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Colley: Conservatives don't hate taxes. But let's spend them wisely

Conservatives are willing to pay taxes. Libertarians are willing to pay taxes. Anarchists are another matter. Taxes are a necessary part of life, but many people demand some efficiency when it comes to how the money is spent. I hear from some anti-tax advocates and believe they belong in the anarchy corner. Unfortunately our good friends in liberal media try and tar conservatives and libertarians with the same brush. It’s like me going behind the microphone and equating all Democrats with Marxists. Although following Election Day I think the wailing from Democrats is evidence of a radical leftward drift. Some fear their revolution is off the tracks. God bless them for their political and economic illiteracy even if they don’t believe in the Almighty.

While I can harp about Democrats through eternity lately some right-of-center Idahoans have me scratching my head. A few weeks ago Gov. Otter presented the Transportation Department with an award for work well done. One of my co-workers posted the story on the Web. Within a day a critic was blustering nobody in the department needed an award. The commenter’s reasoning was the road work this past summer on the Interstate near Burley. I guess roads magically heal themselves? From what I’ve witnessed we have some serious weather extremes and even in climates where it’s warm throughout the four seasons there’s a need for road maintenance. From time to time I’ll read about some old Roman roads in Europe still being functional after being completed 2,000 years ago. For donkey cart use and driving sheep to market I’m sure these paths still function. The difference is the old Roman highways aren’t filled with tractors pulling double or triple trailers. Roman Legions rarely exceeded modern speed limits and aside from an aqueduct or two there weren’t many bridges spanning canyons the size we see in Idaho.

Nobody in Idaho government is lying when he or she claims maintenance is critical and woefully behind schedule. Unless you believe the governor can conjure up asphalt through alchemy then the state needs to purchase the materials and pay repair crews with tax money. Some opponents to his proposals have constructed political careers by saying, “No!” But the critical need for decent roads isn’t going to be solved by wishes, Samantha Stephens or Superman acting as a girder at a weak spot.

The gas tax increase well over a year ago we’re told doesn’t provide nearly enough for all the critical projects. With the state projecting a $139 million surplus at the end of the fiscal year the amount coupled with the gas tax will solve the problem. For 12 months. Last week I did an unofficial survey on Facebook. A handful of people replied when I asked what should be done with the surplus. Most were facetious (I enjoy the jokes) but at least one person suggested the money could fill potholes. Now we’re going the right direction. Limited constitutional government doesn’t have many roles but the founders of our nation and most states believed government could and should promote commerce. To start, try good roads. You can’t get milk to the dairy plant efficiently by pulling it along a muddy cowpath in a small utility trailer. Good roads also get others to and from work, the market and school.

Long ago a fellow telephoned me at a radio show and explained he didn’t believe he needed to pay any taxes. The anarchist took offense when I told him my police and fire departments wouldn’t be coming to his house on my roads when he had an emergency. Look, if you want to live like Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge it certainly is your choice but it requires personal sacrifice. I appreciate the toughness many have when they go off the grid. The other day I watched a video about a fellow Idahoan who scavenged wood, glass and sheet metal and then with $35 he spent on nails, nuts and bolts stitched together a cabin. Or what he calls it a cabin. I wouldn’t shelter horses inside the place. During the video the guy complained about the leaves falling from his trees. When the leaves fall he can hear traffic from a distant road. The same highway I suspect he drove to the hardware store. A woman he shelters with went inside to “clean up.” Clean? Funny, she didn’t have a bulldozer.

There’s going to be a verbal brawl over the projected surplus. The Legislature’s six to eight liberals will scream the money is needed for schools. Translation: Our friends in teacher unions! The screaming of the liberals will be amplified by fellow travelers in news media. We’ll be told our kids will grow up stupid and be confined to a life of penury. Other than the videos they’ll make of their proud homes constructed from remnants dragged from a garbage dump they’ll lead primitive lives and in a few generations be enslaved by the rising Asian powers. Then we’ll all be sorry! Every special-interest group in the state will come forward with similar tales of disaster as they demand more of your money to perpetuate their own jobs.

I’m reminded of the stories I used to hear from Dr. Leon W. Transeau. The doctor and I together belonged to a political club following his retirement from government. He served two presidents as a mathematician looking for efficiencies and has the rare claim of saving American taxpayers billions of dollars. He would tell me how the begging for tax revenue works. “If you don’t give me the money 100,000 children will die,” he would say tongue-in-cheek. When he would produce evidence otherwise the refrain was slightly altered. “If you don’t give me the money 10,000 children will die!” By the time he bargained the special interests down to 1,000 kids the lobbyists usually labeled him cold-hearted but left to prepare for another budget round the following year.

Last week I was doing some reading about the Election Day post-mortem. The 10 states where Donald Trump had the most comfortable victory margins are enjoying the largest population inmigrations. The states where Hillary Clinton fared well are seeing the largest population drains. The Clinton states have high taxes. The Trump states have the lowest. Idaho has a few options going forward. Promise the surplus to every special interest like our coastal neighbors have done. Shortly the surplus becomes a deficit and taxes spike and people vote with their feet. We could also turn the money back over to the public. My calculation was every man, woman and child in the state would see a check for 80 dollars. I can burn through 80 bucks in quick order and I suppose it’s good for the bottom line at Costco, the mall or a good restaurant. Or this next summer I could offer a sacrifice for the future. Better roads generate the speedier movement of goods and services. I’ll speculate I could find a study showing Costco, the mall and good restaurants would see the same, if not even better, benefit. Not to mention what I would save on struts, tires and ball joints! Maybe I could take my savings and share it with my favorite charity.


Twn-column
Other view: Lessons from a dark year in Syria's history

The fall of Aleppo at the close of 2016 signals an especially depressing future for the civil war, the region, and the vast number of refugees within Syria and beyond. For all practical purposes, the end of this battle means that the Syrian dictatorship has, with Russian help, won its war for survival.

However, there is no clear path for the Assad regime to wipe out the last of the rebels. So fighting will continue, and a rump Syrian Sunni statelet will persist. And because displaced Sunnis will remain deeply wary of going home to places now controlled by the hostile regime, the long war’s refugee problem may become permanent. That’s no small matter. In scope it dwarfs the Palestinian refugee crises of 1948 or 1967.

The human rights failure in Aleppo is on par with other failures in recent decades, from Srebrenica to Rwanda. The international community had no leverage with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin as they remorselessly bombed the city, killing thousands of civilians. Worse, the tactic worked, which sends a lesson to other future rights violators that they should use whatever means necessary to achieve victory.

Yet like every such tragedy, the fall of Aleppo also has a particular meaning for the struggle in which it has taken place. Specifically, Assad’s victory shows that with air support from a great power and no compunction for collateral damage, an armed regime can displace rebels from urban space, even when the rebels have substantial civilian support.

The U.S. could have gotten Islamic State fighters out of Syrian cities using the same scorched earth techniques, had it been inclined to ignore international law and not to care about the loyalty of the bombed civilians after the conflict was over.

The difference isn’t just that Assad and Putin don’t care about being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. It’s that Assad himself doesn’t care about winning Sunni hearts and minds, now or ever.

Rather, Assad has judged that he is perfectly happy if Aleppans, like other Syrian Sunnis, never return to their homes if and when the conflict ends or is reduced.

This is the most consequential upshot of the whole Aleppo bombing campaign: Its “success” was achievable only on the assumption that Sunni Syrian refugees are never coming home. No one who suffered under this bombing is going to forgive and forget, at least not if Middle Eastern history is any guide.

By killing civilians, the Assad regime is saying it doesn’t care. Assad can tolerate a country with a much reduced population. Nearly 5 million Syrians are now abroad. That still leaves perhaps 18 million Syrians in the country, of whom 6 million are displaced internally. (Estimates of deaths and injuries run as high as a half million.) If Sunnis abroad never come back, Assad won’t miss them.

To win some international favor, Assad may eventually say that he welcomes all Syrians home. He might even offer a limited amnesty to some who rebelled against him. But who would trust such a promise? And what Sunni would choose to go back to Assad’s Syria after the atrocities that have taken place?

As for the internally displaced, those in the Sunni-controlled areas like Idlib province and the Islamic State area around Raqqa can also stay put, so far as Assad cares.

In the long run, Assad might ideally want to bring the entire country under his control. But for now, there is a substantial political advantage to be had from the presence of radical jihadis on the battlefield. It makes Assad into an international champion fighting Islamic State and al-Qaida. It justifies continued Russian support. And it keeps the jihadis out of regime-controlled territory.

That is one reason Assad can be expected to tolerate Sunni statelets like the one in Idlib province for some time into the future.

The other reason is that Assad can’t utterly defeat either the al Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra), which controls much of Idlib, or Islamic State, or even the more moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army. In major urban centers, sustained bombing can make life unbearable and troops can occupy the space when opponents are gone. But in towns or rural areas, bombing is of limited value, and holding space that has been conquered requires manpower that Assad simply does not have.

That’s a big part of why Palmyra fell back into Islamic State hands after being held by the regime for months. Assad simply didn’t have enough fighters to hold the town while pursuing his other initiatives. And Russian air power was ineffectual against light insurgent troops like those of Islamic State.

The status of Kurdish enclaves in Syria is another story. Turkey would like to see them eliminated, but right now it’s still opposed to Assad. Over time, the fate of these spaces depends on whether Turkey eventually reverts to its traditional position of colluding with its neighbors, including enemies, to keep Kurds from gaining sovereignty.

The sad but I think inescapable conclusion is that the Syrian refugee crisis has a high probability of becoming permanent — even if the war eventually ends in a de facto Assad victory. It shocks the conscience to think of almost 5 million people unable to return to their homes. But as 2016 ends, there is little prospect of that changing.


Mailbag
Letter: No justice in Dietrich locker room case

No justice in Dietrich locker room case

Talk about being stricken! The headline was explicit in that the guilty person had pleaded guilty in the Dietrich case. Then read a little further. Mr. Howard, 19 years old, who had already said he was responsible for the mistreatment of the victim, now has pleaded guilty to a felony count of “injury to a child.”Deputy Attorney General Hemmer has been quoted as saying that “this was not a racially motivated crime, but that it was more of a vulnerable-victim motivated crime and probably would have happened to anybody that was in the same kind of circumstances and mental state as the victim here.”

Good grief!

Maybe we could raise up our voices and say that this type of crime should not be committed by anyone of a sound mind! This young man, John Howard, was sent here from Texas because his behavior was unacceptable there. Are we to say that his behavior here just needs a tap on the wrist and a firm “No, No, No!” It should be written in a law book somewhere that anytime a person’s pants are taken down without his or her consent, that is a sexual act. Did the victim have the chance of a rape study? Maybe the attempt failed and the hanger was then used in anger. Yes, the hanger — what would you do if your child had suffered this savage penetration?

Well, I guess we can see the handwriting on the wall. This mental case will roam the streets and we will be looking for the next plea bargain that makes the judge’s decision on the other side of the civil suit against the school. Man, I hope they get their $10 million, plus!

Sue A. Child

Rupert