is it all works out for the common good. Now we just have to help figure out how to get rid of the abominable Harper government before he takes the country any further up his dastardly garden path.

  20. I linked to this.

    I'm not going to have any teeth at this rate.

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  22. I think you should leave MathMan and marry me. And accompany me to all family events so that I/you may espouse all things politically sensible and savvy to my die-hard conservative family members. M'kay? They are completely ignoring and discounting me and I think you may have more of an impact.

  23. Sister, I couldn't agree more. I'll be writing a post along these lines soon, and I'm going to link to yours

  24. Ouch. This hurts my heart...I hadn't heard of this situation before.

    Thanks for sharing this story and your insight.

  25. Ah, the red state blues. Why couldn't there at least be a clause in the ordinance along the lines of "ex post facto payment of the fee will be subject to a X percent penalty." ? And was there no firefighter there with balls sufficient to call bullshit in spite of any chain-of-command assholery?

    You are right this is just the beginning - if you look at the Georgia ballot (bypass all the unopposed Rs to save your sanity), there's a constitutional amendment regarding an additional $10 tag fee to help pay for trauma care and also a referendum on whether or not to approve that business inventory be exempt from property tax. Write this down: the former gets nixed while the latter passes big time.

    You guys already know the state of teacher salaries (likely to be cut again, along with more jobs, next year), and yet I see teabag yahoos crying about a 1-cent ESPLOST sales tax.

    If I thought it would have an effect I'd give them a little political botany lesson: "See those trees over there? They constitute what is know as a forest."

  26. lisa

    you said exactly what i have been thinking - only you say it better than my brain

    ronald reagan taught this country 30 years ago (and we are knowing reaping the benefits of Reaganeducationism) SOMETHING FOR NOTHING..

    taxes bad, govt bad - until you need it.

    you know the first people on line at FEMA after a hurricane are the republicans - afraid that the poor and minorities might get their bottle of water or candles.

    we have grown into a society of Ayn Rand on steroids. even she (as much as asshole as she was) probably wouldnt want someone's house to burn down while the firefighters stood there looking on. but the selfish bastards of the Republican Teabag Assn sure do - every (white Christian) man for himself.

    funny how most of the GOP/Teabaggers (they are one in the same) really do think that at that zero tax rate they will all be living like a Koch brother and those services will be still right at their door - like holes in the bridges etc.

    but if we are willing to vote them in (just becouase the are not spineless wimpy dems) - we get what we deserve

  27. It is a tragedy that someone, who chose not to pay their subscription fee to the fire department, had their house burn to the ground. But I ask you, what would happen if EVERYONE chose not to pay the subscription fee? There would BE no fire department. Running a fire department takes money, and lots of it. There is training, equipment, maintenance, vehicles, not to mention personal protective gear.

    The reason people pay insurance is to guard against potential loss. For all the tens of thousands of dollars of insurance that we each pay, how many of us actually make a claim? How many of us actually get back all the money we paid in premiums? Very few. Yet if no one had to pay the insurance premium until a claim was needed, there would BE NO money to pay out claims.

    Finally, I am sick to death of hearing about how the wealthy has to pay their fair share of taxes. In terms of actual dollars paid, the top 1% in income earners pays 40% of the taxes collected. The top 3% of income earners pay 80% of the tax dollars collected. That sounds like a whole lot more than their fair share to me. What about the other 97% of income earners in this country??? Fully half of all income earners pay NOTHING in taxes at all, and there is a percentage of income earners who not only pay NOTHING, but actually RECEIVE payments in the form of earned income credit.

    So PLEASE, get off your high horses about taxes that the wealthy pay. And save your scorn for the fire department who let a man's house burn down because he didn't pay his fees. Try walking a mile in someone else's shoes next time before making judgments. It is easy to Monday morning quarterback when you already know how the game ends.

  28. Thank you all for your comments and for asking the questions you've asked.

    Bonnie - While I will never agree with you that the wealthy pay their fair share and I frankly find it distasteful to allow such a ridiculous statement to stay here on my blog, I'm not crazy about deleting comments either.

    However, you are so glaringly wrong in your assumption that fees pay for the fire department. The fact is that TAXES pay for fire departments. Taxes are LEGAL OBLIGATIONS that provide the taxing body with legal channels by which to collect. Fees are a bad idea exactly for the reason you state - They are OPTIONAL.

    And I will ask you to stay respectful if you're going to address my commenters. They are not on their "high horses." They are thinking individuals with a clear understanding of what it means to live in a society.

  29. Beautifully put, Lisa. I did a similar post recently as well.

    And I don't believe I'm on my high horse when I say that the well-being of my neighbors matters more to me than a few extra quarters jangling in my pocket. (Or a few dollars, or a few hundred.) I believe that sentiment puts me right there in the trenches with my fellow Americans.

    Good comment, Ranger Bob.

  30. If people would only look at their fellow humans as if they were a brother or sister than I believe one of those firemen would have stepped out of formation and done what was morally right. I don't know a lot about politics but I do know right from wrong. It's very sad that there was not even ONE good Samaritan to help that poor man who suffered the loss of not only his home but his beloved amount of insurance coverage can replace a life. Thank you for an eye opening post!

  31. Lisa, I am a firefighter and I think I might know a little about how fire departments, particularly rural ones, are funded. As for being respectful, perhaps you ought to read your own response and evaluate which of the two responses is more disrespectful to the poster. Not only is my post NOT ridiculous, it is fact based and you can easily find the information yourself on the tax dollars collected by simply going to the US government websites on the IRS, the census, and the OMB.

    I know very well that taxes support fire departments and other governmental services. However, the taxes very rarely cover the costs of the services provided. Also, the majority of these "service" taxes are also subject to periodic property tax levies which often FAIL. One of the biggest reasons that tax levies fail is that the rural voting population, who own the largest parcels of land, are generally the ones who vote it down.

    Furthermore, the paying of property taxes is not automatic. Many have escrow accounts which make the payments, but a larger majority of the population don't. This is especially true in rural areas where the land is paid off and passed on from generation to generation. People who have money issues quite often will opt not pay property taxes in favor of other bills because it is a long and extended process to foreclose on property for tax purposes.

    You do not need to lecture me on the difference between taxes and fees. Local governments are in crises, with falling revenues and ever increasing costs. Fees have been instituted to help cover that widening gap. Our fire budget has been slashed nearly 20% for each of the past three years. Our current staffing level is at such an unsafe level, that at a recent structure fire, which normally would require at least 20 people to extinguish safely, we had EIGHT.

    Finally, one additional thought. This was not a brick and timber home. This was a double wide trailer. Even if the firefighters and entered immediately and extinguished the fire, in all likelihood, the structure would have been a total fire loss. The building materials used in the construction of these homes simply do not stand up to the high temperatures generated in house fires today.

    So, while I appreciate your fervor and obvious passion, I would ask YOU to please remain respectful of those who disagree with you. I too am a thinking individual who also knows what it means to live in society.

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  36. Bonnie - Hang on. You DO NOT come to my house and lecture me. Are we clear on that? You will not be welcome. I was hardly disrespectful to you. The fact that you think it's appropriate to lecture my commenters and me is offensive. My rule is this - when I read a blog I disagree with, I don't say anything. Since you posted to disagree, telling the commenters here to get off their high horses, I thought it my role to tell you the score. Your job isn't to tell the people here anything. You are a guest. Act like one.

    If you read my whole post, you'll see that you're making my point.
    If we want to have safe communities, we have to be willing to pay for them. Individual options to pay or not is NOT the way. That is my whole point.

    Perhaps the time for asking people if they want to pay higher taxes needs to come to an end. While we should have an expectation that our tax dollars will be spent wisely and reasonably, it's pretty safe to say that most people, if asked, would say hell no, don't raise my taxes. But when you put it to them what they risk by not paying a few extra dollars a year, most will respond differently.

    I'd rather pay higher taxes to ensure that fire departments, for example, have the funds to run properly and to be able to do their job, to not have to stand and watch any house burn.

    I notice that while you're ready to defend the wealthy, you're also willing to decry the current system that has your department strapped. The reality is, we can't have it both ways. We can't continue to cut taxes, balance budgets and provide services.

    You also don't address the other issues raised - the insurance implications, the issues renters might have to deal with, etc. There will be fallout from this story, as I'm sure you know. I just hope that it isn't the creation of more fee for service situations.

    And let us not forget that local and state governments are finding themselves in trouble because of the mess created by the free market mentality that has taken over our economy. We've deregulated, cut taxes, facilitated the export of our jobs, squandered a surplus, waged expensive wars, turned a blind eye to polluters, and credit-destroyed ourselves into a corner.

    Meanwhile, both parties continue to allow the privatization of profits and the socialization of the risks. We allow industries to create near disasters and the American taxpayers bail them out.

    Hang on. I just came to my senses. You come to my blog and defend the rich? You tell me that your fire department doesn't have enough money to run properly and you're whining that the rich have to pay more taxes because they HAVE MORE MONEY?

    Bwahahahahahaha! Now that's comedy.

  37. lisa

    so nice to see a FIREFIGHTER defending the incredibly poor judgment on the part of that fire dept in Tennessee.

    first - what are we now living - Fahrenheit 451 - where the fire dept goes around STARTING fires to burn books - it is almost as if Bonnie is saying - you are poor -boo hoo - too bad - if you had money we would have saved you - those words are not explicit but it is between the lines

    ok - so the guy didnt pay - bonnie of ALL people should know that fires wont choose to burn only houses and property of people who didnt pay and leave the neighbors who did pay their fees alone

    what if a huge gust of wind came by and pushed the flames of the burning non-payer to some open woods or another house - as the firefighters sat idly watching the wienie roast?

    it floors me to think that there are actually people like bonnie in this country - Ayn Rand has to be smiling from down below (where there are many many flames) -

    ok bonnie - what if you have health insurance, but i choose not to - tto expensive. we are standing next to each other in line at the supermarket. i cough and some of my germs hit you. i have TB and didnt get it treated - but i am walking around - now you also have been exposed to TB. HAHAHAHAHA

    no i am not that cold - there is public safety reason to have fire dpets, health depts, health insurance.

    finally get your economics straight - you say the top 1% pay 40% of the taxes - well the top 1% earn over 60% of all the income and have something like 70% of all the assets. And lets not forget that the rich have seen their wages grown by 10 fold in the past decade while the other 90% have seen A DROP in wages.

    and trust me - if the richest man in town, owning the $5 million mansion didnt pay his $75 fee - the fire dept would not let his house burn down or pets die.

    this is nothing but class warfare and you are baiting it. this country has grown to hate the poor and minorities.

    sounds like you want a fire/police/and country for the rich only and the poor and middle class - well let them eat tea bisquits

    shame on you - you are a poor representative of the fire dept if you actually believe letting a house burn down and pets die is right over $75

  38. oh and Bonnie
    since you believe in the Chinese menu style of govt..

    I want every nickel I spent in Iraq and Afghanistan refunded to me ASAP. I choose not to pay for that expense!

  39. You people are all nuts. Over and out.

  40. no Bonnie - you are the delusional and nutty one. And probably a very sad and cold person. Amazing someone trained to save and help can be such an uncaring and evil person.

    ANyone who thinks that the poor should suffer more than the rich really has some severe baggage. I would bet you voted for George Bush twice.

    I would not want you coming to fight a fire for me.

  41. It's absolutely crazy the kind of world we live in. Where has compassion gone?

  42. On the other hand, Lisa, all this a la carte budgeting might benefit you and me with regard to our spouses' occupations. Class sizes could be reduced with the new "tax-tiered" education plan. Mathman prolly doesn't want to teach all those poor kids anyway.

  43. I seriously doubt that "Bonnie" is a firefighter. If she is, she's in the wrong line of work. A firefighter who would stand there and let someone's house burn (whatever the reason), a police officer who would stand there and refuse to intervene while an assault is taking place -- they're both in that same pitiful category.

    "Walk a mile in the shoes" of those poor firefighters who are being criticized for their inaction -- LOL.

  44. Nick,
    the ER doesn't have to treat anyone they don't want to if they are a for profit. Only those hospitals that took federal money under a certain program (I don't remember which) have to accept all who show up at the ER. (Saying that all will get treatment at the ER is another Reich-wing lie that keeps getting repeated because if you tell a lie often enough, most people will believe it.) Some years back the media used to do stories about people dying while the ambulance went from hospital to hospital trying to find one that would take someone without insurance. But that was some years back and nobody cares about that anymore.

    Lisa, good post, right arm!! Or is that right on??

  45. Super post. I'll be linking as well.

    I wish I could come up with the Fry and Laurie sketch about privatising the police force. I'll try to for my post.


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