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.

Welcome to Wandering Lizard's Blog

Thank you for visiting our blog. If you have not already done so, please also stop by the Wandering Lizard web site.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Is the economy recovering?

I live in California.  A lot of my friends and neighbors are liberal Democrats.  They have long made the standard liberal argument that "George Bush's recession" would have been much worse if President Obama had not done the things that he has done during the past three and a half years.  When we get into a discussion of jobs, they argue that he has created hundreds of thousands of jobs.  When I ask about Solindra, I am told that government has to invest in new technology because private business will not do it.  With the current uptick in some corporate earnings my liberal friends are beginning to say that the president's policies are being vindicated.

I absolutely disagree with this line of reasoning.  A sizable proportion of the jobs that President Obama has created are in the federal government.  These jobs do provide a paycheck for the employee, but they do not stimulate the economy.  In fact, they depress the economy because we have to take more out of the private sector to pay for these new government hires.  Other jobs created by the president in experimental technology firms like Solindra have disappeared because the government's investment was imprudent and the firms have gone bankrupt.  In the process we have lost enormous sums of our hard earned money.  We are still at over eight percent unemployment in this country even after three and half years and the spending of trillions of dollars (much of which we had to borrow from China).  To say that President Obama has created jobs is technically true and substantively ridiculous.  For every job created we've continued to lose other jobs at far too high a rate.

I have to assume that Barak Obama is a good person who just does not understand the economy.  This is particularly true when he could have created hundreds of thousands of very well-paying jobs just by agreeing to the Canadian pipeline.  Not only would this have stimulated the economy in a meaningful way it would have almost immediately put money directly into hundreds of thousands of taxpaying American families.  Think about what that would have done not only to the family budget but also the bread winner's self esteem (let alone government revenues).  I can not believe that our president feels that Canadian oil ought to be sent to China and I certainly don't believe that he still thinks that the pipeline is an ecological danger.  We have been running oil through pipes for decades without incident and we obviously know how to do it.  I conclude that our president opposes the pipeline because his radical environmental backers oppose it.  (A few influential members of the liberal elite as opposed to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.)

As for the string of bad investments dreamed up by the Obama administration, I deplore not only the due diligence that was poorly done by the amateurs in the Department of Energy, but also the idea that we need to finance these kinds of ventures "because private enterprise will not do it."  The reason that private  enterprise will not invest in a Solindra is because it does not make economic sense - period.  We do have to invest in research into new technology, but we should not try to do it at the corporate level whether the owners of the company are our friends (as was the case with Solindra) or not.  In the specific Solindra case the real challenge is not building a cheap solar panel.  The real challenge is energy storage.  (Ironically, President Obama has virtually destroyed one of the organizations best suited to engage in this kind of research - NASA.)

One last point.  The current uptick in the economy is good news and I honestly hope that it continues to improve further (my future, like yours, depends on it).  I like the companies that are leading the way - Apple, Amazon, Facebook etc., but I worry a bit about the impact on the jobs picture.  Apple makes stuff and employs a lot of people, but most of the jobs are in China.  Amazon and Facebook don't make stuff and they do not employ a lot of folks.  The improvement in their business is good for America and the stock market, but it will not have much impact on our jobless rate.  I believe that we could use a fellow in the White House that understands the economy and focuses on getting us back to work.  Of our two alternatives, I favor Mitt Romney.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Immigration Reform and Senator Obama

I do not think highly of television "news," but I watch an hour or two of it most evenings to see what the talking heads are yelling about now.  Last night, I watched an interview with John McCain that provided a very interesting tidbit of information about why we do not have comprehensive immigration reform.  Given the fact that President Obama promised to get it done soon after taking office and given that he had control of both Houses of Congress for two years, I have long been mystified as to why he did not even try to do it.  McCain said that back when he and Ted Kennedy thought that they had a good bipartisan solution to the problem, then Senator Obama proposed an amendment that would remove the guest worker element of their solution after one year.  McCain indicated that the reason that Obama did this was to satisfy his "Big Labor" backers who do not like the guest worker program.  He went on to say further that both he and Ted Kennedy were most unhappy with Senator Obama's action.

Until proven wrong, I am henceforth going to assume that "Big Labor's" antipathy to the guest worker program is the reason that Democrats have not agreed to meaningfully discuss immigration reform.  Instead, they continue to attack Republicans over the issue in an attempt to woo the Hispanic vote come November.  I have never once heard any Democratic spokesman frame the immigration issue in any way that includes a discussion of the guest worker program.  Because it is such an obviously important element in the solution to our immigration problem, I wish that they would explain why they oppose it.  For all I know there may well be good reason to do so, but for the life of me I can not see what it might be.  There are jobs in this country that Americans don't want.  There are people outside of this country that are more than willing to take those jobs.  Why not let them have a temporary work permit?  No citizenship, limited social benefits, and a decent pay scale.  We could seal our border to illegal entry, make ourselves a bit more secure, improve the lives of the folks working at the lower end of the economic scale, and remove a major irritant in our society.  In addition, we could control the flow of guest workers so as not to adversely impact our own workforce during periods when our economy was weak and more of these jobs had to be reserved for American citizens.

President Obama may be a good man trying to help this country, but I believe that this is another instance where he is not doing what he promised he would do.  He is not doing what is necessary to fix our problems - even when they are simple to solve as is the case here.  Beyond that, he is not telling us why he is not doing it.  This is another case where his administration lacks the transparency that he promised.  I suggest that we give Mitt Romney a shot at the job.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ameica does not need a budget?

I will leave it to legal scholars to tell me what the law says about the budget process, but it is clear to me that we need a budgetary process that works well and is transparent to the general public.  We do not now have such a process and it is the fault of both Republicans and Democrats.  Too many decisions about how our money is being spent have been and are being made in secret.  The mechanics of doing this are varied and extraordinarily complex.  Ear marks that are stuck into bills at the last minute are relatively easy to understand as is the way in which Obama Care was decided behind closed doors and rammed through Congress by the leadership of one party.  Secret military spending is an art form that has been practiced by both parties since the revolution.  The financial implications of the relationship of the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve can be manipulated in ways that seriously undercut the value of our money and no one but Ron Paul is trying to being it to light.

When Barak Obama campaigned for president four years ago he recognized this problem and promised to fix it.  He said that he aspired to have the most transparent administration in the history of this country.  He then went on to ram Obama Care through Congress without adequate public debate.  Even the people who voted for the legislation had not read it and the Speaker of the House of Representatives explained that we would have to read the law to find out what was in it.  No matter how you read the Constitution or the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, this is not the way the process should work.  The way that it was explained to me in school was the President proposes a budget in February each year and the House of Representatives and the Senate then go on to consider it and then each passes its own version of the budget.  When the two budgets are passed they go to conference committee and work out the differences.  When the revised budget is passed by each chamber it is sent to the president to sign or veto.  In this process, the American public is educated about what is being considered and decided.

President Obama is a very intelligent person - no question about that.  My father would say, however, that he may be "too smart for his own britches."  By that he would mean that he is overly sure of himself and dismissive of others.  It is a charge that may well be valid.  President Obama may believe that he is smarter than the rest of us and knows what is best for us.  He certainly knows that he is making decisions in a non-transparent way and may feel that although it is contrary to his promise, he is doing it for our own good. The Chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz argues that we should not be worried about the fact that the Senate has not proposed a budget for over one thousand days because the budget is "just process."  For Ms. Schultz, the important thing is the leadership of our president - not the budgetary process that is required by law.  When pressed on the point she tells the questioner to ask Harry Reid.  When asked, Harry Reid just says that we do not need a budget.  When the President is asked about the problem he says that he has proposed a budget and the budget that the House has passed is not good for America.  He says nothing about Harry Reid's failure to obey the law so it is tempting to conclude that he is supportive of Reid's decision.

My assumption is that if we re-elect President Obama we will continue to operate our government in secret and without a budget.  I am extremely uncomfortable with that thought, particularly with the rapidly approaching collapse of our economy.  Mr. Obama may be smart about a lot of things, but I don't think that he should attempt to govern this way, particularly since there is no hard evidence that his policies are working.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Student Loans and the Economy

Student loan debt is a serious problem, particularly since at least half of recent college graduates can not find decent jobs.  Interest rates on these loans are set to double this summer unless congress extends legislation that holds it down.  Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to let that happen, particularly not in an election year.  The odds are pretty good that the legislation will be extended for another year, but the basic danger will remain as long as we have a sputtering economy.

In the 2008 presidential election, college youth voted two to one for Obama.  College is a very liberal environment.  The vast majority of the voices in most colleges are liberal.  It is understandable that young, well educated people want to rid the world of evil and create a more perfect society.  In 2008, Mr. Obama promised to do that.  It is very understandable that his message resonated with them. 

In the three and a half years since he was elected, Mr. Obama has failed to do the things that he promised.  Instead, he has moved the country closer to a society that depends entirely too much on government to be able to sustain itself economically.  Although he did indeed inherit a terrible economic situation, he has not only not improved it, he has worsened it.  His policies are a large part of why college graduates can not find viable employment relevant to their outrageously expensive education.

Obviously, Mitt Romney hopes that he can convince college youth to vote for him this time around and I think that they should seriously consider doing so.  Mr. Obama's policies are not creating the kind of a society that he promised and they are certainly not creating the kind of an economy that will give college graduates good paying jobs in the field of their choice.  This is not surprising.  Mr. Obama is obviously a very intelligent man, but he lacks practical experience in those areas that we need right now in the Oval Office.   Mr. Romney's personal background appears to me to be better suited to the task at hand.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

One of the themes that President Obama continues to pound home is that he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Republicans oppose raising taxes on anyone in today's economy.  President Obama has said that raising taxes on the wealthy will permit us to pay down our debt and stimulate growth.  History has proven that the reverse is true.  Both Republican and Democratic presidents have lowered taxes and seen the economy expand.  In the expanded economy, government revenues have increased dramatically.  Never has the economy expanded or government revenues increased when taxes have been raised.  Our economy just does not work that way.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true none the less.

One of the other points buried in all of this is the definition of "wealthy."  The president is pretty vague about what he means by "wealthy."  Recently, the income level has been "millionaires."  Earlier, it was those that made more than $250,000.  My guess is that if we were to accept his "tax the rich" solution we would find that all of our taxes would increase.  Do the math.  Our debt is currently more than 15 trillion dollars.  There are 313 million people living in this country.  Less than one third of us actually pay taxes.  If you divide 15 trillion dollars by 90 million tax payers, our individual share of the debt is roughly  $166,666.67.  The average annual income in this country is about $27,000 and each one of us taxpayers owes $167,000.  So let's get serious.  No matter how you define "wealthy," raising taxes is not going to get us out of the mess that we are in.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

President Obama's rhetoric is purposely vague, but implies that "wealthy" Americans are not doing their fair share.  If we look at the debt problem realistically, he is, in reality, saying that all American taxpayers are not doing their fair share.  He is also implying that those that do not pay taxes are somehow doing their fair share.  I am going to leave this part of the President's thesis alone - not because it is ludicrous, but rather because it is irrelevant to our problem.  Rather than blame each other for not being "fair" we simply must find a way to pay our bills.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

In recent years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the size of government has increased dramatically.  Today, there are well over 4 million federal government employees and they are engaged in activities that impact virtually everything that we do.  It is increasingly difficult to manage this workforce intelligently.  Recent scandals have highlighted the problem, but they are only the tip of the iceberg.  Waste, fraud, and duplication is a serious problem in government.  Asking the public to pay more in taxes when we know that at least an important part of our money is going to be spent on lavish vacations for corrupt officials is difficult.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

I suggest that what we have to do, whether we like it or not, is to reduce our spending and stop growing the size of government.  Government provides some essential services, but it does not need to be involved in every aspect of our lives.  Simultaneously, we must grow our economy in order to produce the revenue necessary to pay down our massive debt.  We must significantly reduce the amount of our national wealth that is being paid out to cover interest on it.  That is money, our money, down the rat hole and it is a huge part of the problem facing this country.  Interestingly, if we did this, our own individual prosperity would also improve dramatically.  At that point in time, I will argue with my fellow conservatives that it is necessary to pay a bit more in taxes.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama does not see the need to follow the course outlined above.  For that reason, I suggest that we must replace him.  The nature of the economic crisis that is bearing down on us is just too grave to continue experimenting with his brand of change.  Inconvenient perhaps, but true.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We must change course.

As he was campaigning for the presidency, Barak Obama said that if he could not fix the economy in three years he should be a one term president.  This is one place where I agree with the president.  He has had three and a half years and he has not fixed the economy.  It is time for him to leave office.  He is obviously a very smart man, but he is in the wrong job.  He probably knows a lot about a lot of things, but he obviously does not know enough about how our economy works.  His policies are not only not fixing the economy, they are leading us rapidly toward an economic meltdown that will almost certainly  destroy this country.

Mitt Romney is obviously no George Washington and he does not have a white horse, but his record demonstrates that he is knowledgable about business.  Even if there were no other reasons to elect him to the presidency that one qualification is enough.  The economic problems facing this country are that serious.  No matter how you define them right now, Barak Obama's policies are leading us toward a failed government-centric society.  The plain fact is that these policies have never worked anywhere in the world at any time in history.  It is no surprise that they are not working right now right here in America.

There are a lot of challenges facing this country and many of them are extremely important.  President Obama has done a pretty good job in identifying most of them.  I don't have much of a problem with the president's list, but I do have serious problems with his suggested remedies.  I am not really sure what Mitt Romney will advocate that we do about them and I presume that I will like some of his answers and dislike others.  That is the nature of things and I am fully prepared to argue with him as we go forward, but without a sound economy we will not be able to deal with any of our challenges.  Instead, we will all be scrabbling to find ways to put food on the table for our families.

If you think that I am exaggerating the seriousness of the problem, please think again.  Look at Europe.  Not just Greece, virtually all of Europe.  Read the news reports about Belgium, Holland, France, Spain and the rest.  Then read our own press reports.  We are going down the exact same path and our rate of progress is accelerating at an alarming rate.  The 2012 elections are critical to the way in which we deal with the very real problems that face this country.  Going forward the strength of our economy will determine how successful we are in dealing with these challenges.  Our economy does not have four more years to experiment with the failed economic policies of this president.  Like it or not, we must change course.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Wealth Distribution & Politics

When he was running for election in 2008, President Obama promised to heal the divisions within America.  Although I did not vote for him in 2008, I admit that his promise to unite us resonated with me.  When he was elected, I was proud that America had managed to ignore racial divides to elect our first black president.  I was worried that he would implement economic policies that I did not support, but felt that the country might be better off in the long run if we could get the racial divide behind us.  I am extremely disappointed that he has decided to abandon the aim of healing us and is now doing everything that he can to divide us.  I honestly thought that he was sincere, but now see that he was not.  He is just another politician trying to get reelected any way that he can.

There are a number of dangerous fault lines in the American social landscape.  Race is one.  Wealth another.  Political ideology another.  Religion another.  Geography yet another.  The list goes on and on and I see evidence that it is part of the Democratic strategy to plumb the depths of our greatest fears and antagonisms to divide us in ways that benefit the President's reelection campaign.  Today's emphasis on wealth is but one of the attack lines.  In this connection, it is perhaps relevant to note that all of the people around Mr. Obama that are warring on wealth are themselves exceptionally wealthy and this includes Mr and Mrs Obama.

The recent silver spoon speeches are an obvious attack on Mitt Romney's family and suggest that because Romney's father was wealthy we should not vote for Mitt Romney.  This line of reasoning continues to imply that because Obama's family was not wealthy we should vote for Barak Obama.  No where does Mr. Obama note that Mitt Romney gave away all of his inheritance before he went on to a successful career as a businessman.  No where does Mr. Obama note that his own wealth came directly from his political career.  The objective of the silver spoon speech is to fan envy and to obfuscate, not to speak to the real challenges that face this country.  I say shame on the man who promised to unite us.

I suggest that we all want to be wealthy and I understand that some folks resent people who have more wealth than they do.  We are not going to change human nature on this point in the foreseeable future.  Mr. Axelrod's campaign strategy for the president may be despicable, but I have to admit that it is also exceptionally clever.  All by itself this attack is going to generate votes for Barak Obama come November 2012.  It is way too bad that we can not effectively make the point that it does none of us any good to destroy the wealth of others just because we want more.  The wealth distribution argument that Mr. Obama champions may generate votes, but it is a dead end in economic terms.  Because it stifles economic activity it reduces the overall wealth of America.  This means that in the short run we all get less and in the long run we go bankrupt.

A better strategy to redress the imbalance of wealth that exists in this country is to create a vibrant economy that generates more wealth and gives opportunity to all to participate.  It is not a new idea.  It has been the secret of American prosperity for several centuries.  Why should we change it now?

Friday, April 20, 2012

What we're doing isn't working.

President Obama appears to honestly believe that we can spend our way out of our current economic problems.  He believes that we can continue to borrow money from foreign governments and increase the size of our own government to create enough jobs to improve the economic situation.  He has had three and a half years to prove his concept.  During that time, our debt has grown astronomically, but job growth has been anemic at best and primarily concentrated in the government sector.  The private sector has not  responded.  Government gets its financing from the private sector.  If the private sector does not grow, the United States of America goes bankrupt and that is the road that we are on.

President Obama believes that we can solve our debt crisis by increasing taxes on the wealthy, but the debt has gotten too big for that to work even if you believed that it would not further depress economic activity.   Without growth in the private sector we can not generate the revenue necessary to pay down our massive debt.  If we do not reign in our spending and start paying our debt down, we go the way of Greece.  When that happens the people who get hurt first and hardest are the people lower down on the economic ladder.  It is ironic that the President thinks that he is pursuing policies designed to improve the lives of the less well off in this country, when, in fact, he is doing exactly the opposite.

Those that favor the path that we are on use all kinds of convoluted arguments to prove the validity of the various policies at issue.  The proponents of these policies are well-educated people and each policy can be presented in a way that makes it sound appealing, but the fundamental truth is that we do not have enough money to pay for them.  The problem is made more difficult by the fact that we all have expensive government programs that we think are critical to the health and welfare of our country.  It is exceedingly difficult if not impossible to gain consensus as to which government programs should be cut.  It is for this reason that I favor a uniform cut across the board. 

I suggest that every single government entity should be cut by an equal amount, including all of the sacred cows.  We can argue about the amount, but I favor ten percent.  The cut should be forced down each of the administrative ladders within government so that it is applied as equally as possible to every single government activity.  The specific way in which the cut is applied should be left to the decision of individual managers at each level.  We all know that there is waste, duplication, and fraud throughout our government.  The managers of our programs know exactly where that stuff lives.  I have been in government and have operated government programs.  My guess is that we could cut every single government program by more than ten percent and not see the slightest effect on the efficacy of the various programs.

We must wake up and address the debt issue.  If we do not, we should understand that we are destroying our country as we now know it.  Some believe that the worst of the crisis is going to be our children's nightmare, but I assure you that it is coming on much sooner than that.  If we do not turn away from President Obama's policies right now, our present economic problems will continue to worsen at an increasingly rapid rate and our own standard of living will continue to drain down the rat hole.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dogs and Politics

Now that it appears that Mitt Romney is going to be the GOP standard bearer it is time to stop the internecine warfare and focus on the real challenges that face this country.  Mr. Romney was not my first choice for this honor, but that does not mean that I will not support him against Barak Obama.  He may not be my ideal candidate for President of the United States, but he is worlds better than the fellow who has the job right now.  Our first critical order of business is to straighten out our economy.  I am convinced that Mr. Romney is better equipped to do that than is Mr. Obama.  It is that simple.  All of the rest of the current political dialog is nothing more than distraction.

I have recently seen reports that Mr. Romney put his dog on the roof of his car.  If I ever get a chance to speak personally with him, I will tell him that I do not think that he should have done that.  I have also heard that Mr. Obama once ate dog meat.  If I ever get a chance to talk to him, I will tell him that I do not think that dog should be on the menu.  Having said that, I do not think that either of these points are relevant to these two men's qualifications to be President of the United States.  I am looking for a person who can get America back to work so that we can afford all of the good things that we all want.

I suggest that we should stop whining about rising prices and arguing about who is not paying enough in taxes and focus instead on doing what is necessary to grow the economy so that we can all afford a better life.  The first order of business in doing that is to repudiate the economic policies of the past few years and to replace Barak Obama as steward of our economic future.  After we have done that, the argument can and should continue about all of the rest of very serious challenges that face us.  With a healthy economy we can deal with them intelligently.  Without a healthy economy we can not.