RNC 2012 Day 2 Impressions: Paul Ryan: The One We’ve Been Waiting For

Ramparts has spent the better part of two years intermittently raving about a wonky, generally unknown congressman from Wisconsin as the next coming of Reagan.  Aware of this man’s spot on seriousness about problem solving, his earnest, absolutely natural way with people of all stripes, and his capacity to present the most complex issues in ways that anyone can understand, digest, and commit to participating in the solution have marked him in Ramparts as the leader we have yearned for to restore America to her immense capacities for opportunity, productivity, and moral persuasion.  At times it seemed he would be held back by his youthfulness, his “position in line of succession” so fixated upon by the Republican Party over the years, or his desire to stay in the weeds of budget crafting in Congress. It seemed he would resist the calling to avoid placing his young children in the harsh lights of national prominence.  Maybe, he just didn’t have it in his “gut”, to give his professional life up to the non-stop demands of a national candidate.

Enough already.  Thank you, Mitt Romney.  He’s here and he’s every bit the one we have been waiting for.

Paul Ryan wowed the convention and the national audience with a tour de force performance that only enhances his building legend.  He has always been articulate, a great communicator in the mold of his idol Reagan, a warrior for the cause- but who knew he could deliver a political speech like that?  It certainly wasn’t present in his acceptance speech in Virginia a few weeks ago. There, in front of that large crowd,  he was nervous, fidgety, and halting to the task.  This speech was on a whole nother level – crisp, confident, interactive, devastating to his opponents without sounding arrogant or mean spirited, and perfectly timed, building to a crescendo that had his audience yelling and gasping for more.  Ronald Reagan, when he finally received adulation for his communicating skills was a seasoned older politician reflecting back to a better time. Paul Ryan was more John Fitzgerald Kennedy, full of youthful energy, can-do spirit, and forwardly confident.

The speech was perfectly written, full of lines that resonate as little sun brightened jewels on the beach, though on closer inspection had the painful sting of  little jellyfish:

I’m the newcomer to this campaign.  So let me share a first impression.   I have never seen opponents so silent about their record, and so  desperate to keep their power.  They have run out of ideas. Their moment  came and went.  Fear and division is all they’ve got left.  With  all of their attack ads the president is just throwing away money…and he is pretty experienced at that.


You — you the American people of this country were cut out of the deal.   What did taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt.  That  money wasn’t just spent and wasted, it was borrowed, spent and wasted…


But we are four years into this presidency. The issue is not the economy that  Barack Obama inherited, not the economy as he envisions, but this economy  that we are living.     College graduates should not have to  live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.

Paul Ryan took the current Administration to the tool shed for a whuppin’ and never once looked beastly doing it.  In Kennedy fashion, he re-acquainted us with the inherent tools each of us has with the rights guaranteed in our founding documents to strive for better, to not accept the maudlin future that has been placed before us.

Now when I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I  never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own  path, my own journey, an American journey, where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happen as for myself.  That is what we do in  this country.  That is the American dream.          That’s freedom and I will  take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners…


We have responsibilities, one to another.  We do not each face the world  alone.  And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong  to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those  who cannot defend or care for themselves.        Each of these great moral  ideas is essential to democratic government, to the rule of law, to life in a  humane and decent society.  They are the moral creed of our country, as  powerful in our time, as on the day of America’s founding.  They are self-evident and unchanging, and sometimes, even presidents need reminding,  that our rights come from nature and God, and not from government…


The right that makes all the difference now, is the right to choose our own  leaders.  And you are entitled to the clearest possible choice, because  the time for choosing is drawing near.     So here is our  pledge.     We will not duck the tough issues, we will  lead.     We will not spend the next four years blaming  others, we will take responsibility.     We will not try to  replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles.

Paul Ryan appears to be some Ronald Reagan and some John Kennedy, but in the end he is all Paul Ryan.  Mitt Romney has done us all a service by putting this special leader on the national stage at a time when the country is thirsting for people who are the pathfinders to a better future.  It speaks very well of Romney.  Tonight, we will find out if Romney’s grasp of the task is as developed as his skill in picking the people who can accomplish such difficult tasks before us.

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RNC 2012 Day 1 Impressions: The Bench is Deep

The first day of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida was the culmination of the Republican Party’s change in strategy since the thrashing delivered to them at the hands of the Democrat Party and President Obama in the 2006 and 2008 elections, respectively.  In baseball terms, the Republicans have pursued a “Billy Beane” strategy.  Billy Beane is the legendary Oakland Athletics general manager who has built winners on the contrarian strategy of building talent pools in the minor leagues, meshing together so called “no-names” with specific skill sets into a cohesive team, and letting the “celebrity” big money ballplayers go.  The Democrats have the ultimate “celebrity” player in President Obama – all monies, support, and aspirations flow through him to the exclusion of any other talent, despite his rather worrisome statistical performance the last three and one half years.  The Republicans have instead developed an astonishing number of talented “no-names” with an array of skill sets, and have built a significant pool of next generation players that may yet dominate the electoral process. The impressions of the first night speakers of the RNC is that the bench is deep, indeed.

The Natural:           Mia Love is the republican candidate for the 4th congressional district in Utah and she showed herself to be the “Natural” star in the making that everyone has been whispering about.  She is a Democrat Party stereotype machine’s worst nightmare – African American, female, Mormon, daughter of Haitian immigrants, smart as a whip and conservative as the day is long. The mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, she was the Tea Party’s human tornado at the district convention, coming out of nowhere to destroy her establishment competition and take the congressional seat nomination.  Her success gives lie to the farcical stereotype propagated by Democrats that the conservative message is skin deep.  In the nation’s most consistently conservative state, Utah, the rising star is winning with the message of limited government, responsible fiscalism, and individual freedom, and the shade of her skin is mattering not one wit.  Her speech last night was well sculpted, articulate, and shining in its conviction.  She is in the baseball vernacular, “a five tool” player- runs, throws, defends, hits, and hits with power – and Utah which has had several near misses on the national stage – Hatch, Housmann, Leavitt – may have its star coming out party last night.

The Governors –  While President Obama has attacked the recession with the ham-handed technique of throwing 6 trillion dollars of deficit spending at it, a murderer’s row of effective Republican state governors have been succeeding at turning around their state’s fiscal messes and restoring sanity to the budgetary process.  The emerging stars of a nation wide wave brought in the election 2010 were on the dais last night, and all were worth listening to.  Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the winning general of one of the bitterest political wars of the last several decades, spoke to the importance of reform in achieving a voter consensus.  He noted that voters will reward fiscal discipline and need for sacrifice, if the issues are presented to them as adults, and that reform doesn’t have to mean another word for “giveaway”. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey framed the keynote speech in similar terms of “Adult” conversations, and that the electorate understands what made America the economic superpower of the 20th century, and what level of coordinated sacrifice is needed to keep it the superpower for the 21st. Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina argued as to what diversity in approach can mean to the manufacturing base and job creation, and that winners and losers in job creation need to evolved, not selected by the system.  The overwhelming tone of each of these speakers is that competence wins, and truthful conversations with the voters can be popular notions.

The Hispanic Conservative – Shining brightly were two conservative voices of the emerging hispanic hue to the American story. Hispanics have become the battleground demographic for votes between the parties, now that the African American vote consensus has becoming rigidly fixed to the government centered philosophy of security and safety net.  The hispanic vote is appearing more diverse, with different strains from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America, and generational native bornes all deflected the value curves differently.  A vote lost by more than 30% McCain to Obama, the hispanic consensus is still malleable- more generational family oriented, marriage centered, and concerned about opportunity more than assurance as the driving economic value.  This has not been lost on either party.  Senate candidate Ted Cruz of Texas presented his speech without podium or prompter, speaking directly to the camera and the hall and was faultlessly articulate, a heretofore unknown republican candidate virtue.  More importantly, he defined the constitution as a universal document, as magnificently protective of new  immigrant rights as a seven generation Mayflower claimant. A two language lector who has argued before the Supreme Court, Ted Cruz is going to give Marco Rubio a run for his money in representing the new hispanic American consensus.  Luce Vela Fortuno, wife of the governor of Puerto Rico, and successful lawyer in her own right, reminded the audience that the principles of limited government and reduced capital gains taxes have been as attractive to a Spanish language population in Puerto Rico as anywhere else in the United States, seeing a surge in employment and business opportunity that would be the envy of many “blue” states.  Along with other stars such as Marco Rubio, Senator Sandoval of Nevada, and Governor Martinez of New Mexico, the battle to be the philosophical representative of the American Hispanic is on.

The Turncoat:   Artur Davis had one difficult job last night. Former democrat representative from Alabama and a co-nominator of President Obama at the 2008 Democrat convention, he had to explain his willingness to turn on his previous party and enter the lion’s den of the opposition possibly viewed as no more than a blow in the wind turncoat.  No need to worry- Artur Davis was spot on.  Mr. Davis did not spend anytime facetiously explaining how he had suddenly become a conservative; he knew his audience wasn’t that dumb.  He simply explained that when it came down to it, President Obama’s hollywood staging and actor’s voice was not sufficient to overcome the progressive sense in Mr. Davis’s mind that Obama’s substance was lacking and his actions progressively destructive to his constituents.  He intimated in the end it is not enough to want something to be true; to get things done having core principles of managing with intelligence and constructiveness a naion’s destiny is paramount, and Obama’s wool has been lifted from Mr. Davis’s eyes.  I’m not expecting two votes to change as a result of Artur Davis’s conversion, but listening to him I believed him, and heard the inklings of independent thought processes beginning to emerge from a locked down African American consensus.

The Women:  The cluster of female talent presenting as strong leaders in the Republican party is making it clear to me that the last white male/white male Republican ticket we are going to see is Romney Ryan.  The number of female voices that have moved beyond the “soccer mom in tennis shoes” nonsense is everywhere, and the bench is going to produce some terrific candidates next round.  Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Kelly Allote of New Hampshire, and Susana Martinez are hitters, and hitters with power that have been borne of the Sarah Palin mold, full of her energy and connectivity with the public without her seeming “unpreparedness” for executive office.  Palin’s heroic battle with the vicious sexism of  the establish media that wants to pigeon hole women leaders, and will go to any length to destroy the diversity in womens’ views of the world, has been sacrificial for the next generation of strong Republican female conservatives.  If Palin wasn’t “the One”, she was at least the “john the Baptist” heralding the coming of the next wave.  For that alone she should have been able to be able to add her voice to emerging female inflection of her party.

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Questions in Tampa

The national Republican Party will convene today in Tampa to put forth to the American people their best scripted vision of what an elected Republican President and legislature would accomplish given the chance to represent the American nation as elected officials.  And it will be a scripted vision.  The days of suspense, argument about platforms, dark horse candidates competing for the presidential nomination, floor demonstrations, and incalculable outcomes are in the distant past.  The state primary system forever eliminated the suspense by allowing the best funded candidates with the most momentum to early on coalesce an overwhelming number of the selected state delegates to their side prior to the convention nominating process. The convention nomination has become, as a result, a coronation rather than a contested vote.  Whether this picks the best, most representative candidates for the party and ultimately the nation can be argued, but it certainly detracts from the compelling need to watch the conventions for their drama.

That said, there are compelling reasons to watch the story unfold in Tampa, given the importance building to the 2012 election as a bellwether election as to what kind of country fundamentally Americans want to live in.  Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican  candidate, is little known beyond the caricature placed upon him by the national media, and is up against the all time media favorite candidate in President Obama, personally well liked, and stuffed with cash to help define Romney.  The republican convention is Romney’s chance to own his own story and the larger Republican story to the nation, and how he handles the questions raised by his nomination  will be drama enough.

Tea Party vs Establishment – The surging popular force of Republican Party success over the last three years has been on the backs of a highly motivated, highly mobilized grassroots force of common-man activists known as the Tea Party.   Set on fire by both parties’ profligate deficit spending, arrogance in tax policy and big government regulation, and general ignorance and abandonment of the country’s founding constitution as the template upon which American rights and governance should be based, the Tea Party achieved huge electoral success in 2010. Over 60 legislative seats switched parties, 6 Senate seats, and a majority of state houses.  This ability to organize electoral victories has continued in the stunning results in elections in Wisconsin and Texas, and the Tea Party is primed to see their principles become the dominant platform of the national Republican Party, or they will find another outlet for their ideas.  Mitt Romney is not the Tea Party’s candidate, and as the establishment figure he needs to find a way to marshall their revolutionary zeal and reflect their voice, without being pegged as rigid himself.  The naming of Paul Ryan as Vice Presidential nominee went a long way toward accomplishing that.  The neglect and rejection of powerful Tea Party representative Sarah Palin as a speaker at the convention did not.  A delicate ballet is unfolding and the final answer and ultimate electoral victory may be in Romney’s acceptance speech.

Paul Ryan and the Wisconsin Revolution –  When Paul Ryan was named by Romney as Vice Presidential nominee it was not only an affirmation of the congressman from Janesville but the entire revolution in governmental policy projecting from the state of Wisconsin.  Wisconsin, long a progressive, left leaning state, has been cresting on the wave of a fundamental movement, and by selecting Ryan, Romney has taken on the mantle as his own.  The origins of the Wisconsin political earthquake started with Tommy Thompson’s Welfare to Work concepts, but the revolution has seen fruition through the Reaganesque triumvirate of Reince Priebus, now Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Governor Scott Walker, and Representative Ryan himself.  The tenets of the Wisconsin idea are founded on budgetary discipline, small business support, limited regulatory suppression, individual rights and responsibilities, and upfront and definitive tackling of entitlements.  With two of the three national positions in the hands of Wisconsin revolutionaries, Romney must make the case to the American people why the Wisconsin Vision should be the National vision.  A very compelling case can be made, given our national impending deficit crisis, but Romney and Ryan must articulate it in a way that appeals to all Americans and reassures them.  The convention will give them the national stage to make just that case.

Romney vs Obama – Americans like and respect their Presidents, and the process of rejecting a tried product for an untried one is one that since the beginning of the 20th century has proved to be a daunting task for the challenger.  Romney must not only face such history and President Obama’s personal likability, but also a narrative rigidly adhered to by the press that the liberal candidate stands for the average American, the conservative one for the elite. In such an environment, Obama’s partial birth abortion stance is seen as mainstream, while Romney’s personal support for right to life is considered extreme,  Obama’s cumulative addition to the deficit now more than all the previous President’s combined is seen as providing a safety net, Romney’s fiscal responsibility as pointed at the downtrodden, and Obama’s 700 billion dollar carve out of Medicare funds to underwrite Obamacare is seen as maintaining Medicare “as you know it”  while Romney’s support of the Ryan plan is seen as scuttling it.  How Romney frames whether his vision for the future of America is “Extreme” or “Common Sense” will go a long way to determine whether the independent voter stays with Obama or determines to secure his future with Romney.

It is enjoyable to read history books  about how political conventions were once about wheeling and dealing, back stabbing, suspense, and surprise.  The 103 ballots for the 1924 Democrat National Convention   to nominate John W. Davis to be the sacrificial lamb against Calvin Coolidge, or the final convention suspense of the Republican Convention of 1976, when Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan came to the convention essentially tied in support of electors, is a thing of the past.  The conventions are still, however, the home of the ultimate expressions of American political thought and organization, and as such remain tied to original concepts laid out by the founders, that We the People, will formulate our futures through elections and will fight for our vision of this great nation at the ballot box.  That is excitement enough for me.

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Neil Armstrong- Our Generation’s Lindbergh… Starbound

     Neil Armstrong lost his battle with heart disease on this day in 2012 and returned to the heavenly firmament he so boldly explored for us over 40 years ago.  He spent most of the years after his moon landing triumph in self determined obscurity, rather than take advantage of the international celebrity status his achievement would have brought him.  In that way, he ended his time on earth much as the great American explorer of the heavens that blazed the way before him, Charles Lindbergh, each separated from the mythic event by a distance from the public that would seek to adulate him.  How each came to be reclusive had as many different spins as could possibly be imagined, but they are weaved into the fabric of what it means to be an exemplary American hero, and what the pressures of mega-celebrity status forces inevitably of great achievers.

Neil Armstrong was the living, breathing representative of the archetype of the American hero. The American Hero was smart, unassuming, competent, brave, adventurous, matter of fact, and most importantly, successful.  When Armstrong was born, Charles Lindbergh was over three years removed from his epic Spirit of St Louis solo flight from New York to Paris and was a mythic figure. At just 25 years of age, Lindbergh singularly accomplished what teams of pilots died trying to do, achieve an airborne connection between the new world and the old using devices that were still in their infancy of development, the airplane. Lindbergh was the most recognized figure in the world – millions had come out to see him as he toured the world, and later with his wife Anne at his side, showed America that flight could be safe and predictable for travel, shrinking the world for all time – and in the process founding Pan Am and TWA airlines.  Lindbergh looked and acted  the part the Americans wanted to see as the very best we could produce – a person who was raised among us, had no special breaks, but through his grit and personal ability achieved greatness – and never acted any differently.   This was the type of hero Americans all hoped their children would emulate themselves after, and the Lindbergh archetype was promoted in the press and on radio so no American boy growing up in the thirties could possibly miss the connection.  Lindbergh’s persona became Jack Armstrong, All American Boy on the radio, very likely playing in the Neil Armstrong household radio in Ohio, a young man who never lied, worked with others, was brave and adventurous, but maintained the ah-shucks attitude that all Americans cherished through hard times.

Young Neil Armstrong, however, would have certainly been exposed to the other side of mega-celebrity, the public’s lust to know everything about their heroes, and invade their personal space sufficiently to uncover their human frailties.  Neil Armstrong growing up in Ohio would have  witnessed the obsessive coverage of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, subsequent trial, and the uncovering of the other side of Charles Lindbergh, the colder, more calculated, and reclusive character that through no fault of his own made him a less sympathetic figure than he by every right should have been.  Lindbergh was stunned with the public access to his personal life and forevermore sought a reclusive existence far away from his adoring public.  He would come forward only intermittently from then on into the public eye, and seemingly only to misstep time and time again, in driving his personal darker views of humanity against the public’s previously unquestioning opinion of him.  The young adult Neil Armstrong could not have missed the Lindbergh example as to how pedestal of celebrity adulation is shaky and precarious to those who would stand abreast it.  It likely impressed upon him that in the unlikely event he would find himself in such a circumstance, he would never permit the exposure to the heat of adulation that brought Lindbergh to such a reclusive end.  He would instead choose seclusion, rather than have it forced upon him.

Neil Armstrong quietly built the resume of an American hero, aerospace engineer, US Navy pilot in Korea, test pilot of the X-15, and subsequently in the very exclusive club of American astronauts, becoming command pilot of Gemini 8.  He was, in short, the epitome of Thomas Wolfe’s definition of The Right Stuff.  As the flight crews became selected for the order of flights for the planned conquering of the moon, it became apparent to NASA that the command pilot who would actually step foot on the moon would need to be above all seen as overwhelmingly competent by his crew, rather than back slapping and gregarious.  No one fit the mold better than Armstrong.  The story of Apollo 11’s epic flight has been told before in RampartsThe story of the final three minutes of the landing of the LEM module, with failed computers worthless for computer residual fuel, an analytic Aldrin calling out estimated fuel status and residual flight power calculated on his slide rule, and the flight commander Armstrong determining to land the craft manually on the moon, or die trying rather than abort, is the stuff of legend.  With a quarter of the the world’s population than watching simultaneously and breathlessly back on Earth, Armstrong then calmly planted his foot for the first time in history on another celestial object, just 66 years after man had achieved controlled flight, and only 42 years after Lindbergh set foot in Paris .  “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for Mankind”, Armstrong intoned, and the world gasped at the representative symbolic achievement that had just occurred – the linear path from man’s first wonderment of the heavens, to Armstrong physically claiming it for all humanity.

No one would likely have been positioned to be a more recognized figure, and therefore a very wealthy man, than Armstrong after successfully splashing down on Earth on July 24th, 1969 after his epic voyage.  But perhaps the images of Lindbergh’s fall from grace prepared him to let it go without taking advantage of the moment.  There would be no Senator Armstrong, no President Armstrong, not even retired astronaut extraordinaire Armstrong.  Neil Armstrong was instead perfectly willing to return to the obscurity of normal life, eventually taking a job as a engineering professor at the University of Cincinnati and establishing a farm in Lebanon, Ohio where he kept to himself and his closest friends.  He avoided most controversies and situations where his name and position could be abused by others, and as a result over time lost his status to newer generations as a immediately recognized figure, to his personal satisfaction, and to the loss of younger generations who are starving to know what a real hero looks and sounds like.

With Neil Armstrong’s passing, the cumulative can do spirit of a 1960’s American nation has passed with him.  Modern national goals are partisan and short sighted, and reflect the politicians who pronounce them.  The greatness of Neil Armstrong, and on so many levels he was truly great, is obscured by modern layers  of cynicism and self absorption.  We should ask ourselves if the American Hero model we so admired, and of which Neil Armstrong is an immortal example, should once again have credence in our age.  Neil Armstrong once said that one of his biggest disappointments in life was never dreaming of his time on the moon.  It might pleasure him to know, that he made the dreams of an entire nation and world come true.  God Speed, Neil Armstrong.





The Emerging Energy Bonanza

Ramparts of Civilization has long been an focused observer of the interesting politics of radical environmentalism, global warming hysteria, and the unstated but aggressive agenda of such proponents to “own the truth”, subjugate rational science, and fundamentally contain individual freedom and pursuit of happiness.  Ramparts’ February 21, 2012 essay “Peak Oil Joins the List  reviewed  how the conversion of objective science into “settled science” was used to create the sense of  inevitability in outcome and firm up the religious overtones of the underlying socialist agenda of radical environmentalism, and how the concept of “peak oil”, the exhaustion of all known petroleum energy reserves now in permanent decline, was used to reinforce the need to reduce energy utilization and fund other “more acceptable” alternatives.

The largest problem with the theory of peak oil is that it frankly is turning out to be dead wrong.  Carbon based energy in the form of petroleum and natural gas has been responsible for the largest economic improvement in the status of the individual in history, with such security as provided in individual transport, inexpensive food, and availability of cheap energy for comfortable living and economic pursuit.  The reality of the side product of increased carbon dioxide emissions in its utilization left the door open to radical environmentalists as associating this form of energy as “evil” and with its implied source exhaustion, in need of immediate abandonment.  As available sources saw their decline around 2000, the public was left vulnerable to the scare tactics of staying “addicted” to this diminishing evil resource.   The radicalists didn’t however take into account the power of technology to unravel all their assumptions.  A small group of energy pioneers in the 1990s were already on to unleashing the motherlode of earthbound carbon energy locked in source rock thousands of feet deeper to the standard well drills.  Source rock is the “Mississippi” of petroleum reserve that has over the millions of years fed the “ponds” of easier to obtain oil and gas previously uncovered with classical vertical drilling techniques.  The fully developed technology of “Fracking” – horizontal drilling and hydraulic rock fracturing – has managed to revolutionize the energy industry in the United States and astoundingly potentially put itself in reach of energy independence.

Receiving almost no help from a federal government already married to the concept of peak oil, small private firms began to explore the possibilities of fracking, and in a few short years, have made the states of North Dakota and Pennsylvania among others into growing energy industry stars, providing huge economic benefits to their states.   The known Shale Oil fields in the United States makes almost two thirds of the nation a potential harvestor of the resource.  The stunning realization that the United States, so recently at the mercy of the Middle East oil cartel,may  potentially become a net energy exporter for the first time since 1947, has huge strategic implications.

Now that fracking has unleashed the availability of inexpensive and potentially 100 year supplies, the fight will go to arguments of the safety of the process.  Radical environmentalists, cornered in their argument regarding the inevitable end of available petroleum as the need to go to more expensive alternatives, now are focusing on the technique of fracking and the implied risk to water resources and soil environment.  As we need to do with all technologies, a rational risk benefit assessment needs to be done based on occurrence not assumption.  In a not to be missed interview with Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge, Trevor Rees-Jones of Chief Energy Corp, a pioneer in fracking, brings us some much needed perspective on the petroleum revolution under way and its implications.  The coming national election will go a long way to determining if the future expressed by Mr. Rees-Jones becomes our shared future:

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The Game Changer

What we thought we knew about Mitt Romney changed forever at 800am central time yesterday.  The number of people who think they should be President of the United States is immense, but the number of people who actually have projected beyond the proverbial plea to ‘pick me’, to articulate why the nation should give uniquely them such responsibility- well, you can count them on your fingers.   With the naming of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has shown himself to be far from the madding presidential crowd.  Mitt Romney turns out to be one principled, dead serious candidate for President.

President Roosevelt’s Vice President John Nance Garner was once quoted as saying the position of Vice President “wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit”.  This unpleasant analogy for many years defined the process by Presidential candidates of viewing the Vice Presidential candidacy as a ticket balancer or a sop to alternate factions of the party, then basically ejecting the Vice President, once elected, to the administration’s wilderness.  The Vice President exemplified by Garner was a hand shaker, a funeral chaser, and a yes man with remotely no significant interactions with Presidential policy formation.  When another Roosevelt Vice President, Harry Truman, became President with the death of Roosevelt in 1945, he stated “I felt as if the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me” as he was thrust into the Presidency, having been completely out of Roosevelt’s inner circle, and thoroughly out of the loop as to any of the current issues, directives or secrets of a nation in perilous war.  The considerations regarding Vice Presidents have evolved, however, and some modern Presidents have looked to their Vice Presidents as more of a secondary counsel, then a ‘one heart beat away’ threat.  The most profound example of this was George W Bush’s selection of Dick Cheney, who offered him no identifiable  electoral college advantage, but a lifetime of experience in matters of state he could mine for sage advice.

Paul Ryan is the uber Cheney.  In selecting Ryan, Romney had to know he was opening himself up to possibility that America would see the election as determined by the nation’s comfort with the Ryan plan to save America, not the Romney plan.   Paul Ryan has over the past four years positioned himself as President Obama’s primary philosophical nemesis, the intellectual counter to the idealistic vagaries of Obamacare, Obamonomics, and permanent restructuring America as an Obamination.  This is crystal clear anytime the two men are in the same room together – Obama has a profound dislike for Ryan because no one can continue to pretend Obama is the smartest one in the room.  Ryan has worked his way under Obama’s skin so deep that Obama has gone out of his way to upstage him, denigrate him, and destroy him.  As Obama’s foil Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner stated, when confronted with Ryan’s crushing arguments regarding the administration’s stunning lack of any conceptualization  of dealing with the spiraling debt they were creating for future generations, “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long term problem.  What we do know is that we don’t like yours.”

The selection of Paul Ryan says more about Mitt Romney then almost any other action he could have taken.  It shows Mitt Romney to be a man very comfortable in his own ego and intelligence to allow such a transcendent mind to be constantly compared to his own on the campaign trail, and potentially, into policy discussions at a Romney White House.  It shows Mitt Romney to be considerably more principled than the initial glossy version presented to the public in the primaries, a candidate willing to make this an election of hugely stark contrasts, of two diametrically opposed, competing visions of America.  It shows Mitt Romney after all to be a man of fundamental values – free market vision, results oriented governance, constitutional clarity, and willing to take on problems no dominant nation has yet to solve coherently without public turmoil.  The process by which Romney selected his running mate turns out not so much about the elevation of Ryan,  but instead a profound focusing of what has been a blurry Presidential candidate in Romney.  In a game changing decision, the questions and doubts as to the core presence of a Romney as  principled  conservative are gone forever.  He has made the 2012 election, and risked his entire lifelong ambition to be President, on the notion that he is actually who he said he was.



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Space is Big Again

This past week has been one of those weeks where those of us who revel in man’s need to explore the universe around us have a little more skip in our step.  Growing up, it was taken for granted that part of being a great nation was the constant propulsion forward of adventurers and adventurous science.  The concept of frontier has driven the American ideal and with the achievement of the civilized connection of the world through rail, sea, and air,  the ultimate frontier has been the vastness of the heavens above.  With moon as the prize, all energy and efforts went toward the conquering of a successful landing and return, but since the epic achievement of this goal became surprisingly mundane to the public in the 1970s, the concept of man’s ever outward exploration of the heavens was somewhat earthbound or, at least, “low earth orbit” bound with the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station.

Stirrings of big things to come are now being seen, however, and two events this week make it clear that we may be back on the trail of some amazing times in exploration.

The first event to take center stage tomorrow night  is the attempted landing on Mars of NASA’s Curiosity Rover, a literal robotic Lewis and Clark  on wheels.  In the last decade, NASA achieved a spectacular success in robotic exploration with the landing and successful travels of the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity that provided years of data collection on the Martian surface living and functioning well beyond their expected usefulness and indelible pictures of the Martian landscape.  Curiosity is however a whole ‘nother animal compared to its two little ancestors – a jet plane compared to some puddle jumpers.  Curiosity is nuclear powered, massive,decked out like a full science laboratory and is potentially capable of limitless exploratory life and distance.  An adventuring behemoth, it will require tomorrow night a landing strategy that will make the Explorer rovers airbag landings of ten years ago seem like child’s play.  With instructions and feedback requiring 14 minutes to transit the millions of miles between home and Mars, Curiosity will robotically be on its own and will have to perform the complex landing manuevers without help.  The number of steps where something could go wrong is impressive, NASA’s landing team will sit by helplessly with the rest of us tomorrow night waiting for a signal the Curiosity made it to the surface intact and functional.  And if it does, what a wonder of visuals and science awaits us, as we look to determine  the eventual landing and living strategies for human exploration of Mars.

The second story coming out of NASA this week is nowhere near as flashy but perhaps even more important to the concept of finally moving space exploration forward again.  Since the moon landings were achieved, manned exploration has been held hostage by the overwhelming cost of governmental monopoly of manned flight and the frequently manipulated and diverted attention of governmental budgetors.  With the spectacular success this summer of the private company SpaceX in achieving linkage and successful return to earth of its Dragon spacecraft, NASA is realizing that the competitive private company model offers the opportunity to leap decades of budgetary infighting and largess and return America to manned space exploration to earth orbit, the moon , the asteroids and potentially Mars on a more revolutionary timetable.  NASA announced the awarding of government contracts to the tune of 1.1 billion dollars to three space exploration companies, SpaceX, Boeing, and Sierra Nevada , each of which is solving independently the elements of manned flight and pointing their research and investment to routine manned space flight and eventual deep space travel and colonization.  NASA’s realization that private venues that have driven developments in computers, software, robotics and propulsion are better positioned to currently solve problems of efficiency, cost, and technological advancement for space exploration is new to the government but no surprise to those of us who have held that private conceptualization and enterprise, with its ability to make mistakes and rapidly adjust, has driven the technology revolution for the last two hundred years and is best positioned to do so in the future. Financial encouragement without playing favorites too early in the game is the best role government can play. It would be a welcome epiphany if the current government policy-driven overbearing touch in alternative energy development would take a lesson from what is being achieved in space and learn to keep its hands off the natural selection process so innate to private enterprise.

After several decades of casual neglect to progress in space, an exciting American revolution is developing and we are likely to see the benefits sooner rather than later.  Tomorrow night in a prime example of “can do” spirit, if a multi-ton behemoth, tens of millions of miles away from its controllers, can slow from 13000 miles an hour to 1000 miles an hour by retro rockets, slow to 200 miles an hour with a supersonic parachute, self guide a landing zone with a rocket and radar adjusted lander, hover at 2 miles an hour over the landing zone and lower itself safely with a skycrane to a soft landing on the Martian surface, man’s deep space exploration and with it affirmation of man’s incredible inventiveness may once again be on solid ground.  As Hal said in 2001: A Space Odyssey, its going to be Something Wonderful.

Posted in SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY | 2 Comments

100 Days












One hundred days separate the American voter from the day of decision in the 2012 Presidential election.   The weight associated with decisions of such magnitude only slowly begin to pervade the consciousness at the century day mark.  Americans are tied to their Presidents – even unpopular Presidents seem to hold on to a veneer of poll support as the election approaches, weighed against their lesser known opponents.  The idea of “starting over” is not a comfortable concept with most voters; the tested seems preferable to the untested.  The discomfort comes from the simple premise of having to admit an electoral mistake the first time – the pesky recognition that the selection proved to be not quite up to the task of running the the most powerful and complex country on earth.  Such determinations are not flippant decisions but rather gut checks that become rational to the voter in the last days before the election.

The hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent by the current candidates in a blizzard of campaign advertising in the next one hundred days will be focused on convincing us of the capacity of each candidate for the job, to the denigration of the other.  The more personally negative the campaign typically the weaker foundation of performance of the candidate and the greater concern of the candidate to their own progressive image they  have developed in the eyes of the public.    This year appears to be entering into just such a phase, and the owner of the negativism appears to be – the President.  Struggling to project his “successes” on  a wary public digesting a burgeoning public debt, extended recession, and flagging international respect, the President’s talk has turned to the dismantling of his opponent.  The President’s caricature of Romney is a man who is too rich to relate to the plight of “folks”,  whose Mormonism is “too weird” to reflect the values of the everyman, and who’s determination to reduce the nation’s burgeoning dependence on governmental largess is stealthily racist.

A similar script defined the election of 1980 between President Jimmy Carter and his challenger Ronald Reagan.  Carter’s record of performance in office battered by the twin economic peaking headwinds of 15% inflation and 20% interest rates and shackled to immobility by the Iranian hostage crisis, Carter re-directed the focus onto Reagan’s capabilities.  Despite a record of innovative and stable governance of the nation’s most productive state, California, Reagan was labeled a dunce, a failed  B-movie actor, an extremist, a demagogue, and most tellingly, a warmonger.  The polls at the time suggested Carter and his accomplices in the media had marked their target well – a January 1980 Harris poll had Carter leading Reagan a stunning 65-31% and across all voting groups, and Carter continued with a double digit lead into September of that year.  Under considerably worse economic trends it appeared the 1980 voting public was comfortable with staying with the known factor Carter against the potentially “unstable” Reagan, regardless of their sense of Carter’s grasp of the nation’s needed course corrections.

The result was stunning reversal of the predicted polling trends.  Reagan squashed Carter winning the Electoral College by 489-49  and the popular vote by 10%, with the greatest damage to Carter appearing to come from his own voter base, so called Reagan Democrats who abandoned Carter in the last few weeks of the campaign and latched their hopes on the more positive views of America’s future elicited by Reagan.  The foundations of the landslide turned not on the popularity or likability of the two individuals nor their personal proclivities but on the premise Reagan framed so brilliantly in the final debate with Carter:

“Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions ‘yes’, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have.”

The devastating conclusion of the voter was that things could not keeping going the direction they were going, and that they could not continue to be led by the current office holder in the direction he was leading.  An election of personalities in the final two weeks became an election based on competence, and the voting public had seen enough of the competence of one to decide to take a chance on the competence of the other.

The elements of the current sense of unease are in my mind similar to the buffeting winds of 1980.  The polls suggest a tight election and the electoral college maps still forecast an Obama victory.  I believe however the next hundred days, baring some unforeseen calamity, will progressively focus the voter on the logic of the echoes of Reagan’s framing of the above question.  Are you better off? Will your children be better off? Will the world be better off?

I believe the question as to four more years of expanded governmental influence on economic decision making, debt proliferation, loss of individual determination, and the permanence of government as central decision maker in our lives will be answered conclusively.  Romney 51.5%, Obama 48.5% ,  Romney 307, Obama 231.  The driving force of this year’s election?  A voting group heretofore not known – the Romney Democrat.



Posted in HISTORY, POLITICS | Leave a comment

Bushville Wins!

The summer has proved to be oppressively hot, the news of the day generally negative, and my own baseball team is mired in mediocrity.  It seems to be a perfect time to indulge in some nostalgia and sit down with a good book that speaks to an earlier, happier time.  John Klima’s book Bushville Wins! fits the bill very nicely.  A tome to the love affair between the city of Milwaukee and its Braves baseball team reminds us of the special link sports and sport teams have to the esteem, pride and general well being of their partner cities.  Klima tells the story of a forward thinking owner, Boston Braves owner Lou Perini, who determined to change the face of baseball by directing his 1953 Braves team to leave its spring training home in Florida and return not to its ancestral home in major league Boston, where it had existed as one of the founding members of national professional baseball since the 1870’s, but instead go west and take its chances in a backwater minor league town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  To the East Coast teams and the writers that covered their seasons for the public, this was a move to Podunk, USA, and guaranteed to fail, given the last of sophistication and understanding of baseball in the rubes of the west outside of St Louis and Chicago.

What Perini saw better than most though, was the enormous change that had come over the nation since the cataclysm of the second world war, and the potential for re-invigorating his sport of baseball, his team the Braves, and certainly his personal prosperity.  His Braves were permanently mired as the second alternative to Boston fans to the exalted Boston Red Sox.   From the beginning the Braves had suffered the loss of players, prestige, and loyalty of fans to their American League competitors, and despite having recently played in the 1948 World Series  with a young and talented team, could barely draw 300,000 fans a year to their park, a financial loser of epic proportions.  Perini sensed that the compressed east coast league geography that allowed the financial and on field dominance of the New York teams was ripe for change after World War II. Distances that seemed scheduler breakers were contracted by the new flexibility provided by air transport.  Cities in the west had taken huge roles in providing the manpower and industrial muscle of the American war behemoth and were financially awash in a prosperous and hardworking  populous.  Most importantly, Branch Rickey’s rupture of the color line in baseball opened up a huge influx of spectacular talent to all teams willing to search the Negro Leagues and a new fan base available in towns that had supported Negro League teams.  The gems to be mined might eventually be far west in the burgeoning cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Perini wasn’t interested in waiting for their development.  The twelfth largest city in the USA had city leaders that wanted their city to be major league, and had taken the spectacular risk of build a major league ballpark to house their minor league team, just in case someone might take notice and move their team.  In 1953, Milwaukee County Stadium was ready made and Perini had found his match in Milwaukee.

And what a match it was.  When the team got off the train from 1953 spring training to begin the season in Milwaukee, an estimated throng of 60,000 fans were there to greet them, and the love affair only grew from there.  Perini, in spring of 1953 contract negotiations with his star pitcher Warren Spahn offered him his base contract of 30,000 or a contract of 10 cents for every patron that came through the turnstiles in Milwaukee.  Spahn, who knew how the Braves had struggled to draw 300,000 fans the year before took the guaranteed money – to his spectacular detriment.  At a time in baseball when drawing a million fans was considered a great season,  the 1953 Braves drew 1.85 million, smashing all current attendance records, and would have made Spahn the richest player in baseball at over 180,000 dollars- it would be twenty years before a major league baseball player would be paid more.  The city became the turnstile king of the 1950’s frequently topping two million fans a year and treated their baseball heroes like royalty that could do no wrong.

All that was left to make Perini’s fantasy complete was to win a World Series and to do it, he would need his Babe Ruth.  The Milwaukee Braves of the 1950’s were an extremely talented team with future Hall of Famers slugger Eddie Matthews and ageless pitcher Warren Spahn anchoring the team, but the magic came with the signing of an unassuming young Negro League Indianapolis Clowns infielder with the bat quickness and sting of a Scorpion tail  and wrists of iron, Henry Aaron.  Baseball produces great athletes but snagging the special ones, the Ruths, Williams, Mantles, and Bonds, are a once in a lifetime proposition and Hank Aaron was once in a lifetime special.  Paired with slugger Eddie Matthews the pair would together hit 853 home runs for the Braves, one of the most prolific tandems in baseball history.  The already dangerous Braves lineup was now the rival of the Dodger, giants, and Yankees and by 1957 it appeared the inevitable was to take place.  The upstart westerners from Milwaukee, the podunks from the sticks, were going to have their shot at the mighty Yankees, and the baseball world would see if there was a new order in the universe.

Klima’s book is full of wonderful stories of a baseball world gone by, played by men who had second jobs in the off season and who played the game with a special desperation, managed by men who had played with Ruth, and edgy and confrontational at a time before baseball business was forever exposed to modern media and its political correctness.  It also captures the world of a confident post war America anxious to prove itself the best in whatever the competition, and will to slather its love on any entity that would fulfill its image as major league in every way.  Like all love stories, the end of the Braves’ romance with Milwaukee was a sad one with the team abandoning the fans for Atlanta in 1965, despite all that Milwaukee had done for the Braves. Klima’s story is however about requited pure love between  a team and its city, and makes this summer’s stress take a backseat to a great story worth living one more time.  In America, if you play hard and compete to be the best, Bushville can win – isn’t that the way it always should be?

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Solving “The American Problem”

I have just finished the fourth installment of Robert Caro’s epic biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson, and in keeping with the preceding three, it is exhaustive, dramatic, and moving.  Caro has given thirty years of his life in re-inventing the American biography through the persona of Johnson, focusing like a laser through the complex machinations of a immensely talented but flawed individual on the recognition, utilization, manipulation, and abuse of power as the driving force in this individual’s life.  This most recent treatise takes Johnson from the pinnacle of legislative power as Majority Senate Leader in 1958, through the humiliations of the Vice Presidency under a regime that distrusted and disliked him, past the searing intensity of a nation’s stunned reaction and grief to the assassination of President Kennedy, to the achievement of the pinnacle of power of the Presidency with Johnson’s skillful dis-assembling of the logjam that had prevented America from addressing its “problem” , the denial of civil rights to a portion of its people on the basis of their race, codified since the Civil War.  Living through the current administration’s distaste for detail and political discourse, the book The Passage of Power is a stunning reminder of what can be accomplished when the Presidency is in the hands of an individual that understands its legislative checks and balances and the perspective of history in the American Story.

The extent of Caro’s biography, after thirty years on still incomplete in the telling of the story of the majority of Johnson’s Presidency,(still to come), joins the Iliad like treatments of the Civil War by Shelby Foote and the biography of Lincoln by David Herbert Donald as re-framing iconic American moments in journey frameworks for the protagonists.  Journeys as a reality of their origin and completion require chronology and progressive layering to achieve complete understanding of the outcome, and as such, starting Caro’s treatise with The Passage of Power would be ineffectual.  It doesn’t take thirty years to conquer Caro’s biography but it does take some serious hours of concentrated study.  The story starts with The Path to Power highlighted by Caro’s framing of the very essence of Johnson in his unforgettable description of what it was like to live, and survive, in the desolate hill country of Texas at the turn of the twentieth century, forever linking Johnson’s roots to his compelling will to utilize the nation’s resources to attempt to reverse poverty and balance its inequities. This is followed by  Means of Ascent, the shortest and darkest chapter of the biography showing Johnson’s ruthless and desperate attempt to cling to power through any manipulations necessary, including the probable stealing of the 1948 Texas Senate election, barely avoiding his permanent disappearance from the aisles of power.  The behemoth in the biography is  Master of the Senate , Johnson’s meteoric rise to the pinnacle of the Senate as Majority Leader and the skillful positioning of himself as the country’s “inevitable” leader by succeeding at overcoming concrete- hard entrenched Southern interests in accomplishing the first comprehensive civil rights legislation since the Civil War.  Each book builds on the previous until a complex prism of Lyndon Johnson of profound core of understanding of the common man’s personal struggle cracked by egotistical need for blatant, naked power emerges.

  The Passage of  Power is highlighted by the metamorphosis of Johnson almost overnight from country rube to statesman and primordial political force, as he is thrust into the pinnacle of power as President by the stunning horror of the Kennedy assassination.  To the surprise of everyone, Johnson mutes his most overbearing features of bluster, bullying, and undercutting, to rise to the occasion in profound terms.  In the unstable weeks following the murder of the President, he achieves a smooth transition, clarity, and spectacular focus that no one in the Kennedy administration thought he was capable of, and sets out the goal of completing President Kennedy’s stated but moribund goal of universal civil rights by the 1964 elections.  In a few short months he proves to be an eloquent statesman for the cause, magnificent political operative, and powerful executive that leaves the anti-Johnson forces consumed with unseating him and replacing John Kennedy with his brother Robert as President in tatters and retreat.  Within eight months of the assassination the current, and future, President is clearly Lyndon Johnson, in a stunning reversal of the expected ebb of this man’s career though one step short of his life’s goal, the throne of Franklin Roosevelt, in the committed journey of this man from the dusty heat of the Texas back country.

Robert Caro is in his late 70’s and one hopes he does not befall the fate of William Manchester, who fell short by the ravages of age, in completing his multi-volume magisterial biography of Churchill.  Caro states he is in the process of completing the final volume, the presidential years of Johnson subsequent to the Civil Rights achievement of 1964, in which Jonson’s flaws of character eventually overwhelm his re-framing of domestic American life with his immersion in the Vietnam conflict.  The journey so spectacularly told by Caro so far is in mold of greatness in literature, and I wait with great anticipation the final volume, that completes Johnson’s journey as the forces of raw fate  expose his internal contradictions and set the stage for a country’s calamity of which it  continues to suffer the scars to this day.

The blather that passes for great speeches in today’s world show how important a belief system is to the capacity to explain a nation’s course.  Whatever his flaws, Johnson believed in the fundamental rights established in his nation’s constitution and framed his argument for civil rights not on egotistical righteousness, so repetitively displayed by our current leader, but in the strains and choirs of a nation’s historical  reason for existence and foundations of principle. We would do so well to have our current challenges framed in the cadences of another time.

Posted in CULTURE, HISTORY | Leave a comment