There’s gloom and anguished hand-wringing from a new U.N. report soon to come out, as reported in the U.K.’s Telegraph.

The world’s biodiversity is threatened by the economic growth of countries like China, India and Brazil, the study will say.

While Western countries are increasingly aware of the need to protect endangered species, the developing world’s appetite for raw materials is destroying vulnerable ecosystems, the report’s authors will warn.

Population growth, pollution and the spread of Western-style consumption are also blamed for hitting plant and animal populations.

It builds on recent work for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which showed that 21 per cent of all known mammals, 30 per cent of amphibians and 35 per cent of invertebrates are threatened with extinction.

Not stated in this report is the simple solution to protecting all these mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates: prevent the developing nations like China, India, and Brazil from developing. I’m sure that will be a tough sell to the people of developing nations. Imagine being in their shoes: would you rather have dependable electricity, or remain in the economic backwoods if it means the survival of the snail darter and the hairy-chested nut scratcher?

But I take a slightly longer-range view of extinction than the U.N. report does. History tells us that of all the species that have ever lived, 90% are now extinct. It seems to me that extinction is the norm.

And of course no news story about extinction is finished until the author can sneak in some jab at Western civilization in general or the United States in specific:

[Ahmed Djoghlaf, who heads the Convention on Biological Diversity] added: “It’s a problem if we continue this unsustainable pattern of production and consumption. If the 9 billion people predicted to be with us by 2050 were to have the same lifestyle as Americans, we would need five planets.”

What dear Mr. Djoghlaf doesn’t explain is that it is only in the developed nations of the West, like criticized America, that the common people can affords them the luxury of worrying about species extinction. When you are struggling for that next meal, it very well may be fried snail darter or roasted hairy-chested nut scratcher on a stick. And you’d be glad to have it.

I work in the software industry. It is an industry standard for software to go through different versions over time. The idea is to improve the program with each release, but that isn’t always the case. Just look at the bad press that Windows Vista has received since it was released.

Likewise, our nation has undergone several versions. It began with a beta release on July 4th, 1776 and progressed to version 1.0 on March 1st, 1781, when the Articles of Confederation were ratified. As is common with initial releases, what looked good on paper didn’t work very well in real life. The thirteen states were sovereign, with a small, toothless federal government. Eventually the flaws led to a convening of the Second Continental Congress and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

When the ninth state ratified the Constitution on June 21, 1788, America 2.0 was released. This version proved to be much more robust than version 1.0, and it continued, with small patches, for almost 100 years until the crisis of the Civil War. Version 2.0 was coded with strong states and a stronger, but still limited, federal government. Many southern states split from the mother country over the issue of slavery, arguing they had the right to do so under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, and it took years of bloody fighting and two more amendments to bring the nation together again.

President Lincoln’s efforts brought about America, Version 3.0. With the advent of this release, people stopped referring to the United States as separate sovereign states, and began referring to them as a single unified nation. A strengthened federal government took charge of America 3.0, leading the way for the next decades; Americans began to become familiar, if not comfortable, with the federal government dictating what individual states could and could not do.

America 4.0 appeared as part of President Roosevelt’s efforts to ameliorate the Great Depression. This version created a major societal shift, as American citizens went from being largely self-reliant to being largely dependent upon the government for job creation, policies that affected everyday life, and relief from every woe. President Johnson further altered social paradigms with the release of Version 4.5, an expansion of the welfare state with an associated reduction in individual self-reliance.

And now that the House has passed the Senate’s Health Care Reform Act, America 5.0 is almost here. It will begin when President Obama signs the bill into law, effectively taking over one-sixth of the nation’s economy and shouldering the responsibility of providing health care for every individual within its borders. If you are ignorant of American history and America’s founding principles, you might be looking forward to this new version. But I believe America 5.0 will create ever more monolithic government control over state and individual freedoms, as begun in version 3.0. Socialized health care will create fewer services at a higher cost, as every such program has produced in every nation where it has been tried; the only beneficiary will be government officials and bureaucrats, who will now have more control than ever over how Americans–who were meant to be sovereign citizens–may choose to live their daily lives.

Nationalizing health care is a dramatic code rewrite of the ideas put forth in the U.S. Constitution of America 2.0 about individual freedoms and responsibilities, but with the passing of the health care bill, Version 5.0 will be the law of the land. The question remains whether this will be a good change or a bad one. Looking at the way other nations have changed with the adoption of socialized medicine, I believe this change will be far worse than those which came before. If you think Windows Vista got nasty reviews, wait until you discover the “undocumented features” of America 5.0.

As much as certain people try to claim that Microsoft has a monopoly on operating systems, there are alternatives available to those who want them. The computer software market allows you to go with the competition if you dislike the current market leader. But when government controls your health care, who can you turn to when a bureaucrat decides your health, or even your life, is expendable? As messy and crazy as a free-market health care system can be, it allows for individual choice. But when the government is the only choice, you get one-size-fits-all care or nothing at all. That doesn’t seem like much of an upgrade.

At work, a guy offered up a free hat to the first person to answer his question:

Goes to the first person who can correctly tell me who supplies the most oil to this oil-guzzling country.

Think you know the answer? So what’s your guess? Think it is Saudi Arabia? Lots of people sent him that answer. He awarded the hat to the first person who answered Canada. But he was wrong. Move your mouse over the grey block to reveal the real answer.

The largest supplier of oil to the United States is ourselves.

Country Oil*
U.S. 155,485
Canada 75,861
Venezuela 37,107
Mexico 35,486
Saudi Arabia 28,759
* in thousands of barrels per month

Data pulled from [link] and [link].

For my friend who told me that President Bush wouldn’t hand over the Presidency today, I point out the blindingly obvious: he did. It’s what we do in the United States of America, as opposed to some third-world tin-pot dictatorship. Heaven help us if we ever fall into that category.

But as President Obama took the oath of office, he became the President of my country. No, I didn’t vote for him, and I will probably disagree with much of his agenda, but he will remain my President even while I disagree wholeheartedly with him.

That’s the difference between a mature conservative like myself and the hordes of immature liberals who spent the past eight years crying, “Bush ain’t my President!”

Today is Flag Day in the United States, and we wore U.S. flag-like t-shirts at Disneyland today. And since it is Flag Day, I have to ask how well you know your Star-Spangled Banner verses. Here’s the first, and the first verse is usually the only one sung today.

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming;
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:
Oh, say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

This verse ends with a question, and it leaves the fate of the brave soldiers at Fort McHenry hanging between defeat and continuing the fight. The second verse updates their status.

On that shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner; oh, long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

The fort didn’t surrender during that night! It stood against the foe and would not give up. And speaking of the foe, the third verse is almost never printed or sung any more. I would guess it is because this verse taunts the British foe, and we have since become friends and allies with that nation.

And where are the foes who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war, and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave;
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Stirring stuff, but it’s probably a good idea not to rub the British noses in their failure. Then comes the last and my favorite verse.

Oh, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto, “In God is our trust”;
And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I love the first two lines, and I see how they fit our servicemen and women. The next two lines acknowledge that we were both made and preserved as a nation by the power of God. And then when our cause is just, it is our duty to conquer our foes. Our current conflict is a just one. The Islamic nutjobs who wish to take away our freedoms cannot be allowed to have their way, so we resist them. And we have been successful in preventing another major attack in almost five years. That is something well worth waving a few flags over.

Let me set the scene at the southern border:

Freight trains leave each day heading north. At the border “undocumented workers” swarm over the tracks, trying to catch a free ride into the promised land, and it isn’t uncommon for a train to have hundreds of people clinging to it, hitching a ride up north. But not everyone makes it — Hector fell under the moving train and lost both of his legs. Dangerous gangs roam along the border, and violence and prostitution run amok. Immigration officials catch some of the people crossing the river, but many make it past them. The officials and police will send the migrants back, but there are mixed signals being sent here: people from other government agencies patrol the border to advise people about their human rights, often giving them food and clothes. Commissioner Felipe Preciado laments over the Sisyphean nature of the illegal immigrant problem: “It took longer for our buses to turn around at the border than it did for undocumented migrants to re-enter [the country] somewhere else.”

Just north of the border, farmers and ranchers take advantage of the “temporary migrant workers,” paying them less than the minimum wage, and most often ignoring taxes like social security. Paying them in cash means not having to report the money to the government. These workers are often worked hard for a week or two, right up to payday, and then the immigration officers are called in to deport them before the money has to be paid out.

Edwin Morales has been an exile from his native land for almost twenty years now. He fled his home after the abduction and murder of one of his wife’s relatives by security forces. He went north because of the nation’s reputation for tolerance and democracy, but after three weeks in the capital city, he was arrested and detained by security forces. He was later deported to Cuba and told not to return for 10 years. Months later, Morales met up with his family in Nicaragua, and they now live in Costa Rica.

Not everyone is equally distressed over illegal immigration. Rigoberta Menchú Tum, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, recently referred to “our wonderful neighbor country that has been so dedicated and interested, that has made such great efforts in respect to the negotiations that are being conducted to achieve peace, [and] that has received and admitted so many refugees and exile[s]…” She said she was willing with “satisfaction and gratitude” not to keep her Nobel Prize medal, but instead to place it in a museum in the “wonderful neighbor country” to the north.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I once stood on a bridge spanning the Rio Grande between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. As I stood there, feet straddling the center line of the bridge, I spotted eight people wading across the river and running past the Immigration office. But none of the stories mentioned above took place on the southern border of the United States. They all took place on the southern border of Mexico. Just as the U.S. lures Mexicans who want to work and make money here, Mexico is likewise a shining lure to people living in Guatemala and places further south.

Mexican President Vicente Fox doesn’t like American plans to shut down easy access between the U.S. and Mexico. In a meeting with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, President Fox said, “No country that is proud of itself should build walls. It doesn’t make any sense.” He also said that the new wall going up between the U.S. and Mexico should and must be demolished. If heading north is a basic human right for Mexicans, why doesn’t Sr. Fox feel the same way about Guatemalan nationals who wish to do exactly the same thing? I have previously pointed out that as individuals we would be very distressed to have neighbors and strangers wander freely into our homes at any hour of the day or night. A sturdy fence between the U.S. and its neighbors has the same purpose and function as a fence around one’s property and locks on the doors.

I don’t have a problem with legal immigration, as I have stated before, but I have a serious complaint against illegal immigration. This is one of the few issues where I strongly disagree with President Bush and his plans. And this is why I am in favor of the Minuteman Project.

Right now, hundreds of volunteers are patrolling a stretch of the Arizona border, and they plan on maintaining this patrol throughout the month of April. They are not there to physically stop people from crossing the border. They are there to spot anyone who enters the United States illegally and call in the immigration officials. They are extra eyes for the law, and a helping hand for people who are hungry and thirsty.

But not everyone appreciates what the Minuteman Project is trying to accomplish. Some of the attitudes against the Minutemen seem very similar to sentiments voiced by the ranchers and farmers in southern Mexico, who take advantage of cheap undocumented labor coming over the border. A Reuters article from April 6th echoes this sentiment:

“I had a Salvadoran work for me for six months, and it’s not uncommon for people here to drive a migrant north in their car rather than hand them over to the U.S. Border Patrol,” said cafe owner Charles Lewis.

The fact that these people are in the U.S. illegally doesn’t seem to matter to Mr. Lewis. I wonder if he would be as sanguine if his neighbors were in the habit of escorting people into his own home. Something tells me he would be very uneasy with that idea if it were made reality. But he has no problem with “people” performing a similar act toward his nation.

The article quotes another local’s opinion of the Minuteman Project:

“I’d rather take my chances with the Mexicans than one of these U.S. military type idiots taking part in the patrols,” local truck driver John Porter told Reuters, as he took the sun on a sidewalk table outside the Daily Diner.

“Migrants pay their taxes and I don’t have a problem with them,” he added.

“Migrants pay their taxes…” Do they really? I can’t deny that illegals must pay sales taxes on the things they buy, but how much property tax do they pay? How much income tax? I’m sure Mr. Lewis filled out a W-2 form for the Salvadoran who worked for him for six months, right? And since they don’t have a Social Security number, how could illegals be paying Social Security taxes? The answers to these questions are obvious. Illegal immigrants use our infrastructure, taking advantage of programs paid for with American tax dollars, but they do not pull their own weight because, as undocumented illegals who are usually paid under the table, they are not assessed taxes the rest of us must pay.

There is a much more compelling reason to secure the U.S. border. People exist who hate us, and who want to see us dead. An open border policy does not help keep these thugs away. Just as a fence around the property and locks on the doors are common-sense ideas, so is a secure border. New passport rules are a step in the right direction, regardless of alarmist claims that they will “threaten business relations.” I only wish President Bush would be as serious about securing our own borders as he has been in the rest of the War on Terror, but the sad truth is that he’s afraid to play hardball. Hispanic voters are a growing group, and woe unto the politician who angers a large group of voters in the United States.