Greater Krueger National Park

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

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Richard Luger and Bipartisanship

This election cycle, various conservative groups are not only attempting to defeat Democratic candidates, but they are also attempting to defeat moderate conservative incumbents in Congress.  Senator Richard Luger's defeat in the GOP primary in Indiana is one such example.  Granted, he was vulnerable for a variety of reasons unrelated to his voting record, but his primary defeat has sent an important message to other conservative candidates.

The man who defeated Luger is Richard Mourdock.  Mourdock campaigned vigorously and had very considerable Tea Party support.  Although Senator Luger had a fairly good conservative voting record in the Senate, he had not maintained a residence in Indiana for a very long time and was perceived to be more interested in national issues than those of the state that he represented.  He was also perceived by some ultra conservatives to be guilty of too much bipartisanship.  Mourdock is reported to have said during the campaign that the only compromise that he will accept is to have Democrats agree with Republicans.

I presume that Mourdock took this ultra hardline conservative position during the primary fight to ensure the continued support of the Tea Party.  Now that he has that behind him, I expect him to modify his rhetoric so as to win the general election.  Many moderate conservatives and political independents, like myself, are alienated by the overly harsh political rhetoric of the Tea Party.  The idea that conservatives should not be willing to work with Democrats to fashion solutions to the problems facing this country is utter nonsense.  To do so would be to act just like President Obama and his Democratic Congress during the first two years of his presidency.  It would ensure that conservative values would be immediately lost in subsequent elections.

I do not agree with the overly harsh Tea Party rhetoric, but still argue that we need to elect a Republican majority to both houses of Congress.  The economic danger to this country is just too great not to do so.  We absolutely need to get our economy functioning again so that we can successfully address all of the other challenges that face us.  Once that is done, I fully expect the Tea Party to wither into the background of the political landscape.  I should also note that I believe the Tea Party is serving an important long term purpose in warning ultra liberal politicians that they can not go too far with their flawed political philosophy without risking a powerful populist backlash.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Them and Us

The war of the political ads has commenced in earnest.  The Romney campaign uses the President's own words to point out that Barack Obama pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office.  These ads go on to point out that the national debt has, instead, increased by half again during his three and half years in office - from 10 trillion dollars to 15 trillion dollars and is still going up at an astronomical rate.  The other day, Vice President Biden attempted to answer this charge in a highly emotional speech that brought back memories of Howard Dean's famous rant and leveled the countercharge that "they don't understand us."  I don't follow the Vice President's muddled logic, but it is very clear that neither he nor the Obama campaign has answered the GOP point concerning the debt.   Instead, they are attempting to change the subject back to one of class warfare - "them and us."

There are differences between groups of people in this country.  Some of those differences are good and some are not.  A discussion of them is a useful undertaking, but they are not, repeat not, the looming danger that faces this country at this point in our history.  The most important immediate danger that faces us is economic and our massive debt is a critical element of that danger.  It can destroy us.  It must be addressed in order to continue a rational discussion of all of the other issues including "them and us."  For the Vice President and the President to both refuse to meaningfully address the issue of the debt is disturbing to say the very least.  Their silence on this subject, combined with three and half years of failed policies, makes it clear that they do not have a clue as to how to get us out of the financial mess that we are in.

Whether we are conservative or liberal in our approach to all of the multitude of issues that swirl around us in our political system, we must hold that system together in order to have any hope of making any real progress toward our own political objectives.  Gay rights is an important issue, immigration reform another, education yet another, poverty, racial relations….  The list goes on and on and each entry is important, but when the very existence of our country is in danger we must rally ourselves to deal with that threat so that we can continue the argument about all of the other things that plague us.  Our faltering economy is such a danger.  This coming November, we must keep this in mind and vote for conservative candidates at the national, state, and local levels.  After we restore our economy we will have the financial strength to do all of the other things that we need to do to make this country as good as it should be.  If we do not restore a vital economy, our society will continue to spiral downward into a rabble squabbling over the pennies that we have left over from the past.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Drowning in Debt

The extreme danger posed by the enormous debt that has been piled up in this country by this and previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican, is, unfortunately, poorly understood by the American public.  We have a vague fear based on an understanding of what happens to our own household budgets when we spend more money than we take in, but the problem that faces our country is much more serious even than that.  In today's America, there are enumerable safety nets, private and public, that are in place to assist those that go into bankruptcy.  It is not a pleasant process and it requires a severe restructuring of the way we live our lives, but we can dig ourselves out of the financial hole fairly easily if we so desire.  Family, community and government will provide enormous assistance and, in a worst case scenario, we can even walk away from at least some of our debt with very little consequence.  On the other hand, if our country falls into bankruptcy there is nobody around that will, or even can, do much to help us out.

In order to better understand the danger that faces us, we should be watching Europe very closely.  Several European countries are going through something very similar to what faces us in the not too distant future if we continue our profligate ways.  Greece is furthest down the path to financial and social collapse, but several other countries are hovering not far behind and there are fears that the European Union could collapse if they continue to founder much longer.  At the present time, the crisis has reached the point that there is no effective central government in place in Greece, the population is in riot mode, and the people are taking their money out of the banks in record amounts.  Please note that this is the situation even though the entire European Union and the United States are fully invested in trying to help Greece get through the problem.  If something similar happens in this country, do not expect Europe to be in any position to help us get through it.  If you think that China is going to be able to help us, please think again.  That country may have the second largest economy in the world, but its own internal problems will keep it focused on it's own self-interest.  We must face facts.  We will have to deal with the disaster all by ourselves.

It is important to understand that our massive debt is going to cause us severe problems no matter how we vote in November.  We do not have the option to avoid these problems.  They are upon us now.  Our choice in November is only relevant to how we deal with them.  For reasons that continue to elude me, very well educated liberals want to continue to borrow and spend, grow government, and tax their way out of the economic morass that we are in.  Conservatives, myself included, see this as a recipe for bringing the disaster closer and making the adverse impact of it greater for all of us.  If you think that America is somehow different from Greece, please look hard at what is going on in California.  The state is effectively bankrupt.  Governor Brown, a liberal Democrat, is now proposing severe budget cuts to state government, education and the prison system.  The last time that California went down this road, the administration released a lot of felons convicted of serious crimes.  Many of the state parks are already closed, which is ironic because much of the overspending was done in the name of the environment.  Riots have already torn up several cities in the state.  Granted, it is small potatoes compared with Greece, but it is a strong indicator of what is to come.  And we should remember that Governor Brown still has a friend in the White House who is helping to try to keep California afloat.  When the problems fully impact the country, there will be no one to help us.

I can not predict how things will go down in this country, but my gut tells me that it is not going to be pretty.  It is inevitable that we are going to see a reduction in borrowing and spending.  Economic forces beyond our reach will force that to happen.  The question is whether we face up to the problem now and deal with it intelligently or continue to pretend that it does not exist.  The liberal side of the aisle continues to block a serious discussion of the budget and spends all of it's time talking about other issues - some important and some not.  If we go with that approach, the massive debt dictates what happens.  Conservatives want to look the problem squarely in the face and deal with it now when we can mitigate at least some of the worst case results that loom out there ahead of us.  I argue that, distasteful as it may be, we must face economic reality and vote conservative this time around.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Importance of Leadership

A successful president needs to be able to provide leadership.  He obviously can not solve all of the many problems that come across his desk by himself.  The challenges are just too big and too numerous.  Somehow he needs to be able to stimulate others to do what is necessary.  If you have ever been in a leadership position you know what I am talking about.  If you have not, please understand that it can be a daunting challenge.

America is facing economic dangers that threaten it's very existance.  We can pull ourselves out of the financial hole that we are in, but we need to get our act together to do it.  As we look at the two men running for the job of president we should assess their leadership abilities.  Both men have records that are relevant.  The sitting president's record is one of failed leadership.  When he applied for the job in 2008, he promised to bring us together.  Instead of stimulating us to work together, he is attempting to divide us in every way imaginable so that he can squeak out re-election.  The alternative before us is Mitt Romney.  His record as Governor, although not perfect by any measure, is one of solid accomplishment including a proven ability to work across the political aisle.  Add to that his role in salvaging the Salt Lake Olympic Games and you have a record that includes proven leadership abilities.

Elections have consequences.  We should not be frivolous with our vote.  Mitt Romney cut off some kid's hair in school.  That was stupid.  Barack Obama experimented with cocaine in his youth.  That too was stupid.  Romney tied his dog cage to the roof of his car while the dog was in it.  That was wrong.  Obama ate dog and then joked about it.  That was disgusting.  None of these things are particularly relevant to the role of President of the United States.  A man's ability to lead is extremely relevant.  It looks to me that Romney's record is superior to that of President Obama.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mitt Romney - The Man

President Obama has started tearing at Mitt Romney in earnest now that he is the presumptive Republican candidate.  The most recent ads take up the cudgels last wielded by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich in the primary battles.  The basic point of these ads is to question Romney's economic credentials and his personal value system.  If Obama can prove that Romney is a bad businessman with bad personal values he can weaken his appeal to the American voter.  Romney's past is a valid subject for debate.  We all need to think carefully about the man that we are electing to fill the most important office in the nation.

I am certainly not an expert on Romney's business activities, but I have tried to follow the various arguments that have been made for and against his acumen as a businessman.  My conclusion is that he has been extraordinarily successful.  Not just successful - extraordinarily successful.  He was indeed born into wealth and was given a first class education, but I do not hold that against him.  He did inherit wealth, but, as I understand it, he gave it all away before he started his business career.  Even if he had not done that, I would not have begrudged him his inheritance, but I must say that his philanthropy as a young man would appear to say positive things about his personal value system.

Romney's personal character is going to be pretty hard to attack successfully based on concrete facts so he is being characterized as boring.  I don't mind having a boring person at the helm as long as he can straighten things out in Washington so that we don't go broke.  We do not need to elect a person President of the United States based upon his performances on late night comedy shows.  Nor do we need to malign a person based upon his religious beliefs as is being done in the current whispering campaign attacking the Mormon Church.  I admit that I find many of the tenants of the Mormon Church to be difficult to accept, but then I also find similar difficulties in every religion that exists in this world including the Christian Church.

There is no question that during his business career, Romney fired a lot of people and made decisions that effectively sent jobs overseas.  This has led to charges that he engaged in "vulture capitalism."  My understanding of free enterprise, whether we like it or not, is that it is hard ball.  The strong prosper and the weak fail.  An effective businessman has to make difficult decisions if he is to be successful.  Romney made those decisions and his business was successful.  The people that were fired were employees of companies that were collapsing.  The jobs that went overseas went because it was not possible economically to keep them in this country.

I conclude that Mitt Romney is an effective, hard nosed businessman and I do not see that as being a black mark against him.  On the contrary, I think that it is precisely what we need right now in the Oval Office.  Someone who understands the rough and tumble real world of business and can make the tough decisions that are necessary to make the American economy strong again.  I do not expect that I am going to agree with all of his decisions, but job number one in this country is getting America back to work.  After we get that done we can argue about all of the rest of the things that need to be addressed.  If we don't get that done we are going to collapse in on ourselves.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

California's budget shortfall has increased again.

Governor Jerry Brown announced on Saturday, via a uTube video, that California now faces a $16 billion shortfall rather than the $9.2 billion that he had announced four months ago.  He blamed weak revenue and failure to fully implement the budget reductions that he had requested.  He went on to warn that there would be further cuts to government services and increased taxes in the budget that he will present to the California Legislature in July.

Granted, California is in worse shape financially than many other states, but it is none-the-less symptomatic of what is wrong with our economy throughout the country.  Here in California, we have driven business out of the state and increased spending beyond our ability to sustain it.  The vast majority of our public policy objectives are noble, but our ability to pay our bills is just not there.  We are also leading the pack in the amount of federal aid that we receive in welfare programs.  If it were not for this federal aid we would be in even worse trouble than we are now.

California is dominated by liberal political voices and the state government is controlled by liberal Democrats.  Compare our fiscal record with the states that have recently elected Republicans to their state legislatures and governorships.   Without exception, those states are getting their financial house in order.  I fear that we, here in California, are going to be slow to learn to be fiscally responsible.  My guess is that there will be an increase in taxes on wealth accompanied by an increase in public disorder that will continue to divert us from focusing on reestablishing fiscal sanity to our state government.  Unfortunately, this situation is similar to what I see in much of America.

The choice before the American people is so clear that the two political parties are trying to frame their presidential campaign to reflect which side they are on.  Democrats are taking the position that the solution to our fiscal problem is to borrow and spend even more, grow government, and tax our way out of our current recession.  Republicans are calling for an end to borrowing from China, spending restraint, smaller government, and policies designed to stimulate the private economy.  This puts the individual citizen into the position where he or she has to choose between a group of people who admit that they are going to cut government services and another group of people who refuse to face fiscal reality.  In the end, which ever way we vote, government services to every single one of us are going to be reduced.  The question is how intelligently we go about the process.  If we choose to get our fiscal house in order right now the pain is going to be immediate and less traumatic than if we choose to hide our heads in the sand, a la California, and wait for the fantasy to emerge from the smoke and mirrors.

I do not delude myself by believing that Republicans will solve all of the many problems that face this country the way that I would prefer, but I do believe that they will do the best job of fixing the immediate fiscal problems that are currently threatening the very existence of the America that I know and love.  I am suggesting that we vote them in at the national and state levels, hold their feet to the fire and make them improve our economy, and then argue with them over all of the rest of the many challenges that face us.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


President Obama is giving campaign style speeches to his supporters in which he promises not to "go back."  He argues that we must "go forward."  Usually, I would go along and agree that going forward is better than going back, but not when we are talking about the president's policies.  His policies will take us over an economic cliff if we just blindly follow his leadership like lemmings.  It is interesting that none of his speeches explain how his policies are working to improve our lives.  Instead, they depend on empty slogans that seek to exploit divisions within our society.  Gone is the the soaring unification rhetoric.

I didn't vote for President Obama, but I confess that I was attracted to the man and to his 2008 rhetoric that promised to unify us.  After his election, I accepted him as my president in the same way that I accepted President Kennedy and I argued that we should give him a chance to see what he could accomplish.  His policies have been a great disappointment and I am now at the point where I am beginning to question his motivation.  I simply can not square his current divisive rhetoric with what I heard in 2008.

In 2008, America elected a man that promised much.  In the intervening three and a half years, President Obama has delivered little, if anything, of concrete value.  He is now asking us to trust him to deliver more if we re-elect him.  As was the case in his 2008 campaign, his current speeches rely on slogans, but now he has a record to go along with them.  It is interesting that he does not talk about the specifics of how we are better off because we elected him.  I want to go forward, but not over the cliff.  I argue that we need a different person in the White House.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Bush Tax Cuts & the Economy

The folks that are smart about money tell us that we should think long and hard about what is scheduled to happen to our economy at year's end.  Most of us are understandably focused on the forthcoming presidential elections and are making decisions as to how we will vote come November.  In making those decisions, these economists ask that we take into consideration some things that are set to happen after the elections.  In this regard, it is important to note that a lame duck congress will be in place - no matter the outcome of the elections.  This is definitely not a pretty picture.

The so-called Bush Tax Cuts are set to expire and some new Obama Administration taxes are scheduled to kick in.  The result is that the tax on investment income is scheduled to increase by 43.4%.  Liberal economists argue that a tax hike of this magnitude on investment income will not adversely impact our economy, but I am not convinced, particularly since there is no historic evidence that these government-centric policies work to improve the economy.  I believe that these tax hikes will severely limit future investment and this will further hamper the private sector economic growth that we desperately need to grow jobs in this country.  In addition, I believe that they will depress the value of the stocks that support many of our retirement funds.  Given that a very large proportion of the general public is invested in the stock market either directly or through their 401 K investments, individual families will be adversely impacted as well as large companies and wealthy investors.

I certainly do not know what will happen in November, but I fervently hope that conservatives will be able to take control of our government and steer us away from the financial cliff that is before us.  In order to intelligently grow our way out of the mess that we are in, we need to do everything that we can to stimulate investment - not stifle it.  We all agree that there is plenty of money lying around on the sidelines.  The argument is whether we collect it up and give it to the government or leave it in private hands and encourage it to be invested in our economy.  Even if the government was not rife with duplication, waste, and fraud, I would argue for the free market policies that made this country's economy the most powerful that the world has ever known.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Joblessness and Social Security

As we think about the bleak economic picture that faces us in this country we need to look beyond the immediate impact of our jobless rate and think about what joblessness is doing to social security.  When social security was established we had fifteen workers paying into the system for every one person taking money out of it.  Today, there are less than three workers paying into it for every retiree taking money out of it.  That is obviously hastening the arrival of the date on which the program will go broke.  There are a lot of difficult things that have to be done to make social security a viable program for the future, but one of the most immediate is to increase the number of people in this country who are employed and are paying into the system.

President Obama's policies are not getting it done.  Even though he has had three and a half years to work on the problem, job growth is still anemic and our debt continues to mount at an astronomic rate.  President Obama won't even address the problems of social security in a speech, let alone adopt policies to actually fix the program so that it will be there for our old age.  (The problem is not just that of our children.  It is going to hit us as well - no matter our current age.)  If we want a social security system in our future we absolutely must change the direction of our economy.  I suggest that we give Mitt Romney four years to see what he can do with the problem.  He may not initiate policies that all of us like in every sector of government, but if we stick with Obama our economy will collapse and we will go the way of Greece.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The jobless picture remains bleak.

The April job growth figures are out and they continue to be bleak.  HIdden in all of the numbers are some basic facts that should bother all Americans.  The unemployment rate fell from 8.2% to 8.1% in large part because a lot of people quit looking for work.  The Department of Labor estimates that over two million people are too discouraged with the labor market to even look for work.  Of those working, it is estimated that over seven million people are working part time because they can not find full time employment.  The result is that the total number of people working in America today is lower than at any time in the past thirty years.  Fewer people are working, our average work week is shorter, and our wage scale is down.

The reasons for this abysmal economic situation are many and they interrelate in complicated ways that few if any of us fully understand, but there are some major trend lines that we can discern if we look hard.  Whether we like it or not, America is no longer an economy unto itself.  We are part of the global economy and much of our economic well-being is driven by our ability to export products to foreign markets.  The best of our markets are in Europe and Asia.  These countries are having their own economic difficulties and that is adversely impacting their ability to import products from us.  Here in the United States, we have learned to produce more with fewer workers.  These two developments adversely impact our job market in very obvious ways.  In addition, the current administration is implementing new regulations that make business activity more difficult and more expensive.

The challenge is enormous and I am clearly not smart enough to plot out an intelligent economic recovery, but it is clear to me that what we are doing right now is not solving the problem.  Here at home, I would like to see our government adopt policies that are friendly to business rather than attempting to stifle it.  Overseas, I would like to see us do more to ensure that all of our trading partners are dealing with us honestly.  Somehow or another we must get our economy back into high gear as a first order of business.  Without a healthy economy we can not even begin to address all of the other challenges that we face.  With a healthy economy we can do just about anything that we want to do.

This brings me to this year's presidential election.  Barack Obama has had three and a half years to experiment with his theories.  We can all see that at a minimum they have not resolved our economic problems and some of us think that they have made things worse.  This November, I suggest that we give Mitt Romney a chance to see what he can do.  He may not be the perfect candidate in the eyes of every voter, but he is a successful businessman and he is better prepared to deal with the number one problem facing this country than is our current president.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Voter Identification

As we approach the November elections there is a lot of buzz about the pros and cons of requiring people to prove who they are before they can vote.  I can easily understand why this is important, but, for the life of me, I do not understand why some good folks feel that it should not be required.  When I ask, I am told that it is to protect the rights of the elderly, the infirm and the poor.  As I understand it, every law that is being proposed has special provisions to protect the right to vote of each of these groups so I remain confused about the rationale of those that object to identifying ourselves before we vote.  We need to identify ourselves in so many ways in our daily lives already that I do not see it as a burden for any of us to do so on the way into the polling booth.  If any reader of this blog can enlighten me as to what I am missing I would very much appreciate it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Fossil Fuels and the Election

There is a lot of talk these days about "dirty" fossil fuels and there are many who believe that we must stop using them in order to save the planet.  It is a subject that makes good bumper stickers, but much of the emphasis is in the wrong place.  I am not a scientist, but it is clear to me that our continued use of fossil fuels does indeed damage our environment, but I see no viable alternative to their continued use for some time to come.

An important thing to remember here is that even if the United States were to stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, the rest of the world would not.  Another thing to remember is that the rest of the world is less interested in the environment than we are.   We, in this country, are very slowly coming to our senses about the importance of the environment, but it is understandable that the poorer nations are much more interested in improving their standard of living than saving the planet. 

The current administration is fascinated with the "energy technologies of the future."  It has poured enormous sums of money into flawed projects designed to kick start the economic viability of these technologies.  Those efforts have been a very expensive failure.  I am all for continued research, but I want to put more of our effort into developing ways to use fossil fuels in a more environmentally friendly way.  Whether we like it or not, these are the fuels that the entire world will be using for quite some time and it would help if we could make them cleaner.

China, India, Russia, and the rest of the rapidly developing economies of the world are not going to give up cheap energy just because Washington DC or some international conference proclaims it, nor are we going to be able to replace natural gas, coal and petroleum with plastic solar panels, giant wind turbines, and large vats of algae in the immediate future.  Don't stop thinking about the future, but let's devote more effort to cleaning up the fuels that we are using now.  The developing countries would be very interested in that kind of research and would apply it. By doing that we would be helping the environment in very real ways and we might even make a nickel in the process.

If you agree with this line of thought, a critical first step would be to elect a different president.  The one that we have now does not think this way.  What we need is not the theoretician that we have now.  What we need is a practical person that can solve very real problems.  I suggest that we see what Mitt Romney can do with situation.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Energy and Elections

It is inevitable that energy will play an important part in this year's presidential campaign.  It is the lifeblood of our economy.  President Obama has said repeatedly that his energy policy is "all of the above," meaning that he wants to develop all types of energy.  In practice, however, he has not done that.  He has made the production of fossil fuels much more difficult and he has put our money and his time almost entirely into trying to get "clean energy" off the ground.  There is no question but that we should do everything that we can to develop all of the viable energy sources available to us.  We should support intelligent research into solar and wind and wave and all of the rest, but that does not mean that we should turn our back on fossil fuels.  Maybe some day, but definitely not now.

There is a lot of talk about gas prices and most of it understandably focuses on "pain at the pump."  It costs twice as much to fill our cars today as it did when this president took office and some of us think that it was too high back then.  I often hear Democrats say that there is very little that the president can do to deal with this situation - "we are in a world market for oil."  I disagree, but before we go there, we need to address the reality of today's worldwide energy needs.  China, India and the rest of the developing world are expanding their economies at a rapid rate.  In the process they are using the technologies that made America the strongest nation in the world.  Their economic development is energy intensive.  This means that there is a greatly increased demand for fossil fuels.  It is understandable that this will increase demand and force the price up.

Recently, energy exploration within the borders of our nation has recorded some extraordinary discoveries.  We are being told that we have more energy under our feet than anywhere else in the world.  Development on private lands in North Dakota seems to bear this out and I assume that it is true.  The development of this resource will require a new technology and will provide a large number of solid jobs for middle class families.  If the claims are even partially true, it could, all by itself, revolutionize our economy.  Although it will take time to fully develop this resource there are ample other sources of energy in this country and in Canada that are available now and should be put into production now. 

In the process of developing our own oil, gas and coal resources we should jealously guard our petroleum refining capability which is currently still the finest in the world.  In order to do this, we must remain part of the worldwide energy market.  We can make a lot of money refining other folks oil and can maintain an important source of good jobs in the process.  (This is one of the reasons why I oppose protectionist policies aimed at artificially lowering the price of energy.)  The way to reduce the pain at the pump is to grow our overall economy to the point that the relative price of energy is less.  Prices always go up, but it does not hurt if our income levels are increasing at a more rapid rate.  Ironically, one of the best ways to accomplish this is by developing our energy resources and selling them to the entire world.

Focusing on the development of our energy resources is not a cure-all solution to our economic woes, but it could be an important element in the game plan.  President Obama has proven opposed to doing this so it is one more reason why I want to change the fellow sitting in the Oval Office.