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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Monday, December 5, 2011

Huckabee and the GOP hopefuls.

I saw about half of the Huckabee television show last night and wish that I had seen it all.  It was by far the most intelligent forum that I have seen this electoral season.  The three attorneys general asked excellent questions and the various candidates had enough time to actually answer them.  I did not notice any gotcha being played anywhere along the line.  The reason that I did not see the whole program was that I do not regularly watch Huckabee.  I like the man, agree with many of his political positions but am not a fan of his show.  Here, however, I take my hat off to him.  I join him in suggesting this format for more of these forum type candidate "debates."

I am one of those conservatives who can support Mitt Romney if he is to be our candidate, but I confess to be drawn more and more toward Newt Gingrich as my personal favorite of all of the candidates still standing.  I honestly do not understand the "electability" argument for any of the candidates and I do not see how any of the political pundits can argue that one or the other of these candidates is more electable in the general election.  I do not believe that anyone has a crystal ball that is that clear and suspect that most of those claims are being made by supporters of one or the other candidates.  From a purely intellectual point of view, I would genuinely like to watch a head to head debate between Gingrich and Obama.  I think that it would frame this election correctly for the average voter and lead to an accurate presidential decision by the general public. 

I see Gingrich's past involvement in government as a positive and feel that those who want to put an amateur in the Oval Office are naive.  (See previous post.)  Romney certainly has enough government experience to handle the job, but I like Gingrich's imaginative approach to problem solving.  I believe that both men can probably address most of the front burner issues facing this country, but I suspect that a President Gingrich just might actually be able to find solutions that pull us back together as a people.  I like the way in which then Speaker Gingrich and President Bill Clinton worked together on subjects like Welfare Reform.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A good planet is hard to find.

Environmentalism is alive and well in America and that is a good thing.  Anybody who thinks that it is not is short sighted and ignorant.  There are seven billion people living on this planet right now and the projections for significantly more are right around the corner.  Like the bumper sticker says "a good planet is hard to find."  If we do not protect our planet we degrade our future.  A short sighted approach to protecting our environment is not in our national interest - even if it is to resolve very real economic problems that currently face us and will face us in the future.  We must find ways to improve our economic situation without further degrading our environment.

At the same time we have to face facts.  The only way that our environment will be protected is if we are rich enough to afford it.  Poor people are understandably so concerned with their day-to-day existence that they are willing to do almost anything to scrape together enough money to buy food for the table.  Look at any underdeveloped country and you can see examples of serious environmental degradation.  I live in California, which is leading the nation in generating stupid policies in virtually every field, many of them allegedly designed to protect the environment.  The state adopted policies that encouraged business to leave California. As a result it is currently flat broke.  One of the very first economy measures undertaken has been to close many of the state's parks.  Not really very important in and of itself, but symptomatic of what is to come if we stay on this road long enough.

The reality of our political system is not conducive of an easy resolution of this conundrum.  We have a tendency to flip flop back and forth about everything that we do in this country.  If we decide that there has been too much of something, we vote the other guys into office and go the other way far enough to generate another backlash.  Today, we are complaining about too much government regulation and demanding that it be reduced so that we can get our economy back on track.  I agree with that position, but have serious concerns about how far we might go in the other direction.  Energy is one of my biggest concerns and I find the enthusiasm of those crying "drill baby drill" to be somewhat frightening.  Water use is another serious issue and the competition for that resource is an extremely difficult balancing act.  The very air that we breath is another.  There is a long list of others.

Obviously, we have to deal with our economic problems, but we must find ways to do it that simultaneously protect our environment.  I agree with those that say that the world appears to be getting warmer and I can conceive of the possibility that human activity is helping to bring this about.  On the other hand, scholars tell me that the earth went through a number of very dramatic climate cycles before Adam and Eve discovered apples.  It occurs to me that whatever might be happening to our climate is bigger than we are and there may be nothing that we can do to change it.  I wholeheartedly support scientific research in this area, but I do not believe that we can base policy decisions on what we know about the issue right now, because we don't appear to know much.

One of our options is to continue with our current policies and see our economy go further into the tank, in part because we put up too many regulatory road blocks to business.  Here in California we still have a few more parks that we can close.  After that we can cut back on other government programs to include entitlements.  With a sputtering economy the cutbacks will, of course, continue until we eventually go out into the streets and burn tires in a last ditch effort to protect the environment while all the while demanding that someone find money from someplace to feed us.  It is simple.  All we have to do is re-elect Barack Obama.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When was the last time that you ever learned anything new?

There are some folks who are looking at the way in which our world is evolving that say that the explosion of technology is one of the reasons that we are having problems with unemployment.  Computers are replacing people at a faster rate than people can invent new ways to use computers to generate the industries of the future that will employ more people.  According to this line of thought, the basic problem is that raw computer power is expanding at a phenomenal rate and we are just not readjusting our societal systems fast enough to keep pace.  A century or so ago, when the industrial revolution forced us to move from an agricultural society to an urban society, technological change took place at a much slower rate, and the new technologies were much easier to master.  The technology at the heart of the so-called information age is developing at a blistering pace and it poses a much stiffer learning curve.

Assuming, as I do, that this analysis is correct, it would seem to me that we should start focusing on the challenge right now.  We not only have to educate our children to be prepared to prosper in the economy of tomorrow, we also have to transform yesterday's work force to be prepared to play a useful role in today's economy.  This second challenge may well prove more difficult than the first.  The education of a child poses different challenges than the re-education of an adult.  The child's mind is something of an open book, while the adult often feels that he or she already has an education.  An adult is often set in his or her ways and resents having to change, particularly if it includes a demotion at work or less prestige in society.  We can see this technological dichotomy very clearly in the home where the children help their parents with their email.

In the long run, the education of our children is more important than the re-education of their parents, but in the short run, we have to address the problem of their parents joblessness because it is where the political crunch is being felt today.  I am a staunch conservative in my fiscal views and I want to elect conservatives in 2012, but I have not yet seen much real conversation about what we should do about this challenge.  Newt Gingrich is the only one that I have heard mention replacing unemployment payments with job retraining.  I wholeheartedly support that thought, but I want to see the idea fleshed out a bit more.  I utterly reject President Obama's approach to the problem which involves taking care of the unemployed by providing them with government subsidies.  Not only can we not afford that approach, it is precisely the reverse of what we need.  It encourages the unemployed to find fault with the system rather than helping and motivating them to work hard to find a job that will contribute to pulling us out of the mess that we are in right now.

I am an optimist and I have faith in my country, but I worry about our current mood.  It would seem to me that too many of us have lost faith in what has made us the greatest nation in the history of the world.  We are depressed because people who are hungrier than we are manage to take jobs away from us and we are angry because some of our businesses are aiding and abetting the process.  We hanker for yesterday's world, have trouble seeing today's world clearly, and refuse to see tomorrow's world.  If we continue to go down that path it will take us to places that we need not go.  Why not embrace the change that is upon us and find a safe path forward that includes learning the new ABCs.  Ask yourself when was the last time you learned anything really new?  We can all see at least some of the problems that face us.  If you are one of the "permanently unemployed," pick a problem, learn about it, and then do something to fix it.  With that kind of an attitude and preparation I'll bet you won't be unemployed much longer

Monday, November 28, 2011

We're the really stupid ones.

We all talk about a center-right country, but recent polls make it appear that this country is close to fifty percent conservative and fifty percent liberal in our political views.  Liberals tell us that the top one per cent of this country is not paying it's fair share.  Conservatives tell us that the real problem is that we are spending too much of our national wealth.  I tend to side with the conservatives in this debate, but I argue that we must achieve some sort of consensus as we go forward, else we will flip flop back and forth between the two positions like a fish out of water.  (Fish out of water do not last very long.)

I did not like the Super Committee approach to solving the economic problem facing this country, but it appears to me that it was an accurate reflection of the public at large.  We get up on our high horses and spout dogmatic rhetoric at each other rather than making an honest effort to find common ground.  The public suspects that our government is becoming obese, fraudulent, and ineffective and the wrangling in Washington seems to validate our suspicions.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a good situation.  We are moving toward European style economic collapse faster than we want to admit.

Conservatives fervently believe that taxation is a burden that stunts economic growth and we grudgingly resort to it only when absolutely necessary.  We see big government as a drag on the free market that reduces wealth and restricts our freedom.  Liberals see taxes as a way of ensuring that everyone lives a good life and believe that government has to be strong enough to ensure that society is fair and equitable.  We all know what the deal will be - cut government spending and increase taxes.  We can all see it, but we are haggling over the details for political advantage in the run up to November 2012.

In this battle, the combatants are afraid to truly compromise because their political base will accuse them of caving, selling out, blinking, or some other unthinkable political travesty.  Our politicians are in reality too weak to do what is necessary and they mask it with bluff rhetoric that feeds their base the red meat that they require to remain convinced of their own wisdom and ideological purity.  I am critical of the politicians at all levels of our political pyramid, but I am even more critical of us.  We are the ones that elect these people and we are the ultimate source of the stupidity that is endangering our nation.

So what do we do about it?  I suggest that we need to start at the bottom of the pyramid of political power.  A useful first step would be to have a heart to heart talk with a neighbor that holds opposite political views.  Learn about why he or she thinks the way that they do and make an honest effort to see the world through their eyes.  We preach to our children that they should learn about foreign cultures.  Why not practice what we preach?  If you are honest about it, you might even learn something that would help reduce the growing gulf between the two political cultures in this country.  (A word to the wise.  Keep the initial conversation one on one.  If groups are involved the dynamics of the group destroy the honest exchange of ideas and you will end up shouting at each other.)  If you are not willing to do this, don't complain that the politicians are not able to get together to solve the problems that are endangering us all.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Compassion and Immigration.

Illegal immigration is front and center again.  Rick Perry spoke to it a few weeks ago and, just the other day, Newt Gingrich made some remarks about it.  Both of these men assure us that they are opposed to illegal immigration, but argue that we must have some compassion in dealing with the subject.  Both men have been vociferously attacked for their comments.  I am not certain that I fully understand either man's position on the subject yet, but I think that I am closer to Gingrich than to Perry.  As I understand it, Governor Perry actually favored providing instate tuition to illegal immigrants living in Texas.  If that is his position, I completely disagree with it.  I see no reason to give an illegal immigrant any such benefit and I see lots of reasons not to do so.  On the other hand, Speaker Gingrich is suggesting that we thoroughly vet every illegal immigrant and give some of them who have managed to integrate themselves into the fabric of their local community something that he calls a "certification of legality" that would permit them to stay in this country but not give them the rights of citizenship.  Gingrich is famous for saying simple things in convoluted language.  I am assuming that this is another instance of his being articulately tongue-tied and what he really means is that he wants to give them an old-fashioned work permit.  I completely agree with that proposal and believe that it is one of the keys to resolving the problem.

I have posted my opinions about immigration several times before (see August 1, 2010 for a sample).  As the current illegals are proving every day of the week, America needs immigrants to do the work that legal citizens disdain.  We've got nine percent unemployment, but our unemployed do not want to wash dishes, or clean somebody else's house, or pick lettuce, or collect garbage, or….  The list is a long one and proves that we need a large inflow of menial labor in this country.  That should be enough motivation to get this situation under control, but it is not the most important reason that we need to get our immigration policies straightened out.  America has long been a magnet for the world's best ideas and most dynamic innovators.  An intelligent immigration policy will help to ensure that these ideas and people continue to gravitate to America rather than to one of our increasingly able competitors in the global economy.  So, for what it is worth, I advocate hermetically sealing our borders to illegal entry and liberalizing the policy that we implement at border crossing points to include work permits for the manual labor that we obviously need to make this country function.  At the same time we have to set intelligent quotas and regulations that makes it possible for the best and brightest to continue to come to this country.

If we were to be very honest with ourselves we would admit that the subject of immigration has overtones of racial and ethnic prejudice.  To say that holding these prejudices in the twenty first century is morally wrong is true, but it is only half the story.  It is also infinitely stupid.  People that some of us feel are racially or ethnically inferior to native born citizens are taking our jobs away from us at home and abroad and they are doing it because they can do those jobs as well as legal citizens can and they are willing to do them for considerably less remuneration.  If we were to face facts, we would have to admit that illegal immigrants generally work as hard or harder than legal citizens and most of them have admirable family values similar to what our educational system claims is one of our national strengths.  If they broke the law to get here, I don't want to just give them amnesty, but I certainly do not mind letting them stay as guest workers with limited legal rights.   At the same time, it is clear that there are a very significant number of very bad people who have come into this country illegally.  Obviously, we need to ferret those people out and either put them in jail or kick them out of the country.

President Obama's policies with regard to illegal immigration are divisive and do not adequately address any of the real issues.  He has not sealed the border and he has supported those that demand amnesty.  It is another of the reasons that I want to remove him from the office that he currently holds and send him back to academia where he might very well contribute to the national conversation in positive ways.  In 2012, we need to elect a president that can straighten this mess out and I give Newt Gingrich credit for being willing to tackle this in what currently appears to be an intelligent manner.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The value of political compromise.

I recently heard Condoleezza Rice explain away what I consider to be slimy political tactics by saying that America has a rough and tumble political system and it is critically important that we thoroughly vet the candidates.  I suppose that her view is the correct one given that the position of President of the United States is clearly the most difficult job in the world.  It does not, however, mean that I have to like the kind of thing that happened to Herman Cain.  Until the charges of misconduct are proven, I would argue that he should not be dismissed as a candidate.  To do so is to permit character assassination to continue in this country unchallenged.  As I have said before in this blog, I do not support Mr Cain because I believe that he lacks the experience necessary to do the job, but I assure you that it does not have anything to do with the unproven charges of inappropriate behavior.  Before any more liberals get up on their high horses and complain about unproven allegations against Herman Cain, I want them to run their excuses for Presidents Kennedy and Clinton by me one more time.  (They can leave Teddy Kennedy and Chappaquiddick out of the discussion, because I will not change my mind about that one.)

At the present time, we have two front runners in the polls and the mystery of Iowa still ahead of us. Like the rest of America, including those living in Iowa, I have absolutely no idea what the political landscape will look like in another month or two, let alone after New Hampshire, but I am basically content with the way things appear to be going and can easily support either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich as the Republican candidate.  They are two very different individuals and their leadership style would be very different, but they hold out the promise of one critical qualification - the desire to unite the country around center-right principals.  I have heard Romney address the issues that apparently make it difficult for many conservatives to support him and I can accept his answers.  As for Newt's "political and personal baggage" I am willing to let bygones be bygones.  I don't know what really happened in his private life and I am not overly concerned because he had some ideas that turned out be less useful than he had originally thought. 

I know of very few people who have lived a perfect life and have never had to change their minds about anything.  I am looking for a president that can first and foremost pull this country together and govern from the center.  I am very supportive of the Tea Party sentiments as far as encouraging a smaller footprint for government and I definitely want to get our massive debt under control before it sinks the ship of state, but I continue to believe that we need to bring all of America together in support of these values.  We can not do that by electing another person to the presidency that is doctrinaire about ideology.  We did that last time around and look what it got us.  While I am on this subject, I should mention Congressman Ron Paul.  In many ways, he is the most doctrinaire candidate still in the political mix and that includes Barack Obama.   Paul has a lot of support in Iowa and might do well in the upcoming Caucus vote.  I love to hear the congressman debate the other candidates and viscerally relate to many of his positions, but I do not support him for president.  The world is an infinitely complex place and a doctrinaire approach to all of it's many faceted problems just will not work.  Difficult as it is to accept, we need to learn to value political compromise.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How to get The Job.

How does a young person get a job these days?  With literally millions of people looking for work, it is obviously not as easy as it might be in times when there is full employment.  That is a given, but what does one do about it?  If it were me, I would first decide which job I wanted and was suited for (see yesterday's post).  After I had completed that essential step, I would outline a campaign to get that job and it would not be limited to filling out a job application and going home to wait for the phone to ring.  I would go through the correct procedures to include completing the job application as carefully as possible and thinking hard about the interview process, if there is one.  What is it that this organization is looking for in an employee and why do I fill that bill of particulars?  I would make sure that the organization learned that I would not be just marking time, but that I intended to make this job the first step in a career.  I would let them see a bit of the passion that I had for the objectives of the organization and let them know that I was doing what I could to prepare myself for a lifetime of endeavor in that particular field.  Above all, I would not play for pity by resting my case on the fact that I needed the work (even if that were to be true).  Remember that very few organizations that are worth anything are actively trying to hire lethargic losers.  Most want to fill their ranks with intelligent, ambitious people who will work hard.

OK, let's get real here.  In today's world it is possible to do all of the above and still not get the job.  There is a lot of competition and even though you might be the best person for the position that you are seeking it might be that the people who are making the hiring decisions will not see your true value to their organization and will reject your application.  If it were me, I would immediately reapply and I would find a way to get face to face with the person or persons that make the hiring decisions.  I would be as polite as possible and absolutely avoid any sign of hostility or desperation.  I would not waste their time.  My objective would be to quickly and succinctly project determination and sincerity.  Think about it.  We all know of examples of people who are eminently qualified for a particular position on paper, but who lack what it takes to be successful.  There are, of course, a lot of things that go into making someone successful, but one of those qualities is usually the ability to persist in the face of adversity. 

Let's assume that there is a time lag involved in this process.  You have developed your campaign, but for one reason or another you can not get the job that you want right away.  What do you do about it?  If it were me, I would not go on any form of welfare.  I would go out and get a different job or jobs to make ends meet until my campaign succeeded and I would make absolutely certain that my target audience knew what I was doing.  If at all possible, I would find work that was related to what I wanted to do in my career, but the essential thing here is to project an attitude of self-reliance to the people who are considering hiring you.  I would also continue my education in the career field of my choice even if it is just reading books out of the library.  Every scrap of relevant information you can accumulate will help in that next interview and working anywhere is more educational than sitting home sucking your thumb and watching television.

If you go this route, I can not guarantee success, but I do guarantee that you will have a better shot at it than if you just roll over and accept the conventional wisdom that 9 per cent joblessness means that you can not have a job.  In fact, if you do that, I can guarantee that you will be a failure.  This world needs creative successful people.  Why not be one?  If you do not believe in yourself, why should anyone else?  Go get the job that you want, help us dig this economy out of the hole that it is in and assist the 9 per cent find work.

PS:  This posting along with yesterday's post are fairly presumptuous.  I understand that I am not all-knowing, but for what it is worth, this heartfelt advice is based on my own experience in life and is meant to be helpful to folks just starting out in this bewildering world.  I remember what it was like a little more than sixty years ago when I left the family cocoon and was initiated into the real world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gratuitous advice to the youth of America.

There are folks out there that actually believe that there is less opportunity now than there was in their parents' day.  They are wrong.  No matter where one looks one can find opportunity.  Look at the medical field.  It is exploding with new knowledge about the way our bodies work, why we get ill, and how we can stay well.  New medicines are being developed to deal with all manner of health challenges.  People are living longer and their health requirements are changing dramatically.  If I were a young person I would seriously consider a career in some aspect of the health industry.  If I had a love for science, I would go into research and work with human cell technology.  If I wanted to be of help to others, I might become a nurse.  If I didn't like needles and blood, I would go into administration and find a practical way to digitize those mountains of paper files that crowd doctor's offices.

Or how about energy?  Why not help tame coal and make it more friendly to our environment?  The guy or gal that does that should get a mantle full of Nobel Peace Prizes.  Be the person that figures out how to successfully store large amounts of energy and you will crack the brick wall that keeps solar from being practical.  Figure out how to more economically transfer power from one point to another and you will not only reduce the price of copper, but make it possible to bring electricity to all of the corners of the earth.  Successfully harness one of the really clean energies to an automobile that can drive a few hundred miles on a charge and you instantly become a millionaire (if that is what turns you on).  There is a world of opportunity embedded in all of the many problems that face society.  Think big, find a sector of our economy that interests you and work out a game plan for your career.  Don't rely on someone else to discover your worth, they are going to be too busy working on their own game plan.  You must do it yourself and you must be realistic. 

The first thing that you must do is accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses.  This includes what you like and don't like, but it also includes things like how well you take to technology, whether you prefer to work with your hands, how good you are at relating to other people, how much money you have, where you live, who you know, what kind of education you have, and a whole raft of other specifics.  For many, this is going to be the hard part.  Screw this up and you waste a lifetime.  You must be brutally honest with yourself and you must do this as early in your life as possible.  Once you have that done, you are in a position to realistically select a career path.  Too many young folks do not do this and wake up after four or more years of college to find that they don't much like where they are in life and they then complain that they do not have any opportunity.  I suspect that some of these folks are huddled in tents in one or the other Occupy Wall Street protests currently in progress around the country.

OK, let's assume that you have made the personal assessment honestly and accurately and you know who you are and where you want to go with your career.  At that point in your life you are in command of your life, but you probably don't really believe it yet.  It is important to understand that you have a monumental advantage over all of the people around you who do not know what they want to do with their lives.  Those folks are going to be waiting for someone else to give them a job while you are going to go out and get a job.  (The verbs in that sentence are critical.)  The next step in the process is to decide which specific position in which specific organization in the career line that you have chosen that you are actually prepared to handle effectively.  Here again you must be brutally honest and neither cocky nor timid.  This is another tough spot for a young person with limited life experience, but you must do the very best that you can if this is going to work.  Aim too high, get lucky, get the job, and flame out.  Aim too low and waste your time. Neither is very good, but if it were me, I would err on the modest side - it's safer and I've got time on my side.

Once you are in the organization of your choice, it is time to learn as much as you can about what makes it tick.  In addition to the substantive side of the work, which is obviously critical to your ultimate success, you must also understand where decision making power resides if you are to have a successful career.  For me, this breaks down into strategic thinking and tactical maneuvering.  The strategic side of things is the substance of what your organization is trying to accomplish.  The tactical side of things is the bureaucratic struggle to advance yourself in the organization.  If you ignore either part of this equation, you seriously degrade your chances for a successful career.  I assure you that it will do you no good to merely demand that everyone treat you fairly and leave it to your supervisor or your union representative to ensure that you are not unfairly disadvantaged.  The fascinating thing about this point is that it is valid in every single organizational model that I have ever seen from tribal societies through socialist, communist, and those that allegedly are democratic.

Once you know how your organization works you are prepared to address substance more effectively.  Decide what you want to be doing in five years, ten years, and ultimately - then map out the specific positions that you need to occupy to be successful in what you want to accomplish.  Obviously, you also have to educate yourself to be able to handle those positions as you obtain them.  Identify the people who will be making the key decisions along the way.  Ensure that you get to know them and make certain that they know how you can be useful to them as you both strive to accomplish specific goals.  It very well might be that you need to consider other organizations in your game plan,  Don't hesitate to learn about competing organizations that might be useful to you during your career.  Obviously you are also going to have to make a real contribution to the substantive goals of the organization as you go forward, but I am taking that for granted and am focused here on the tactical side of the equation.  If all of this sounds a bit opportunistic, please understand that I believe that we should not only take advantage of opportunity I also see no harm in creating opportunity.  The world is not necessarily a nice place - get used to it and deal with it.  Having said that, I have found that if you do bad things to other people it will always come back to bite you in the posterior.  Call it justice or karma, I care not, but know that it is very real.  Compete hard, but treat others as you would be treated.  In addition to furthering your career, it also helps ensure that you get a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not to try is to guarantee failure.

I have no problem with folks that make more money than I do.  The more important issue for me is whether or not I can find a way to make enough money for myself and my family.  If I can accomplish that objective, I am not even really jealous of those that are astronomically wealthy.  In fact, I suspect that I probably have a better life than those that measure their value by the number of zeros in their bank balance.  I suggest that the problem that faces America today is that there are too many folks out of work - not that there are too many rich people.  The dichotomy is troubling, but the way to redress the problem is to create jobs for those that do not have work.  The way to screw our future up is to continue to take money from the wealthy and use it to perpetuate joblessness.

The folks that were at the heart of the original Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are not bad people.  They appear to have been joined by a variety of less attractive activists along with a liberal sprinkling of loons, but the original core of frustrated young people should not be lightly dismissed by conservatives just because they are inarticulate and poorly organized.  They are representative of an important part of our future.  They need to be engaged in an honest discussion that deals with their perceived problems.  To leave them foundering is to waste the potential that they represent.  To avoid addressing their real concerns substantively is to "kick the can down the road."  This overused phrase is an excellent description of problem solving in modern America.  Not convincing young folks of the values inherent in our economic system is to ensure that this country will continue to move left as they grow into the political majority.

One of the problems that causes so much of the discontent with the so-called one per cent is that too many people are frustrated because they can not figure out how to become part of that elite club.  In today's economy, salaries are squeezed and advancement is made difficult by a faltering economy.  Layoffs are the order of the day.   The traditional conservative theme of hard work leading to a better life is a hard sell to a young college graduate who can not find work outside of a fast food emporium.  Our call of "take a bath and get a job" might well be the best advice out there, but we should not be surprised when many young folks think that we have been taking too many geriatric medications.  Youth is, by definition, cocky, no-it-all, impatient, inexperienced, and often wrong, but it is also our future.  If we are so certain that we have all of the answers we should not be afraid to engage these folks in honest conversation.  Maybe even give them some honest recognition rather than just belittling them because they do not currently have a job and are very obviously distraught.

Now, having said all of that, I still believe that these folks ought to fold their tents, take a bath, and get a job.  Believe it or not, there is opportunity out there for imaginative, hardworking, intelligent people of any age who can help businesses and organizations deal with the tough times that are upon us.  Solve real problems and you will be recognized as someone of value.  God knows there are enough problems out there in this country to go around.  If you folks are so all fired smart, share your intelligence with the rest of us and help get this country going again - before really hungry people in other parts of the world take too much of the pie away from all of us.  My suspicion is that the one thing that might be holding you back is fear.  I assure you that it is a common to all of us - old and young alike.  What if I try to do something and fail?  So what?  Try again, and keep trying until you succeed.  The only way to remain a failure is to not try.

You may say that this advice is old fashioned and out of date.  I would call it fundamental truth and I would point to a legion of Americans that have proven it's validity.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Future is Full of Opportunity

In today's America, the public is increasingly invested in business and that has significant benefits, but it also has some challenging side effects.  Understandably, the public wants the best return on it's investment that it can obtain.  Capital literally moves all around the world in search of maximum returns.  At the same time, in it's role as consumer, the public demands the lowest price possible for the goods and services that it purchases.  As a result, the public is simultaneously exerting forces on the market place that are at odds with one another.  Profit and low prices at the same time.  There are a lot of different things that come into play including production efficiencies, transportation advantages, government involvement, etc, etc, etc, but, at the end of the day, labor is the one component of price that usually takes the biggest hit.  In today's global marketplace, that gives economic advantage to poorer countries and those that can organize themselves sufficiently to take advantage of it are doing better than they have ever done before.

As American companies, including those that are owned by the public, seek to be competitive, they have sought to take advantage of the lower cost of labor in foreign places to meet the demand for profit generated at home.  The result is that American jobs have flowed offshore and American capital has followed.  It is a fact of life in today's global economy and it is obviously a very complicated fact of life.  Here at home, while we bemoan the loss of good paying jobs and are forced to take lower paying positions or government handouts, we have considerable political turmoil and confusion.  Some advocate "getting tough" with our trading partners and demanding a "more equitable" trading relationship.  There is no question about this.  We need to do everything that we can to ensure that our trading partners are playing by the rules of free trade, but that, by itself, is not going to satisfactorily deal with the challenge adequately.  We must find ways to leverage our current technological superiority (while we still have it) to find ways to produce high value products efficiently and better than the competition.

We have moved past the industrial revolution and we must adapt to that fact of life.  We can still benefit from a few old fashioned blue collar manufacturing jobs, but the bulk of our huge labor force is going to have to transition to highly skilled positions producing high value products that are difficult to produce elsewhere.  Today, we wear clothing manufactured in Latin America, drive automobiles with parts produced in Canada, Japan and Mexico, eat grapes grown in Chile, and play Angry Bird on tablets and phones produced in China.  The good news is that with economic advances being made around the world, the market for those high value items will be there and the money necessary to purchase them will be too.  The problem that faces America today is not unlike that which faced our great grandparents when they left the farm and took jobs in the factory.  Once again we have to demonstrate the capability to adapt to changed circumstances.  Adapt and we will succeed.  Fail to change our ways and we will go into decline.

So what are these high value products of the future?  I am not smart enough to know what they are specifically, but I know where to look.  Many of them are where the problems are.  With seven billion people on earth we are going to severely test our global supply of fresh water and we are going to need more and better agricultural production.  As economies all over the globe progress, they will need more energy.  The health of the global population is an obvious challenge right now and it is going to get even more challenging in the decades ahead.  In short, look at the big problems that we face on this tiny spinning green sphere and you find the economic opportunities that beg to be addressed.  America has the basics necessary to make this transition, but we sorely need the leadership that will get us pulling together to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.  This is one of those places where I credit our president with understanding the problem, but I fault him for not finding workable solutions and providing the leadership necessary to make the transition.  Mr. Obama needs to be reassigned to a job where he can help with new ideas, but not hinder with bad policies and divisive rhetoric.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Class Warfare or a Real Problem?

Much as I hate to say it, it is beginning to look as though what conservative pundits are calling President Obama's class warfare campaign is working - at least among his liberal base.  I live in California and many of my friends and neighbors are very liberal.  Last night, my wife and I went out to dinner to celebrate a personal milestone.  One of the waitstaff volunteered that he was going to vote for Mr. Obama.  I indicated that I was going to vote Republican this time around.  He then told me that he would not vote for Newt Gingrich "if you held a gun to my head."  I asked why, and he explained that Newt had worked for Fannie and Freddie and had been paid $1.6 million.  He voiced no substantive complaint regarding Gingrich's conservative positions on issues.  It was enough for him to know that the former speaker had received a massive amount of money.  I am fairly certain that the gentleman that I was talking with favors the liberal values inherent in Fannie and Freddie and I am also certain that he does not know what advice Gingrich gave those two institutions.  It appears that it was enough that Gingrich made a very large amount of money to disqualify him for the position of president.  The idea that Gingrich might have been trying to work with Fannie and Freddie to help develop a sound housing policy was absent from consideration.

As a conservative, it is easy to complain about Obama's class warfare campaign, but I strongly doubt that his various comments about spreading the wealth around is what gave birth to the various Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.  I think that the genesis of the occupy protest is more fundamental than that, but I do fault the president for playing to the divisions within our society rather than trying to find ways to heal those divisions.  It is clear that he sees this as a useful campaign tactic to move the current political conversation away from his failed policies into an area where there is some degree of discontent with what many within this country perceive to be an imbalance of wealth.  When the conversation turns to this subject, most conservatives bristle and fight back with slogans as limited in persuasive value as those that are shouted back at us.  Work hard and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Etc.  I agree with those sentiments, but it is pretty clear to me that there is a rather large group of folks in this country that do not.  I part company with Republican political operators who say that the most important thing is to ensure that all conservative voters go to the polls.  "There are more of us than there are of them."  I would argue that while it is important to win elections it is even more important to achieve some degree of consensus about what our national goals are to be going forward.  If all conservatives do is win the election we ensure that we will lose it next time around.

Although I am not angered by it, I do find the huge amounts of money that are being paid to a relatively few flesh and blood people to be fascinating.  When I seek a craftsman to perform one or another home maintenance chore, I carefully consider the hourly cost and judge him or her by the quality of their work and the speed by which they perform it.  A local plumber might receive $50 to $100 per hour.  A carpenter the same.  Yard work goes for $20 to $25 per hour these days (if you do not hire an illegal immigrant).  Then, I read about someone who has made several hundred thousand dollars by sitting in an office somewhere and I ask myself what he or she did that was worth that amount of money.  When I learn that person was given multiple millions of dollars in bonuses, I am further mystified.  I know the conventional answer - these people are paid for their knowledge, their business acumen, their leadership, their ability to see into the future, etc.  That is all well and good, but the size of these payments is beginning to stretch the credibility of these answers (and I am even less able to explain bonuses for the executives of failed businesses).  After I accept that this is just the way things are done these days, I ask myself how in the world these folks can spend these amounts of money and why they feel that they need more.

I am conservative, but even I think that, if you look at the relative remuneration of executive and labor, things are getting out of balance.  It used to be that the "common man" resented the "Robber Baron."  Carnegie, Rockefeller and that crowd took an "unfair" amount of "the pie."  Labor Unions came to the "rescue" of the "working man" and fought the good fight to restore the balance.  Today, most of the evil companies are not owned by individuals.  They are publicly owned.  Today, the evil-doers are perceived to be the executives not the company owners (because we are the owners).  Like the Robber Barons before them, all these executives want is profit and they don't care about the "little people."  Let's pause a moment and ask why these executives are so focused on profits.  The most important single reason is that the stockholders (us) demand it.  If a company does not generate enough profit, we move our money to one that does.  The board of directors then fires the guy that failed to generate the necessary profits and pays a huge amount of money to the guy who promises to fix the problem.  Voila!  Instant stupidity, but who is to blame and what do we do about it?

One of the things that we do not do about it is to continue to support the liberal policies of a government that attempts to "level the playing field" and "spread the wealth around."  To do so is to replicate the problems that currently face Europe today and have destroyed every single government in the history of the world that has attempted to implement them.  We have a system of government and an economic system that is less bad than any system that has ever been tried before in history.  It is not perfect.  We need to tune it up to meet our current challenges - not destroy it.  In order to accomplish that objective we conservatives need to join the discussion realistically not just yell louder than our political opponents.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Solindra and Crony Capitalism.

Crony capitalism is the buzz word right now.  The Solindra deal appears to be an example of an Obama supporter receiving a huge loan to support a business of questionable viability.  The details of this deal do indeed smell of the fish stall on a hot summer day, but we must remember that Obama's administration is not the first to be tainted with these types of charges.  Virtually all administrations, Republican and Democratic, in the history of our country have engaged in these same activities.  In fact, as long as we have government assistance programs, I don't see why a friend of a president can not receive assistance in the same way that a total stranger might receive that assistance.  My problem with the Solindra deal is that it was an unsound business deal, hyped effectively, that went bust, and wasted a huge amount of taxpayer money.  In addition, the restructuring of the loan to put private money ahead of public money in the event of a default would appear to me to be illegal.  And finally, it irritates me that the Energy Department appears to have tried to cover up the collapse of Solindra until after the mid-term elections, but that is a politics-as-usual side show.  The most important criticism that I have is that the Obama Administration was incompetent in deciding to support this company.

I would suggest that the Solindra fiasco is instructive of another more important challenge facing the United States and that is how we can improve our ability to compete in the global economy.  As I currently understand the Solindra story, the solar products produced by the company were of good quality and the company was trying to increase production to a level that would make them profitable.  In the end, they were unable to do that, their products remained too expensive to be sold, and they went bankrupt.  According to press reports, the competition that beat Solindra in the marketplace was primarily Chinese.  I know nothing of the Chinese solar panel industry, but it would not surprise me to find that it is supported by the Chinese government.  It obviously also has far less expensive labor costs and greatly benefits from Chinese currency manipulation.  Donald Trump would say that the Chinese are taking advantage of us and our leaders are too stupid to know what to do about it.  I agree with the Donald's assessment of the problem, but do not agree with his proposed set of solutions, which I believe would initiate a trade war with China.  That might make us feel good for a while, but nobody would win that war.

President Obama's error is strategic and, for that reason, his attempts to apply tactical solutions are going to fail every time.  Solindra is illustrative of the necessity of choosing the economic battleground carefully.  Much as we might want solar energy (and I want it as badly as Obama does), we should not try to to do battle with a competitor that has strengths that we can not match.  Much as we might not like it, we should, at the present time, leave the production of solar panels to the Chinese (and concentrate our solar research on energy storage).  If someone comes up with a panel manufacturing process that can beat their price, then this decision could be revisited, but right now let's fight on different ground.  I actually agree with Obama when he says that we should invest in our infrastructure, but I define infrastructure more broadly than just roads and airports.  I am all for repairing our highways and bridges and building better and safer airports, but I want to include our labor force, energy, and capital in the definition of infrastructure. 

This country needs to invest in job training for more fundamental reasons than just lowering the unemployment rate.  It will continue to be relatively easy to compete with the Europeans who are as sleepy as we are, but if we are to compete in the global economy with very hungry and increasingly smart Chinese, Japanese and Indians, we need to get one heck of a lot smarter than we are right now and it is going to have to start at the preschool level and go through post graduate training.  We also need to invest in our national energy resource base.  Think about the importance of electricity in the modern world.  I would argue that it is the foundation of our economy.  It is one of the resources that we take for granted, but we shouldn't.  It is almost as much of a vital resource as air and water.  It is in our national interest to secure it and to produce it as cheaply and reliably as possible.  That requires us to develop what we have at home and not be as dependent as we currently are on foreign sources.  Another resource that is critical to the economic challenges that we face is capital.  Why in the world is so much of American capital offshore?  The answer to that question is infinitely complex, but that can not be the excuse for not addressing it.  If we are to compete successfully in the global economy we need to retain our historic dominance of the capital flow, not only in this country, but in the world.  It is as though we were in a conflict and we gave our opponent one of our weapons.

For me, Solindra is a useful illustration of why I want to replace Mr. Obama as president.  The man can see the problem pretty well, but he can not even begin to find the solution, let alone bring the leadership necessary to carry us forward to meet the challenge.  He is a very smart man in the wrong job.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Anybody but Obama

In just under one year, we are going to elect an imperfect person to be President of the United States.  There are no perfect people running for office.  Those of us in the electorate should find that easy to understand.  None of us are perfect either.  All of this hubbub about Herman Cain allegedly having had an improper relationship with one or more ladies is important, but it should not overshadow the debate about what we are going to do to get this country out of the mess that it is currently in.  We call Romney a flip-flopper.  In the past, we've elected people who have changed their mind on important subjects - a lot of them.  This world is complicated.  I can understand why folks change their mind from time to time.  It might just be that Mitt Romney's ability to change his mind is exactly what we need right now.  It just might lead to the kind of compromise between political positions that we require to get past the ideological deadlock that has incapacitated Washington.  

Newt Gingrich is about to get his turn in the barrel.  Apparently, he advised Fannie and Freddie executives on the best way to deal with conservative lawmakers.  Given that he had just relinquished his position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, his advice was probably worth what he was paid.  His extensive government experience might just be the reason that we should elect him to be President.  Alternatively, of course, we could re-elect a man with impeccable family credentials, an unwavering belief in his principals, proven resistance to changing his mind, and absolutely no experience in governing, even though he has been at the helm of our government for three years.

I will take any of the Republican candidates over Barack Obama any day of the week not necessarily because they are that good, but because Obama is that bad.  This country needs a course correction and the election of a Republican is the only way that objective can be accomplished in our system of government.  Once we elect a conservative person to be president, we must encourage him or her to govern from the center.  Sure, we have to take immediate action to get our financial house in order, but the far, far more important objective is to regain our national unity.  Like the founders said - united we stand, divided we fall.  

We've got a lot of work to do and we need our mojo back to get on with it.  The rise of the global economy is eating our lunch right now because we haven't figured out how to compete in the brave new world that is all around us.  There are things that we can do to stimulate job growth in the short term, but the long term future of our economy is a far more important challenge.  We are currently worried about the fact that everything that we use is manufactured in China and our thirst for cheap has us in debt up to our eyeballs.  We take some comfort in our intellectual superiority and point to Steve Jobs as a representative of American know-how, but in the process we forget that his products are all made in China or Taiwan.  We should also note that the fastest computer in the world is Chinese.  In today's global economy, the best lawyers in the world will not protect intellectual property.

I honestly do not think that we need to accept a continued degradation of our standard of living.  If we accept that we are no longer king of the hill, it all becomes a self-fulling prophecy.  It seems to me that we need to spend more time and energy developing what we have inside our own country.  Rick Perry has outlined an energy plan that seeks to develop fossil fuels inside our borders.  I support that idea because it will generate jobs and, even more importantly, it will provide energy at lower cost and that will give us an economic advantage in world markets.  President Obama's refusal to let our ally Canada send us oil to be refined in our refineries is a terrible mistake for all kinds of obvious reasons.  Instead, he would have us continue to buy oil from Venezuela and the Gulf States, thus funding in part, at least, countries and organizations that don't much like us.  

I favor keeping those energy dollars and jobs closer to home.  Several folks have suggested that we change our tax code to encourage the repatriation of capital currently being sheltered overseas.  I think that is a good idea.  Obviously, we need to get rid of excessive regulation that is currently stifling entrepreneurship.  Liberals will rightly point out that all of this risks damage to our environment.  We must be vigilant and we must find ways to simultaneously develop our natural resources and protect our environment.  That challenge faces the entire world and offers us a place where our interest in technology can be developed into new commercial applications.  Why not be the people who figure out how to use fossil fuels efficiently without harming the environment.  (We've actually made a pretty good start in doing this, but there is obviously room for further development of the technologies.)  Really clean coal would be useful to the entire world and would be another place where we could make a dollar.

If I sound a bit jingoistic, I make no apologies.  While I do not advocate taking unfair advantage of the next guy, I see no national advantage in accepting mediocrity in the guise of fairness.  One of my arguments with my president is over this very issue.  His efforts to "level the playing field" is in reality, an attempt to squash competition.  That is not only stupid, it is also not in our national interest - nor in the long term interest of the very people he is trying to help.

Monday, November 14, 2011

There is no free lunch for any of us.

As I said in a previous posting, I think that we humans are a greedy bunch.  Most of us are also, to varying degrees, compassionate beings.  Deep down inside most of us, there is a feeling that we want to help the other fellow if he or she is truly in need.  A century or so ago, this country was a composite of small communities.  We knew most of the people around us pretty well - even in the big city neighborhoods.  We knew the reality of our neighbors' lives.  We knew who was honestly in need and who was a wastrel.  There were no government programs to help the needy, but most communities assisted those that were truly in need and ostracized those that were just plain lazy.  Small rural towns did not have as many bums as now populate our society.  You just couldn't get away with coasting through life as easily as you can now.

The transition from horse to railroads started the process, but Henry pretty much single handedly ruined the system with his newfangled automobile.  Orville and Wilbur helped too.  We became a highly mobile society.  The twentieth century saw the breakdown of the small community that had been one of the pillars of our nation and introduced today's faceless mob where few people really know very much about any of the folks that we work and live with on a daily basis.  If we get into trouble in one place we can move to another and literally reinvent ourselves.  There are a lot of obvious advantages to mobility, but there are some significant disadvantages as well.  One of the more important is that we have lost contact with each other to a greater degree than we know.  Facebook has not yet succeeded in replacing the town busybody and Twitter is not as effective as gossip over the back fence.

In today's America we see people that have a lot, people who have less, and people who have a lot less.  This inequality is a problem and morally we know that we should not ignore it.  More importantly, we can not ignore it or it will destroy our nation.  (Fellow citizens, hear this point - please.)  Those on the political left say that the rich are not contributing their fair share and, on moral grounds, I agree with them.  Those on the right say that there are a lot of freeloaders in the system who are not pulling their fair share of the load.  On very practical grounds, I agree with them as well.  Our system is out of whack and that is obviously not a good thing.  The problem is what do we do about it.  The liberal approach is to blandly demand more from those that have it in order to provide more to those that need it.  The conservative approach is to stamp our foot and demand that the poor become more productive.  Neither approach is working very well.

Newt Gingrich and others have proposed that we stop paying unemployment and replace it with job training.  I like the idea a lot and think that we should expand the principal to every aspect of the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots in our society.  As a corollary, I also favor demanding that everyone (repeat, everyone) in America pay some tax.  The basic principal would state that there is no free lunch and no government dole for doing nothing.  When that principal is applied that way (and only then), I favor demanding that the super rich pay more in taxes to help support these programs.  The conservative pundits that point out that it is wrong to demand a disproportionate amount from someone who has worked hard for their money have a point, but so do the liberals when they ask how much wealth is enough wealth.  How does one spend a billion dollars in just one lifetime?

Here is the bumper sticker:  Get rid of the free lunch, spread the tax burden out to all of us, reduce government spending significantly, and raise taxes on the folks that can obviously spare the change.  Then get off the dime and get very serious about creating jobs for all of us.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why we should use the Meat Axe on the Budget.

As we watch the interminable debates among GOP contenders, and spend our time talking about the latest gaff of one or the other, we are diverted from the very serious debt debate that is allegedly taking place again behind closed doors.  It reminds me of Rome in the heyday of lions being fed Christians as a diversion from Cesar's shenanigans in the marble halls of power.  What ever happened to transparent, participatory democracy?  With a Super Committee deciding our fate why go through the charade of electing hundreds of congressman?  Why not just admit that we are being governed by an incompetent oligarchy?  Well groomed, personable, articulate, experienced, secretive, ineffective and incompetent.  Impressive interchangeable individuals, but an incompetent self-perpetuating aggregation.

Earlier this year (February 14, 2011), I argued for taking a meat axe to the budget.  Cut the entire budget - absolutely everything - no exceptions - none - by a fixed amount and leave the implementation of where to apply the cuts to the people who run each of the various programs.  By leaving the actual implementation of the cut to the bureaucrat closest to the action, we would, in the majority of cases, get the most intelligent decision-making possible.  These are the folks that actually understand what is fat and what is sinew in the programs that they manage.  While obviously less than ideal, I continue to believe that it is the best approach.  It has the one quality that makes it practical - it is equally unfair to everyone.  There would obviously be some serious problems that would have to be dealt with as we go forward and I would hope that we could find a way to get the discussion of those problems out of the marble halls of Capitol Hill.  It would do the public good to openly debate them, not in Washington, but rather in the neighborhoods of America.

How much should this cut be?  I am willing to let the financial wizards decide it, but, if they cannot come up with a number in a reasonable period of time, I suggest that we make it ten percent.  I have worked a lifetime in government and have had managerial roles in several programs.  I have observed many more.  I know of none that I could not easily cut by ten percent without seriously impacting the effectiveness of the program.  In order to avoid as much political wrangling as possible I would also require that no program be cut by more than ten percent.  This is obviously another point that will be criticized by all, but it is necessary to retain the equity of the cuts.  There are a whole raft of government programs that should be dramatically downsized or eliminated in their entirety, but my list is going to be different than yours and we need to get our budget under control right now.  We can continue the argument about which programs need to be eliminated after we stop the bleeding.

Someone is going to point out that an Agency like the United States Post Office is already asking for more money in order to avoid collapsing.  A ten per cent cut in the Post Office budget would push it over the edge.  My response would be to implement the cut, accept reduced services, and open the dialogue with the American people about what they want to do with the postal service.  Painful as it might be, it just might be time to let the internet, United Postal Service and Federal Express carry this particular burden in our society.  Another, even more serious problem would immediately arise over a ten percent cut in entitlements.  This would immediately impact individual citizens and would stimulate understandable outrage.  It would also bring home the reality of what lays in store for all of us if we don't get our budget under control.  It is all very simple.  If we do not stop the reckless spending we will end up yelling at each other over piles of rubbish in the street just like Greece.  We have to get serious now before ten percent becomes twenty percent or more.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Break camp and go find a job.

I see humans as being a greedy bunch and I believe that the individual needs to be controlled lest he or she gets out of hand and does things that are against the best interests of the group.  The societal problem is always who exercises how much control over whom and how that control is exercised.  A lot of different systems have been tinkered with over the many millennia since our specie  appeared on earth, starting with dog eat dog and morphing into all kinds of tribes, monarchies, dictatorships, and isms.  Today, we have what we call democracy and free enterprise capitalism with all kinds of modifications that we skip over lightly in school, but apply rigorously and imperfectly in our day-to-day lives.  Scholars can easily prove that our form of democracy is not really very democratic and our form of capitalism is not really very free, but whatever our system has been, it has served us pretty well for several hundred years and our country has become the most powerful in the entire history of civilization. (Not necessarily the best, but certainly the most powerful.)

The Occupy Wall Street folks appear to be questioning the validity of our political/economic system going forward and a number of politicians are attempting to associate themselves with these inarticulate protests to push their own political agenda.  The forces that are presently at work within our society will inevitably bring change, but the questions are how much, and what kind of change will be applied to whom, and when.   This kind of situation is always politically unsettling.  Because it is happening to those of us alive today, it is in our minds, the most serious challenge that our country has ever faced.  Poppy cock.  Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, Grant, Wilson, and two Roosevelts had more difficult challenges as did a whole raft of other plain folks adjusting to changing times like reconstruction, industrialization, worldwide depression, worldwide war, and the threat of global communism.

The details are unique, but the threat is not.  Very simply put, the challenge that faces us is whether we have the resilience to modify our system adequately to deal with current facts on the ground without giving up the intangibles that have held us together as a nation.  Those of us (myself included) who cling to traditional values will inevitably be disappointed with the change that is coming, but that change is inevitable and we had better get used to it.  Having said that, I am going to continue to argue for a conservative approach to social and fiscal problem solving, because I believe that is in the best interest of all of us - liberal and conservative alike.  I believe that President Obama recognizes the challenges that face this country, but I heartily disagree with the policy set that he has proposed to deal with those challenges.  He obviously has a very high IQ and, like many other intellectuals, does not have what it takes to bring a nation together.  What we need right now is a leader that can unify the country, or at least most of it, so that we can get on with creating a better world for ourselves and those around us.

PS:  It is time for the occupiers to break camp and go find a job.  If it is true that we have tens of millions of illegal immigrants taking jobs away from honest, red-blooded Americans, it is time for some of those Americans to go take those jobs back.  If the folks who are pooping in public try to argue that they are too well educated to take menial positions, I am sorry, but I have zero sympathy for them.  Like most of my generation, I started at the bottom and worked for what I got in life.  I actually enjoyed it, but if I had not done it I would have been called a slacker.  As I look at the accumulation of high tech tents, down sleeping bags, designer clothing, laptop computers and cell phones, I have difficulty finding a better term for what I see.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I part company with those conservative pundits that hold that the Occupy Wall Street protests should not be taken seriously.  This is not to say that I agree with much that I see coming out of the various events, but the fact that they involve a lot of people and are attracting the attention of several important political groups is enough for me to try to figure out what is going on.  Not having visited any of the protests, my information is limited to what the media is reporting.  The following is just my best guess.

Video and still images of the protests emphasize youthful participants with alternative life styles.  Interviews with protesters frequently present inarticulate positions ardently delivered on a wide range of issues - economic and social.  No single theme seems to be presented by the people on the ground and some of the activity looks more like a college social event than a political protest.  An increasing number of liberal political leaders and organizations appear to be attempting to define the protests in ways that support their political positions on a number of issues, while conservative sources strive to minimize the importance of the protests and deny that they have any relevance to the real world.

My suspicion is that the initial gathering in New York was akin to a fairly large flash mob organized through social networking internet sites like Twitter and Face Book.  I doubt that there was a single instigator (if correct, an important point relevant to the future of our society).  The key participants appear to have been primarily underemployed and unemployed young people (with cell phones) whose aspirations exceeded their perceived opportunities.  If my guess is correct, this core of original participants was joined by street people and loons who are almost certainly responsible for the more outrageous happenings associated with the protests.  Eventually, various personalities seeking media coverage began making appearances among the tents and sleeping bags.

As the protesters managed to maintain their presence in the public eye, liberal politicians saw an opportunity to turn the phenomenon to their political advantage by equating them with the Tea Party.  My guess is that the combination of media bias and liberal money will have some success in accomplishing this objective.  One of the themes that I expect to see continue, after sanitation issues and inclement weather end the actual sit-in, is a discussion of what curbs should be placed on free enterprise and capitalism.  This is already an important part of the ongoing presidential campaign. 

The proper role of capitalism in our society is an important subject that must be engaged.  Limits on free enterprise is another.  Proper distribution of wealth is yet another.  Some conservative pundits treat all of these subjects as being beyond the pale for rational people.  They are wrong to do so.  To hold that economic inequality is not a real issue in this country is as much a problem for us as the massive debt that faces us.  Conservatives must engage these issues not only to win elections, but also to help unite this country and strengthen the economy that brings prosperity to the entire nation.  It is not enough to just argue that there are makers and takers.  We have to find more ways to increase the number of makers and decrease the number of takers.  We must face facts.  We are not doing as good job of it as our fathers and grandfathers did.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cain, Perry, and Romney

We are moving closer to deciding who the Republican standard bearer will be in the November 2012 presidential election.  It looks like it is coming down to Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and maybe Rick Perry.  Although I can find fault with a few things about each of these candidates, I think that it is a pretty good field.  Right now, all of the political insiders are betting on Mitt Romney even though Herman Cain is rising fast in the polls.  It appears that Mr. Cain is benefiting in direct relationship to Mr. Perry's slippage in the polls.  As such, he is being touted as the non-Romney candidate of the moment.  These same pundits are pointing out that, although Mr. Cain has a number of attractive strengths, he is perceived to be less appealing to the independent voter.  For this reason, they believe that, at the end of the day, Mr. Romney will be nominated as the Republican candidate.

Assuming that Mr. Romney is selected, we can be certain that the Democratic Party will attack him vigorously.  That is as it should be in our political system and I welcome it as a way to more thoroughly understand who he is and how he handles himself in rough waters.  After all, Mr. Romney is asking to take on the most difficult job in the world.  If he can not deal successfully with the likes of Messrs. Obama and Axelrod, how in the world will he be able to contend with people like Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?  A great deal will be made of Romneycare and the fact that he has changed his mind on a lot of fundamental issues.  His much touted reputation as a job-creator will be challenged with statistics showing that he fired people and sent work overseas.  Underlying it all will be the whisper campaign contending that his religion is nothing more than a cult.  I already recognize that all of the candidates are imperfect so very little of this is going to shock me.  If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were to be in the field it could rightly be pointed out that they held slaves.  There are no perfect people running for political office in this country.

Another theme that is starting to appear in press stories is that many liberals are so disenchanted with President Obama that they intend to sit the next election out and not vote for anyone.  Hardcore Republicans hope that this will happen because it will make their victory in 2012 easier to accomplish.  I confess that I am so convinced that we much replace Mr. Obama that I will also welcome a liberal boycott of the polls, but we must all recognize that it is not a good thing when a significant percentage of the public opts out of the political process.  Great disagreement within the public on fundamental issues is divisive and that weakens us as a nation.  Disagreement is not, in and of itself, dangerous.  In fact, it is healthy, but prolonged fundamental disagreement on issues such as those now plaguing America can destroy us.  I usually vote Republican because I am fiscally conservative, but I believe that what this country needs is a president that can govern from the center.  For many of my friends that makes me a RINO.  My friends are probably correct.  I vote for the people and policies that I think that we need at the moment.  No party owns my vote.  Right now, this country needs an economic course correction.  I will vote conservative to obtain that, but I will not swallow everything or anything that conservatives want to do just because I voted Republican this time around.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whose fault is it?

As I read the news and listen to the pundits I am struck by the fact that the contending politicians are not trying to convince anyone of the value of their proposed policies.  Instead, they are busy warning everyone within hearing of what will happen if their policies are not adopted.  Unfortunately, this includes conservatives as well as liberals.  At this point in time we are spending far too much time beating the drum about the danger of continuing our drunken spending spree and not enough time talking about what we would do instead.  President Obama is just as bad when he demands that Congress pass his jobs bill immediately without debate or the economy will continue to go down the drain.  This, of course, sets the stage for another year of bickering and maneuver leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

In part, I blame the public's short attention span for this state of affairs.  If our political figures are forced to communicate in sound bites, it is much easier to cast aspersions than to outline policies designed to deal with inordinately complex issues.  (Paul Ryan is something of an exception to this situation with his extensive writings about the budget and intense speaking tour, but then he is not running for office.)  I am also critical of the folks in the media who could do a much better job of talking to the specifics of the various issues.  Instead they pretty much limit themselves to championing or attacking the latest sound bite.  We pretty much understand that Social Security is in trouble, but are far less clear on what we should do about it.  We understand that health care is too expensive, but we don't have many concrete suggestions about the best way to bring down costs and extend coverage in the future.  We know that our national infrastructure is crumbling, but we can't agree on the best way to pay for the rebuild and repair.  Etc., etc., etc.

And then there is foreign relations about which we don't talk much at all except to agree that war is unpleasant, expensive, inconvenient, and dangerous.  If we are liberal in our thinking, George Bush's Iraqi adventure was the cause of all of our international problems.  If we are conservative, Mr. Obama's half-hearted involvement in Libya is the perfect proof that he is not ready for prime time.  For most of America, international affairs is a foreign subject about which we think little.  This ignorance is just as dangerous to our future as is our avoidance of the economic realities that face us at home.  There are even a few politicians who espouse various forms of isolationism as a solution to all of our problems - domestic and foreign.

We blame our politicians for the situation that we are in as a nation, but it is not their fault.  We elected them.  Granted they can surprise us after they get into office, but basically they are a manifestation of the mood of the country at the time that they are elected.  I might rail at the president's stupidity, but he is in reality nothing more than the personification of us - the American public.  If we want a better America we are going to have to do more than just whine about how the place is going to hell in a hand basket.  We are going to have to dig in and make it this country that we want it to be.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New York's 9th Congressional District

Yesterday's election of Republican BobTurner to New York's 9th District congressional seat is a clear repudiation of President Obama - no matter how the New York Times and the White House try to spin it.  The single most important issue in the election was America's relationship with Israel, but other issues were obviously intertwined.  Former Mayor Ed Koch, a lifelong Democrat and a strong supporter of Israel, supported Turner over David Weprin and called for New Yorkers to send a message to President Obama about both his domestic and foreign policies.  As a Jew himself, Koch not only influenced the Jewish vote, but more importantly reflected the feelings of the electorate at large.

Conservatives should take heart that a heavily Democratic congressional district took this important step, but we should not be overly optimistic.  There is still a long road ahead to November 2012.  It is pretty clear that a lot of folks are fed up with this President's inept policies, but we have yet to clearly articulate the conservative alternative.  We are still at the stage where it is acceptable to explain Mr. Obama's stupidity, but we are rapidly approaching the point where folks will start demanding to know what specific things we would do to change things.  The Republican led House has passed a number of specific bills that are relevant to this debate, but they languish in the Senate where Harry Read refuses to let them come to a vote and the media ignores them as not being newsworthy.  The public knows little about them or the issues that they address.

This situation will continue until we settle on the specific candidate that we want to lead the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential election.  Before anybody can assume that mantle he or she has to convince conservatives that they are the best suited to the task of defeating Mr. Obama.  Liberals don't get their say until the general election.  In order to be selected as the conservative candidate a person has to prove his bonafides as a conservative.  This process frequently scares liberals who are watching from the sidelines and that fright frequently carries over into the general election where they vote against the Republican contender. 

One example of this is the current tentative discussion of Social Security reform.  Governor Rick Perry has called Social Security a ponzy scheme and Governor Mitt Romney has taken issue with that characterization.  In the weeks ahead, both men will be forced to expand on what they would do to fix the problems plaguing Social Security and that discussion will frighten a lot of American voters.  President Obama will likely continue to ignore Social Security in the hope that the Republican Party will scare enough voters that he can be re-elected.  The 2012 election will be a test of the American public's ability to come to grips with the real issues challenging our nation.  In a very real sense it is more about us - the electorate - than it is the candidates.

Monday, September 12, 2011

GOP Debate & Obama's Speech to Congress

The GOP presidential debate turned out to be about as I had expected. We did not get any new insight into real solutions offered by the various candidates, but we did get another view of how they handle themselves in limited debate. Rick Perry came across as forceful, Mitt Romney looked moderate, and everybody else continued to melt into the background. The President's speech to the Joint Session was also pretty much what we had expected with a call for a new stimulus bill, some temporary tax relief and a demand that Congress pass all of it or nothing. The pundits and the media are commenting on both events along party lines with the Wall Street Journal pointing out what is wrong with the President's economics and the New York Times taking shots at the GOP contenders.

This will continue for the next year as we gear up for the 2012 presidential election. The extreme left and right are set in their ways. They will not change. The key to winning the next election is, of course, the political center. My guess is that Perry will continue to play to the more conservative elements in the Republican Party in an effort to win the primary fight and Romney will continue to argue that his "more moderate" position makes him more electable in the general than Perry. Tim Pawlenty has made his choice - he supports Romney. I suspect that other conservative voices will begin picking sides as we draw closer and closer to the primary. At the same time, the President will, of course, be in full campaign mode and will do everything that he can to shape the forthcoming debate in Congress to reflect well on his re-election bid.

From my prospective, the good news is that both Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are fading in the polls. As I have written before, I respect both ladies, but feel that they would be too divisive if elected president. The entire field of candidates is composed of very good people, but I am content to have it come down to Romney and Perry. I have a lot of very staunch conservative friends. My expectation is that they will favor Perry over Romney in the primary fight. Fortunately, there is enough time that we do not have to rush to judgment. In an ideal world I will be looking for a candidate that can reverse the disastrous course that we are on as a nation and simultaneously pull us together as a people. A very tall order that requires more than eloquence at the microphone.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thank You Mr. Boehner

Wednesday evening, I expect to watch the debate among some of the contenders for the honor of being the Republican candidate for president.  It is a useful forum and I am glad that Mr. Boehner refused Mr. Obama's request for a speech to a Joint Session of Congress.  Awkward timing or political gamesmanship I know not, but I tend to suspect the later.  Either the president's staff is overly partisan or just incompetent, either way, the situation does not smell very good.  Had Mr. Boehner acquiesced, most of the media would have broadcast the President's speech and those of us trying to decide who to support in 2012 would have been denied this peek into the thoughts of the various candidates maneuvering to replace him.

Having said that, let me quickly go on to say that I do not expect to learn very much from the debate.  The problems that our country face are far too complex to be "discussed" intelligently in this type of forum.  What we will get when all is said and done is an insight into the way these people think on their feet and how adroit they are at producing politically sensitive sound bites.  The "winner" will represent an accomplished politician that was well prepared by his or her staff.  Personality will count for more than substantive analytical thought.  (Tim Pawlenty has already fallen by the way, a victim of the personality wars.)  According to the pundits, most viewers will be watching Rick Perry tonight to see how he holds up to the hopes that he has managed to generate among conservatives in recent months.

What we see Wednesday night will be important, but of even more importance will be how the media spins the debate.  One of the candidates will probably stumble and some other candidate will capitalize on his or her gaff with a clever rejoinder.  The press will spend more time on that exchange than on any of the substantive proposals that the various people present (if they present any).  The media coverage will influence the twittering electorate.  This will result in a change in the all important polls.  Someone will emerge with a higher rating than they had going into the debate and he or she will be seen to be "gathering steam."  As this process continues, we will eventually pick a candidate that some of us like and some of us do not.  As Mr. Obama has demonstrated, we won't really know much about the person that we elect until they get into office.  It's kind of like the famous Pelosi statement.  "We have to pass the law to find out what is in it."  In the case of our president, we have to elect him or her to find out who he or she really is.

I also look forward to hearing the President speak Thursday night and I am glad that he is not going to make me choose between NFL football and a speech to the Joint Session of Congress.  I confess that I am tired of Mr. Obama's  speeches and fear that, to my deep embarrassment, I might have chosen the Saints/Packer game over the speech (understanding, of course, that I could read the speech the next morning on the internet).  Like the political theater of the forthcoming Republican debate, I do not expect my president to say anything new.  I am deeply jaundiced by his oratory over the years.  Well crafted phraseology, superb meter, wonderful voice inflection, goals worthy of lofty ambition, and full of heartfelt promises that are demonstrably devoid of sincerity.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Electoral Silly Season

We are fully engaged in the silly season that unfortunately always precedes a major election in this country.  People on left and right of the political spectrum are spouting rhetoric designed to curry favor with their political supporters rather than to try to find solutions to real problems.  Voters who are in the political middle are trying to figure out which set of politicians they should support even though the problems facing our country are so complicated that it is virtually impossible for the public to understand what is involved - even if we had access to the necessary data.  The fact that this political system works at all is amazing.

My own take on all of this is fairly straight forward.  As I see it, our most pressing immediate problem is that we are spending too much money and have already accumulated a staggering debt that is threatening to destroy the country.  If you are still confused about this point read some of Paul Ryan's analysis, or listen to a couple of Ron Paul's or Michelle Bachman's recent tirades.  If you are confused about what our President intends to do if re-elected, listen to any of his speeches where he fails to address the major causes of our debt crisis and explains his plans to spend more money in the future.  If you are confused about who is to blame for our current problems look in the mirror and face up to the fact that the American public has gotten fat and lazy.  Over the years, we have elected politicians on both the right and the left who have promised more than we can afford.

As the 2012 election draws nearer, I am clear in my feeling that Mr. Obama must be replaced for all of the specific reasons outlined in earlier posts to this blog.  I wish that I could, in good conscience, champion one of the current Republican contenders for the presidency, but I can not.  None of them are an ideal candidate.  I can see things that worry me about each of them.  It is particularly difficult to understand what they stand for at this point in the election cycle because they are still talking primarily to their political base.  Their statements are carefully crafted to avoid angering their most ardent supporters within the far right.  They need those folks in the primary fight.  In addition, some of the potential candidates have not yet declared, so we know even less about them.  I continue to root for Chris Christy, but do not expect him to be able to walk on water.  He just looks like the kind of no nonsense manager that we need at this point in time.

When all is said and done, I will almost certainly vote for the Republican candidate - not because I believe that he or she is perfect, but because I believe that America can not afford another four years of Mr. Obama.  I believe that this country needs a course correction and our political system provides no other way to achieve it than to change the political balance of power in Washington.  If we do elect a Republican to the White House in 2012, I do not expect that I will be totally satisfied with all of his or her decisions.  I am not deluded into believing that Republicans can do no wrong and I believe that America will still need to be watchful of our political leadership to ensure that it is truly looking after the best interests of this country.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

S&P Downgrade is Symptomatic

The S&P downgrade of the credit worthiness of the United States of America was predicted.  It happened.  We are shocked.  We should not be.  S&P told us what we had to do for them to continue to consider our economy worthy of a Triple A rating.  We chose not to do it.  They downgraded us.  (Please note that they are telling us that they will do it again unless we get serious about improving our economic posture.)

My guess is that we will now argue about whose fault it is and continue to quibble about what it all means.  Eventually we will all get used to the situation and will move our national conversation on to other more important matters like the relative merits of Twitter, Facebook and Google +.  We will take solace in the fact that the rest of the world is in a bigger mess than we are and rich people all around the world will probably still invest in America because it is less risky than most other places.  If they insist on more interest on their loans we will pay it - after all it is just money.  We can always print more.

Our president wants to even the economic playing field within this country and, although he probably did not plan on this downgrade, it should be noted that it is helping to do just exactly that.  It is making all of us poorer by the minute.  Those among us who have managed to save a little money and put it in the stock market understand the situation better than those who have not managed to save anything, but it is affecting all of us - rich and poor alike.  This added to the other stupid policy decisions that we have been making is destroying the country that I love. 

I am sad and mad at the same time.  The S&P thing is not terribly important in the big picture.  What is important is that we are spending ourselves into oblivion and too many of us think that it is a good idea.  Ladies and gentlemen we are doing it to ourselves and that makes us the dumbest group of folks that I know.  Congress is out to lunch (they call it summer recess) and the President is off to Camp David for some relaxation after all of the hard work that he has been doing lately.  Nobody begrudges these folks a summer vacation, but there are a lot of Americans that wish that they had a job from which they could take a vacation.