Saturday, February 28, 2015

Choices in a Bi-Polar World

In so many ways I wish I saw the world in the simple terms of the right or the left.  It seems so easy to live without thinking, condemning those you view as wrong, and praising those you believe best represent you.  I blame my parents for this fault in my personality.  As a child I learned the world was not black and white, but made up of various hues and shades.  A college in the heart of West Virginia reinforced my belief the world was complex, and I had to learn to think for myself, form my own opinions, and assume responsibility for my life.  Oh, but how I yearn to see only one side, and condemn as evil the other.  As I see so many do.

It must be wonderful to believe the Democratic politicians are out to make the world a wonderful place and the Republican opposition is stupid and ignorant.  Or that the Republicans are most interested in protecting individual rights and the Democrats are all died in the wool communists out to take your guns away.  You may label me a pessimist, but I am caught in that ugly middle ground, that sees the federal politicians as individuals who will bend any fact necessary to gain reelection and maintain their position of power and authority.

For example, when the honorable Ms. Pelosi comes out and complains the poor Congressmen and Senators are living pay check to pay check and can appreciate the struggles of those federal employees of the DHS who could loose their pay because the Democrats believe it more important to stand united against the Republicans on immigration; I find that plain old stupid.

On the other hand when Senator Inhofe, brings a snowball into the chamber to discuss the issue of climate change I have to wonder has he been drinking or is he really just that foolish? 

But of course the issue of climate change is settled isn’t it?  Just because data has been “manipulated” to reflect changes where they may not exist, or that federal funding of studies come with certain expectations, or that personal agendas may be at play there is no reason we should ever question science.  Wasn’t it scientists who said man could never go faster than sound, or that there was nothing smaller than an atom?  For some reason we questioned those facts and discovered the beliefs were flawed, but clearly the issue of climate change and man’s cause of it is settled!

So what happens when the climate changes and the sun spot activity slow and the earth is cooled?  What then?

How about this new issue of “Right to Work?”  I have to laugh at the union outrage, although I certainly agree with many of their points.  As I have grown older I’ve come to believe some unions play absolutely critical roles in protecting their members, but beyond political organization the value of others are questionable.  For example, federal employee unions can’t strike, don’t negotiate for employee pay, or do much beside tell the government managers they need to give them 30 days notice before they change the furniture.

How much easier to only believe unions are good and ignore unions like the American Medical Association that limits the production of doctors or the public employees unions that serve little real purpose other than to support the Democratic Party with funds and activist support.

Those who advocate for the “Right to Work” do so not because they are interested in individual freedom or the unfairness of union rules, but because the unions have become a political force that opposes their views of government.  So far I’m leaning towards the right to work side, but would be happy to support union shops if there was a law that unions could not be politically active and/or must be politically neutral.  For every dollar or hour contributed to one party they must contribute an equal amount to all the other parties. 

Tell you what!  When this list shows unions at something that approaches 50/50 I’ll begin to feel sorry for the unions and support closed shop unionization.  Until then I guess I remain passively on the sideline but leaning to the side that seeks to crush  balance union political activity.

How about racism in America?  I think only a fool, or a politician (perhaps one and the same) would say racism doesn’t exist, but what has this administration done, beyond using it to cover their flaws, to truly address it?  You know when there are jobs for everyone, and individuals believe in an optimistic future racism doesn’t seem to be the issue it is when people are rioting in the streets because they have nothing better to do.  

I love Attorney General Holder’s exit interviews when he claims racism is the cause of all the animosity towards him. Was it racism that drove the “fast and furious” cover up, or racism that drove the lack for transparency into the IRS targeting of conservatives.  I agree it was racism that drove the federal involvement in local criminal investigations in TX, FL, and MO.  The only question really on the table is whose racism was it?

Here is what I’ve learned over the past number of years.  The difference between a leader and a politician is action.  It is easy to talk, it is hard to do, especially when others disagree with you.  My hometown President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a leader.  He unified a frightened nation; in a time they needed that comfort.  While I don’t necessarily agree he chose the best courses of action, I do have to admit he left the nation better off for his terms.

John F. Kennedy, inspired the nation; upon his death Lyndon Johnson and the his Northern Republican support overcame the Southern Democratic resistance to move civil rights forward faster in the 1960s than the 100 years since the civil war. Of course I doubt this would have happened without the courage and strength of Dr. King, but to listen to today’s advocates it was all done by the Democrats out of their love for equality.

Reagan was a man of similar capability.  He helped a nation that had been divided by the Vietnam conflict, and was in financial turmoil.  Today’s youth won’t remember it, but interest rates for home loans were sitting at 14%, inflation was escalating, and the auto industry was on the verge of collapse.  His comforting approach reassured the nation, brought us back to a stable fiscal approach, despite his growth in government spending, and at the end of the day he bankrupted the Soviet Union, ending the cold war.  There is much I would question about his choices, but at the end of his term we were a better nation for them.

In simple terms, we won’t be better at the end of this President’s eight years.  He has made choices that divide the nation, and weaken the United States as a world power.  The question is why?  Is it lack of the skills to lead or something else?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Trails in the Sky

It was a summer’s day, warm and just a bit muggy.  We were playing in the fields behind the house in the Holt Development of Hyde Park.  I don’t recall exactly what we were playing, but Cowboys and Indians is a safe bet.  Of course in today’s world if we were playing Cowboys and Indians half of us would have to be dressed in Langoti.  But I digress.
Anyway, we were running, shooting our cap guns, hiding, running and shooting all over the place.  I don’t think anyone was actually killed, and I don’t even think the neighbors, if they were aware of this massive on-going conflict, actually called the police to come arrest us for unnecessary gunplay and violence.  We just continued to wage war on each other, changing sides and fortunes as the need arose.
But it was during one of these epic battles that I happened to look to the sky and see an Air Force transport pass overhead.  Soon another flew by, and then a third.  I stopped, in awe of the aircraft, and the trails they were laying out behind them. Today, I know they were C-123 Providers, and they were probably spraying pesticide for mosquitos.  It was probably not the best of places to be, but fortunately I don’t think I have come through that encounter any the worse for the experience, just the opposite.
That was my awakening to a world that would someday become my home.  To look down on the land from the flight deck of a cargo aircraft and see it pass as we flew low over the ground to bring relief supplies to those in need, or to infiltrate behind the enemy lines to drop off Special Forces, or just fly to practice flying.  We had an expression in those halcyon days of my early career.  “If God had wanted man to fly he would have been born with green baggy skin” like the flight suits we wore.
It is now almost sixty years since I looked up.  A lifetime has come and gone, and I will be forever grateful to those airmen who laid out the trails for me to follow.  They helped shape a world where time and space shrank, where frontiers reached the heavens, and technology took man to the moon.
I can only hope that in some small way I marked a trail for others.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Life and Times

These are interesting times, but then I suspect all people say that at some point in their life.  But as I watch from afar it seems to me that a town like Hyde Park is reflective of the lives of those who make up that town.

There are the young with their energy, zest and supreme confidence that they know more than the older generations.  They want so much from the town yet can’t understand why it is the way it is.  For the kids in High School seeking escape, or the recently returned looking for work, where is the nightlife, the social scene, and the place to be?

The middle-aged 30 and 40 something parents struggling to make ends meet, raising children, wanting more, but not wanting to see more of their income demanded from the town.  They see the decay, decry the ineptitude, and condemn the old for their resistance to change.  This group controls the future, but do they have the time or desire to do so?

Then we come to the elderly, they have seen it all and want to be done with the mess.  Let someone else worry about things, I have what I have and want to be left alone.  They remember the shining town of the past, the “remember when” or the “we had it great” times.

Clearly these stereotypes do not represent all.  There are vibrant members of all groups, people committed to change, people with desires for a better common good, and people wishing for a different future. 

The strength of a town is also drawn from its economic health, just as a family is.  If the family struggles to make end meet, is always on the verge of financial ruin, or uncertain that the future offers hope, they close in, they shrink away from the future, unless they have something greater to believe in.  I’ve seen men and woman who despite illness, poverty, or tragedy rise up to show the best of the human spirit.  Why is that? 

As a society we have voiced our concern for those living on the verge of financial collapse.  We’ve elected people who provide our money, or borrow more, to help those people to feel less threatened by the lack of work, or the cost of living.   Those elected officials will spend those funds on helping the people and helping the town but at the end of the day will it be sustainable.  When all the jobs dry up, when all the banks are drained, when all the rich are gone what will be left?

What keeps a town vibrant and rich?  Is it the largess of the multitude of governments and their programs, or is it the industry of the people?  History seems to suggest it is the latter.  In the last half of the 20th century we saw the garment mills that lined our east coast from Maine to Carolina close and move away.  Were those closures caused solely by the greed of the owners, or by the economic realities of competition?  Each of us will have an opinion, but at the end of the day the reality is something changed, or perhaps it is a natural evolution.  Regardless the causes, in each case when the work leaves - the towns become hollow reminders of a time past.

Just as with the human spirit, some pick themselves up and find a new future, others seem trapped in the past.  For those trapped in the past, it seems no matter what they do each new project is doomed for failure.  Cities seem especially ripe for this problem.  If there is not manufacturing industry, nothing to create the wealth upon which service industries and governments draw their revenue than they will struggle to face each day.

From afar this seems to be the basic issue for my hometown.  How does it encourage an industry to start?   Something that will turn raw materials into products to build jobs that offers a future, a career, and a potential for growth?  Economists talk of America becoming a service nation, where we deal with ideas, and advanced technology that will set mankind free.  Are we all prepared to live in a state where the individuals’ purpose is defined solely by the technology around us?

If we are, I wonder what becomes of the town?

Monday, February 16, 2015

So What’s in a Legacy!

Of course it is still too early to know with certainty what President Obama’s legacy will be.  What historians will come to say about this man and the advisers he chose to surround himself with, or how the policies he advocated for, or implemented will be viewed 10, 20 or 50 years hence.  If nothing else is understood, it should be recognized that how a President is viewed in the immediacy of his office might be obscured by the emotions of the day.  Whether they will stand the test of time will ultimately be determined by how the nation moves forward once he is gone. 
Take for example, George Washington, elected through massive popular support he is viewed as the father of our nation, not so much for what he did as President, but for what he didn’t do.  Given the choices before him, he might have established a monarchy as some wanted, or he may have made the office of President a life long office as other encouraged.  Instead he set the example of limited office that held until Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose not to follow tradition.
Thomas Jefferson, an advocate for limited central government, came to office and almost immediately expanded the powers of the Executive.  He had the vision and foresight to see the value of the Louisiana Purchase and set the nation on a westward expansion to access the vast resources of the Great Plains and the West.  His history also reflects the scandal of his likely affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings, although scholastic history seemed to miss that point when I was in school.
Abraham Lincoln, whose election lead to the secession of the eleven states that formed the Confederate States of America, is also the man who saved the union through the four years of his first term.  Despite incompetent Generals, graft and corruption, Lincoln held the Northern and Western states together as it fought to restore federal control.  During the war the Republican controlled Union established the 13th Amendment ending slavery in the United States.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in attempting to end the Great Depression massively expanded the role of the federal government, created Social Security, brought electricity to most of rural America, and secured America’s position as a world leader at the end of World War II, through a robust industrial base.
Then we have the Presidents whose administrations were plagued by scandal, like Ulysses S. Grant, probably the best Union General of the Civil War, during his two administrations the nation saw the Credit Mobilier and Whisky Rink Scandals.  Warren G. Harding, had the Tea Pot Dome Scandal, and of course we have Richard M. Nixon, whose quest for power led to the Watergate break-in and attempted cover-ups, ultimately to resulting his resignation.
So what do we know about the acts of President Obama, and his administration that will set the tone for his legacy?
The President swept into office with clear and overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate based on the economic collapse of 2008.  For the first two years of his administration he was effectively “bullet proof.”  Anything he and Democratic Party wanted to do they could.  Choosing to force legislation down the throats of the vanquished Republican Party; the administration focused on the healthcare industry, leaving the economic recovery to the Federal Reserve to manage.   
Great promises were made about affordable care, and of course the touchstone issues of abortion and reproductive care were mandated even for those with religious objection.  What wasn’t covered in the debate was how rich these programs would make the insurance companies who could now count on mandated coverage and federal payments. It is almost amusing to see the elites that are now affected by the mandates complaining about what it is costing them.
While playing to the wants of the diehard party faithful, he encouraged class and racial division within the country, while abuse of power indicators came from the IRS and the Department of Justice.  I believe these were key contributions to the loss of the Democratic majority in the house after only two years.  In the 2010 election the Republicans picked up 63 seats in the house, gaining the majority, and six seats in the Senate, eliminating the filibuster proof majority the Democrats had enjoyed.
Acting on his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan he began the withdrawal of US forces without a clear understanding of the follow-on stability requirements and agreement from the host nation on the US role.  We are seeing now the results of those decisions.  With the same sense of fulfilling a  promise he is removing forces from Afghanistan, but this time the withdrawal and exit strategy is being delayed due to a lack of end game, and perhaps the lessons of the Iraq withdrawal. 
Within his first year in office President Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace by the Norwegian Nobel committee.  The question we should consider today is has the President fundamentally changed the international dynamic and opened the dialogue that leads to resolution of conflict and peace?  We see, based on Administration acts, that Islamic terrorism has grown significantly and that the threat to western (European and American) interests has grown with that threat. Most recently we’ve been forced to close our Embassy in Yemen, as Muslim extremists take control of that country.
In 2011 and 2012 we saw the administration support the overthrow of the Egyptian government, as well as Libya, in each case supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.  When the US Embassy and Ambassador were attached in Benghazi the initial administration reaction was to blame a little seen YouTube video, effectively blaming the west for these attacks.  I believe that storyline was soon discredited, but it set the stage for the administration and a President who is determined to make this a secular issue, rather than condemn the Islamic groups that encourage the radicalization and autocracies against Jews, Christians, and non-compliant Muslims.
Over the past four years, when the President did not have a strong Congressional majority we have seen an administration that does not understand compromise or seek middle ground.  This in turn drives the Congressional opposition to become polarized and adversarial.  The one great advantage of the bully pulpit is the ability to constantly be in the news.  The President has used this pulpit not to find unity but to condemn the opposition.  Again this plays to the party faithful, and matches the Democratic talking points, but does it show leadership within the constitutional definition of the United States?  Does it build a brighter future for the country?
I don’t pretend to know what the next two years will bring, but don’t see how this President will move to a position that encourages the historical American values, places faith in the middle class, and supports its resurgence, or works within in the construct of a government designed to balance the needs of the nation while protecting the freedom of the individual and encouraging free enterprise.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Memories of Moosehead Lake.

Although it was August it was a damp, chilly day as we set off for Maine.  I can close my eyes and place myself in the back seat of the station wagon driven by Wayne’s father.  We had a canoe on the roof and we were setting off on a 10-day trip to Maine.  To be honest I am not sure how this trip came to be.  I was a friend with this family from church and I worked with Mr. W at W.T. Grant in Poughkeepsie.

They were a wonderful family, and it seemed to me the model for what a family should be.  They had a nice home in Staatsburg, raised Siberian Huskies, and seemed never to argue.  Almost the polar opposite of what I experienced at home.

We drove through the night and arrived in Greenville, at the South end of Moosehead Lake early in the morning.  We stopped at an outfitter and rented a second canoe, and loaded our supplies aboard the two craft.  As we held the boats at the landing while the car was parked and pushed off around 8 am.  We paddled steadily for what seemed like four hours, finally pulling up to a small island to have lunch.

I was in awe of the beauty of the lake, and vastness and the wonderful privacy of the islands we passed.  We saw Loons, Geese and Ducks of all kinds.  The sun was warm, the air cool and fresh, and the activity steady for a couple of hours at a stretch.  After lunch we headed off to the next island and then the next.  Coming up on about 6 pm we pulled into a quiet little state park site on one of the islands, and made camp.

As we gathered sticks for the fire, and set up our tents a loon called in the distance.  It was hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand with so much beauty around, the setting sun lit the lake with gem-like sparkles, and fish would leap from the pristine water after the gnats that had swarmed a few minutes earlier.  It was the end of a perfect day.

The next day was much the same, as was the next.  Finally we came to the final island in your northern paddle.  We camped there for two days, and for the first time I saw a Bald Eagle, in flight and free.  It swooped down snatching a fish from the lake and headed to its aerie, or nest.  The spot the family had chosen was secluded and serene. We swam, fished, and explored, and then the weather began to turn.

The trip home, back to Greenville, was a challenge as storms rolled through the next couple of days.  The mornings would be rainy, with thunderstorms in the afternoon.  When the thunderstorms hit we would find the nearest island and seek shelter until it passed.  One of the nights was especially memorable as we made camp in a driving rain with gusty winds.  We secured the boats, but during the night something woke us and Mr. W got to the boats just in time to see one break free of its mooring.  This was a fortunate thing, for it would have been a very bad ending to a wonderful trip.   

Now, as a father with a lifetime of experience behind me I realize I never worried at all during the trip.  I had placed my faith in Mr. and Mrs. W and knew all would be well.  It is a very different experience when others place their faith in you. 

The next day was our last on the lake; it remained overcast, misty, and wet.  Much as it had been when we set out from New York.  We arrived back in Greenville, secured our cargo, loaded the boat on the car, and turned in the boat we had rented.  Before we headed back to our homes we took an excursion to the coast for an evening and a lobster dinner.  It was my first experience with lobster, and I’ve got to say there is nothing better when you are sitting on a New England shore, watching the sunset.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Life in the Nanny State

It was only a few months ago that Conservatives were up in arms over the decision to allow patients with Ebola, a communicable life threatening disease, into the country.  The Liberals could not understand this irrational fear and ridiculing those who worried about the potential for the spread of the disease.  At the time it was my belief that more people in the US would die of the flu than Ebola, and so far I think I’ve been proven right.

So now today the population is up in arms about vaccinations, with the Liberal side casting scorn on those few who’ve chosen not to vaccinate their children in accordance with the Center for Disease Control guidelines.  The media is playing the same role they did in the Ebola episode.  Pretty much creating fear and explaining why the government is right and those who who don’t comply with the CDC guidelines are placing the entire nation at risk.

Now let me stop here to explain how I think vaccination works.  If you are vaccinated you develop a weak strain of the illness so your system can develop the necessary antibodies to prevent the real illness from affecting you.  If I’m wrong in this understanding, then feel free to comment and correct me, just provide a reference.  The bottom line is you have it within your ability to protect yourself and your children, and if someone is not vaccinated they will get sick; you won’t.  Again, you should not catch whatever you’ve been vaccinated for, whether it be small pox, polio, measles, mumps, or stupidity.  Wait, sorry I just realized there is no vaccine for that…

So now we come to the latest outbreak of measles.  Based on media exploitation and the Liberal belief the government knows best. We wring our hands over the fact a few hundred people (last year 700) out of a population of 320,000,000 will come down with measles, a normally non-fatal disease, because parents have not vaccinated their children, Don’t get me wrong, I believe vaccination is a reasonable and good course of action, but at the same time I believe the parents have a fundamental right to determine what is safe for their children, and there is just enough uncertainty in unintended side affects to give a parent some concern.  It was only a couple of years ago that the President and former Secretary of State voiced their opinion the problems of autism might be attributable to a vaccine. 

Now all the sudden Ms. Clinton may not know or care why terrorists attacked our embassy in Libya, but for #GrandmothersKnowBest -- the science on vaccination is now settled.  Of course the CDC is solid on this, as they are always solid until someone proves them wrong. 
I know I’m jaded on this for I acquired my immunity to measles, mumps and chicken pox the old fashion way.  Fortunately, the Salk vaccine came out I didn’t develop polio before my parents had me vaccinated.  So as I said, I think vaccination is probably a good thing, but there is enough uncertainty to leave doubts in some minds, and to belittle those doubts, especially when it won't affect you, is just the typical bullying we are so fond of doing. 
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