Perchance to Dream

(From The Stalwart Enterprise).

I, like many of you, forced myself to sit through the GOP debates last week, mining for a nugget that might give me the eureka-reason to cast my vote for SOMEBODY (Come on, fellas; give me something. You’re killing me, here.). Ever frustrated, I sank in my seat, while the candidates threw (verbal) spit balls at one another, trying to resist the urge to stick a pen in my eye. Then, while Romney and Santorum were endeavoring to put Newt back into his bottle; during an exchange that seemed like distant voices in a jell-o atmosphere, I caught the faintest remnant of a concept I might actually agree with. Somebody decided it would be unwise (un-WISE, I tell you) to spend billions, if not trillions, building a base on the moon. Halleluiah! It only took a blind-staggering economy on the verge of total shutdown, to make a politician think like a farmer at his kitchen table.

Now don’t get me wrong; I haven’t gone completely batpoo stupid. I know what a campaign maneuver looks like and I remain dubious as to whether these men believe a scintilla of what they profess, but the concept itself was good, and true, and pure. How about we DON’T spend anything more on goofy-assed projects, until we get our BUDGET to stop bleeding?

Wolf moved the debate on, yet I remained entranced with the idea that politics and the real world may have, however briefly, aligned right before my eyes.

I mean, we get it, right? Tell me please, that there’s a silent majority out there that understands that we have no room in the budget for vanity projects and hair-brained, expensive ideas?! The crowd certainly seemed fine with that assertion. I know I’m okay with that.

So it got me thinking. If we can acquiese on the practical steps to organizing a real budget, why can’t we discuss a few of these topics as well(?):

Taxes – There is an almost constant conversation about who should pay what amount of taxes. The rich don’t pay enough. The poor don’t pay enough. So-and-so gets a tax break. So-and-so gets a tax credit. Why do we continue to prop up the same amorphous monster that fails the stench test every time? Flat tax — reduces bureaucracy, eliminates loopholes, everyone contributes something. Fair Tax – eliminates the IRS, repeals the 16th Amendment, eliminates loopholes, rich pay more, poor pay nearly nothing. Pick one. Simple – done.

Stimulus Bills – Broad-based government spending sprees don’t stimulate the economy (big surprise). They are subjective and encapsulated and thus are too narrow to produce a macro-economic effect. The only stimulus package that would jump start an economy is one that would make every eligible worker a recipient of say $100,000. (This, incidentally, would have been cheaper than the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act.). Either get this money directly to the people so they can spend it or stop throwing it into the abyss.

Government Run Healthcare – This is another underfunded burden that cannot be sustained. At a time when Social Security is about to go critical, and our national debt exceeds our GDP, introducing another nationwide social burden is simply fiscal suicide. Contrary to political sloganeering, I think most of us want to see those who lack coverage provided with adequate healthcare. Insuring the uninsured is a conversation we could and SHOULD have. But we could do it leaner, smarter, and more beneficially if the government interfaced with the private sector and stopped trying to RUN everything. This is a shameless political power-grab.

Clearly, if we were discussing our family budget, this would be the occasion for the tighten-the-belt speech. It should be obvious to the thoughtful American that the fullness of our addiction to entitlements has put us in hock. Would that our leadership could stop promising the moon and make a sensible effort at delivering our children from financial bondage; that short practical walk but giant intellectual leap between perception and reality.


Newt Can’t Do It

I love to hear Newt Gingrich speak. The guy is crazy-smart and has an immense capacity for statistical recall (I have purposely avoided using the phrase “factual recall”). He is sometimes eloquent, incessantly provocative, and often commands a point-counterpoint exchange with the skill of a field general. But for all his bonafides, in my opinion, he is an insufferable ego-maniac with an elastic sense of the truth.

As a former constituent of Newt’s ( I actually had about a 5min. conversation with him outside a dry cleaners one day. Well, mostly, he talked, I listened. ), I think I have a better than average idea of how he would lead the country.

I don’t have to tell you that he’s a political opportunist that co-opts every amp of positive charge in the room. If he SAW it, he lived it and thereby took part in it. Really? His recent recitation that he worked side by side with Ronald Reagan on supply-side economics, and the defeat of the Soviet Union, is loosely true but closer, in reality, to unabashed self-absorption.

He’s a man that cannot be wrong – he won’t allow it. I think this evolves from years of professorial freedom to dictate without challenge and, perhaps the unhealed wounds frome an ass-kicking or two in junior high. The proverbial monster created here is a guy with “grandiose” ideas, convincing enough to unbalance paradigms, and slick enough to simultaneously shed blame and claim credit. This is a consummate politician.

The Achilles Heel for Newt Gingrich will be the likeability factor for the independents, and the credibility factor for the conservatives. He is not a man possessed with an abundance of either.


Capitalism: Fate Favors the Bold

It’s been a lifelong observation of mine that whenever a thought-provoking subject falls victim to politicization, it is thereafter destined to become a magnet for the absurd. I have no interest in fanning the embers of political affiliation today, so I hope to establish a modicum of baseline reality with this little preamble. If you cannot agree with the fundamental veracity of the next few statements, don’t even read this essay.

First, no system of human behavior is, was, or will ever be fair, beyond reproach. All things perfect and sweet, we venture to presume that in our finest moments, we could institute a socio-economic marvel where no harm befalls the innocent. Innocence, being a term that is wide open to subjective interpretation; we can only end where we began: NOTHING is perfect.

Next, there will ALWAYS be poor people. Easy there; this is not a let-‘em-eat-cake statement by some right-of-the-line wingnut. I am as concerned as the next over the plight of the poor. Success on any level is immensely dependent upon ambition as a prime mover, and that is not a character shine we are all born with. Ambition is a flicker to some of us, to others, a flame. All chanting aside, to suggest that any rule or law will elevate the poor, in absence of their personal effort, is a stab at wholesale naivety.

Last; this equation is universal and self-evident:  Prosperity = Opportunity X Effort. The simplest method for gaining personal prosperity is to take best advantage of these two principles. I’ve expressed it this way because either component would serve as a multiplier to the other.

If you’re still with me, welcome to The Stalwart Enterpise’s first consortium of economic realists.

To say that capitalism is under indictment might be the understatement of the decade. The media is a singing circus of lip-snarl ravings about people who make money. Students, most of whom have never walked a step without a parental safety net, appoint themselves fit to judge a system they barely understand and a huge block of cynical, like-motivated Americans cheer them on. Tear back a few layers and you find that political cancer has pervaded the argument. Communists, Islamists, and Socialists all have a vested interest in weakening the system that shed light upon their totalitarian flaws.  Legions of organized proponents of these causes are in feverous campaign mode, trying to destroy the last roadblock to elitist re-domination.

It seems our memories are woefully short. Communism, that Marxist dream that resurfaces annually as “enlightenment” among the graduates of AP History class, has a storied track record on our planet. It has never been peaceful, always oppressive within its own borders, and often bathed in the blood of weaker nations.

The former Soviet Union was a Petri dish for run amuck communism. Driven by a lust for  ascendency, it became a planetary menace. Its common people languished in abject poverty while a Party Member caste system rewarded loyalty (not charity, not productivity and certainly not potential). It was the epitome of centralized power, that Shangri-la of a Nanny-State that seems to be a frequent desire of the modern American. Its citizens were so devoted (sarc.) that when they weren’t busy waiting in bread lines or chopping up pallets for firewood, they were devising their best plans for braving an attempt to pierce the Iron Curtain.

Even in a society, where collectivism was the law of the land, capitalism became the most efficient purveyor of commerce among the people. The notorious Russian Black Market smuggled transistor radios, rock and roll albums, toilet paper, meat, eggs and even blue jeans in to nearly every locality.

But, some prefer the softer, gentler kiss of socialism as a buffer doctrine between the harshness of communism and the alleged unfairness of capitalism. Yes, wouldn’t it be nicer to live in a society where the government made everything “free” of charge. Let’s analyze how free an individual can be under the auspices of good socialism.

In England, if you make a pretty good salary roughly akin to $70,000 USD you will pay an income tax rate of 40%.  Add to that an 11% national insurance ding (based on weekly earnings) and a 17.5% VAT tax on all goods and services purchased and you might be able to afford gasoline at nearly $10 USD / gallon. In short, when the government takes most, you have the least. Where’s the ability to pursue happiness? Where’s the incentive to risk what you have in order to build upon a dream?

In France, total tax contributions from the average paycheck base out around 50% for a modest income equivalent of just $45,000 USD / year. Add to that a VAT of 19.6% on the purchase of most goods and services (food and essentials are taxed lower), and you can pay for your lifestyle on about 1/3 of your salary.

Defenders of this stifling piracy of personal wealth would immediately beg we consider the crowned jewel of such a society – “free” (insofar as you’ve already paid dearly for it)  healthcare. Let’s do just that.

Government run healthcare systems REGULATE because it’s the only thing a bureaucracy knows how to do. They restrict a doctor’s income to the point where it is impractical to undertake such a career. They often dictate where a doctor may practice or what specialty they can enter into, so as not to compete with those who have already filled the quota. The brightest and most talented turn their ambition to more profitable, less regulated, less risky endeavors OR they move to the United States. What is left in the hallowed halls of socialized medicine are the mediocre and compliant. For every claim of satisfactory healthcare, there are horror stories of postponed diagnosis, and long waits for important surgeries. I have never heard of an prominent  world leader flying to London or Paris for a lifesaving heart surgery or cancer treatment. And how many of the richest Americans, who could afford to purchase healthcare anywhere on the planet, seek the services of these socialized systems?

In an environment where one’s income is so molested the desire to be productive is sedated, the inclination to take risks is euthanized and the general contribution to world good diminishes. Workers push for shorter work weeks and more entitlements. Unions buckle any attempt by elected officials to make a significant stand and costs for new programs encumber economies already near collapse. Necessarily then, taxes increase in order to fund all that “free” stuff.

As an institution, capitalism gets enviously maligned, yet it is the very champion of the individual. Here an individual can buy a single truck and turn it into a multi-million dollar franchise (Ref: Two Men and a Truck® or 1-800 Got Junk? ®), a single mother can deliver sandwiches to office buildings and become a cooking tycoon (Ref: Paula Deen) or a guy can turn a coffee shop into a social icon (Starbucks, of course.); no outstanding favors owed, no greasy party affiliation, and no pre-determined career path.  In a capitalist society one can turn a half-an-ounce of opportunity and a lot of hard work into a successful dream.

The poor and under skilled in a capitalist society do well by their equivalents in other countries. Most have a dwelling, a TV or two, refrigeration, and often a cellphone and at least one vehicle. Entitlement programs deliver food stamps, rental assistance, unemployment, welfare, job training, free clinical care and even, contrary to popular retort, critical health services. It’s not beautiful, it’s not optimal, but neither is BEING poor.

The promise that capitalism extends and seeks to maintain is that the path out of poverty only presents two hurdles: opportunity, which is more plentiful in a capitalist/entrepreneurial structure than elsewhere and effort, which is a personal expense under the direct control of the individual. Given the proper drive, a ditch-digger can become a foreman who becomes a project manager and a guy who swings on the back of a garbage truck can own it someday.

With all that said, we haven’t addressed the growing disdain for the one who finally succeeds. Perhaps the most significant drawback to a free, capitalist society is that a person can expend themselves over years, pay every due along the way, become wealthy by virtue of their effort, only to be reviled by their countrymen.

Political partisans have succeeded in turning us against one another, whipping up sentiments of modern-day covetousness, to lure the affected into dependency and submission. Make no mistake, this is an epic power play and not devises of a sympathetic brotherhood. Exploiting the basest instincts of human nature, they manipulate the masses into believing that the wealthy are the greed merchants, while ironically, demands are made to redistribute wealth. Somehow the philosophy takes hold that all people with wealth lack virtue and those who struggle are unanimously virtuous. Before long we have self-effacing trust-fund kids organizing domestic terrorism and able-bodied homeless men insisting that the rich are successful at their expense.

At what point does the realization dawn that in the absence of capitalism – socialism, communism and Islamism are the only alternatives? Do we give political miscreants the satisfaction of destroying the free market and invite their subjective brand of “fairness,” in spite of decades of evidence that it will diminish us? Do we scrap the system that advanced us from literal darkness to light,  the most envied economy in the entire world, because our adversaries have guilted us into it?  We’re much braver than this. I think you know where I stand.


Oil: The American Love/Hate Relationship.

(From: TheStalwartEnterprise.com. By: Phil Zieber): We love to bitch. That’s our thing. When life is bad at home or at work or in the car pool lane, we let it fly. But nothing burns us quite so much as when someone is caught succeeding while we flounder in misery. Disappointment? Depression? Nothing! But give us something to envy and there could be blood.

Well, so goes our relationship with the oil industry. Our passionate desire to hate “those guys” is beyond casual, beyond fanatical; it’s almost anger-lust. I mean, how dare those thieving pirates post record profits at a time when people are out of work? What gives them the right to jack gas prices up when our paychecks are shrinking – isn’t that against the law? They take our money, ruin our environment, and stick it to the little guy.

Even though I know that this will make me the guy in the bull’s-eye jacket, I have to say that I think we’ve been misled with regard to “Big Oil.” Yes, misled at best, and perhaps outright deceived by environmentalist politico’s and those ape-stank soldiers of the counter-culture, who would love so much to see us huddling in pelts round garbage-can fires, dreaming of squirrel soup and forgetting about civilization as we once knew it. Because when the facts are laid bare, and all pretenses assailed, the statistical evidence seems to indicate that we have a senseless ire about the most important industry in our collective, daily lives.

We need oil. And for those of you who mistake the meaning of that statement to imply that we are just addicted somehow, as if its consumption were in any way voluntary, I beg you consider that there are few things in our modern existence that don’t owe some allegiance to petroleum products; everything from make-up to plastics, medicine to synthetics,  asphalt to underwear. Without oil production we couldn’t last a week before food prices would begin to skyrocket, along with gasoline, motor oil, lubricants and heating oil. A month hence would see world markets collapse, businesses bankrupted and closed for good, power blackouts, distribution networks exhausted, consumer goods out-of-stock, and massive, permanent unemployment. Machinery in every industry would be rendered useless. Lumber, essential metals, rubber and plastic would soon become unaffordable and then unattainable. Personal computing, the internet, even printing and paper – gone. Without painting the entire picture of Armageddon, suffice it to offer that life would get pretty bleak, pretty soon. (Oh, yeah, not to be the killer of all joy but, Ipads and Iphones would acquiesce to the abacus and an old tin cup. Sorry.).

The principle bitch, if I may stay with my thesis, is that there can be no excuse for extreme profits posted by this oil company or that. No, one, entity should make so much money, when there is a severe degree of financial lack among the world population. Where is their sense of corporate citizenship?

Here, the facts begin to dispel the myths. The oil industry sports perhaps the single largest workforce of broad-ranged job opportunities of any comparable industry. It employs hundreds of thousands of people all over the world contributing to nearly every economy on the planet. Occupations related to oil production have risen 80% since 2003. Not strictly white collar, and managerial jobs, but positions that range from field hands and roughnecks to chemical engineers and geological exploration crews, extraction, distribution, shipping and so forth.

As for profit; give this a thought. Picture yourself, fortunate enough to be the business that provides the single-most sought after commodity in the entire world. The demand is unparalleled in any industry and thus profits are near incalculable, but to imply that it falls in the pockets of a select few, or that the oil companies hoard it, suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of how corporations operate.

Cash and Cash Equivalents – as they are stated on the balance sheet, are separated into several cash and investment accounts, for purposes of security. That money is spent to strengthen the company in the face of any contingency. It is the mark of a prudent business to ensure long-term prosperity for their shareholders, employees and the ancillary businesses that depend upon their patronage (Incidently all of these are people who are recipients.). Too much of this is actually dangerous for a corporation, exposing them to hostile takeover advances that could enrich a weaker investor instantaneously. It is a blessing and, sometimes, a curse.

But, what about the price of gasoline? Aren’t these guys killing us at the pumps? For a comprehensive look at what makes up the price of a gallon of gasoline, please >>Click Here<<. Exxon reports (in 2010) that less than 3% of its earnings were from gasoline sales in the United States. In fact, based on sales per gallon in the last three months of 2010, for every gallon of fuel they manufactured in the U.S. they made just 2 cents per gallon. Gas prices are based largely on world crude oil prices which can reflect the confluence of ambition and temperaments of oil producing nations. A simple Google search of the OPEC member nations and you will find that many are professed  harbingers of American antipathy.

The best way to reduce the price of gasoline at the pump is to depend less on foreign markets, more on U.S. development of domestic crude oil production and alternative energy. We have an abundance of crude oil within our borders, such that rivals even the Middle East, and can compete in deep water ventures with anyone on the face of the earth. When demand for foreign shipments of crude is reduced, the price will plummet ipso facto.

Now, of course, nobody wants to consider a refinery or oil derrick in their hometown, but in light of our economic circumstances, I suggest we take a lesson from the great state of Texas and rethink our prejudice. There are blighted areas in nearly every state (and many towns, for that matter) that could benefit from such an undertaking. Relatively few refineries and new drilling operations in the remotest locations could affect our anemic economy, in long-term, positive ways AND reduce the price at the pump. That’s money, in the pocket of the little guy, from profitable, multi-level corporations, in a relatively short span of time.

Finally, I guess we should address the gorilla in the room – environmental protection. No words from my mouth (fingers, in this case) could (or should attempt to) minimize the disaster that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. It was big; it was ugly, and it was expensive. As with any industry as heavily regulated, this one spends a lot of time and money trying to prevent the last screw-up from ever happening again. Take into account that we have had one disaster of this kind in the entire history of oil exploration and the case can be made that there is no indication of a developing trend. The oil industry gains nothing from polluting the environment as can be seen by BP’s $14 billion dollar investment in the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon incident It is in their best financial interest to learn from past mistakes and  to implement precautions that will prevent further accidents. To be fair, they have a history of doing just that.

I get it. There’s nothing sexy about the oil industry.  It doesn’t proffer a suite of cool games, or flicker in pretty colors, or give us access to social platforms but we seem to have forgotten that it enables all those things — and extensively more. You may not like the whole business of pulling oil from the ground, but you NEED it. And you need companies that know how to do it proficiently, in the safest possible manner and, yes, even profitably. To pretend that this is not the case and to restrict only the United States is a naïve exercise in self-defeat.


Iran: The Threat Becomes a Nightmare.

I can’t help but think there ought to exist a prevailing wisdom that kicks in anytime now, to ally the rational entities of the world in opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions. How could it be unclear, at this point, as to what Iran would do with the capability to wield an atomic weapon? As it stands, with collective courage lacking and while the great nations abstain, the hope for any kind of nuclear stability seems to fall upon the tiny State of Israel.

In contrast, the proponents of Islamic supremacy seem to have their message hammered out. Iran has a sovereign right, they profess, to pursue its own interests. The U.S., they argue, only wants to subordinate the Middle East to its colonial appetite. And, besides, Iran’s nuclear development, as stated by its guileless leadership, is purely a quest for the peaceful generation of electric power. – Please!

The Iranian design is manifest hegemony. The Islamic “Republic” of Iran is the brainchild of the former Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In exile during the reign of the Shah, he wrote extensively about the synthesis of clerical authority and political construct (the shi’a concept of velayat-e faqih, “guardianship of the jurisconsult”). Iran, although labeled a republic almost humorously, is a brickwork theocracy of Islamic ideals.

The Iranian constitution is awash with advocacy for Islamic domination of the world.

For example (emphasis added):

  • “With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad.” [Preamble].
  • “In creating, on the basis of ideological outlook, the political infrastructures and institutions that are the foundation of society, the righteous will assume the responsibility of governing and administering the country (in accordance with the Koranic verse ‘Verily My righteous servants shall inherit the earth’ [21:105]).” [Preamble].
  • “In this way during the course of human development towards perfection, each individual will himself be involved in, and responsible for the growth, advancement, and leadership of society. Precisely in this lies the realization of the holy government upon earth (in accordance with the Koranic verse ‘And we wish to show favor to those who have been oppressed upon earth, and to make them leaders and the inheritors.’ [28:5]).” [Preamble]
  • “In the formation and equipping of the country’s defence forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse ‘Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them’ [8:60]).” [Preamble]
  • “The Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran must be an Islamic Army, i.e., committed to Islamic ideology and the people, and must recruit into its service individuals who have faith in the objectives of the Islamic Revolution and are devoted to the cause of realizing its goals.” [Article 144].

Iran ardently purports to have never involved itself in the affairs of foreign nations, so as to appear less imperialistic than its rivals, yet even casual research exposes Iranian links to proxy organizations that act on its behalf. Assassinations, military operations, terrorist attacks conducted by Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force in countries all over the world (including the United States) betray a firmer conveyance of foreign policy.

This is not a society based largely on benevolence and peaceful coexistence. It is devoted to the establishment of a world Islamic Caliphate (religious kingdom), with the Iranian Supreme Leader as master. Add strategic and covert nuclear arms to this equation and you have a dangerous Tolkienian facsimile.

Now the storm turns west. The Iranian government has been busy cultivating military and economic relationships with several South American governments – most extensively with Venezuela. It is not out of the realm of possibility, to imagine Iranian ICBM’s installed in Venezuela and even Cuba, if we continue to ignore the clear and present danger. Hezbollah training camps in Latin America are purportedly training operatives in Spanish language and preparing them to enter the U.S. posing as Mexicans, via the southern U.S./Mexican border. There are even strategic, near-term plans to deploy Iranian naval ships (ostensibly, eventually with nuclear weapons) to the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Is anyone sufficiently freaked-out yet?

Like it, or not, America will be forced to contend with Iranian/Islamic expansionism at some point. It’s coming, it’s aimed at us, and many pre-confrontation components are already in place.  The prospect of reaching a peaceful resolution with a caliphate government, intent on world domination, is nowhere near likely. The questions we must reconcile are at what strength we wish to engage it and, if we cannot find the courage to do it sooner than later, at the expense of which American city?