Friday, August 21, 2015

Another open letter to my congressman

I use this blog as a way to make a decent sized communication with my congressman possible and to keep a record of what I told him - neither feature of which is supported by the standard lame congressional webpage communications form.  By referencing this blog article in his communication form, I can articulate to him and anyone else that is interested, what I said.

This letter addresses our recent fire issues in the Kamiah, Kooskia area.


Dear Congressman Labrador,

The devastation that happened in Kamiah over the past week is, I believe, primarily caused by government control and ownership of our lands and fire response systems.  

I know a friend in the area that took pictures of one of the original fires when it was only a few acres in size and called it in at that time.  I understand that the lightning storm ignited many fires that day so I don't mean to oversimplify things, but the response time was days and that very fire took out many homes itself.  Citizens that might have taken action upon seeing the fire did not. Why?  Because they had a professional, well funded firefighting force paid for by their taxes to do that job for them.

From attending various fire meetings and discussing the situation with long time locals, it appears to me there is a callous and infectious tendency towards egotistical isolationism.  People with information don't share it and it appears that the reason is that information is power.  People with authority don't delegate it empower others to act for fear of losing 'control'.  Even our local volunteer fire teams have a superior attitude toward non-professional paid firefighters. 

I heard of a situation where a local fire team was contacting the state to get assistance and the state team was more concerned with where the local team got a state-owned radio than they were with getting assistance on the fire.

I was told that $5 million was spent by government on the fire before a single professional firefighter engaged a single fire.

I have also heard of many stories of professional firefighters getting in the way or blocking progress or ordering people off a fire or simply standing and watching and sometimes mocking or laughing at local non-paid firefighters.

I think the problem is clear - when you pay someone to do a job like firefighting on an hourly basis with lucrative rates, you create people that 'manage' the fire instead of teams that 'kill' fires on contact.  The motivation becomes to actually create enough property damage to get the situation into the lucrative 'emergency status' which enables a locality to legally plunder the entire nation.  It is the communist idea of 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his need'.

I can understand this is a very complex problem.  How do you motivate professionals to 'work themselves out of a job'?  It's a problem that I think fits exactly the proper role of a good legislator - don't make laws to solve problems, make laws to allow and motivate individuals to solve them for themselves.

So here is my two-cent solution to our problem:

Let's pay firefighters a percentage of what they now earn hourly so they can take care of themselves while fighting fires.  Then, after the emergency is over, calculate the lost tax revenue for a year caused by the fire using the previous years data and subtract that from the remainder percentage they would receive had no loss of property been done by the fire.

In other words, if a team of professional firefighters engages a fire and put it out and only lose, say, a field of hay, the previous year's tax revenue that field yielded to the county is split between the team members and deducted from the remainder of the pay they are to receive.

This motivates every single professional firefighter to be as efficient as possible and encourages reasonable risk to accomplish the goal.  If a fire gets big, the team gets larger and the losses are shared but not equally.  The people that were on the fire when it was small pay for the damage the small fires caused and those that arrived later pay for the damage that was caused on their watch shared with all that are fighting the fire.  Everyone at all times is motivated to stop the damage - not manage the fire into lucrative profits.

Loss of life is not calculated here but needs to be added in.  If a person dies due to a professional firefighter decision, no bonus is given to the people responsible.  This creates a strong incentive for safety yet allows risks to be taken if needed without extreme consequences for an honest mistake.

Another serious problem our firefighters deal with is tort issues.  Allowing a civilian to actively take part in fighting a fire incurs a huge risk in the legal realm to whoever makes that decision.  A lawyer can take your life from you for an honest mistake - this is the ever increasing weakness of our nation - a loss of justice and common sense in judicial review with ridiculous consequences that hamper risk taking and effective operations.

The solution to this problem, as is discussed at length elsewhere in this blog, is really a return to the common law way of doing things.  The main solution being the un-meddled with, randomly and frequently chosen, jury.  The power of deciding constitutionality should be with the people, not with a judge.  The final say in a case should be with the jury not with a judge.  Appeals are costly and flawed in that they rarely get at real justice and often thwart it and delay justice being done.  

Why not simply hold juries accountable for their decisions by another jury and allow the case decision to be final? If you condemned an innocent man by your lame decision on a jury, you face his penalty at the hands of another jury.  The case remains finally settled but the jury pays for its mistake.  (This wouldn't be a bad idea for Judges either)

I know this is pretty radical thinking but if our justice system continues to erode into the money making machine it has become, peace and order in our society is doomed.

Tough problems I know, but we need leadership to step up and stop this trend to self destruction. Communities like Kamiah with their strong sense of honor and cooperation will be eventually destroyed by bean counters, politicians, attorneys and power jockeys.  Responsibility needs to lie with the individual and the individual needs to be empowered to make decisions freely and reap consequences dictated by their peers, not by professional paid judges.

Our fire losses are, for the most part, caused by our poor justice system and congress can fix this by limiting the jurisdiction of higher courts and empowering lower courts to use common law principles and juries.

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