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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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.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fox and NPR

I spend a lot of time in an automobile.  Much of it on interstate highways.  During those periods I usually try to get in some thinking time, but frequently I listen to National Public Radio (NPR).  I enjoy many of their programs and have no real problem sorting out the political position of the various people involved.  I appreciate their ability to dig deep and get to interesting aspects of issues that are not covered in other media.  I find NPR anchors to be intelligent, thoughtful, and extremely well-informed.  In political terms, the solutions that are offered to the problems discussed are uniformly left of center.

In the evenings, at home, I usually tune in to one or another of the Fox television shows.  There, I am sure to find the current concerns of the political right outlined in very clear terms.  I find Greta Van Susteren to be the best of the Fox team, in that she asks good questions and usually lets her guests explain their position even when she obviously disagrees with it.  Most of the rest of the Fox anchors just talk over opposing views, a device that I find extremely irritating.  On Fox, there is absolutely no question about the political position held by the anchors.  Most of the strongest personalities are well right of center.  Issues are not discussed in any depth and most of the solutions offered are extremely simplistic and very conservative.  Volume and repetition replace compelling argument.

In comparing the quality of NPR and Fox programing, NPR wins hands down.  I find that very unfortunate, because many of the solutions offered by NPR are inconsistent with the best interests of this country.  I find Fox programming shallow, simplistic, heavy-handed, and crude.  At the same time, I support many of the same political positions that the Fox anchors champion and sincerely wish that they would present them more intelligently.  The bright spots in Fox programming are the regular contributors that add extremely useful insights into current events (Rove, Kraughthammer, Huckabee, etc.).  The current imbroglio surrounding Juan Williams is interesting, but not as important a freedom of speech issue as it is being made out to be.  NPR did not like Williams appearing on Fox so they fired him.  NPR is embarrassed, Fox is delighted, and Williams has improved his financial position.

I suggest that the liberal side of our public debate has figured out something that the conservative side refuses to accept.  The political battle in this country is for the hearts and minds of the political center.  Elections can be won by turning out the base, but good public policy can not be maintained by governing from either extreme.  Mr. George Soros has recently given major amounts of money to strengthen left leaning media sources.  My assumption is that in the future we will see those sources providing more compelling arguments than those elements of the media that lean right.  The result, over the long haul, will be that the political center of the country will continue to move to the left.  In today's world it is ridiculous for the America taxpayer to be subsidizing NPR and obviously that money should be used elsewhere, but that is not addressing the real challenge.  Conservative arguments must consistently be made intelligently, rationally and without raising our voices to drown our those who do not agree with us.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Your Vote Counts.

As everyone knows, there are vigorous ongoing debates within both major political parties as to exactly how liberal or conservative their position should be on a wide range of issues.  Individual candidates too have to decide how best to position themselves in their own particular political district or state.  The individual voter is then faced with a decision between two or three candidates who may or may not live up to the promises that they make in their electoral campaigns.  This creates a leadership selection process that is far from perfect, but it is the system that we have and it has been proven to work better than any other system of government that the world has ever known.

We are currently in the process of selecting a third of the Senate, half of the House or Representatives, and a number of State Governors.  There is great unrest within the body politic with the base of both parties evincing considerable disappointment with those that they selected in the last electoral go-around two years ago.  Many liberals feel that President Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress have not done enough to change our country.  The conservative side of the political equation has stimulated the formation of the so-called "Tea Party" which is clearly of the belief that the current administration and congress has done far too much to change the very foundation of our way of life.  The candidates that are most closely associated with the Tea Party have been attacked vigorously by the political left for being far too conservative and, in many areas, have made this attack the centerpiece of the political left's campaign strategy.  The conservative candidates in these races argue that we need to restore fiscal responsibility before we can address the many other problems that face our nation.

I am fiscally conservative, but hold many liberal social values. I believe that a significant number of my fellow Americans find themselves in this same situation.  We are an important part of the political center of this country.  If we assume that the most ardent liberals will vote Democratic, and the most ardent conservatives will vote Republican, it remains for the political center to determine who will be chosen in each of the various elections to be decided next month.  I suggest that it is imperative for those of us in the middle to vote for fiscal conservatives this time around.  The most important single issue on the national agenda is economics.  Without a sound economy we can not achieve any of the many other objectives that we hold to be important.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is Compromise a Dirty Word?

Anyone who has been reading this blog will understand that I believe that the current administration in Washington D.C. is leading our country in the wrong direction.  Why?  Mr. Obama is attempting to right many wrongs that we all agree need to be addressed.  Our health care system is less than perfect.  Many Americans at the lower end of the economic scale need help. Racism still exists in this country.  Our immigration system needs to be updated.  Our financial system has flaws that need to be addressed.  Too many Americans are out of work and need jobs.  Abroad, we are seen by many as being arrogant and constantly grasping for power.  We are in a war that we don't want.  The list goes on and on, and everywhere Mr. Obama seems to be sincerely devoted to doing everything in his power to make things better for his country.

I give our president credit for understanding what the tactical problems are, but I do not agree with the strategic view that shapes the solutions that he suggests.  For several centuries, free enterprise has been central to this country's economic success.  Mr. Obama clearly believes that it has also created the problems that we now face and just as clearly wants to fundamentally modify it through increased government regulation.  Unfortunately, to a point, he has a point, but I suggest that he is attempting to do way too much, much too fast.  He appears to be ruthless in his attack on principals that have worked for America since it's inception and has understandably stimulated a massive revolt among the core of people who make this economy tick.  I believe that his rabid attempt at reformation is risking the destruction of our economy and thus setting back the very objectives that he seeks.

I believe ardently in the free enterprise system as the best system that has ever existed in this imperfect world, but I am not blind to it's many injustices and imperfections.  I support it only because it is less bad than any other that I have seen or that I can imagine in the real world.  Given my recognition of it's many weaknesses, I am willing to see it modified, and believe that the history of America is one of constant reform.  The free enterprise system that we prize today is a far cry from that for which George Washington crossed the Delaware.  Changing conditions require us to constantly fiddle with the regulations that bind us together into a whole and the challenge seems to grow more and more difficult as the tempo of our lives increases, the sources of our national wealth change, and the world grows infinitely smaller.  The genius of the American political system is also one of it's greatest enigmas - we constantly tack back and forth in an effort to avoid the extreme dangers that face us to the left and right.

It would appear that we are about to tack back to the political right and, in my opinion, that is as it should be, and may just be in time to avoid a real economic tragedy.  In order to be successful, however, the move to the political right is going to have to persist through 2012 and that will depend in part on how the newly elected conservative representatives handle themselves and the problems that this country faces.  They had better come up with some sensible policies that will appeal to the vast majority of Americans - not just their most ardent supporters.  Just as Mr. Obama's constant complaint that he inherited George Bush's problems has worn very thin, it will not be useful to simply complain about Democratic failures.  The American people need workable solutions that have the support of a real majority of all of us.  Not all of us mind you, but more than just the political right.  In the process, I believe that the term "compromise" is going to have to be defined as something positive in the political debates of 2011 and 2012.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Witchcraft and Elections

Election day is approaching and so our media outlets are informing us of all of the faults of the people that are contending for our vote.  Surprise, surprise, it would appear that not a single one of them are perfect.  On the conservative side, we have people who have dabbled in witchcraft as a youngster, others that have knowingly or unknowingly hired illegal aliens, others that have cheated on their wives or husbands, and still others that are not deemed to be qualified for office (whatever that means).  On the other side of the political fence, we have people who have voted for the policies that are leading our country in the wrong direction.  Most of them are no more perfect human beings that the rest of us.  So what to do?

I say that we should take the advice of our president.  After all, when Mr. Obama was looking around for a Secretary of the Treasury he chose a man who cheated on his taxes. In this imperfect world we sometimes have to hold our nose and select the person who can accomplish the task at hand.  In Secretary Geithner's case, I do not think that the president chose wisely - but clearly he does - and that is a major part of the problem that we currently face in this country.  The principal issue that I have with Mr Geithner is not that he cheated on his taxes, but rather that he is supporting a president that is pursuing policies that are bankrupting our country.

My hope is that in November we will elect representatives at all levels of government that will intelligently address the most immediate problem that faces our country - the economy.  After we get the economy under control we can then turn to the many other things that need to be done in this country.  We must remember what our folks tried to teach us - first things, first.  Without a sound economy we can not do any of the things that we all want done.