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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Friday, December 31, 2010

Books versus the iPad

We own an iPad and are beginning to use it to read e-books and e-magazines.  We grew up loving traditional paper books and magazines and are having something of a hard time adjusting to the new forms of these traditional elements in our lives.  Our home has hundreds of books in it and we have already given a like number away.  I have absolutely no idea how many magazines have passed through our lives, but the number has to be astronomical.  We really like our local bookstore and the people who own it and feel disloyal when we buy an e-book online. 

On the other side of the equation there is convenience, cost effectiveness, and the wow factor.  The ability to meld sound and video in a book or magazine is a giant step forward in the publishing world.  Reading on what is basically a computer facilitates note taking, finding passages and words, looking up the definition of strange terms, checking sources, and a whole host of other things.  The convenience of finding and obtaining a title to read is astounding when you have the iTunes and Amazon bookstores a click away.  And then there is the very real, if mundane, consideration of cost - e-books are less expensive.  On a trip carrying one slim iPad instead of an armful of heavy books is also relevant.

Some folks are still fighting the issue and understandably the publishing world is in turmoil, but as I see it the game has changed in a very fundamental way.  Going forward, e-books and video will play an increasingly large part in our day-to-day lives and traditional books and movies will retreat further into the realm of specialty items.  Streaming Netflix and uTube have already replaced the neighborhood movie palace and it is only a matter of time before somebody starts trying to find a business model that will support an online public library of e-books that can be borrowed.  The implications for education are mind boggling.

I feel sorry for the folks who are in the business of selling paper books and I bemoan the passing of an important icon, but I fear that I have passed the point of no return.  Recognizing it's lack of intellectual panache, I am now a dedicated iPad aficionado.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Missile Defense is Expensive

Allegedly, every single living Secretary of State has indicated that the new Start Treaty with Russia is a good document that will improve relations with Russia, will further reduce and verify the nuclear stockpile in both countries, and will not inhibit our country from defending itself.  The sitting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has echoed that opinion.  President Obama appears to be convinced of it as well.  I certainly hope that they are correct and the few Republican Senators that are voicing doubts are wrong, but I worry a bit.  Senator Graham has indicated that there may be differing Russian and American interpretations of the preamble to the treaty and that this somehow impacts our ability to develop a missile shield for ourselves and for Europe.  I respect the good senator, but I hope that he is wrong.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the cost and viability of missile defense in general, the feasibility of building a missile shield for this country, and what the diplomats pompously call the "European Phased Adaptive Approach" (which I understand is the colloquial name for the European missile defense system).  I, of course, know nothing about missile technology, but it appears to me that developing an effective defense against missiles for ourselves and our friends is unfortunately a necessity in today's world.  North Korea already has both nuclear weapons and missiles that are good enough to deliver those weapons throughout much of East Asia.  Iran has missiles that can reach friends of ours in Europe and the Middle East and is well on their way to developing the capability to build nuclear weapons.  Venezuela is planning to install missiles capable of reaching the United States with warheads that can disrupt our electric grid.  All of this is over and above China and Russia's capabilities.

This is a dangerous world.  We may have escaped the horrors implicit in the Cold War, but we continue to face hostility that can hurt us in ways that are unacceptable.  Effective missile defense is a complicated subject, expensive as all get out, and an elusive objective as the capabilities of our potential enemies change and improve.  I advocate reducing the cost of government, eliminating waste, and improving efficiency.  The development of an effective missile shield should not be exempt from this process, but in the end all of the resources necessary to accomplishing our objectives in this regard must be made available to the program.  Unfortunately, this has to be an urgent priority going forward.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Education System is Good Enough

Just about everybody that I meet tells me that the education system in America is less than it should be.  Teachers bemoan the lack of resources, politicians bluster about excessive costs, and citizens worry that their children are not getting what they need to compete in the marketplace for good jobs.  In an educational system as large and complex as ours, they are probably all correct.  In a perfect world, teachers would have everything that they need, costs would be lower, and all of the nation's youth would graduate to take on good jobs and become useful members of society.  Alas, our world is not perfect and that is not happening.

I am not knowledgeable enough to offer any useful solutions to the education conundrum, but I don't think that our most important problem is actually in the classroom.  With all of its problems I think that our educational system is good enough - not perfect surely, but good enough.  For me, the more important challenge facing us is the student's level of motivation to learn.  My own personal experience with education has helped shape this opinion.  I was a lackluster high school student and a failed college student in my first two years of study.  The Korean War intervened, and on my return to the States, I decided that I needed some credentials to prove that I was educated.  I returned to college, worked very hard, made excellent grades, and obtained my bachelors and masters degrees.  My IQ had not improved in Korea, but my motivation had changed - I wanted that credential that proclaimed that I was educated.

Note that I am not saying that I wanted knowledge.  I wanted a piece of paper and I obtained it.  In the process, I actually learned some rather arcane facts that I found extremely interesting, but of virtually no relevance in my subsequent career.  On reflection, the most important single thing that I got from college was intensive exercise in critical thinking.  I read voraciously and used the information from my reading to defend intellectual positions in the classroom.  The facts have long ago been forgotten, intellectual positions held were transitory, but the process of thinking critically was transformative even though I did not realize it at the time.  I also learned that if I read more books than the other guy I could usually win the argument.  Note here again, I am not saying that reading more books made me more intelligent, only that it usually gave me the ammunition necessary to win the debate.

I have also come to realize that education in the most important sense of the term does not stop with graduation from any institution of learning.  Life itself is an education, and so is the technical training necessary to accomplish virtually any task in a modern society.  How we approach these aspects of education is also dependent on our motivation to learn and stretch and grow as individuals.  I continually take inspiration from the many immigrants that have made important contributions to the success of America and I am struck by the fact that many of them had no formal education to speak of at all.

Education is available, in fact, it is plentiful in this country.  Some of it is trash, but that is relatively easy to sort out.  The hard question is whether or not we really want to educate ourselves.  Note that I am not just talking about our youth.  The question is just as valid for adults.  Even with the current state of this economy, opportunity is everywhere if we are imaginative enough to discover it and diligent enough to exploit it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Self-Reliance and Poverty

Many of the problems facing America are the product, at least in part, of the erosion of self-reliance.  Those that favor welfare policies claim that the poor are discriminated against in this country.  Unfortunately, many poor people agree with them and act as though it were true. I will agree that poverty is the result of a lot of complex inter-related problems, but I do not believe that economic discrimination is one of them.  Unfortunately, what I believe is irrelevant.  What poor people believe is critically relevant and it saps their ability to deal effectively with the challenges that face them.

I am not saying that discrimination is not a problem facing the poor.  Many poor people are members of one or another racial minority.  Racial discrimination remains a nasty problem facing anyone who wants to get ahead, but there are plenty of examples of individuals that have successfully dealt with that family of issues.  One thing that characterizes all of them is that they are self-reliant.  I suggest that all human beings have the urge to be self-reliant.  I believe that it is hard wired into us, but, unfortunately, can be overcome by our environment.  President Obama's 2008 campaign slogan "Yes, we can" taped into this primal urge.  Tragically, the policies that he has adopted since gaining office have worked to diminish self-reliance - not foster it.

By it's very nature, Government is the wrong tool to use to foster self-reliance and those that look to Washington D.C. to solve the problem of poverty are deluded.  Virtually all (maybe all) government poverty programs encourage the dole and thus discourage personal responsibility.  The exceptions (if there are any) are in the field of vocational training and re-training, small business loans, and general education.  Unfortunately, most of the individuals leading most of these programs are themselves not paragons of self-reliance.

If I am right, we are dealing with a very elusive quality - this self-reliance thing - and few of us really know how to stimulate it effectively in masses of human beings.  Some of us have been successful in working one on one with another individual or small group of individuals, but every time we try to extend the lessons learned to a larger group we begin to have serious problems.  This is understandable because self-reliance requires self-confidence and truly self-confident people are rarely content to remain in the pack.  An important exception appears to be the United States military, particularly when tempered by active hostilities.  Many men and women of all skin colors come back from war with a strong feeling of self-reliance.  Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" was a very self-reliant group of people who made much of themselves and America following World War II. 

Sports is another place where we see self-reliance fostered successfully and many people "find themselves" on the playing field.  What makes war and sports different from the liberal arts classroom in stimulating self-reliance?  I suggest that the concept of winning is an important element in the equation.  The drill sergeant and the football coach both teach the recruit how to win.  Assuming that I am correct, this is another problem facing us in today's culture.  The concept of winning is very much under attack in modern America and our children are actively being taught that it may be nice, but it is not important to win.  Laudable as this might be in theory, it is not helpful in creating an individual who can look out for himself or herself in the real world.

Internationally, we are doing much the same thing.  Our foreign policy reflects the tenor of our approach to domestic issues.  We are actively pursuing the fight against radical Islamic terrorists, but are obviously doing it reluctantly and we are telling both our friends and our enemies exactly that.  Those that think this way hope that we can eventually work things out on the international front so that we can find a way to live with our enemies rather than defeating them.  I would like to believe that they are correct, but I do not.  It is exactly the kind of thinking that led to World War II.  On the domestic front, it is the kind of thinking that is bringing the problems of Southern Europe to Main Street America.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bipartisan Solutions are Critical

Every once in a while I hear claims that there are conservatives who do not want the economy to improve because it will ensure the reelection of President Obama.  I doubt that there are such people, but if there are, those folks are idiots.  I do believe that Obama's electoral prospects improve as he moves to the center, and I definitely do not want him reelected, but the economic recovery of this country is far more important than the particular individual that sits in the oval office.  Besides, I can not believe that America will forget what we have seen these past two years.

Mr. Obama is very liberal at best and perhaps even a crypto-Socialist.  We can not see into his mind and do not know his ultimate objectives, but his actions during the first two years of his presidency are enough for me to know that he must be voted out of office as soon as possible - no matter what he does tactically to improve his chances for reelection in 2012.  The pundits are currently making a big thing about his "move to the center" in the tax compromise, but I do not see it as being anything other than something that was forced on him by the mid-term election.  Besides he managed to extract quite a bit of additional spending in return for what he had to do with regard to taxes.

Going forward, conservative members of Congress must remain focused on national issues and let the presidential election be decided by the people.  This electorate is sophisticated enough to see through political posturing.  The mid-term election clearly revealed the mood of the people.  If conservatives maintain their focus and offer decent candidates we will regain the presidency and may very well gain control of the Senate in two years.  If that does not happen it will be our fault.

The biggest fear that I have is that we will overplay our hand and commit the same blunders that are currently plaguing the liberals.  The election of 2008 gave the Democrats control of both houses and the presidency and the liberal block led by Pelosi and Reid decided to govern without compromise.  The Democratic Party paid the price in 2010.  Unfortunately, most of the Democratic congressional defeats were in moderate electoral districts.  This means that the more moderate Democratic members of Congress are fewer in number and diminish the opportunities for intelligent compromise.

I continue to believe that the nation wants intelligent bipartisan solutions to our problems that a clear majority of our citizens can embrace - not pure conservative or liberal alternatives.  Please note that "bipartisan" does not mean bowing to irrational policies as espoused by Pelosi and company.  We have a good prospect for conservatives adopting an intelligent bipartisan approach in the House of Representatives with Speaker John Boehner.  I hope that he will take the time to sit down with Heath Shuler and see how much similarity of view there is between the Blue Dog Democrats and the Republicans.  I suggest that there is a great deal of common ground and offer the vote count in the very recent defeat of the Omnibus Spending Bill as an example.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bipartisan Tax Policy

The Senate did the right thing when it forced Harry Reid to pull his Omnibus Spending Bill yesterday because he did not have enough votes to pass it.  I am not entirely sure exactly who was willing to vote for it and who opposed it, but I strongly suspect that Blue Dog Democrats saved the nation's bacon on this one.  Amazingly, there are rumored to have been a few Republican Senators that intended to vote for the bill.  While I deplore their lack of fiscal responsibility, I heartily applaud the Blue Dog support for holding the fiscal line here.  This is an extraordinarily important example of the kind of bipartisan effort that we need going forward.

It looks like we got bipartisan action again with the passage of the tax legislation last night by the House of Representatives, even though this time there was hefty price tag associated with it.  139 Democrats and 136 Republicans voted for the bill, the most important provisions of which held tax rates steady for two years and provided an extension of unemployment benefits for thirteen months.  Many Democrats rebelled at providing continued tax relief to wealthy Americans and many Republicans rebelled at not offsetting the cost of unemployment benefits by making cuts in existing programs.  One of the assumptions underlying this legislation is that the economy will recover in 2011, thus thirteen months of unemployment benefits will be enough to see the jobless through the rest of the recession.  Another assumption is that the argument over tax policy will be postponed until the 2012 presidential election.

I certainly hope that the first assumption is correct, but believe that the second may be fallacious.  Moving into the new year, there will be increased attention on the tax code as we attempt to get the economy going again.  There is absolutely no question, but that the tax code is overly complicated and full of inconsistencies.  It is badly in need of revision and simplification.  Somebody recently suggested that we pass a law that all members of Congress be required by law to personally fill out their own tax return without the assistance of a tax expert.  That legislation would probably be difficult to get through Congress, but a tax code that would be simple enough for any individual to fill out without the help of a tax expert is an excellent objective.  As we debate this issue, we will inevitably be drawn into the argument as to how much to tax which segments of society.  It is a legitimate debate that requires strong bipartisan involvement to resolve intelligently.

PS:  I applaud the bipartisan approach to the tax legislation even though I am one of the conservatives that heartily dislike the adverse impact of extending  unemployment benefits without offset.  There is no question in my mind - that aspect of this legislation is a serious mistake.  At the same time, I understand that the only way that we are going to get this country back on the right track is to approach our problems in a bipartisan manner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Incredible Omnibus Spending Bill

Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Reid failed to submit the various pieces of legislation necessary to create a budget and fund the government during the regular session of Congress as required by law and are now trying to do it during the Lame Duck session of Congress.  Given the mood of the country and the magnitude of the funds that they are requesting it is clear that they were afraid to do it before the mid-term elections and are now trying to ram it through Congress in the same way that they did Obama Care.  As voters we should not forget these tactics no matter the outcome of the vote in this instance.  At a time when our economy is in an awful state these people are attempting to pass a $1.1 trillion dollar omnibus bill on top of the huge pork laden tax legislation that is currently before Congress without even giving anyone time to read it.  In both instances Pelosi and Reid are using the same despicable tactics that they have used successfully in passing earlier spending bills.  Equally despicable is President Obama's facilitation of this strategy.

Buried in the 2,000 page omnibus spending bill are over 6,000 earmarks totaling more than $8 billion dollars - most put there by Democrats but some put there by Republicans.  When challenged in the light of the recent Republican pledge to stop using earmarks, it is pointed out that these were inserted before the pledge was made.  At this point in time, I find this kind of rationalization to be unacceptable, but that detracts from the principal issue at stake here.  How can we continue to pass legislation that no one single person has ever read?  The foot and a half thick omnibus bill was cobbled together by members of committees each pursuing their own individual objectives with no one looking at the entire package to see if it made sense for the nation.  That is just plain wrong.  Very wrong.  It raises the question as to who these people think that they are and why they think that they can force their will on a public that has rejected them at the polls.

Hopefully Congress will do the sensible thing and defeat the omnibus bill, pass a continuing resolution to fund the government until next year when the new Congress can hopefully restore a modicum of sanity to our legislative process.  Unfortunately, it is not clear whether this will happen or not.  The vote count is very close.  I expect the liberal Democrats to continue to blindly support their leadership, but, incredibly,  there are rumors circulating that a few Republicans may vote for the omnibus bill.  If that happens I may have to re-access a third party candidate in 2012.  Actually, I probably won't really go that far, but at the very least I will join those that support a Tea Party purge of the establishment Republican organization.  Anybody that supports this legislation and is willing to pass it without reading it is not worthy of being in our government.  And any Republican leader that does not make that crystal clear to his caucus is not worthy of continuing as a party leader.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cancun and Kyoto

The experts can argue all they want about whether or not the climate is changing, but it looks to me like the polar ice cap is retreating, the glaciers are melting at a faster rate than they did when my father went with Admiral Bird to the arctic circle, and the winter snow pack in the mountains that feeds the rivers where I live is not as deep as it used to be.  I do not conclude from these observations that this is necessarily the result of anything that we humans are doing or not doing, but I don't see how we are helping much.  I am all for conservation of resources, developing alternative power sources, taking the bus more, and using less aerosol in our cosmetic products.  My problem is that I don't want to handicap our economy while other countries are using dirty production processes to compete with us in the global marketplace.  It won't do us a whole lot of good to clean up our act, shrink our economy, and go broke in the process - particularly if China, India, Russia and the rest of the developing countries expand their economies by continuing to burn bad coal.

The recent discovery that some over zealous scientists lied about their claims that the globe is warming because of human activities, provided ammunition to those who claim that the man-made global warming argument is all a bunch of nonsense.  The skeptics point out that if we did everything that we were being told to do to deal with climate change it would not make enough difference to change things one little bit.  Some think that it is just a normal part of the climatic cycle that has been going on since the big bang and there is nothing that mere mortals can do to alter it.  (I suppose that means that we are due for another ice age as well - cheery thought.)  Please note that all of this scientific stuff is not just for scientists.  We are engaged in serious international negotiations about this stuff and the proposed domestic cap and trade legislation would mandate changes to our economy that would be very expensive and very far reaching.  This kind of legislative activity makes me extremely nervous.  It might possibly be necessary, but I certainly want to know more about it before we make it law.  Until it is more thoroughly explained to the public I hope that it will be debated fully and not rammed through a partisan congress a la Obama Care.

While we are arguing about who or what is at fault for the shrinking polar ice cap, I suggest that we not let it deter us from trying to find alternative sources to power our economy.  Fossil fuels are a limited resource.  Eventually mankind is going to run out of dead dinosaurs and prehistoric forests.  The folks who lead the market in the new power source technologies are going to be king of the hill.  It doesn't have to be because we think that coal is bad or gasoline is political.  It doesn't even have to be because we think that it will save the planet.  We ought to just do it because it is smart economics 101.  There is a slogan that I like a lot:  "What if we invented a better world and we didn't have to?"  I can answer the question - we would help the entire world live a more productive life and our economy would benefit enormously.  If we don't get serious about this stuff we will wake up very soon, repeat very soon, to a China, or an India, or a Germany, or someone else that has taken the economic lead away from us.   Energy is the future.  We either lead or follow.  Like the sled dogs always say, the view is better if you are in front.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Income Redistribution

President Obama told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to "spread the wealth around."  Liberal Democrats are currently making the argument that the wealthiest people in America are too wealthy.  Staunch conservatives are defending the people's right to enjoy the fruits of their labor and resisting liberal attempts to adopt policies that would redistribute wealth.  I am somewhat conflicted in all of this.  I certainly agree that some people in this country are insanely wealthy while others are tragically poor.  Personally, I do not need vast riches to be happy and I am very concerned about those  Americans that are living below the poverty line.  So far so good - I am concerned about the income gap that exists in this country.  My problem is that I do not believe that government redistribution of wealth is a viable solution - let alone a good one.  In fact, I think that it leads to a  series of very serious problems in society.

Many pundits are comparing today's economic troubles to the Great Depression of the 1930s and are beginning to call this the Great Recession.  Catchy rhetoric.  The United States of America is obviously a much different country than it was during the Great Depression.  One critical difference is the nature, attitudes and expectations of the populace.  In the 1930s more of our people earned their livelihood through physical labor and were willing to get their hands dirty to support themselves.  Today, many of the folks who are out of work are white collar workers that are reluctant to accept menial labor positions to support themselves.  Millions of illegal laborers put lie to the claim that there are no jobs available in America.  A more accurate statement would be that there are no jobs available that we want.  No jobs available that will support the lifestyle that we are used to enjoying.

The short term political answer that has traditionally been given to this situation has been unemployment insurance.  I support short term unemployment insurance, but fear that we are carrying it too far.  I fear that we are creating a situation which encourages folks to not seek employment vigorously.  If unemployment insurance will pay more or almost as much for me to do nothing why take a job that pays less and requires me to actually get up in the morning?  I don't know how valid it is, but one study found that people find jobs during the last month of their eligibility for free money from the government.  As I say, I do not know the validity of this study, but I confess that I believe it's conclusion and it's implications.  I believe that we are no longer the nation that defeated Germany and are more comparable to the countries of southern Europe than we would like to believe.

If we continue on our present path and flirt with the ideas suggested by our liberal wing we will confirm what the world is beginning to conclude.  The United States of America is a declining power.  I for one do not want to go down that path any further than we have already.  I favor policies that reinforce and reward self-reliance, industriousness, hard work, motherhood, and apple pie.  I want to give everyone the right to succeed, but I don't want to give other people's money to those that refuse to find work.  I favor worker re-education, small business loans, and any other valid program that actually helps folks improve their lives, but not the simple, long term dole for being out of work.  I don't mind a progressive tax as long as it does not go too far and am all for cutting out tax exemptions as long as the basic rate is reduced accordingly.  I do not favor income redistribution and believe that is one more important reason to vote against Barack Obama in 2012.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Assange and the Nobel Peace Prize

An unnamed source in the Russian President's office has suggested that Julian Assange should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  (Fascinating when one considers what the Russians would do to one of their own who leaked classified documents.)  Allegedly, tens of thousands of Time Magazine readers have suggested that Time select Assange as Man of the Year.  Reportedly, thousands of people are knowingly downloading malwear to their personal computers so that they can participate in denial of service attacks against establishment critics of Wikileaks.  (Unbelievably reckless to give control of one's computer to unknown entities to do with it whatever they wish.)

There is a significant amount of support for Assange and Wikileaks and I suggest that the domestic element of this support is indicative of a great deal of suspicion of our government.  (The Russian leadership is miffed at being compared to the Mafia and are just engaging in diplomatic gamesmanship.  Their intelligence apparatus is delighted with the leaks.)  Unfortunately, this suspicion of government by American citizens is, to some degree warranted.  Governments around the world have done terrible things and our own government was formed in part in reaction to the actions of the British government.  Our founding fathers distrusted government and gave us a system full of checks and balances.  Many of them wrote treatises on the subject with Jefferson talking about revolt if government went awry. 

To the extent that the Wikileaks controversy is about suspicion of government and freedom of information, I am not overly concerned.  In fact, I think that suspicion is healthy and freedom of information is necessary for our system to survive.  In the last analysis governments are just a group of people.  People can be venal and people can be good.  It is the duty of "we the people" to watch those that lead us and hold them accountable.  Disgusting as it is, the Wikileaks imbroglio proves once again that not everything our government does is straightforward, intelligent, moral, and nonfattening.  The diplomatic side of the leaks is embarrassing and mildly harmful, but will not destroy our nation.  Nobody really learned anything new about anything although some things that were previously suspected were confirmed.

The military leaks are a different story and we should not forget that.  Here the actions of Assange and his cohorts have risked human lives for no real gain.  That is inexcusable in my mind and, as I read common law, makes Assange my country's enemy.  The American youngster that leaked the documents to Assange is probably wet behind the ears, but none the less is a traitor.  Those that claim the protection of freedom of information and disgust with war are ignoring an even more important value - that of human life.  I have no problem with leaking information that proves a point, but not if it unnecessarily risks the lives of people who were trying to help my country.  That is not only stupid - it is also immoral.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Operation Payback"

"We will fire at anything or anyone that tries to censor 
WikiLeaks, including multibillion-dollar companies 
such as PayPal," a statement circulating online, apparently 
from Operation Payback, said.  "Twitter, you're next for 
censoring #WikiLeaks discussion. The major 
shitstorm has begun," it added.

This kind of thing is why I do not like Denial of Service attacks.  They are akin to a shouting match between antagonists.  If you do not like what the other guy is saying just raise your voice and degrade your vocabulary until you drown out the conversation.  The fellow with the loudest bull horn and the coarsest message wins - while we all suffer.

I am all for legal action against those that undertake these attacks, but given the international nature of the internet community that is not going to resolve the issue any time soon.  Without agreeing with the perpetrators of the latest attacks against those that have censored Wikileaks, I am most critical of the first group of attackers.  After all they started this ugly contest.  It pains me to say this because I don't like Wikileaks and believe that Assange should go to jail for the rest of his life (see previous posts).

My basic argument is that it does no good to attack Wikileaks' web site.  The damage is done and shutting it down does virtually nothing to redress the problem that has been created by the leaked documents.

I would also point out to the supporters of Assange and his organization that this round of denial of service attacks on mainstream organizations does little to convince those of us in the middle of this debate that they are on the side of right and justice.  Their basic argument is for freedom of information.  Denial of Service attacks do not appear to be consistent with that position.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Internet is not the Problem

The internet is an interesting place, or thing or concept, or something as yet undefined.  I wish that I knew more about it, but I don't really like it enough to spend the time to learn about all of its dots and dashes.  That is not a good situation and I am ashamed of my slothfulness.  This thing is obviously growing in importance and is already a major factor in our lives.  It is a source of information, an educational vehicle, a place to do business, a communication device, an entertainment center, a navigation tool, an attack on morality, and a weapon.  It reaches around the world and can be accessed in areas that used to be considered remote.  Sometimes it is praised and sometimes vilified.  A debate rages as to whether and how it should be controlled.

The Wikileaks scandal is currently attracting the most attention, but in the not too distant past, identify theft was the subject, and before that the dot com bubble, and before that children's access to porn and instructions for the construction of explosive devices.  There is a story currently circulating that someone may have used it to introduce a very sophisticated worm into Iranian computers that is disrupting that country's nuclear program.  Email is used to further Al Quida's agenda.  Etc, etc, etc.  There are also all of the claims regarding it's usefulness and there is no question but that the developed world has embraced it fully.  We use it to do our banking, to communicate, to educate, to buy and sell, to do just about everything.  Many of our younger citizens are so absorbed in it that they no longer function well in social situations where they have to relate to other human beings.

The internet has advantages and disadvantages, but it is not in and of itself either bad or good.  People who use it provide that element of the equation.  The fact that Assange used the internet to put people in danger does not make the internet the villain.  Assange is the bad actor.  We should introduce legislation that makes it illegal to do certain things on the internet, but we should not regulate the internet any more than absolutely necessary to protect it's operational effectiveness.  Even in the face of the Wikileaks example I remain a proponent of freedom of information.  I understand the denial of service attack on Wikileaks, but I do not condone it.  I argue for the arrest and trial of Assange and do not understand our reticence to implement it.  The internet was no more the perpetrator than the computer that was used to input the classified documents or the electric current that powered it or the desk that it sat on.

Having said that, I believe that the internet is a significant danger to society as we know it now.  As more and more people live their lives in the virtual world they simultaneously disengage from the real world.  This makes them less productive members of society.  It also tends to effect their view of society at large and, generally speaking, this moves them away from traditional values.  Too many of our most creative young people are devoting their attention to activities such as building "apps" for the iPhone community rather than figuring out how to do the more mundane things that build a strong nation.  We lead the world in internet based gaming, but China makes our iPads, Japan makes our cars, South America manufactures our clothing, and India staffs our computer tech centers.  We even import illegal Mexicans to wash our dishes, plow our fields, and clean our floors.  Here again it is not the internet that is the problem - that distinction belongs to us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry & Nancy Still Control Congress

Harry Reed and Nancy Pelosi have an agenda for the lame duck session of Congress.  That agenda includes the new START Treaty, the DREAM Act, and the Defense Authorization Bill (containing a potential repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy).  It appears that they do not want to address any other subjects until they get through with these.  Even if Congress does not go home for Christmas and New Years, there is not enough time to fully debate any one of these bills.  More importantly, the Reed-Pelosi agenda does not appear to include funding the government or deciding tax policy for 2011 and beyond.  Mitch McConnell has announced that the Republican caucus has decided to block any legislation put before Congress until the government is funded and the tax issue is voted upon.

Even though I advocate that conservative leaders take a bipartisan approach to solving our nation's problems, I applaud  McConnell's position and assume that John Boehner will follow a complimentary strategy in the House. The Reed-Pelosi agenda is in and of itself a failure to approach our nation's problems in a responsible, let alone bipartisan manner.  All of the bills that they want to consider are important and deserve full debate so that decisions can be made that have the full support of the nation. In addition, the agenda of legislation proposed is not as urgent as the funding of the government nor the consideration of tax policy.  The government runs out of money at the end of this week and everyone's taxes go up at the end of the month.  The fact that the President has not provided any leadership in these matters indicates that he is in support of the Reed-Pelosi agenda.  Disgusting.

Harry Reed just won reelection, so Nevada will have him in the Senate for six more years.  Nancy Pelosi's constituency is San Francisco, one of the most liberal regions in the country.  She is assured reelection as long as she chooses to seek office.  Neither of these two leaders feel threatened by the public outrage over what the Obama administration is doing to our country.  The recent mid-term elections saw the defeat of many centrist Democrats by constituents that were opposed to their voting record and the reelection of many liberal Democrats by constituents who were delighted with their actions.  Presumably the centrist Democrats that are on their way out have little incentive to abandon their liberal bent and the liberal Democrats that are secure for another term can be expected to fully back their liberal leadership.  This is a bad situation.

Assuming gridlock on the issues, we can assume that all sides will start playing the blame game with the prize being the White House in 2012.  We are acting like children while playing with adult stuff.  UGH!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks Again

"The server at wikileaks.org is taking too long to respond."

I am usually disdainful of Denial of Service Attacks on web sites, but the ongoing attack on the Wikileaks.org web site is slightly different.  In this case, I continue to believe that it is wrong, but at least I understand it's motivation and am sympathetic with it's objectives.  Unfortunately, the attack will not do much real good because Mr. Assange has already provided several news organizations with the next tranche of classified documents to be released.  We are told by the United States Department of State that these files will probably be damaging to our national security and will expose more people to retribution from evil people for their cooperation with our country.  I believe those warnings and continue to believe that Mr. Assange deserves incarceration for the remainder of his life as do those that have cooperated with him in purloining these documents.  He is an enemy of the United States and any Americans that have cooperated with him are traitors to our country.

Having said that, I would like to comment on diplomatic and military communications within our government.  I feel qualified in this regard because of decades of service within the Department of State.  I have read and have written a very large number of classified documents.  During my years of service, I found the flow of information contained in those files to be extremely impressive, but I also found much of it to be over classified and poorly thought through.  Many of the documents that I read were badly reasoned and over simplified.  Another problem with reading individual documents isolated from the main flow of information is that at least some statements contained in them will appear to be unfounded.  It is analogous to taking a line of text out of a speech and criticizing it without regard to the context within which it was made.  My suspicion is that one of the reasons that our government fears the release of these documents is that they will open us up to a number of criticisms beyond that of national security.

The United States government is a huge organization with all kinds of internal rivalries both personal and organizational.  These rivalries are well represented in the flow of documents generated within the various departments of government.  They infect the drafting process and not infrequently color the author's analysis of friendly governments.  An element of our government has close relations with an element of a foreign government which in turn is involved in the rivalries within that foreign government.  This situation can and does impact the documents created on all sides.  Those that are involved in the process understand the situation and make the necessary allowances that an outsider can not appreciate.  This makes reading individual reports by the public at large a difficult process at best.  Unfortunately, the situation is different for intelligence operatives.  The Wikileaks documents are an unbelievably rich gold mine for all foreign intelligence operations - both friend and foe of the United States.

The only good thing that will come out of this is that at the end of the day our enemies will not know any more about what we are going to do than we do.  Our national security will be bruised but not permanently damaged.

The really bad thing that will happen is that a lot of people who have been trying to help us will be hurt very badly if not killed outright.  That is why Mr. Assange and all who assisted him should be put in a poorly ventilated jail for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Waiver Please

It is my understanding that the Department of Human Services is in the process of issuing waivers to 111 selected businesses and labor organizations that permit them to avoid the regulations in the new health legislation, known popularly as Obama Care.  The fact that most or all of these organizations are controlled by Democrats is also interesting given that the leadership of many or all of these organizations supported the passage of this legislation against the wishes of the American people.  On the face of it, this appears to be unbelievably stinky politics as well as extremely bad policy.  I presume that it is legal as defined by some lawyer in Washington, but I do not find it acceptable under any definition of the word.  I may have been an angry voter earlier this month, but now I am furious.

I suppose that I will have to just get over it and deal with the political reality that my present government is controlled by men and women who share a misguided view of how things should work in this country.  Maybe I should take solace in the fact that it is another admission by the administration that this legislation just does not work.  Maybe we all ought to just apply for a waiver and be done with it.  In fact, that is exactly what I want to do.  Let's just waive the entire Obama Health Care initiative.  I think that bipartisan initiatives like that being contemplated by Senators Scott Brown and Ron Wyden to modify the legislation so that states have more flexibility is a good start given the political reality in Washington, but I hope that we can go much further than that as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Earmarks may be Dead

Please pay attention to what is going on right now with regard to earmarks.  Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority leader has just caved on this issue and President Obama has issued a statement thanking him for joining with his administration in opposing the practice.  In a few months, if we are not careful, we will begin to believe that Mr. Obama was responsible for killing earmarks.  We will forget that although he pledged to do so while on the campaign trail, he failed miserably in following through while he governed for two years and pushed major pieces of legislation through congress in part by paying off Democratic senators and representatives with earmarks.  Make no mistake about it, the American public killed earmarks with the recent midterm elections, and the enthusiasm of the new Tea Party members of Congress is enforcing this new attitude in Washington.

Earmarks have long been part of business as usual in congress and many members of both parties use the practice.  Most of the legislation that is passed this way is aimed at satisfying constituent demands and is justified by the member as being part of his responsibility in representing the people of his district or state.  The problem is that at least some of this legislation is wasteful of tax payer money.  It would be far better if all legislation was required to stand or fall on it's own merits and be fully transparent to the public at large.  As a conservative, I am really upset with Republican leaders who talk about a "temporary" halt to the practice.  This kind of talk gives credence to the charges made by the Tea Party that the Republican establishment is out of touch with the American public.  Earmarks should be eliminated permanently and proponents of the practice should be voted out of office no matter their party or position.  If that makes me a "Tea Bagger" so be it.

Eliminating earmarks is not going to resolve all of our financial difficulties, but it is a good place to start because it is very easy to do.  Conversely, if we can not solve the easy problems what are we going to do with the difficult ones?  This is a test of will -  the American public against entrenched political interests.  Although I disagree with many of his political views, I applaud Senator Tom Coburn's intention of introducing legislation in the Senate that requires a public vote on earmarks.  I presume that Speaker Boehner will ensure that the House eschews earmarks going forward.  (It is my understanding that he has never resorted to earmarks to fulfill his responsibilities to his district and he  was just elected to his tenth term of office.)

Assuming that the Republicans succeed in killing earmarks in the House, it will be interesting to see what Majority Leader Harry Reed and the Democrats do in the Senate.  Democratic senators facing reelection in 2012 are going to be reluctant to give up their ability to use the earmark process to curry favor back home.  If, however, earmarks are eliminated this might encourage them to abandon extreme political positions and move toward the center.  This in turn might, repeat might, encourage the bipartisanship that this country so badly needs.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Heath Shuler vs. Nancy Pelosi

Heath Shuler has announced that he will challenge Nancy Pelosi for the position of Minority Leader if she insists on running on Wednesday and no one else within the Democratic Party challenges her.  He also recognizes that it is a race that he will almost certainly lose.  Shuler is a leader among the Blue Dog Democrats and voted against all of the most controversial legislation rammed through congress these past few years.  From the perspective of those hoping for bipartisanship in this next congress it is "way too bad" that he does not have a chance.  He and John Boehner could probably get along just fine and we might actually be able to move forward in bipartisan fashion on a lot of important legislation - at least in the House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, the recent midterms winnowed the number of Democrats in Congress by removing more conservatives than liberals.  Ms. Pelosi has announced that she intends to continue the fight to protect the legislation that she helped pass and she almost certainly has enough liberal support within the remainder of the Democratic ranks in Congress to beat down Mr. Shuler.  This, combined with the Democratic majority in the Senate, and their control of the White House, makes it unlikely that we will see true bipartisanship in the run-up to 2012.  It would not be surprising to see both sides replace bipartisan effort with political posturing, but I sincerely hope that Mr. Boehner is able to persevere in his announced effort to find bipartisan solutions to specific pieces of legislation.

Mr. Obama is a formidable politician with powerful oratorical skills.  In 2008, he was able to sell this country a vision of change that led to his being elected.  In 2010, a majority of Americans expressed the opinion that they had misunderstood what he meant by "change."  We must remember that the 2010 midterm election did not express the opinion that America liked Republicans much better than Democrats.  In fact, the polls show that Americans are just about fed up with both parties and politics as usual.  America wants solutions to our problems, not rhetoric.  If we are to put our national house in order we must find solutions that most of us can support.  The majority of those solutions are going to be found in the middle of the political spectrum.  It is too bad that our primary system militates against selecting strong candidates in the middle of either party.  I guess, in the last analysis, that is a comentary on us - the voters.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Optimism is better than Pessimism

One of the more important discussions that is going on right now in America is related to tax policy.  Some believe that the wealthiest folks living in this country are not paying their fair share and they favor raising their taxes to help pay down the debt.  New York State tried to do this a few years ago and found that their revenues went down, not up.  Wealthy folks simply moved out of New York to a state that had lower taxes.  The wealthiest folks can move out of the country if they want to.  (What really tees me off in this debate is that many of the super rich liberal voices advocating higher taxes shelter their money in foreign countries.  They can advocate that Americans earning more than $250,000 should pay more because it will not affect them.  That may be legal, but it is really wrong and says a lot about these people.)

I am not wealthy and my taxes will not be affected whether taxes are raised on folks making more than $250,000 a year or not.  I want us to do everything that we can to lower the deficit, but I do not want taxes to go up on anyone right now.  I am one of those that believe that we should grow our way out of our current economic difficulties.  In the process, we must not just cap spending - we must reduce it.  At the same time we must do everything possible to encourage the private sector to get off the sidelines and restart this country's economic engine.  Raising taxes on folks with the money to expand business is not a good idea, in fact, it is really stupid and reflects a lack of understanding about how a free enterprise economy works.

Another reason why I want to get our economy going again is that our government is rapidly running out of other people's money and will very soon have to start reducing entitlements.  A shrinking economy will have a much harder time dealing with these issues than will an expanding economy.  Optimistic people make better decisions than pessimistic people do.  That goes for countries too.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I am Cautiously Optimistic

Mr. Obama, while talking about the U.S. economy yesterday in South Korea, is reported to have said "the only way to make those tough choices historically has been if both parties are willing to move forward together."  I congratulate him on this sentiment and hope that he really means it.  If he does, the road forward will still be difficult, but it will be possible to start digging ourselves out of the hole that we are in right now.  If he does not mean it, we will have to wait until 2012 to do more than make a few peripheral adjustments.

Another encouraging indicator is a very recent statement by a senior White House official that Mr. Obama is willing to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for another two years.  I would prefer to see those measures made permanent, but can accept this compromise.  I don't mind seeing it made one of the issues that need to be addressed again in 2012. In fact, I welcome that debate in the context of a presidential election.

It remains to be seen how well the president reads the mood of the American people as expressed in the recent mid term elections, but my guess is that he is intelligent enough to understand the situation as well as any of us.  I am not at all surprised that he does not want to admit publicly that it was a crushing rejection of his policies.  He continues to believe in a set of principals that lead logically to those policies and I expect to see him fight hard to protect what he has won these past couple of years.  I disagree totally with his principals, but give him credit for having them and respect him for holding to them.  At the same time, I believe that it is critical to the best interests of the nation that he be voted out of office as soon as possible.

On the other side of the aisle I must say that I kind of like Mr. John Boehner's style and sincerely hope that the Republicans confirm him as Speaker of the House.  So far at least, he is saying things that I can support wholeheartedly.  I like his tone and his repeated low key statements about the importance of working together with Democrats to do the people's business.  Here again, it remains to be seen if he means it, but I suspect (and hope) that he does.  Oh, and I thank him for vowing to give up the private jet that the current speaker demanded.  A million dollars here and a million dollars there can add up to real money in no time at all.  Plus, it's nice to know that he is less elitist than the one that we have now.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Thugocracy" is a bad choice of words

There are a number of conservative analysts that I respect as far as their analytical abilities, but I wish that they would select their words more carefully.  Ironically, in this last election, many of them pointed out correctly that Democratic candidates throughout the country felt that they could not run on their political record so they savagely attacked the personality of their opponent instead.  In their analysis these conservative pundits themselves sometimes maligned the Democratic candidate in similar manner.  That weakens their argument among thinking Americans and loses support for conservative positions.

A good example is conservative angst regarding union support of Democratic candidates.  It is one thing to examine the why and the how of that support, but it is quite another to refer to unions as "thugocracies."  Unions are composed of teachers, policemen, firefighters, carpenters, plumbers - they are my neighbors.  I know some union members and I do not see them as thugs, in fact some of them are very good friends of mine.  I see unions as a valuable part of the social fabric of America and admire much of the history of the union movement in this country.  At the same time, I see problems within the union movement and I have serious questions about some of the leadership of some large unions.  It is appropriate to have a discussion about these issues, but that discussion should be civil on both sides.

This is particularly important right now because there are some serious negotiations that are on the horizon between municipalities, states and the federal government on one hand and a range of different unions on the other hand.  The downturn in the economy is forcing a reassessment of union contracts throughout the country.  The prospect is that there will have to be a downward adjustment of compensation levels within unions.  For obvious reasons that is going to be difficult on a number of levels.  Maligning one or the other of the participants in these discussions is not useful.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

California still leads the way...

It is not politically correct to say it, but I believe that there is a sizable group of people in America that lack self-confidence, don't think clearly, and are without motivation to try to accomplish much of anything.  I do not think that they are necessarily bad people, but I do believe that they are a problem for society.  Obviously there are many reasons why these people are in this situation, but part of the problem is that America is a very rich country.  There appears to be enough wealth to support folks who do not fully support themselves.  Very few of these people are fiscal conservatives and many of them understandably find liberal policies attractive.

I find it understandable that the folks who work hard to create the wealth that is used to support these people sometimes feel that welfare recipients should be encouraged to do a bit more for themselves.  The "Joe the Plumber" debates are very much about this issue and the key question is just how much wealth should we spread around and to whom?  I confess that I am very old school in this regard.  I do not favor giving someone something for nothing unless they are truly handicapped physically or mentally.  I see no reason why we should not all be required to earn our way in this world and I see absolutely no problem with some people accumulating more wealth than others as long as they do it legally.

The welfare state is already part and parcel of our society and it is not going to be fully eliminated.  I understand that, but I do not see why it has to be further enlarged.  I suggest that eventually it will break the bank and pull down the very engine that sustains it - the free enterprise system.  We have long provided welfare assistance to individuals, but during the last few decades we have started adding large companies to the welfare rolls, and right now we are bailing out entire states.  At some point along the line, painful though it might be, we have to start asking folks to be more responsible for their decisions.

I live in California, a state that has long been controlled by very liberal political forces.  Liberal politicians have created a welfare state of epic proportions in California.  I am told that although we have only 12% of the nation's population we have a third of the nation's welfare recipients.  Our legal system is unfriendly to business and we have driven much of it out of the state - on purpose.  Our unemployment rate is 12.4%, well above the national average, and our taxes are some of the very highest in the country.  It is estimated that a quarter of the nation's illegal immigrants live in California and 15.3% of all Californians live in poverty.  Our debt is the highest in the nation and we are currently being subsidized by tax payers in the rest of the country.

Those who are tempted by our president's rhetoric and policies should look hard at California.  It is not just a serious problem for our country it is a preview of where we are going if we continue to pursue the kind of change that Mr. Obama advocates.  With New York leaning the same way that California is going we should ask ourselves how many states can go on welfare before we do not have enough tax payers left to support this kind of change.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank You Mr. President

I think that we all agree that health care is an important subject in today's political debate.  A lot of Americans, myself included, do not like what is popularly called Obama Care.  Many of us, myself included, would like to see it repealed and replaced with new legislation.  I see no hope that will happen anytime soon and believe that it will be an important issue in the 2012 presidential election (see previous post).

While I agree that health care is a very important issue, there are a lot of other extraordinarily critical issues on the table right now.  The sum total of our decisions in dealing with all of these issues will determine the future direction of this nation.  I do not like the political direction that this administration favors and want to see the fundamental leadership change that started in the midterm elections this month continue in 2012.  In order for that to happen, conservatives must convince a majority of Americans that our solutions are what this nation needs.  This means that we have to attract thinking Americans in the middle of the political spectrum - not just the political right.

If I were in a position of political influence in Congress I would start 2011 by recognizing that conservatives have, heretofore, done extraordinarily little, if anything, to address the very real problems plaguing our health care system.  If I were secure enough in my own convictions, I might even consider thanking Barack Obama, Harry Reed, and Nancy Pelosi for bringing this issue to the forefront of our national debate.  For conservatives to turn a blind eye to our failures of the past is disingenuous at best and ignorant at worst.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Tomorrow's Prosperity is tied firmly to Today's Classroom

When the subject of the conversation is the economy, most Americans are understandably focused on the lack of jobs.  There is a great deal of hand ringing about the fact that many jobs have been exported to other countries where production costs are lower.  Some prominent conservative business people suggest that we use tariffs on imported goods to level the playing field, while many liberal commentators call for us to insist that salaries and benefits in foreign countries be raised or the products be boycotted.  Clearly America misses the twentieth century during most of which our economy was without challenge.

We are, today, in a different century and a different economy.  We are in the process of accommodating to new political and economic conditions in this country and abroad.  The twenty first century is characterized by many as being the age of the "global economy" in which the various national economies are tied together more closely than ever before.  Financial problems in Greece immediately impact Wall Street, political instability in the Middle East raises prices throughout the world, currency decisions in China effect the value of the American dollar, etc, etc, etc.  Like it or not, we are in a new game and there is no turning the pages of history back to an earlier time.

President Obama is visiting South Korea and will attend the G20 summit where he will be criticized by many of the other national leaders for his economic policies, particularly his decision to weaken the value of the American dollar.  Foreigners do not like this policy because it adversely impacts their exports to the United States and dilutes the value of the large loans that they have given to America in recent years.  Obama is manipulating our currency for a variety of reasons, and one of them is indeed to blunt foreign imports and make our exports more competitive in foreign markets.  At home, the policy is also controversial, in part because of it's impact on inflation.  The Federal Reserve is actually trying to increase inflation in America.

Very few of us mere mortals really understand the intricate interrelationship of the world economies - certainly I do not, but I think that I do see what we have to do to compete effectively in this global economy.  I do not think that we should attempt to protect an outmoded economy by shutting our markets to foreigners.  We have to do what we have always done - compete through innovation.  Here, I agree with President Obama when he emphasizes the importance of green energy.  The world is going to need alternative sources of energy and we should be leaders in the development of those technologies.  This is not to say that I like all of his policies in this regard.  For instance he is wrong to minimize the importance of NASA (see earlier post).  He is correct, however, that we have to look to the future and develop our economy on that basis - not try to preserve what we used to do.

In order to compete effectively in the global economy we must solve the very serious problems that our education system currently suffers.  I believe that  the fundamental problem with our education system is not lack of financial resources nor do I believe that we lack enough qualified teachers.  I believe that the fundamental problem that we face is far more serious and infinitely more difficult to repair - it is the lack of motivation at all levels within this society.  I suggest that our civic leaders, politicians, teachers, and students are all insufficiently interested in education.  Too many Americans are trying to fill a check box while people in other countries are trying to learn.  Most of those countries have fewer resources than we do, but they beat us hollow in motivation.

Look at the rise of China and ask yourself why they are well on their way to being the most powerful economy in the world.  I suggest that it is not because they have more guns.  It is not even because they make very many things better than we do - at least not yet.  It is because so many of their people want an education more than just about anything else that you can imagine.  President Obama was right when he pointed to the fact that China now has the fastest super computer in the world and then went on to comment "that used to be ours."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Principals can be Bad if they aren't Yours

Recent statements from conservative and liberal politicians portend considerable gridlock in government going forward toward 2012.  While some gridlock is to be expected during a period of divided government, it is also important that the people's business get done.  There is no question in my mind, but that the liberal policies of Barack Obama pushed the United States too far to the left and that the midterm elections expressed very significant (but not universal) dissatisfaction with those policies.

As a general principal, I favor compromise wherever possible, but there are a couple of things that must be done as quickly as possible.  First and foremost, we must get our economy on a sound long term basis with or without the support of the Democratic Party.  Second, we must replace current health care legislation with genuine bipartisan solutions that can be supported by the vast majority of Americans.  Recently, it was pointed out to the president that exit polls showed that half of the voters felt that Obama Care must be repealed.  He responded saying that those same polls indicated that half of the voters liked Obama Care.  Please note that Mr. Obama's conclusion does not necessarily follow, and even if it were to be the case, 50% support for legislation of this magnitude is very far from adequate.

Viscerally, I would like to see an early legislative effort to repeal Obama Care, but I understand that, given the present makeup of the Senate, it would not make it to the president's desk and, even if it did, Mr. Obama would veto it.  The effort would almost certainly be divisive, time consuming, and expensive.  In an ideal world that would be enough to throttle the impulse, but the probability is that an important segment of the public will demand it and new congressional members will feel that they have to make the effort in order to send a message.  Any real progress that will be made will come from the small battles that will take place as we understand more and more of this legislation and the administrative rules that will implement it are written by regulatory agencies.  Unfortunately, in these battles the administration will have the upper hand and any progress that can be made will be slow at best.

This will be the background for the 2012 presidential election.  The odds are very good that we will get our economy well on the way to recovery during the next two years and Republicans and Democrats will both take credit for it.  Obama Care will have been modified around the edges and both political parties will be fully engaged in the continuing struggle.  As November 2012 approaches, we can expect the president will do his level best to position himself for re-election and conservatives will make a strong effort to replace him with one of their own.  Unfortunately, this can result in public posturing rather than effective policy.  As we go forward, conservatives can not let themselves be cast in the role of spoiler by their opposition.  They must be seen as offering real solutions to the extremely difficult and vitally important challenges that our nation faces.

Conservatives must present workable solutions to the problems our country faces - even if it means compromise with some liberals.  Currently there is a lot of talk about principals.  I am not arguing against principal.  Nor am I advocating mindless deal making.  I am advocating that we conservatives genuinely seek bipartisan support for intelligent policies that will be good for America.  During the past two years, Barack Obama stood on principal and refused to compromise.  Look what happened to our country.  At least half of us think that it was the wrong set of principals and the resultant policies are causing great harm to our nation.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Is it Worth the Price?

I believe that it is important for the president of the United States to travel abroad and to meet personally with foreign leaders just as I see value in having the president travel around our own country and meet with average citizens.  I also understand that the president can not be exposed to physical danger and requires the protection of the secret service as well as local security forces.  In addition to that, he has to have staff with him so that he can remain fully in control of his government.  All of this translates to a sizable coterie of travel companions over and above the folks who fly the plane.

In a few days, Mr. Obama is leaving on a nine day trip to Asia.  A trip this high level and this complex had to have been in the planning stage for quite a while.  I presume that his political advisers saw the timing of the trip useful in getting the president out of the country subsequent to the drubbing that they expected in the mid-term elections.  They were also on top of things when they made the expansion of trade one of the most important objectives of the trip.  This permitted the president to casually refer to the trip in yesterday's press conference as an example of the importance of the economy in his agenda.  The stops on the trip include India, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and Japan.  That is an excellent itinerary and, depending on how the president handles himself, the trip could be useful in improving our relations with some of the most important countries in the world.

I do not know how much all of this costs, but a prominent Democratic critic of President Obama has estimated the cost at $200 million dollars a day.  If that number is correct, nine days would cost close to two billion dollars.  The same source said that there would be three thousand people accompanying the president.  Assuming these numbers to be accurate, (and I unfortunately find them plausible) I begin to question the value of this trip.  I have been involved in several presidential visits to foreign countries.  I've been privileged to have been able to see some of the actual meetings and I am impressed by the prominence of pomp and circumstance and the paucity of actual work that is done by the participants.  With 9.6% unemployment I can think of much better ways to spend a couple of billion dollars. 

I think that the trip concept is flawed and the timing of it is even worse.  While I agree that trade with Asia is extremely important and am willing to argue about the best way to improve it, I am not willing to concede that the president should leave Washington D.C. at this point in time nor do I think that he should spend very large amounts of money on pomp and circumstance.  From a public relations point of view, this trip is going to be seen by a large part of the public as being in the same category as the President and Mrs. Obama's romantic dinner in New York after his election - another thoughtless waste of tax payer money while millions of their fellow Americans are without a job.  I confess that this kind of thing further weakens my own respect for my president.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Policies were Right - I just didn't do Enough...

President Obama's press conference the day after the mid term elections was an excellent look into the man.  His opening comments were as artful as most of his speeches, his tone was moderate, and the rationale behind his words was enlightening.  Mr Obama identified the economy as the most important issue on the voting public's mind and argued that while his administration had stabilized the economy and started the growth of jobs in the private sector, the general public did not see and feel the progress that was being made and held him responsible as president.  He specifically took responsibility for "not making as much progress as we need to make," but he consistently defended his various policies as being what he felt was needed in the perilous situation that he found the country to be in when he took office.

Going forward from the mid term elections, the president indicated a desire to sit down with Republican leadership to find common ground on the issues that face the nation.  He indicated that he believed that the American people did not want their political leaders re-fighting the battles of the last two years.  He expressed the hope that he could work with the new Congress to solve problems in the area of energy, education, jobs, debt reduction, and a wide range of other issues.  Health care was not in the list.  When pressed on health care he reiterated his belief that America did not want Democrats and Republicans re-fighting old battles.  On the issue of transparency, he argued that the economic crisis that he had inherited was so pressing that he did not have time and had to get his stimulus program through congress in traditional ways.  He was not asked why health care was handled that way.  A particularly interesting part of the press conference dealt with his relationship with the business community.  He made a strong presentation regarding the importance of the free enterprise system and the role of private business in creating wealth.

I voted against Obama in 2008 because, based on his personal background and congressional record, I felt that he would support policies that were far too liberal for my taste.  At the same time, I confess that I liked a lot that I found in his various speeches and, following his election, I sincerely hoped that he would turn out to be someone that I could support.  I wanted him to succeed.  During the past two years he did not live up to his rhetoric and he turned out to be every bit as far left as I feared.  I no longer trust his word and I listen far more carefully to the exact phraseology that he uses than I did a few years ago.  I do not know how he will govern during the next two years, but i will no longer take his words at face value.  I will judge my president by what he does not what he says he is going to do.  He obviously has an agenda for the lame duck congress so it will become fairly clear fairly soon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

America does not have a Muslim Problem

I am really tired of the outright stupidity of some of the right of center pundits who insist that the United States has a "Muslim problem,"(including those with whom I frequently see eye to eye).  I completely agree with Whoopi Goldberg - you should be more careful when you open your mouth.  A number of these very influential personalities say that moderate Muslims are not doing their part in the struggle against radical Islam.  This kind of rhetoric is not only stupid - it is dangerous and is not in the best interests of the United States of America.

If we confine ourselves to direct attacks on the United States by radical Muslim terrorists we must understand that many of these attacks were thwarted because of information provided to security authorities by Muslims.  In places where American forces are engaged in fighting radical Muslim combatants, not only are there large numbers of Muslim military and police alongside of our troopers, but many within the general population are risking their lives to help defeat radical Islamic forces.  There are internal arguments, but the leaders of most Muslim countries in the world today are on our side in this struggle.  I don't have numbers, but my guess is that there are far more Muslims engaged in the struggle against radical Islam than there are Americans.  Certainly there are far more moderate Muslims with their lives on the line than there are Americans.

While we argue about the appropriateness of a mosque at Ground Zero, people in the Middle East are engaged in a life and death struggle with some very bad people.  I suggest that we should not blindly criticize the very considerable efforts of these brave men and women.  To do so, does not in any way help us, but it does help those who say that we do not understand the Muslim world.  Men like Osama bin Laden.  It also contributes to the American public's misunderstanding of what is going on in the world around us.  In the long run that may well be the most deleterious effect of this kind of trash talk.

Monday, November 1, 2010

2012 Presidential Campaign

It is November and the 2012 presidential campaign is about to start.  I assume that Mr. Obama will head the Democratic ticket, but do not completely rule out finding Hillary Clinton there (see previous post on this subject).  In either case, I would prefer a good sound conservative in the oval office, but that opens the discussion as to who that might be.  I confess that I am not yet seeing an obvious choice.  I am, however, encouraged that there are a lot of potential candidates out there that I do not know very much about.  I look forward to learning more about each of them as they test the waters during the next few months and I intend to keep an open mind.  I am also curious to see how the Tea Party will fare following the midterm elections and assume that it will depend in very large part on how the Republican Party handles itself during the run up to 2012.

One potential conservative candidate that I sincerely hope does not run is Sarah Palin.  I admire Mrs. Palin, respect her many abilities, and agree with many of her political views.  I also believe that she would be as divisive a president as the one that we have now and for that reason alone believe that she probably can not defeat Mr. Obama in 2012.  Many of my conservative friends will not agree with me because they want to remain true to their political principals at all cost.  I find that admirable, but impractical.  I want to elect a president that can live up to the bipartisanship that Mr. Obama promised in 2008, but did not deliver these past couple of years.  I do not find Democrats to be evil people and suggest that many of them actually have some pretty good ideas.  At the very least, I want a president that can talk to all Americans and help us find solutions to our problems that the vast majority of us can support.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

After Tuesday

All of the experts predict that there will be large conservative gains in both the House and the Senate next Tuesday.  Assuming that they are correct I believe that will be a good turn of events, but I do not believe that it will be enough to get this country back on the right track.  We still face the prospect of at least two years of divided government and there are many important things that need to be done during that time.  Two items that need to be high on the conservative priority list during this period are: reversing the excessive spending policies of the current administration and initiating a bipartisan approach to the reform of our health care system.  Both tasks should be approached in a bipartisan manner, but the first one does not absolutely demand democratic support.  The reform of health care, however, does require a sincere bipartisan approach.  The best ideas in the world are unworkable if the majority of America does not agree that they are acceptable and the political mood of America today proves this point beyond a shadow of a doubt . 

The subject of health care is so important and so complex that it does not need to be solved immediately.  It is deserving of a full and thorough discussion in Washington and around the kitchen table.  The very best solutions to specific problems within the overall health care challenge will almost certainly come in small drips and drabs and that is as it should be, but the complexity of the issue must not be used as an excuse for inaction or as a disguised form of obstructionism.  Health related problems must be addressed meaningfully and transparently.  Of all of the issues facing Congress during the next two years this one has enormous potential to shape the political debate in the 2012 presidential election.  It is not as important in absolute terms as the health of the economy, but the economic problem is simple in comparison.  We know how to grow the economy - we just have to do it - that is a matter of will.  Health care is far more complex and difficult.

These two problems have the public's attention right now, but they do not exhaust the list of serious threats facing this country.  The current administration has an excellent list of challenges that need to be addressed and I give them full credit for their agenda.  My problem is that I do not like their solutions which I believe are a serious effort to remake America in absolutely the wrong way.  We need to vote all of these folks out of office at the very first opportunity.  Hopefully, next week we will make important progress in this effort, but we must remember that we still have to change our president and perhaps a few more members of Congress as well as a few more state government officials.  In order for that to happen, conservative leadership must, repeat must, come up with solutions that are acceptable to a broad majority of people in this country.  Unfortunately, I am not certain that will happen.  Conservative politicians sometimes have a tendency to be self-righteous know-it-alls.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Do Voters have to be Citizens?

It looks to me that the importance of American citizenship is eroding and I do not believe that is a good thing.  I recently learned that there are municipalities in this country that permit non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.  I did not know that was legal and I confess that I do not think that it should be happening.  San Francisco has a proposition on the 2010 ballot that would permit non-citizen parents to vote in School Board elections whether they are in this country legally or illegally.  Arizona has just been told that they can not require voters to prove that they are American citizens before they vote in national elections. 

I am also upset that convicted felons vote in some elections and the current administration wants to increase their participation in future elections.  I thought that one of the penalties for being convicted of a felony was that your rights were stripped away.  I do not want felons voting whether they agree with my political views or not.  I am told that in one of our recent senatorial races the number of felons that voted exceeded the number of votes that decided the election.  This does not necessarily mean that felons elected the senator, but it might, and that is just plain wrong.

All of this got me thinking about something that I had been taking for granted - the security of our voting system.  I began digging into charges of voter fraud and very quickly found enough to make me start worrying.  I had heard occasional charges of tampering with votes and the registration of illegal voters, but I had assumed that those were isolated incidents and did not effect the overall results of any given election.  I'm not so sure any more and that in and of itself is not a good thing.  In order for our system of government to work we all have to believe that our voting system is an honest reflection of our political wishes.

All of this also got me thinking about how anyone really knows that I am an American citizen.  I have a birth certificate and a valid passport, but very rarely am I asked for either one while within the borders of the country. My usual form of identification is my state driver's license.  I find that very convenient, but worry because I see illegal immigrants with valid state driver's licenses.  I see reports that various groups are advocating increased poll watching by concerned citizens, but I don't see how that is going to help very much except to catch blatant violations such as voter intimidation or illegal electioneering at the voting place. 

I think that this country is at a point where it needs a nationwide tamper-proof biometric registry of its citizens and this system should be used to control access to the polling place.  It would also be useful in dealing with crime, homeland security, and immigration issues.  Critics of such a system will correctly point out that it is another step toward a centralized state and I too dislike it for that reason, but I still advocate it.  Our country is huge, our population is in the hundreds of millions, and serious challenges to our well-being are numerous.  We need to be a bit more careful in dealing with the core principals that provide the very foundation of our nation.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Legalization of Marijuana

I managed to give up smoking as a child, but growing up I developed a taste for beer.  As an adult, I enjoy both beer and wine and have been known to take a cognac after dinner.  I drink in moderation, but I drink.  This makes it difficult for me to talk pejoratively about folks who choose to use other mind bending substances.  I have periodically wondered whether I was addicted to alcohol so I would stop drinking for three or four months at a time.  On each occasion I was fortunate enough to find that my body did not demand that I consume alcohol.  I understand that this is purely a fortunate quirk of biology and has nothing to do with my strength of character.  I find that I choose to drink for a number of reasons revolving around life style considerations.

Other than booze, I have never done drugs of any other sort.  As a child, I was exposed to various forms of narcotics, but was never forced by peer pressure to participate in their consumption.  I did, however, see the negative effects that drugs had on my friends and neighbors and decided that I did not want that in my life.  I even managed to transition from childhood through a dissolute secondary education without developing a fondness for marijuana even though I lived in areas where it was used regularly.  Today, I see marijuana used widely and know a number of folks who consume it on a daily basis.  Most of these folks appear to function normally and I do not see much, if any, direct evidence that marijuana leads to violent behavior by it's users.  Quite the contrary.  Most people appear to "mellow out" when using it.  I live in a part of the country that grows rather large amounts of marijuana and know people who are engaged in it's cultivation and harvest.  I periodically hear a few reports of random acts of violence associated with arguments related to land and/or plant ownership, but these are few and far between. 

So what's wrong with pot?  Many believe that it is no worse than alcohol and point to the failure of prohibition.  Why not legalize it and bring some degree of control to it's use?  Why not tax it and benefit from the revenue stream.  Reputable polls report that a very large proportion of the general public wants to make it legal.  I believe that the United States will continue to exist if we legalize it, but I do not favor so doing.  I actually wish that we could eliminate all mind altering substances (including alcohol) from the daily life of all peoples around the world.  I believe that these substances and the life style that they support is detrimental to our health and welfare.  The worst thing that these substances do is to provide an exceptionally facile way to escape reality.  (In saying this, I understand that many believe that this is one of the most important benefits of marijuana.)

There are a good many people who can function normally in society while using narcotics - even some who can perform at a very high level while using hard drugs, but many can not.  The ravages of alcohol on Native Americans is well documented, and the impact of "demon drink" is well understood in Scandinavia and Russia.  To argue that marijuana is no worse than alcohol actually makes my argument against it's continued use.  I am not a psychologist, but I agree that people seek escape from the pressures, real and imagined, of daily life.  Those whose bodies can handle a given substance find temporary relief without serious negative results.  Others fade into a never never land that reduces their effectiveness in society.  Adding marijuana to the list of socially acceptable substances for escapism only expands the pool of folks who refuse to deal realistically with the problems that face the human race today.

Now that I have that off my chest, I should quickly move on to admit that I do not believe that this line of argument will prevail.  For better or for worse, our society is moving relentlessly toward the increased use of escapism in all of it's many forms to replace old fashioned hard work and critical thought to deal with the world around us.  Why deal with the ugly world of starvation, terrorism, and injustice when we can create a virtual world populated by beautiful humanoids, melodious sounds, and (best of all) our own personal form of justice for all?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Government Takeover of Health Care

We are well on our way to a government takeover of the entire health care industry in the United States.  The legislation that was forced through congress and signed by President Obama as a Christmas present to the American people is systematically destroying the nation's current health care system.  Not a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination, but still the best system that the world has ever known.  This is not accidental, President Obama, Speaker Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Reed are all on record as favoring this course of action.  They believe that it is necessary in order to provide decent health care to the less well off in our country. 

I share their belief that affordable health care needs to be provided to all Americans, but do not believe that they are on the right track.  I have never seen the United States Government run much of anything very well, let alone do it cost effectively.  For this reason, I would very much like to see what is being called "Obama Care" repealed and replaced with a more intelligent solution that fully involves the private sector.  Unfortunately, the odds are that we can not do that even if conservatives make large gains in the forthcoming mid-term elections.  President Obama is certain to veto any such attempt and there is no likelihood that his veto can be over-ridden until at least 2012.  Hopefully, conservative gains in the House and the Senate next week will permit the most dangerous aspects of this legislation to be modified and give us some breathing room for reflection, but that is far from certain.

I continue to believe that this country is increasingly looking to government to solve societal problems that would better be left to private enterprise.  I am critical of both liberal and conservative leadership in this respect.  Liberals for having too much faith in government and conservatives for not adequately addressing very real community needs.  The period of divided government that is before us is a time of testing for conservatives.  If we do not handle the situation well we will ensure the re-election of Mr. Obama and might well see a lessening of our influence in the national legislature and local governments throughout the country.  That would be extremely detrimental to our national interests in many more ways than just health care.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wikileaks

The ongoing disclosure of classified documents by Julian Assange continues to bring home to the general public the horrible face of war.  Arguing about individual instances of alleged mistreatment of prisoners, the causing of unintended civilian casualties, or proven stupidity by friendly forces will continue for some time and that is probably a good thing in moralistic terms.  America needs to remember that war is absolutely horrible and not a video game played for score, or a work of fiction with a happy ending.  At the same time, I remain highly critical of Assange and his collaborators.  The Taliban has already begun the process of searching for the civilians identified in the leaked reports as having cooperated with the United States and has vowed to take action against them.  In my opinion, Assange should be tried as an enemy combatant and, if convicted, incarcerated for life.

These events underline a conundrum that faces all civilized societies - when is it necessary to use violence to defend oneself and how does one manage that violence once unleashed?  The unfortunate reality of violence is that it is relatively easy to start using it, but it is much harder to control it's use, let alone the ramifications that are the result of that use.  If the reader has been exposed to war, he or she will understand this basic reality.  If the reader has been fortunate enough to have avoided such experience, it will be much harder to grasp this fundamental point.  I continue to be amazed at the discipline of our military forces and believe that they are the finest body of men and women that has ever taken the field.  I also believe that they are human and capable of making mistakes.  The amazing thing about the leaked documents is that their very existence is evidence of how hard the military works to avoid those errors and redress them when committed.

It is one thing to be in a hole in the ground with enemy fire coming in and forced to instantly make life and death decisions without leisure to ponder and debate and quite another to be safely ensconced in an office with all the time in the world to critique the actions of a commander in the field.  I am amazed at the sanctity of some of the political elite that ordered the war in their ability to criticize the actions of the men and women who agreed to do their bidding.  This is particularly egregious since some of these same politicians have used privilege to avoid personal involvement in earlier conflicts.  In my view you should have to pay to play.

One of the very worst charges made in the leaked documents involves the abuse of prisoners.  I abhor torture and have had occasion to argue against it's use on the battlefield.  For me, it is the very antithesis of civilized behavior.  At the same time, I can easily envision situations in which I might well resort to methods of interrogation that could be defined as torture.  Were I to do that, I would also agree that I had transgressed the bounds of civilized behavior and should be punished.  In saying this, I make the argument that there are limits beyond which the average human being can not be expected to remain civilized.  In such situations it is critical that prisoner abuse be punished, but it is also necessary for our political leadership to remember that it is an inevitable byproduct of the decision to go to war.

I am not advocating that America adopt a peace-at-all-costs strategy, but I am advocating that we understand what is involved in making the decision to go to war and am particularly critical of our inability to understand the importance of finishing what we start.  I suggest that objective scholars reviewing this period in our history might well conclude that we tend to dabble at war.  In my view, that just might be the worst thing that anyone could possibly say about a world power.