Monday, September 9, 2013

The Line Of Courage and Determination In The Sand

2181 years ago a Roman consul Gaius Popillius Laenas, delivered one of the earliest known “Line In The Sand” ultimatums against King Antiochus IV of Syria.   Is there a message buried in a two millennium old event that might inform Barack Obama as he rattles the military might over which American voters handed him title of Commander In Chief (CIC)?

Antiochus was a descendent of Seleucus, an Alexander the Great general who had taken Syria as his quarter of Alexander’s Empire upon the young Emperor’s untimely death. Antiochus had violently conquered, pillaged, and generally run amuck around the Eastern Mediterranean controlling Israel, capturing Cyprus and overrunning all of Egypt, except for Alexandria.

When Antiochus decided to also take control of Alexandria in 168BC, Rome’s tolerance for his exploits withered. Rome’s Senate appointed a Roman Consul as its ambassador to stop Antiochus’ further advance.  The Senate sent Gaius Popillius Laenas, bestowing in Popillius Authority to carry the full power of Rome’s military might, and to speak and act on Rome’s behalf.  The assignment commissioned Popillius to stop a powerful army marching under Antiochus’ leadership.
In 168BC Rome was the most powerful nation on Earth with the largest army. Popillius’ commission might have seemed straightforward enough, were it not for the fact that the Roman Senate dispatched their envoy by ship along with only a dozen attendants (lictors) in support.
History tells us that Popillius landed at Alexandria, and confronted King Antiochus confidently leading a wall of Syrian soldiers marching along the Nile toward the great ancient city.  The confrontation was apparently short and effective.  Antiochus intructed Popillius that Rome had no business in Egypt, to which Popillius replied that neither did Syria.  Then Popillius did something which must have taken some degree of daring and courage.  He told Antiochus that he was offending the Roman Senate, and the people of Rome and that he had been instructed to make the King return to Syria. What scene that must have been – a dozen men facing an army, and telling its leader to go home.
Not surprisingly, the request was met with laughter, and the 168BC version of Oh yah, you and whose army?  with Antiochus asking,  “how are you going to make me go home? Where is your army?”
Popillius explained to Antiochus something like, “I am everything that is Rome. I am Rome. I am Rome’s largest army. Go home.”
If observed from one hundred feet above the setting just outside Alexandria through the eyes of a falcon, this is one of those moments in history, which would have provided boundless admiration for an almost solitary Roman Consul.  Gaius Popillius Laenas remained steadfast through the exchange, and with another, “No,” from Antiochus, Popillius drew a complete circle around the King in the Egyptian soil, with his staff.
Against the backdrop of the Syrian army looking on, Popillius instructed their King, “Before you step out of this circle, think again, and when you do step out of it, be facing East, and go home to Syria.”
History informs us that King Antiochus IV turned around and marched with his army out of Egypt.
Much can be learned from Popillius and his superiors in 168BC, including:
1.  Understand the power you have at your disposal and how to use it.
2.  Establish its most effective and beneficial application.
3.  Effectively negotiate with a strategy to do so, rather than ad libbing on the fly with whatever non-sense your ego feels necessary.
4.  Delegate authority.  If you’re surrounded by head-nodding advisors, the bench isn’t deep enough to be delegated any authority.  Deepen your bench.
5.   Deliver the message concisely, clearly, emphatically and with uncompromising confidence.  That dramatically affects the reception of the message.
6.  Here is a simple one which seems a long reach for the current CIC – Mean what you say.
7.  When you set out on a mission, have a plan and hold the determination to implement it.
8.  Don’t blink.

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Obama's Syrian Distraction

Who would ever have thought that examination of the continuing dire economic struggles distressing most Americans would completely disappear from the headlines and from public discussion?  Who would have believed that America’s stature in the world would be shaken over a failed state like Syria?   But here we are.  Americans are scrambling for part-time jobs, while listening to dictators insulting the resident of their most powerful office – the office they revere above all others.
The Oval Office has been imbued with almost magisterial spirit by a Nation founded on revolutionary determination.  The Presidency has since Washington been expected to personify the resolution, character and tenacity of those who first recoiled against the unreasonable arrogance of royalty.  That inspiration, which America breathed into the Oval Office since its creation 224 years ago, has lifted many common men who sought and accepted the responsibilities of the office to become greater than they were.

Whoever it elects to its Oval Office, America looks for the individual to fill that room fully.  It has every right to expect that person to ‘rise to the occasion,’  and it wants to feel that in that four or eight year undertaking, the President will reflect America’s own dreams, aspirations, resolution, forthrightness, and honor.  America wants its President to reflect its greatness.  Today, in a time of economic distress, Americans more than ever need a President who can provide the prospect of diminishing anguish.
No one expects a President to have all the answers, but it is reasonable to expect a President to attempt leading positively, surrounded by the best minds America has to offer for input on strategic thinking, analysis, design and implementation.
After five years of an Obama Presidency slamming business and industry, and littered with scandals ranging from IRS targeting conservatives, to Benghazi lies, to Solyndra, and to the NSA, America is presented with a deliberate provocation of the international community and an insane debate on WAR.
What WAR?  Obama’s WAR.  The Western MSM is misrepresenting the most important question:  Who will Obama’s ego be fighting?  We’ve heard it’s just a “shot across the bow” of Assad.  Let’s be clear, this is not a WAR about abuse of internationally prevailing modes of conduct on the use of poisonous chemical gas, although such provides poignant carriage, lifting emotions enough to confuse common sense. This is not about indignation on the death of an estimated 100,000 dead Syrians.  It can’t be.  Many times that number have died at the hands of Iranian leaders, Chinese leaders, and sundry African war lords without consequence. This is not really about Iran and Israel.
The WAR noise is about ego and vexation, with a dose of revenge to be inflicted on a seemingly weak adversary (Assad) on the part of a slighted personality who made serious missteps in front of the world, Barack Obama.  Not a slighted Office of The President, but a slighted individual, Barack Obama.
Other scandals grown from this Administration’s mismanagement and ineptitude, have cost lives, . . . Benghazi and the ATF ‘Fast and Furious,’ to name two.  Syria’s civil war has been used as a personal platform to rebuild the Obama Administration’s disintegrating credibility, erase the long list of scandals from public consciousness, assuage an ego in dire need of approval, and provide Obama with a lasting legacy on the world stage.  Whatever the wishful thinking, missiles fired into Syria will provide none of these.
Barack Obama going to WAR  with “My military” will inevitably ignite widescale slaughter across the Middle East.
At some point, Barack Obama became convinced that he could flex some military might.  After all, spiking the ball immediately after the hit on Bin Laden had been so well received by the devoted.  Even many conservatives had approved. Had it not been a glorious hour? Too many secrets were blurted out, endangering certain members of “His military,” but what marvelous triumph that operation had been.  And all the media had cheered.
Knowledge, capacity for strategic thinking based on engaged practical understanding, analysis based on input from depth of counsel equipped with independent, even contrarian minds,  experience,  and propensity to be decisive, are required when that so-called 3:00am phone call comes in.  The WAR  discourse which the world is now enbroiled in, did not get launched by a  3:00am phone call.  It comes from the imagination of Barack Obama.  The man who actually said this past week while in a foreign country, “my credibility isn’t on the line. . . . . America’s credibility is on the line” lacks all of those competencies.
Libya presented no long term calamitous consequences because it presented no significant import to foreign unfriendly Nations.  Egypt offered even less of material consequence to serious foreign rivals. Both Libya and Egypt also offered little of strategic substance to our foes.
Syria (Assad), presents a completely different strategic creature to two very powerful adversaries, Russia and Iran, or more accurately, Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei.  Putin has been buoyed by the stratospheric prices which oil and gas have enjoyed in recent years. Assad has been a useful customer of Putin arms, and provides Putin with a growing naval presence on the Mediteranean, Tardus, which is his only foreign military base.  Putin also has long term plans for Syria’s geography. He has a cozy relationship with Khamenei who needs to sell his oil and gas, particularly his gas in the vast South Pars gas field. Putin wants his Gasprom to build the pipeline through Syria which will quench the gas thirst of energy-consuming countries, particularly those of the EU.  Assad provides Putin and Khamenei an agreeable conduit for gas, as well as a pathway for arms and ammunition with which Iran can continue to attack Israel and kill its citizens.  For icing on his energy cake, Putin has his eye on the undeveloped offshore gas fields which can be accessed from Syria’s Alawite region on the shores of the Mediteranean.
An attack on Assad, is a provocation which threatens Putin and Khamenei at home, and in their pocket books.  Putin may not care if Syria remains whole, as long as enough of it remains under his control, and enables him to fulfill his ‘energy’ dollar objectives.
And Israel?  It would applaud the disintegration of Syria by anyone and by any means. Who could blame it?  Its priority is a removal of Assad and his replacement with someone less antipathetic to Israel in its conflict with Iran.  Israel may not be confident that it can control whoever the ‘rebel leader’ might be who will rise to power if Assad is removed, but what it is certain of, is that it cannot ‘deal’ with Assad.  It is looking for a new Syrian leader, and does not subscribe to “better the enemy you know.”  However, Israel expects a severing of relations between Syria and Iran, should a new leader be installed. That can only occur with force since Khamenei is not about to let Israel and the United States gain an upper hand in Syria.
Putin may be considered coarse, but he is a strategic thinker.  He took total control of Russia’s vast disjointed socioeconomic and political landscape through a thorough, effective, forceful, sometimes ruthless, campaign.  He now rules that nation with a firm hand. In order to maintain his ‘strongman’ image at home, Putin can hardly allow loss of Syria from his sphere of influence.  He also knows that for different reasons, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar want to weaken Syria’s relationship with Iran.
Putin has not forgotten his loss of Gaddafi’s billions in contracts when he failed to prevent the obliteration of the Libyan regime, from his seat on the UN’s Security Council.  How could this Administration not have fully grasped that a blow on Syria would be nowhere near as much a slam on Khamenei, as it would be a blast to Putin, to his ego, and to his personal pocket-book.  How could it not envisage that Putin would not stand down?  Could NOT stand down?
Putin also knows that Obama made such a mistake on Syria, that he purposely tweaked Obama’s ego with a reference to his being a “Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.”   Putin is the man in charge of Syria and he has declared himself its protector. He is the only one with whom a deal can be negotiated.  Syria, being decimated by a conflagration of disparate armed insurgents, will end up not only broken psychologically, but will end up divided into zones of ‘influence.’
Obama has successfully blustered American taxpayers for five years, but he isn’t so effective at deceiving, or negotiating with Putin or Khamenei.
Obama’s bluff has been called.  Barack Obama must stand down unless he wants to militarily engage Putin, militarily engage Khamenei, find the overnight blockage of the Suez Canal and the Strait of Hormuz, and watch the price of oil rise sharply, further burdening America with higher costs of living.  Obama should not seek more excuses for his “shots across Assad’s bow” to indulge his own image. He must back off on the fearmongering and warmongering.
As Europe continues to teeter on the edge of an unprecedented debt abyss, and the U.S. cannot find a foothold on the path to recovery,  American taxpayers cannot afford, and will not afford, Barack Obama’s self-satisfaction through military action against Syria.  Barack Obama has not risen to the occasion of the Presidency.
The Oval Office will survive his insecurities and maladroit management of all things Presidential, but Obama’s image may not recover from his Syrian diversion.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Generational Gapping – $222 Trillion Worth of Schism

“Since the masses are always eager to believe something, for their benefit nothing is so easy to arrange as facts.” 
This scornful observation of our human nature is attributed to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, an astute politician and long persevering survivor of the French revolution and Napoleonic eras.  Senior politicians and government mandarins in Washington are schooled in understanding and using the insight divulged by this derogatory statement.  They must be.  The most extensive, pervasive and obscene rearrangement of facts has become one of the biggest lies ever floated in history.

Even those who depend on Dave Letterman or perhaps a Kardashian for remaining informed, are aware that there exists a large National debt hanging over the United States.  Many of us are even aware that the often repeated amount of $17.2 trillion is an enormous amount of debt, however, it has too many zeros to be taken seriously and in any case, we heard, or read somewhere that it’s too big a debt to ever be repaid.  Fortunately for the Baby Boomer generation, the younger generations are too preoccupied with earning a living, or searching how they might earn one, to be angered.
These younger generations have every right to believe what they have been told.  It is not unreasonable for them to embrace the notion that since their efforts will partially finance 78 million Boomers into retirement, their own social security and health care needs will be taken care of when the time comes to retire.  It is also reasonable for them to accept the veracity of the government’s representation of $17.2 trillion in debt.
Twenty five years ago, governments and corporations promised Boomers generous pensions and benefits. Promises were cheap and easily made when the future was so far into the very distant and murky horizon.
Remembering Talleyrand’s acumen, we dig a little further and discover that there are some numbers (facts) missing in the $17.2 trillion.  One website offers a running amount which already exceeds $74 trillion in debt using different methodologies in the calculations.  Why such significant variance?  Accrual accounting – meaning the debt is accounted for when the obligation is entered into.  How does the government “arrange facts?”  It uses cash accounting, which accounts for Medicare and Social Security as debt when they come due.  We hear nothing from Washington about balancing the budget on a fully accounted and accrued manner.  We don’t even hear any suggestions on real spending cuts.
Most Boomers heading into retirement, or dreaming of doing so cannot trust the trust funds which career politicians and bureaucrats pretend guarantee their future well being.  Social Security?  There’s no guarantee of such for either Boomers, or their children, or their grandchildren.  The only prevailing guarantee appears to be that the money will run out, then, nothing.  When?  Well that’s easy.  That’s when . . . umm, oh no, another review of the “facts?”  Now what?  The Fiscal Gap.  That 74 with a dozen zeros following may look ominous, but it does not fully represent the Nation’s indebtedness.  The gap between costs and funds collected through time, is the Fiscal Gap.
A Boston University economics professor Larry Kotlikoff calculated the fiscal gap including unfunded liabilities, debt service costs and the mortgage guarantees under FDIC, and Fannie, and Freddie Mac and he came up with a present value of $222 trillion. That is over 13 times the total U.S. GDP.  Obviously there is room for error in this number, as the world will force events which will impact future costs and revenues.  The amount remains menacing regardless.
As we watch the Keynesian Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke destroy savings and generate $80 billion a month in quantitative easing, encouraged by progressive politicos spending lavishly to buy and retain votes, we know there is no possible method whereby the fiscal gap will be tightened.  Future generations will wonder how we were ever able to feel no compunction to elect anyone with skills, with leadership, with will, or with a plan.  They will wonder why we were incapable of discerning facts from fiction.  They will wonder if we understood Talleyrand.

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Open Letter To All 18 Year Olds

Congratulations on your arrival to the voter list, and congratulations to all who are graduating.  Some of you are heading into colleges and universities.  Some of you are hitting the streets to knock on doors in search of jobs.  Some of you already have hit those streets and have been successful, while others have  discovered undemanding solace in a particular corner of a parent’s couch.

 Whatever your priorities and whatever your circumstance, remember this admonition, you are the first generation, since the founding of this great Nation, which will never retire.  Ever.  Oh, a very few of you will inherit some shrunk fortunes, which will keep declining in lock-step with the shrinking dollar, but most of you will have to make your own way with the tools you have appropriated.
You will spend a majority of your waking moments competing with millions of new arrivals for jobs in a shrinking job market.
You will live under the invasive cloud of the state, manipulated at federal, state and local levels by ideologically entrenched government bureaucracies.   You saw how the power of the IRS was used to attack those who did not support liberal socialist ideologues. If you consider yourselves open minded, how does this brazen assault on your rights correspond with your own common sense?  Are these the actions of a government which you feel comforted by?  Is this Administration designing a country which you believe will be conducive to your enjoyment of successful employment, or to a rewarding personal life?
Are you aware of the changes being implemented in your healthcare system?  Do you realize that you will not be able to find a family doctor for yourself or your loved ones?  When your time comes to need a doctor, you will discover that private practices will have become an institution of the past.  You will be required to consult GPs working out of clinics.  You will wait hours to be served, and when you require serious medical attention, such as an operation, you will wait, and you will wait.  You will not wait a month or two, but a year or two.  As you get older, and older, you will discover that even that mediocre level of service will slowly, but assuredly decline.  The system will not have enough funding to provide you with the medical care you think you have paid for and deserve.  Many decisions will be beyond your control, and your needs will be secondary to the priorities of the ’system’ and its financial viability.  Bureaucrats, doctors and surgeons, will make decisions on your behalf without your input.
You will eventually come to know that the lingering fear in your gut over the long delays for that critical operation, were well founded, and out of your hands.  You will find that many operations will be considered ‘elective’ even if they are critical to your wellbeing and long term health.  Remember that term. It will one day haunt you and will come to cost you.  The bureaucracy will make most of those decisions for you. But most of you don’t care about doctors and health concerns right now. Such are the concerns of  ‘old people.’  Still, in violation of the Constitution, this President has decreed that you are now forced to purchase health insurance.  Yes, ‘forced.’
Let’s look at what else has occurred while you were awaiting your consequential graduation to ‘voter.’
Your Nation’s Constitution has been highjacked and abused by an Administration which considers itself above the need to heed the Constitution’s most fundamental principles and tenets – the very principles the President swore to uphold.  You may have left primary school when America was a Constitutional Republic, but you are graduating as it is irreversibly being converted into a crony capitalist nation centrally controlled by a  despotic government.
Your Supreme Court has become a political vehicle used as a pandering legislative agency obligated to the Administration which positioned the justices.  For example, your Supreme Court judged the  Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as being Constitutional.  It decided that the government can force you to purchase insurance. How did it justify that?  It executed a logistical summersault and qualified the enforcement of a financial penalty as being a tax.  Penalty  =  Tax  =  Constitution?  You know, like “it depends on what the definition of is, is.” Just make it up as you go along. Who’s going to tell the Supremes they can’t?  No one, it seems.  But remember this:  Chief Justice John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan don’t know what the meaning of “is,” is.   Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have understood perfectly.
Your Administration has disregarded the fundamental separation of powers, as it imposed its political ideology on the vast bureaucracy of the state. In its violation of the Constitution, the Administration has usurped your powers.  Only those with short memories will have forgotten that in January of 2012, the President trashed the Senate’s power of “advice and consent” as mandated by the Constitution when he made the unprecedented appointments of four commissions including three members to the National Labor Relations Board one to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  Take a few minutes sometime to dig into what the CFPB digs into, then compile in your heads what you have learned of the bureaucratic overreach which this Administration has shown a propensity for, and surprise – just another intrusive organization invading your financial affairs. How great is that?  You may not care today, but wait a few years when you locate microscopes in places  you weren’t aware you had opened for encroachment.  Your grumbling will be audible, but it will be pointless against the obnoxious wave of deaf conceit flowing from Washington.
Your Nation is being transformed into an authoritarian socialist motherland.  Don’t look for the process to jump the track and ride onto the fictional collectivist utopia some of you have thought you’d inhale yourselves into.  You are stepping onto a train led by a dysfunctional egoistic cluster of self-loathing individuals who have little respect for any of you.  You will either be herded into the corral of sycophants, receiving handouts for your capitulation, or you will be locked out of the compound, hoping the wind sweeps crumbs your way for sustenance.
Fear has only been one of the effectively used motivators  in the conversion of your Nation. The transformation was not an accident – it has been willful.  Led by sanctimonious people convinced that they morally know better what is right for all others, these individuals are immersed in ideologies diametrically opposed to the original intentions of the Framers of your Constitution. All levels of your system of governance are being altered.   The process has not been subtle.
While you were preoccupied with Legend of Zelda and distracted with the suitability of the name given to a Hollywood star’s new baby, your leaders in Washington made endless decisions rooted in fear.  For example, the fear of terrorists legitimized excessive invasion of your privacy.  The fear of global financial calamity justified and rationalized in panic, a massive borrowing to bail-out too-big-to-fail financial institutions and auto manufacturers which should never have been allowed to survive incompetence and fraud.
The amount of extravagant borrowing, orchestrated in your name, will become more meaningful to all of you as  that reality empties your wallets and bank accounts in the coming years.  Taxes were raised, and will continue to be raised by your leaders who know of no other method to raise money for their grand plans, their fantasies and their personal fortunes.   They have convinced a bare majority of your parents, and your grandparents, that the bigger the government, the better the government, and the more effectively it can take care of them.  Your parents and your grandparents watched submissively as their taxes rose, but you will be punished with a double whammy.  Your taxes will not only continue to rise, but you and your children are the generations which will also be responsible for that giant debt accumulated for the benefit of predecessors. That debt is a tax burden by a different name, and you will have no choice but to bear it.
You are an indentured generation. Like it or not, understand it or not, you are trapped in a lifelong vice of debt.  You are stepping out into a society which has long been convinced that ‘debt is good’.  It doesn’t know why it believes that, but since it’s been promulgated and recited so ardently for over half a century, the baffling refrain has saturated every pore of your world.
You will eventually come to familiarize yourselves with the significance of organizations such as The Federal Reserve, or the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland.  These organizations influence your wellbeing and the wellbeing of the Nation you thought was yours.  You do not control these organizations, you do not own them, and neither does your government.  Most of you have little knowledge of what they are, or what they do, and they, like to keep it that way.   The Federal Reserve is your Central Bank and is an offshore entity owned by a group of U.S. and European Banks, well, it’s not really yours, but it’s the organization which impacts your every waking moment. Central banks are not managed by practical individuals with any experience which can inspire their decisions.   They are economists immersed in theoretical concepts and abstractions from which they dictate the direction and tenor of your present and your future.
Do you recall growing up believing that cartels were illegal, and that Unicorns could heal the sick and purify water?  Do you remember feeling comforted by the thought that there were laws against oligopolistic environments and monopolistic practices?  Yes?  But you don’t wonder how or why all the large banks charge the same interest rates on loans?   No surprise, no one else does either. Sure, there are laws against price fixing, and it would be wonderful if there existed real competition in banking, but, well, but nothing.   The Bank for International Settlements, is where the heads of central banks go to decide your destiny.  They deserve somewhere to meet that is comfortably out of sight of boisterous crowds with prying eyes and placards, and of course, they occasionally need a clearing house, so the BIS is their bank.
As you grab hold of your life and step into your tomorrows, you might recall a few of these exhortations.  Since most of you like to think of  yourselves as being of sound mind, please accept that your government was never originally intended to trample your rights, at least as the Framers of the Constitution intended it, and astutely structured it.  Assess what personal freedom you have lost,  then assert your own lines in the sand beyond which you will not allow intrusion and oppression.  If you don’t, others will decide for you and you will find yourself trapped in an ideological corral, unable to breath the Freedom which might have been yours.
Take responsibility for your actions, particularly your mistakes, ignoring the example you have witnessed of the current President.  The acknowledgement will inform your own development and growth.  Ascribing blame onto others vacates your capacities to learn anything.
One more proposition:   Reject most of the concocted ‘wisdom’ you have been fed  and absorbed throughout your school years since Kindergarten. Spurn the fantasies.  As you make your way, heed your own common sense, and your own intuition.

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