Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Budget Deal

Thank you to all who voted for the budget deal in both the House and the Senate.  Thank you too to the President for signing it into law.  Granted, it is not perfect, but I believe that  it is a minor step in the right direction and I particularly like the fact that it represents bipartisan agreement.

Now, it is on to the deficit.  After that, we have to straighten out the mess that is Obamacare.  And then, of course, we have got to get America back to work.  Hopefully, moderate voices will continue to make themselves heard and we can do the things necessary to get this country back on track.  

I no longer look to either conservatives or liberals to solve our problems.  I have lost faith in both ends of the political spectrum in this country.  I am in search of pragmatists.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Budget Negotiating Committee

Paul Ryan and Patty Murray along with 27 other senators and congressmen have commenced their meetings on the budget mess.  Their opening statements were positive and hopeful, but very real differences continue to exist between the two sides.  I am hopeful that a compromise can be achieved in these meetings, but worry that entrenched partisans on both sides of the aisle may attempt to block Congressional action prior to the next set of deadlines at the turn of the year.

If any of the players are listening, I humbly request that they do their job and reach a pragmatic solution to our financial problems.  I could care less if the solution fits either side’s ideological position.  What we need is some honest common sense applied to problems that could destroy our very way of life.  I suggest that the compromise should be some reduction in spending and entitlements matched with some increase in revenue through reform of tax loopholes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Affordable Health Care Act and President Obama

During the last four or five years, President Obama told us repeatedly that we could keep our health plan and our doctor.  He did not tell us that the Affordable Health Care Act would eliminate many of the health care plans that we like nor that the new plans would require that we go to certain specific doctors.  Word is that this inconsistency was not a misunderstanding.  The White House knew that what the President was saying was not true as much as three years ago.

Some Obama supporters are saying that the President did not know that he was telling an untruth.  I find that extremely hard to believe, but I suppose that it might possibly be true.  There are, after all, a number of other things that have gone dramatically wrong in the last few years that he has told us he did not know anything about.  He didn't know that the IRS was targeting conservatives in an effort to reduce their political effectiveness during the last election cycle.  He didn't know anything about Fast and Furious until it killed one of our own.   He didn't know that Ambassador Stevens was pleading for more security in the face of a certain al Queda attack in Benghazi.  He didn't know that the Justice Department was hasseling reporters.  Today, he tells us that he doesn't know much of anything about NSA's listening in on our telephone calls and reading our email.  And now the subject is our health.  One of two things is true here.  Either he is saying things that he knows are untrue or he is not doing his job (or both).

I completely agree that our healthcare system needs to be modernized, but I do not believe that this is the way to do it.  In fact, I am so angry that I am almost ready to start listening to Ted Cruz.  If Obama is going to destroy our lives and the future of this nation anyway, why should we just sit back and do nothing?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Government Shutdown & the Parks

As we all know, the recent government shutdown resulted in a lot of federal land being closed to the public, at least nominally.  Most of the attention in the press revolved around our National Parks, but, to some extent or another, it impacted all federal lands including those managed by the Bureau of Public Lands and the Department of Forestry.  I've lived through several of these events and I have not liked any of them for a whole host of reasons.  The most important single reason being that it indicates that the people that we elected to govern us are not doing their job. 

In this post, I want to focus on just one aspect of the shutdown problem - the good name of the folks who look after our public lands.  Some of the commentary that I have heard, this time around, includes derogatory slurs that I feel are uncalled for and reflect badly on those that initiated them.   Some political pundits believe that this Administration wanted to inflict maximum pain on the public by closing the parks.  The rationale being that if the public complained loudly enough it would help achieve their political objectives regarding the funding of the government.  That may be true or not, but it does not follow that the field staff who are merely implementing orders from Washington are somehow bad people.  I honestly do not know of any of our professional public servants who want to hurt the public.  Politicians and senior officials in Washington maybe, but not the folks in the field.  They are, after all, part of that public.

It particularly galls me to hear someone criticize our park personnel for being overly concerned about the environment.  Concern for our environment is, after all, why we hired them in the first place.  We can and should continue to have a dialogue in this country about the proper role of environmental concerns, but, in the process, let's not demean the folks charged with doing everything in their power to protect our public lands.  I argue that these folks are an extremely valuable part of our community and should be venerated by all of us, not abused by politicians with a political axe to grind.  Every time I walk our wild lands, I say a very heartfelt thank you for all of their hard work.  Some of us may not be sufficiently aware of how little wild there is left in this country.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Patty Murray & Paul Ryan Talks

Ok, so we have a few weeks of breathing room before our next crisis.  I wish Paul Ryan and Patty Murray all of the very best of good fortune in their conversations.  I honestly hope that cool heads manage to prevail and a genuine compromise is achieved in Washington that will permit the rest of us to get on with our lives.

Monday, October 14, 2013

President Obama on Benghazi

According to press reports, President Obama has, at long last, personally written to the father of Tyrone Woods, one of the two former Seals that were killed in the Benghazi Consulate attack on 9/11/12.

"On that tragic day, I directed my national security team to do everything possible to respond to the attacks against our people and facilities in Benghazi. The United States Government considered a range of options and deployed additional military capabilities, but as our military leaders have said, the military forces needed to carry out the type of operation you describe were not close enough to have made a difference. Please know that my actions would have been the same if the attack had been against my own family. The sad truth is that attacks happened so rapidly that U.S. forces could not arrive in time to prevent the loss of our brave Americans."

Assuming that this quote is accurate, as I do, it is nothing more than a reiteration of the inadequate explanation that we have received before.  The argument that there was not enough time to get help to the Americans fighting for their lives presupposes that the President knew how long that fire fight was going to last.  No one could know that.  If his children were in Benghazi, he would have made the effort and he would not have gone to bed until he knew that they were safe.  He is a good father, but a grossly incompetent president.

If we are ever to get the truth, we will need to hear from the military officers that were in the chain of command from Washington to the field.  We will need to see the orders that were written and date time stamped, particularly the presidential "do everything possible" order.  I particularly want to know why General Ham, the officer responsible for the Benghazi region, was relieved of duty during, repeat during, the attack.  The rumor is that he was told to keep his forces in place and he responded with "screw it."  When he, subsequently started taking the steps necessary to try to save our people, he was relieved of command by a junior officer.  It may not be true, but that rumor sounds very plausible and stinks to high heaven.  I wonder why it has not been clarified by the Administration.  I wonder why General Ham has not been heard from.

I believe that Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, was instructed by the President not to let the situation get out of hand and blow up into a major military event because it might adversely impact his reelection a month or so later.  I also assume that after giving that order, Barack Obama went to bed so that he would be fresh for his electioneering junket to Las Vegas the next morning.  Because he did not speak to Panetta again that night, I presume that the President got a good night's sleep while the Americans that he put into harms way were being attacked and killed.

After Stevens, Woods, Doherty and Smith were murdered, the President publicly characterized their needless sacrifice as "bumps in the road."  This callous attitude on the part of Obama toward the men and women who serve us abroad is again reflected in recent events.  The inexcusable denial of death benefits to the families of the recently fallen in Afghanistan is absolutely infuriating.  I applaud the veterans who pulled the barricades from the War Memorial and placed them at the White House.  That symbolic gesture by Americans who have put their lives on the line to protect those of us at home expresses much more than irritation over the government shutdown.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Most Republican Politicians are idiots and so are Most Democrat Politicians

The polls indicate that Americans are really fed up with Washington - all of Washington.  Certainly I am.  The things that are being said and done by our elected representatives on Capitol Hill and in the White House are, to say the very least, unbelievable.  I can actually remember when our government made decisions according to a fixed procedure, originally laid out in our founding documents.  The system was not fool proof by any means, but it worked pretty darn well for a couple of centuries and even got us through a civil war.  Today, we manage our affairs by doing absolutely nothing for long periods of time and then creating a dramatic last minute crisis in an effort to force one side or the other to back down as ignobly as possible.  The objective seems to be to gain the upper hand politically rather than to solve any particular national problem.  This political contretemps seems to be getting worse and worse, more and more irrational, and certainly more dangerous to the stability of our system of government.

The polarized nature of our society is, of course, a major part of the problem.  This country has long been divided into three groups.  Right, center and left.  The right and the left have, over time, become more radicalized, while the center has become less and less engaged.  I leave it to the scholars to determine the historic roots of all of this, but I see it as a fundamental part of the challenge that we face going forward.  I am fiscally very conservative and socially rather liberal, a difficult juggling act these days.  I am so disgusted with both political parties right now that I almost wish that we had a parliamentary system of government so that I could join some splinter group that better reflected my political views.  It wouldn't really help in finding political solutions to our problems, but it would make me feel better.  I could hide among like minded people and ignore the political views of all of the rest of the nation, knowing that those in my group were the only ones that were right about whatever subject came along.  Come to think about it - that is precisely what most of us are doing right now.

Our news media have all, long ago, chosen sides with most of it choosing to champion very liberal principals.  The much maligned talk radio and the Fox TV Channel are pretty much the lone proponents of conservative values.  All, repeat all, of the news media spin events to suit their political philosophy.  As a result, they attract those elements of the public that generally agree with that philosophy.  Another factor in encouraging like minded people to talk to like minded people is the increasingly ghettoized nature of our neighborhoods.  There are notable exceptions, but generally speaking, well-to-do people tend to vote Republican and less well off folks tend to vote Democrat.  They usually live in different parts of any given community and they rarely socialize to any great extent.  I live in California.  California has adopted a lot of laws and regulations that are inimical to many forms of business.  Many of those businesses have moved out of the state.  On balance that resulted in more conservatives leaving the state than liberals.  Many of them have moved to Texas.  California votes liberal and Texas votes conservative.  Etc, etc, etc…

While the trend lines in the right and the left are not good, what is happening in the middle is the really bad part.  More and more Americans are burying themselves in popular culture and ignoring the fundamental challenges that are facing our nation.  As a people, we have always been more interested in our private lives than we were in what was happening in Washington, let alone outside the borders of our country, but things have gotten worse in recent years.  I suggest that the major reason for this is the increased complexity of the issues that swirl around us here at home and in the global economy.  Things have gotten so complex that it takes full time study to understand any one of the various components that interrelate to make up the modern world and the few experts who actually do understand one or another of these components are usually very busy.  None of our politicians have proven very able at explaining the various challenges in such a way that Joe Citizen can understand them.  I doubt that very many of the politicians really understand the issues themselves.  The result is that half-truths prevail and are used to spin competing political objectives.  Joe Citizen can, of course, see through this and throws up his hands in disgust and returns to Facebook.

What do we do about it?  Our system of government depends on an enlightened public.  We don't have to all be smart about all subjects, but most of us had better be alert enough to see important trend lines or we will follow down the Greek path to financial collapse.  I argue that we have been following the liberal path long enough to have successfully addressed some of the social issues that have plagued this country for a very long time.  We are not, by any means, done remedying any of them, but we have made great progress, particularly in recent decades.  The downside of all of this is that we have racked up some pretty spectacular debt along the way, and the downturn in the world economic picture has not helped either.  We risk everything that we have fought so hard to achieve if we do not face up to the economic reality that is staring us in the face.  I humbly suggest that the ship of state needs a minor course correction and we have to nudge our government to the right for a few years.  I admit that at this precise moment it is hard for me to envision giving my support to the Republican idiots that are prancing around this country yelling at the tops of their lungs, but we must, repeat must, correct our economic course and I see no hope that the Democratic idiots that we have in power right now will do that.