Greater Krueger National Park

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

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Home Ownership and Elections

Home ownership is under considerable stress in America today.  There are even suggestions in the media that it is not as good an idea as it once was.  I confess that I am still a proponent of home ownership - both from a personal point of view and that of public policy.  For me the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.  Even with today's slump in the housing market I continue to believe that home ownership is the single safest place to put your money for the long haul.

I also believe that it is in the national interest for as many people as possible within our country to own their own home.  Widespread home ownership contributes to social and economic stability.  I favor bank policies that make home ownership possible for as broad a base of folks as possible, but I definitely do not favor policies that are not rooted in hard nosed economic reality.  I suggest that the last decade of unrealistic liberal lending policies led inevitably to the housing collapse that triggered the extreme economic dangers of today. 

This set of issues is one of the reasons that I hope to see a change in political leadership at all levels of government as soon as possible.  It is one thing to have high aspirations for noble causes (like widespread home ownership), but it is quite another to ignore economic principals when attempting to reach those objectives.  I might wish that it was different, but the cold reality is that you need financial stability in order to accomplish anything.  It is not possible to just wish for it or to pass laws demanding it.

Unfortunately, our first order of domestic business in this country is to get our financial house in order.  After that, we can set our sights on other goals.  This is a great country that has done some pretty spectacular things, but it's principal strength has always been drawn from it's sound economy.  Our economy is in serious trouble and we need conservative financial leadership to get us back on track.  Once we get that done, I intend to argue vigorously with that leadership for more imagination in all of our policies at home and abroad.  Imagination is necessary, but it needs a seasoning of economic principals to become reality.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mexico is an Important Neighbor

While World War I was revving up in Europe, President Wilson was anxiously watching political developments south of our border.  An enormous political upheaval was going on throughout Mexico.  A significant number of United States citizens lived and worked in Mexico and we had fairly important economic interests there as well.  A confusing mixture of dramatic personalities representing a volatile blend of divergent philosophies created enormous political, social, and economic instability.  Our own policies were as mercurial as those of the particular Mexican leader that we were dealing with at the time.  European powers were interested as well.  Britain and France were engaged in a life and death struggle with Germany and needed Mexican oil.  Germany wanted to trigger an American military intervention in Mexico that would reduce America's ability to aid Britain and France in the war.  We actually sent our military into Mexico on several occasions and each time we succeeded in generating significant anti-Americanism.

World War I is behind us and things are different now, but we are once again looking south anxiously.  This time we are at war with a a diverse group of enemies that are united not by nationalism, but by philosophy.  As was the case in the run-up to our participation in World War I, Mexico is presently a side show in our conflict with those that we fear most.  There does not appear to be any direct relationship between Al Quaida and the drug cartels that are currently plaguing Mexico, but I would suggest that they are relevant one to the other.  In the tactical use of explosives we have already seen the cartels learn from Al Quaida, but the real threat lies elsewhere.  A porous southern border offers easy access to the heartland of America for anyone willing to pay the transportation cost.  Even more importantly, a failed state with a border that is contiguous with our own is a massive strategic threat and not just from terrorists.

I know almost nothing about Mexico.  I have always been fascinated with it.  I love to travel there and have been fortunate enough to have driven through much of it.  Before the smog ruined it, Ciudad Mexico was one of my favorite world cities.   I like the food and appreciate the richness of the culture, but I frankly confess that I don't know anything about the current political scene.  My suspicion is that the people are still very proud nationalists and are as wary of their northern neighbor as I would be if I were one of them.  Mexico needs help in it's current life and death struggle with the cartels and it is in our national interest to give them that help and we need to do it as one good neighbor to another good neighbor.  One of the issues that gets wrapped into the situation is our current problem with illegal immigration.  For us, it is a question of people breaking our laws.  For many Mexicans it is a question of finding enough work to keep food on their family dinner table. 

As I look around this country we do need immigrant labor.  I do not recommend that we try to stop Mexican workers from coming into the United States.  I do recommend that we control our border and regularize immigration so that it is done legally.  I suggest that temporary work permits is the obvious solution to the problem.  I also recommend that we cut the President of Mexico some slack when he talks about this problem.  If you think that our president has a lot on his plate, think about Mr. Calderon.  The man is literally risking his neck every time he steps outside his house.  If he does not always chose his words as carefully as we might like let's give him the benefit of the doubt.  Let's also remember that if it were you or me in the same situation as the average undocumented resident we would probably be an illegal immigrant in America too.  I certainly know that I would be.  We have to get this situation under control, but we don't have to be nasty or stupid while we do it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Romans and Visigoths

Many of us that live in this magnificent country - the United States of America - do not realize how unbelievably fortunate we are.  We drive to work every morning on crowded roads and complain about the snarled traffic, but we do not worry about what might be in the car parked along the way.  We note that there was an unsuccessful effort to detonate explosives in a vehicle in Time's Square recently, but still - car bombs are something that exist in some far off land - not here in our own neighborhood.

We drive around remote parts of this great country and do not once think about roadside ambushes.  Sure, in some parts of the Southwest our government has put up signs warning that we should not travel there because of cross-border instability, but still - most of that "trouble" is between the "illegals" living in this country and does not involve "real" Americans.  Almost all of the kidnapping in Phoenix, Arizona, the kidnapping capital of America, is being done within the Hispanic community by the Mexican drug cartels and does not really impact the average citizen.

We are so proud of ourselves in combating terrorism inside our own country since the 9/11 attacks that we are even discussing the possibility that we have been taking Al Quaida too seriously.  Sure, we understand that Al Quaida inspired philosophies continue to spread to other parts of the world, but we are dealing with that through the drone program.  Besides the only place where "they" are making any real headway is in Africa and the Middle East and all we get from that part of the world is raw materials and oil.

In foreign relations we have learned to accept a nuclear North Korea and are well on our way to accepting a nuclear Iran.  Long ago we accepted that two sworn enemies - India and Pakistan - could live alongside one another with nuclear weapons without going to war - at least not yet.  The important thing to remember is that we still have more nuclear weapons than anyone else - so nobody would be dumb enough to mess with us.  It is disturbing to see terrorists acting in ways that do not appear to be rational, but still they must realize that picking a fight with us would be suicidal.

The fact that most of the terrorists are not acting as agents of a government that we can hold hostage for their actions is disturbing, but it would be really hard for an individual terrorist to get his hands on a nuclear weapon - let alone be smart enough to actually detonate it.  Those that warn of the possible use of nuclear devices by terrorists misunderstand how sophisticated that technology is.  The guys who tried to explode stuff in their shoes and underwear couldn't even do that properly why worry about the use of a nuclear device.  Sure, the bad guys have been able to intercept our communications with drones on the battlefield and have demonstrated that they are smart enough to fly airplanes into buildings, but a nuclear bomb in an American city - unthinkable.

I once had the opportunity, decades ago, to spend three days with Israel's famous warrior, General Moshe Dayan.  I asked him why he had been so successful in his various military campaigns.  His answer was:  "It helps a lot if your enemy is an Arab."  Dayan's successors in the Israeli armed forces would probably discuss Hamas and Hezbollah fighters in different terms today.

I confess that I am not as confident of our inherent invincibility as some of my fellow citizens seem to be.  I imagine a conversation among Romans in the fall of 476 about whether they were taking the barbarian threat too seriously.  Rome is the most powerful empire that the world has ever known.  We have the best army that has ever taken the field.  "They" are unwashed barbarians that don't even speak Greek, let alone Latin....