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, September 28, 2012

Foreign Policy & the Election

I honestly believe that this election should be about the economy, but foreign policy is rapidly making itself an important concern as well.  Many of my fellow citizens feel that the President is doing a good job in the international arena, but I do not.  I am opposed to his efforts to appease groups and nations that have vowed to destroy us.  Appeasement has never worked, be it Rome trying to thwart the Visigoth, Moscow attempting to stop the Mongol horde, or Neville Chamberlain trying to slow down Adolph Hitler.  Barack Obama's foreign policy vis-a-vis terrorism, and those countries that support it, is very clearly in the same mold as these failed efforts of history.

I will pass over the argument as to whether or not we are at war with the terrorists and whether we should use police tactics or all-out retaliation against those that threaten us.  That semantic argument that so fascinates the politicians and news reporters is quite literally gibberish.  I am old school in this regard.  When faced with a dangerous foe, one does what one needs to do and lets the wordsmiths and historians decide what to call it.  We are in a very nasty, life and death struggle with fanatical enemies that want to destroy us and are willing to die to do it.  We have to be clear about that fundamental point.  Those of us who do not understand the menace that confronts us are living in a fantasy land and their inattention to the threat is endangering the entire country.

Many of us are prone to hide out head under the pillow and wish the threat away.  Others propose that we just pull out of all foreign countries "that do not like us" and come home to Fortress America.  911 demonstrated that our current set of enemies can hit us at home, and hit us hard.  President Obama claims to be vigorously prosecuting the attack on Al Quaida and takes great credit for having ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  During his non-stop electioneering and fund raising events he brags about the effectiveness of his foreign policy and even says that Al Quaida is on the decline.  His supporters point to the stepped up drone attacks on suspected terrorists throughout North Africa and the MIddle East as a demonstration of the forcefulness of his policy.

I am not on the scene, but I suspect that every single drone attack creates far more terrorist recruits and sympathizers than it kills.  I suspect that the net effect of the drone attacks is to magnify the danger - not reduce it.  As for the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, I believe that it was a very grievous error on several counts.  It misunderstood the threat that we face and misused the power that we possess in a misguided effort to get even for 911.  Osama bin Laden killed in this manner is far more useful to terrorists than his continued existence would have been.  Today, this old man's martyrdom is far more dangerous than he was before his assassination and our unilateral intrusion into Pakistan has seriously complicated our relations with that country.  The fact that Pakistan is teetering on becoming a full fledged enemy of America is made more important for us by the fact that they have a very respectable arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Bulletin: Much of the world, not just the Middle East, is living a lousy life with a thin upper crust of wealth and a deep base of abject poverty the likes of which most Americans can not fathom.  Modern communication systems give all of these folks a peek into what life is like in the United States.  Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself whether you would be content with the status quo.  Then layer over that set of hard feelings with the picture of an America that is unilaterally deciding which of their citizens should be killed and which permitted to live.  Then add a network of radical revolutionaries who play on those hostile feelings to generate heated anti-American demonstrations.  It is not surprising that our enemies were able to murder a personal representative of the President of the United States and it is not surprising that many in the Arab Street were subsequently chanting "Obama, Obama we are all Osama."

The threat is terrible today, but imagine what it is going to be like when (not if) our enemies have access to nuclear weapons.  Imagine for just a moment, the detonation of a dirty bomb in a major American city and ask yourself what we should do about defending ourselves.  I argue that we should be smarter about the reality of the threat and we should address it on multiple levels.  First and foremost, we should stop the vast majority of the drone attacks and replace them with an expanded effort to work with host governments to capture key terrorist cadre.  These captured terrorists should be interrogated for intelligence and then incarcerated until they can be tried, preferably by the host country.  The intelligence gained should be carefully exploited to further cripple the organization to which they belong.  It is a long, dirty and difficult process, but it is the only way the terrorist networks will be defeated.  Simultaneously, this country must get smarter about how we use our foreign assistance.  If we do not find a way to address the fundamental poverty that exists in this world today, we will never again be safe in this country.

Obama-Biden do not understand that their foreign policy is making matters worse not better.  They actually think that things are somehow improving in the world around us.  They are so certain of it that the president does not even feel that he has to attend his national security briefings.  He can go on partying with sycophants rather than talking to world leaders.  He thinks that it is enough to once a week look at a list of names in some foreign language and decide which ones he wants to kill that day.  It is almost as though he were playing a game on XBox.  I strongly suggest that we need to replace Obama-Biden with Romney-Ryan and then we, the people, need to get smart about what is really going on outside of our own country.  It is not hyperbole to warn that not only is our lifestyle in danger, our very lives are increasingly threatened.  We must not continue to go down the Obama-Biden foreign relations path.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Political Polls

Apparently there is some considerable doubt about how reliable the current set of political polls are.  Some conservative experts have looked into how they were conducted and determined that Democratic voters were oversampled in an effort to skew the polls in favor of President Obama.  Whether that is just over enthusiasm for their man or a conscious effort to depress conservative turnout is unclear to me.  There is, however, no question but that the liberal news media is cheerleading for the Democratic cause.  That is not new, but it is definitely more blatant this year than I have ever seen before.  It does not anger me, but it does sadden me that there are so many otherwise intelligent people in this country that are being taken in by the mindless wishful thinking of the liberal press.

It seems to me that we spend too much time trying to figure out who to blame for our problems and not enough time trying to figure out how to best mitigate and eliminate them.  When our leaders do turn to presenting us with alleged solutions we go for the guy who promises the most pie and the least pain even though we know in our hearts that it will only delay and worsen the inevitable day of reckoning.  In November, we have a choice between President Obama's broken promises and Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's hard truth.  Shame on us if we choose wishful thinking instead of hard reality.  The America that we get in return will serve us right.  If we go with the smooth talking of Obama-Biden we will all fall off the fiscal cliff because there will not be any creation of the wealth that we need to live good lives.  If we go with the pragmatism of Romney-Ryan we will have a chance to go back to work and return to the system that made this country great.  One offers food stamps and the other jobs.  I urge everyone that cares about this country, and all of the people who live in it, to vote for Romeny - Ryan so that this country can go back to work and create the resources that we need to solve all of the other problems that we face at home and abroad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Sound Bite and Our Vote

The latest back and forth in the presidential campaign has Democrats claiming that Romney has written off half of the public as being dependent on government and Republicans pointing to the President's admission that he is all for redistribution of income.  Both claims are meant to stimulate the parties' respective bases.  Neither addressees the immediate problem facing us of how we get ourselves out of the financial hole that we are in.

As voters, we must remember that this president has not done an adequate job of restoring the economy and does not deserve another four years in office.  Whether he parses his words correctly or not, Mitt Romney has a successful track record in the economic sector.  I continue to believe that he is far better prepared to deal with the challenge of getting the private sector back to work.  Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney has actually created jobs in the private sector.  Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney has actually worked with members of the other party to solve important political problems.

I understand that the sound bite is an important political fact of life, but it should not be the reason we vote one way or the other.  Look at these two men's records.  Those speak to the real issues that face us better than any words uttered by an exhausted candidate facing a yapping crowd of reporters or an adoring crowd of supporters.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"It is the Economy Stupid."

We are at that point in the presidential campaign where both sides focus on what the other guy said the day before.  Both campaigns latch onto poorly phrased comments, take them out of context and argue that they prove that the other guy is an idiot or worse.  Most of the time, they are talking to their political base and their interpretation of things is designed to get out the loyalist vote rather than illuminate any real issues.  As voters we need to step back and look at the big picture.  We need to select a leadership team that can turn this country's economic engine back on so that we can resolve all of the other issues that face us here at home and abroad.  

Obama and Biden have proven that they can not do it.  I argue that we should give Romney and Ryan a shot at getting our fiscal house in order.  I don't expect to agree with everything that they try to do, but I do think that they are better equipped to deal with our most fundamental challenge which is the economy.  We can not let ourselves get confused by charges that Republicans are waging a war on women, Hispanics, the elderly, the middle class, or anyone else.  Anyone who casts their vote based on those patently ridiculous charges is not really thinking about the issues.  We can not avoid the hard reality that nothing much worthwhile is going to happen until we take on the very real challenge of the economy.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Terrorist Threat is Very Real.

The murder of our Ambassador to Libya and three of his co-workers has stimulated another round of Muslim bashing in the popular press and on the internet.  This is a misguided and dangerous visceral reaction on our part.  Very understandable, but flat wrong.  I don't know how many Muslims there are in the world and I certainly don't know what motivates them, but I do know that they are not the reason that our Ambassador was murdered.  Ambassador Stevens was specifically targeted by radical terrorists who are attempting to use the historic feud between Christians and Muslims to their political advantage.  They are delighted whenever they push our button and get a reaction that proves to their fellow Muslims that Christianity hates Islam.  We are utterly stupid when we fall for the ploy.  In so doing, we ably define the word "simpleton."

This great big world that we live in is infinitely complex and the threads that run through our foreign relations are so tangled that few are brave enough to claim to understand what is happening around us.  I am not one of those that do.  I am very aware of how little I know about any of the great issues that swirl around this country, but one thing I do know - we have to keep our cool, learn everything that we can, and act with as much precision as we can muster.  Assigning blame to billions of innocent people and their poorly understood faith is really stupid and I find no reason to think that it is in our national interest.

I do not have an inside track on what actually happened in Libya, but my guess is that Ambassador Stevens was targeted because he was politically effective as well as being an important symbol.  In his position as the American Ambassador, he was the personal representative of the man who ordered the execution of Osama bin Laden.  From all reports, the Ambassador was well-liked by the Libyan people and was doing an excellent job of working with key Libyan revolutionaries.  We can assume that he was doing everything that he could to steer that country away from extremism and toward something as close to democracy as was possible.  Eliminating his political effectiveness was useful locally and making him a symbol of radical terrorist revenge was useful regionally.

The wave of demonstrations across the Middle East and Northern Africa was almost certainly organized by one or another of the various terrorist networks at work in the region today.  It was not the reaction to an obscure video even though that video was used to fan the ardor of the demonstrators.  These demonstrations are useful to the terrorists in a number of obvious ways.  Our reaction to them is going to be critically important in just as many ways.  It is understandable that many Americans throw up their hands and say that we should just pull up stakes and go home.  Leave the Middle East to the "rag heads."  

Xenophobia is no more in our interest than visceral rage.  Forget our interest in MIddle Eastern oil, let's talk about the nuclear threat that faces us.  There is plenty of poorly protected nuclear material laying around in this world.  Pakistan already has a respectable arsenal of nuclear weapons.  The politics of that country teeters on extremism.  Iran is about to build it's own nuclear weapon.  The current leadership of that country is dedicated to the obliteration of Israel and proudly proclaims that we are next.  We ignore the Middle East at our peril and I see no advantage to us to turn the region over to radical terrorists that obviously hate us.

This brings me to how all of this relates to the decision we will make in November.  If we are to protect ourselves from the very real and growing terrorist threat that faces us, we must replace our present leadership with people who live in the real world.  The Obama-Biden team are well meaning intellectuals that just plain do not understand what is going on either inside our borders or outside.  They have a vision of a better world and are attempting to wish it into place.  If the threat was not so great, I would be tempted to liken them to those who write fairy tales.  Because the threat is real and nasty I fear that my analogy is much harsher.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Economic Trickery is Dangerous

As I feared, the Federal Reserve is starting a new round of "quantitative easing" and, to make matters worse, this third round has no cutoff date.  Chairman Bernanke has said that his objective is to make Americans feel like they are wealthier.  Please note that he did not say that his objective was to actually make us wealthier, but only to make us feel like we are wealthier.  (He actually said that, out loud, in public.)  The way that he is going to do this is to continue to pursue policies that stimulate inflation.  Basically, he is going to further increase the amount of money that is already circulating in the economy.

By increasing the supply of money in circulation, everything will be "worth" more except money itself.  Bernanke expects that because stock prices will go up, and people's homes and their 401ks will be assigned higher "values," they will feel rich and spend more money.  He goes on to hope that this increased spending will stimulate the economy and get us back on the road to more prosperity.  It is not a new idea.  It has been tried before.  It has never worked.  Repeat, it has been tried many times before and it has never worked.  In many of those experiments it has led to the collapse of the society.

I am not a fan of conspiracy theories.  I do not believe that Bernanke is trying to assist President Obama win reelection, nor is he trying to help Wall Street traders make more money.  He is just attempting to get the economy going with the only tool that he has at his disposal - monetary policy.  He is undoubtably convinced that his policies will help the average citizen, but the cold hard reality is that these policies are extraordinarily dangerous and, combined with the massive debt that we have incurred, could well destroy our economy.  That outcome would devastate all of us - rich and poor alike.

In the short run, you will see stock prices go up, but so will the price of everything else.  Four dollar gasoline will be a bargain and the price of all of the other basics will skyrocket as well.  The only thing that will go down is the value of our savings.  I doubt that any of us will actually feel wealthier, but I do believe that we might finally start questioning the soundness of an economy that borrows forty cents of every dollar that we spend and leaders that want to trick us into feeling wealthy.  Somewhere along the line we must wake up, stop playing games, and get back to the basics that made us a great nation.  November would be a good time to start that process by voting in Romney and Ryan.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Appeasement does not work.

There are a lot of things wrong in this world and the United States of America has contributed it's share of mistakes to the historical record.  I can understand why there are folks in the international community that do not like us.  I wish that everybody loved everybody else and the world was at peace, but the reality is much different.  Some of the disagreements that exist today are rooted in arguments that go back centuries and are infinitely intractable.  Unfortunately, some of them will be impossible to redress until one side or the other is removed from the scene.  The disappointing result is that we are forced to manage these very dangerous problems rather than resolve them.  To think otherwise is naive.

President Obama's foreign policy efforts are the work of a good hearted man who lacks sufficient experience in foreign relations to fully understand the forces that are attempting to destroy America.  He believes that it is important to be empathetic to the complaints of those that dislike us and to limit the use of force to protect our national interests.  By thus acting "responsibly" he intends to demonstrate that we are sympathetic to the concerns of the downtrodden and willing to live at peace with them.  The problem is, that unless he goes on to actually side with them in their argument, he is viewed as being insincere and weak.  The result is that radicals are emboldened to push harder for their objectives sensing that victory may well be in reach.

The existence of Israel is one such issue.  Following World War II, the international community decided to re-establish a homeland for the Jewish people in the Middle East.  In the process, a very large number of Muslims were displaced from land that they and their families had occupied for centuries.  From the Jewish point of view their ancestors had occupied the land before the Muslims arrived, but that fact makes little difference to the masses of Muslims living in the world today.  This is one of those issues that resists resolution and is playing an important part in the emotions stirring today's violence in Cairo and other capitals across the MIddle East.

President Obama's policy initiatives have failed to cool the ardor of those advocating the obliteration of Israel.  The crowds in the street are increasingly violent and the engineers in Iran continue to make very steady progress in the construction of a nuclear bomb.  President Obama's recent refusal to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister is almost certainly meant to be a signal to the radicals that the President of the United States of America understands their concerns and is sympathetic to their grievances.  His plea that they calm down is ignored by those that hate us and his lack of support for their enemy encourages them to push harder for victory.

Osama bin Laden is another issue that divides the world.  Here in the United States he is the epitome of evil, but in much of the world he is a freedom fighter who was assassinated by a President who is currently bragging about having committed murder in order to get reelected.  It is not surprising that an American Ambassador was singled out to be murdered in the recent upheavals scorching the Middle East.  The symbolism is not lost on the people of that region even if we are currently confused about it.  

This is a very dangerous world that we live in and we ignore it at our peril.  President Obama's policies are not doing a good job of defending our national interests and are actually contributing to the dangers facing us from abroad.  The Romney-Ryan team propose a return to a more traditional approach to foreign relations that is based upon the doctrine of peace through strength.  I support that approach, not because it would be my choice in a perfect world, but because it is what we need to deal with the very real world that we live in.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Another Bad Jobs Report

President Obama claims that the economy is getting better, even though the rate of progress is not what he had hoped for.  He argues that we need to give him four more years to continue the policies that he has put into place so that we do not turn backward and lose what we have gained.  I strongly disagree with him on both counts.

The economy is not getting better.  It is getting worse and the recent jobs report proves it once again.  We have had 43 jobs reports since he has been president and every single one of them have been bad news.  Last month several hundred thousand more Americans gave up looking for work at a time when prices continue to rise.  He has already announced tax hikes that will kick in right after he is reelected and he has done absolutely nothing to address the mounting deficit.

President Obama appears to be a nice man, a good father and husband with obvious concern for his fellow human being, but he does not have a clue as to what makes this economy tick.  I agree with many of his objectives, but I do not agree with any of the policies that he favors to achieve those objectives.  We need a more pragmatic approach to the challenges that face us.  We can not destroy our economy in the name of high ideals.  The Romney-Ryan team may not have all of the answers, but they offer a far better approach than Obama-Biden.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Conventions & Reality

The conventions are over and now we are back to reality.  Both sides tried to paint themselves as being true to American values and offered a way to get us out of the mess that we are in.  Both sides claimed that the reason that we are in this mess in the first place is that the other guys screwed up.  Numbers were thrown around with abandon by both parties.  Both sides agreed that this was a very important election because it would shape the future of this country for a long time to come.  Both sides predicted various forms of disaster if the other side won.  Both of the conventions were carefully scripted events that left out much and emphasized only those things that supported that party's campaign.  The folks in each of the convention halls were party faithful who clapped at all of the appropriate places and were totally blind to any weaknesses that their man might have.

Reality is much different than the two television shows.  In reality, we are in this mess not because of the Democratic Party or the Republican Party.  We are in this mess because we, the American people, have, for a long time, voted for both Democratic and Republican politicians that offered us nirvana, but delivered political decisions that promised more than we can afford.  In good economic times all of this sounds great, but in bad economic times we get into serious trouble.  We are currently in bad economic times and we are in serious economic trouble.  The principal question that faces us in this election is how we get ourselves out of the economic crisis that threatens our future.  It is not the only question that we are debating, but it is the fundamental one that is so important that it makes all, repeat all, of the others subsidiary.  Without a sound economy we can not do any of the other things that we want to do even if we could agree on the details overnight.  As President Clinton said in an earlier time, "it's the economy stupid."

No matter what the politicians and school teachers tell us, this country is not perfect.  We have done a lot of things in our history which are really disgusting both to ourselves and to others.  We are a blemished society that needs to do one heck of a lot of things to improve our lives.  Because we are human beings there is absolutely no guarantee that we will do what is necessary, even if we reestablish a sound economy, but I can guarantee you that we will have absolutely no chance to do any of those things if we fall off the financial cliff that is in front of us.  This brings us to the immediate question that faces us in November.  Which of these two groups can do a better job of redressing our financial problems.  I choose the Romney-Ryan team not because I know the details of what they will do, but because I believe that they represent a way of thinking that will do a much better job than that which Obama-Biden has given us in the past four years.

Obama-Biden warn that Romney-Ryan will re-institute the policies that got us into trouble in the first place.  They are massively over-simplifying things, but they have a point.  Romney-Ryan will re-institute many of the policies that did get us into trouble, but we must remember that they are also the policies that built the strongest economy that the world has ever known.  My assumption is that Ryan, in particular, has learned from the mistakes that were made by earlier Democratic and Republican administrations and the new team will avoid those errors going forward.  Our alternative is Obama-Biden who promise to keep doing what they have been doing the past four years.  They claim it is working and we must keep at it.  I see absolutely no facts that support that contention.  None, repeat, none.   Given his long string of broken promises, I no longer believe much of anything that this president says, but  I have listened carefully to the Obama-Biden rationale and I find that it just does not hold water.  I continue to believe that we should elect Romney-Ryan, hold their feet to the fire to get the economy going again, and then argue with them about all of the other important issues that face this country.