Virtue Amongst…(well you know who)

Over the past few days, the left has been doing their best to eviscerate Herman Cain for an alleged “sexual harassment” incident that took place while he served as CEO of the National Restaurant Association.  To date, many on the left have all but pronounced him “unfit” to run because of this conveniently timed hearsay scandal.  Without any real evidence of wrongdoing to lean on, many are hoping that this whirlwind of hyperbole reverses the groundswell of support that Herman Cain has received over the past several weeks.  They are hoping that these allegations, though unproven, will stain the virtue of the Cain star and send it streaking to earth in flames for good.

Of course we all know about the impeccable character of our friends on the left. They are oaks of virtue! Let’s see there’s:

  • Rep. David Wu – Accused of assaulting an 18 year old woman.
  • Sen John Edwards – Admitted to having an affair and fathering a love child.
  • Rep. Anthony Weiner – Posted his naughty bits on Facebook.
  • Rep. Mel Reynolds – Convicted of 12 counts of sexual assault with a 16-year-old. (President Bill Clinton pardoned him before leaving office….go figure).
  • Rep. Barney Frank – Hired a male prostitute who ran a prostitution service from Frank’s residence in the 1980s.
  • Sen Ted Kennedy – Implicated in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. (Rumor was they were doing it.)
  •  Rep. Gerry Studds – Censured for sexual relationship with underage male page in 1983. (For most of us this would be rape…)
  • Sen Daniel Inouye – Accused in the 1990s by numerous women of sexual harassment.
  • Rep. Gary Condit – Affair with murdered intern Chandra Levy.
  • Mayor Gavin Newsom – Affair with top aid’s wife.
  • Rep. Allan Howe – Soliciting prostitution.
  • Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick – Sexting on the job.
  • Rep. Roosevelt Dobbins – Fondling a 16-year-old.
Pretty impressive credentials indeed.  But wait…there seems to be someone I am forgetting…hmmm….oh yeah!!

  • President William Jefferson Clinton – Affair in the Oval Office with intern Monica Lewinsky. (Never mind the previous rape allegations.)
Now, before all my liberal readers get themselves worked into a frenzy….yes….I am being somewhat one-sided here.  The fact is that one can find an equally long list of Republicans who have checkered, if not downright kinky, pasts.  There are naughty boys and girls…okay, mostly boys….okay, all boys….on both sides. The point here is that any condemnation of Herman Cain from this crowd is simply laughable. It is nothing more than a bunch of (refer to title) having a debate on virtue.
So to all you Herman Cain fans out there…take a deep breath and stay on point. He will get judged and convicted unfairly and that is certain. The good news is that this story will be dropped like a hot potato as soon as another Congressman is caught with his pants down.

WWJD?

As we look closely at the upcoming 2012 election, we cannot help but think about how far our nation has drifted from the vision our founding fathers had of a free people protected by a limited government.  They would surely shake their heads in disbelief if they could see what has happened to their great experiment in self-government and liberty.

It is likely that if Thomas Jefferson came back for a day, after reading just one issue of the Washington Post and watching an hour of MSNBC, he would find a bar, drink himself stupid, and then call the Queen of England  to apologize for the revolution.  I can only imagine the horror he would feel as he looked over our 2012 federal budget, read through Obama’s healthcare bill, watched the unwashed idiots playing their bongo drums on Wall Street, and listened to Michael Moore waggle his triple chin about the rich.  I cannot speak personally for Mr. Jefferson, but I am sure that after seeing these things, he would sprint at full speed back to the safety and sanity of his coffin.

To be sure, Mr. Jefferson’s return as a concerned “founding zombie” is not likely, but it really does make one wonder whose side he would really be on if he did.  Many have acclaimed Mr. Jefferson as one our nation’s more “progressive” thinkers, so if any of our founders had the potential to belly up to Obama’s world view it could arguably be him.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say that some mad scientist was able to reanimate Mr. Jefferson’s corpse just in time for him to vote in next year’s election?  Who would he pull the lever for?  Put simply…WWJD? (Note to Readers: Zombies are not required to show a picture ID at polls in most blue states.)

Head Muscle submits that with only a bit of research, Mr. Jefferson tells us in his own words:

Jefferson On Liberty:

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniencies attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

“The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a state to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity.”

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.”

Jefferson On Government:

“A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor and bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

“The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.”

“Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstances of distance, be unable to administer an overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstances, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite public agents to corruption, p,under and waste.”

“I believe the States can best govern our home concerns, and the General Government our foreign ones.”

“The true theory of our Constitution is surely the wisest and best, that the States are independent as to everything within themselves, and united as to everything respecting foreign nations.”

“Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.”

” Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated.”

Jefferson On Wealth Redistribution:

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

“To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

“To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father’s has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association–‘the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.'”

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”

Jefferson On Taxation:

“If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, and give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses. And the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they do now, on oatmeal and potatoes, have no time to think, no means of calling the mis-managers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains around the necks of our fellow sufferers.”

Jefferson On Gun Rights:

“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

“The beauty of the Second Amendment is that it will not be needed until they try to take it.”

Finally…Jefferson On Obama Care:

“Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now.”

So WWJD? Let’s take a quick tally. Were Mr. Jefferson suddenly walking among us again he would:

1. (Most importantly) Need a shower and some fresh privies

2. Be for a limited federal government

3. Put states in charge of their own domestic affairs

4. Be pro second amendment

5.  Support personal property rights

6. Be firmly against wealth redistribution

7. Rebuff European-style taxation

and yes.., finally…

8. Support the repeal of Obama Care

We may be guilty of being a bit presumptuous here at Head Muscle from time to time…okay…all the time, but it seems pretty clear that we already know the answer to the question.

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Cain Is Most Able

Many of my more faithful readers will know that there has not been much activity on Head Muscle the past several months.  The reason for this simple…I lost my energy.  Political blogs are a great thing, but sometimes it seems that one gets in a rut of just regurgitating the same old objections and hearing the same tired arguments.  The plain truth is, I got to a point where I felt as if I was putting more into it than I was getting out of it.

Now don’t get me wrong….this has absolutely nothing to do with my fine and able companions out there in the blogosphere.  My fellow bloggers have towed the line nobly and continue to do so with exacting precision and insight.  All that said however, watching our great nation literally collapse under the misguided vision of our current administration was so emotionally draining, I just lost my steam. The furnace went cold.

When the debates started a few months ago I watched ambivalently as the usual suspects  Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Ron (the kook) Paul, took the stage.  “Wasn’t this the group of folks that lost to Obama the first time?” I could not help but think.  Then this fellow named Herman Cain started talking, and he really got my attention.  Here was a business man with no real political experience making everyone else on stage sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher…wah wah wah wah…you know what I mean.  When I finished watching the first debate I visited his website at Herman Cain for President and really started to dig into who this guy was.  Needless to say I liked what I read, and have since become an ardent Herman Cain supporter.

Over the last several months I have been trying to figure out what to do with Head Muscle.  I still did not have the zeal to jump back into the political issue du jour, but felt that there was still something productive I could do with it.  When Mr. Cain won the Florida straw poll this past week, I knew without a doubt that Head Muscle had a new calling.

Ladies and gentlemen make no mistake about it; our nation is in the middle of a revolution. It is not violent one, but it is a revolution nonetheless.  Our current administration is presiding over the worst economy since the great depression and they are zealously digging the hole deeper. We have anarchists trying to shut down Wall Street, Michael Moore threatening violence, and a stock market in a state of fiscal schizophrenia. In the midst of all this mayhem, our illustrious leader is helping out by blaming everyone’s misfortune on the rich!  Put plainly…we as a nation are in deep kimchi.

So I have decided that instead of letting Head Muscle fade away, I am going to devote it for the foreseeable future to promoting the one person that I believe has the experience, common sense, moral character, and clarity of vision necessary to pull this great nation out of the quicksand. I truly believe that the perilous times we find ourselves in call for a leader and a visionary the likes of Mr. Cain. We need someone who will embrace the free market principles that  made this the greatest country on earth; someone who believes in American exceptionalism and will not settle for making us less that what we are.  We need someone who can carry Ronald Reagan’s dream of  “a shining city on a hill” to its final realization without apologizing or looking back.  When I look at Romney, Perry, Paul, Bachmann, and Gingrich all I see is politics as usual…and these are not usual times.

Now I grant you that Herman Cain has little experience in the political world. In fact he has never even held a major political office. This lack of political experience is an incontrovertible fact.  I would remind you however…as Herman himself noted…that it has been the “seasoned” politicians that have driven us into the wall at full speed?  Yes my friends, we need a change…real change….and his name is Herman Cain.

Please check into Head Muscle regularly for much more insight on the Cain campaign, and don’t forget to go to the Cain for President website yourself and read about the man firsthand.  I would also like to urge all of my fellow bloggers to become active in the Cain campaign. You can check out our Twitter feed @blogforCain for up to the moment updates,  and please consider linking Head Muscle to your sites. I would also like to add as many links as I can to the sites of fellow Cain supporters, so please leave me your URL in a comment. Our goal is to start a grass roots network of blogs all working together to help our nation realize Herman Cain’s vision.

If you think Romney and Perry have things all locked up, let me remind you that folks were saying the very same thing about Hillary back in 2007. If Obama could do it…so Cain we!

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All Is Not Broken

At 1230 p.m. on 27 March 2011 Mr. Edward Schulken, a Navy Veteran, was laid to rest in San Diego California with full military honors. His flag draped coffin rested just in front of a pulpit where a Navy Chaplain spoke fondly about a man he never knew.  In his eulogy for the stranger, the chaplain could only note that, “ours was not to judge.”

The group of men that had come to say farewell to Ed sat, heads bowed, in silent reflection. Many of them had long hair, grey beards, and bifocals. Some wore leather vests and had driven to the service on their Harleys. Like the chaplain who spoke so eloquently before them, they did not know Mr. Schulken either.  Still, they listened somberly.

After the short service, two veterans stood at each end of the coffin, raised our nation’s flag from its lid, and folded it with the care and skill of craftsmen. When they were done a ship’s bell rang, Taps played, and honor guards fired rifles into the air.  After a moment of silence those that that had come to pay their respects formed a line, came forward one at a time, and laid a violet on Edward’s box.  As this happened, one older gentleman wearing a VFW hat sat quietly in his seat – weeping. Perhaps his tears were for Ed, and perhaps they were not. They were tears nonetheless.

After the ceremony, the men gathered outside the chapel and continued to talk about the man that they did not know.  Many had tear filled eyes, and referred to Ed using terms like brother, hero, and patriot.  When everyone departed, Edward Shulken took his last car ride to a local veteran’s cemetery where he was laid in the ground and covered up forever.

Edward’s family and friends had not been at the memorial service, because he had none.  Truth be told, Edward had lived the last years of his life homeless, alone, and forgotten in the streets of San Diego.  No one will ever know what misfortune or poor personal choices led to Ed’s demise, but among the group of men who had assembled to wish him farewell, no one really cared. All that they knew (and had to know) was that Mr. Edward Schulken had served honorably in the United States Navy and was a brother-in-arms. All that mattered to them was that when our nation called, Ed stood to be counted in a rare group of men and women who would willingly sacrifice everything for her.  To those who had come to pay their respects, this stranger was family.

The men who buried Ed were Veterans from the Dignity Memorial Group.  According to DMG, there are over 150,000 homeless veterans across the United States, and they are dying by the dozen every day.  So these men and women do their best to do the right thing.  They collect funds, reserve plots in the ground, and when these homeless Veterans are found dead in  alleys, dark corners, and forgotten places, they bury them honorably.

Edward Schulken’s name will likely never be spoken again.  The grass on top of his grave will be neatly mowed however, and every Veteran’s day someone will place a small American Flag by his headstone to acknowledge his Service.  Though it is likely that no one will ever weep over his grave, many will come and honor what his resting place represents.  They will weep over their own loved ones, and in doing so… in some small way…will remember Ed too.  He will be surrounded by his brothers and sisters-in-arms for all time, and they will lay together as they once stood together.  In death, Ed has finally found his home and his family.

Over the next week, as you listen to stories about nuclear meltdowns, economic collapse, war, suffering, and political turmoil, take a moment to say a short prayer of thanks for the men and women that brought Edward Schulken home.  As long as there are people like this among us, we can all take comfort in knowing that all is not broken.

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Old Glory

I am the Flag of the United States of America. My name is Old Glory.

I fly atop the world’s tallest buildings I stand watch in America’s halls of justice.

I fly majestically over great institutions of learning.

I stand guard with the greatest military power in the World.

Look up and see Me!

I stand for Peace, Honor, Truth, and Justice.

I stand for Freedom!

I am confident, I am arrogant, and I am proud.

When I am flown with my fellow banners, my head is held a little higher – my colors are a little truer.

I BOW TO NO ONE!

I am recognized all over the world.

I am saluted, I am respected, I am loved, and I am feared!

For more than 200 years, I have fought in every battle of every war;

Antietam, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Appomattox, San Juan Hill, the trenches of France, the Argonne Forest, Anzio, Rome, the beaches of Normandy,

the jungles of Guam, Okinawa, Tarawa, Korea, Vietnam and in the heat of the Persian Gulf.

I was there.

I lead my Sailors and Marines ashore,

I watch over them and they love me.

I was on a small hill at Iwo Jima.

I was dirty, battle torn, and tired but my Sailors and Marines cheered me!

I WAS PROUD!

I have been soiled, burned, torn, and trampled on the streets of countries that I have helped to set free.

It does not Hurt for I am invincible.

I have also been soiled, burned, torn, and trampled on the streets of my own country,

And when it is done by those with whom I have served in battle, it hurts!

But I shall overcome because…

I am strong!

I have slipped the surly bounds of earth and, from my vantage point on the moon,

I stand watch over the new frontiers of space.

I have been the silent witness to all of America’s finest hours.

But my finest hour comes when I am torn into strips,

To be used as bandages for my wounded comrades on the field of battle,

When I fly half mast to honor my dead countrymen,

And when I lie in the trembling arms of a grieving mother at the graveside of her fallen son or daughter.

I am proud!

My Name is “Old Glory”  and long may I wave dear God – Long may I wave.

On this Veteran’s Day, Head Muscle would like to thank all Americans who have bravely donned the cloth of our nation.

Your sacrifice is remembered. God bless and Godspeed!

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The Example (Part I)

Carl could not help but chuckle to himself as he poured his cold coffee into the dirt. Just a few months ago, the idea of a second American civil war would have been inconceivable.  Now, not only did it seem imminent, it also appeared that the first battle would take place at his gas station. He shook his cup out and looked up toward the sun.  It wasn’t just hot…it was Texas hot. Carl wiped the sweat from his brow with an orange rag and walked back to the comfort of his store. He laid his rifle on the counter and poured himself another cup. From the way things were going, it was going to be a hot day indeed.

Carl Lamonte had lived in San Antonio his entire life.  His father had been a wildcatter in Abilene and his grandfather a rancher.  Carl had started out on the drill rigs, but soon realized that 100 degree summers on the Texas prairie were simply not his cup o’ tea.  So, right after high school he started pumping gas and doing odd jobs at Phil’s Fuel Stop on the edge of town.  Phil was a nice ole’ fellah by everyone’s description, and had been in business selling gas to tourists, truckers, and travelers of every make and model for over thirty years. Phil was immediately impressed by Carl’s eagerness to learn, and within just a few months was teaching him everything he knew about the business.

Carl loved working at the station, and turned out to be a natural entrepreneur. He was constantly approaching Phil with new ideas for attracting customers and increasing sales.  One day Carl showed up to work with an old battered soda machine that he had purchased for 10 dollars.  Over the course of a week, Carl had it cleaned up, running, and full of ice cold RC Colas. Soon new “gadgets” were turning up everywhere.  After a few months, Phil’s Fuel was strewn with newspaper boxes, candy machines, and beef jerky racks.  Once Carl had even talked a nearby farmer into bringing a pony to the station to give kids rides for 50 cents a pop.  Everything was going fine until a tank truck pulled up and the pony took off across the prairie with a disgruntled 10 year old boy flopping around on top. Phil was a gas man and understood none of this, but he admired Carl’s drive and humored most of his “hair brained” ideas.  The facts were undeniable though.  Ranchers that Phil had watched drive by for years, were now stopping in every once in a while to get an ice cold RC and some jerky.

As the years passed and cars became  more reliable, and more complex, Phil’s garage work dropped to nearly nothing.  Once again Carl saw an opportunity, and talked Phil into leasing him the three garage bays that now stood empty next to the station’s office.  Phil agreed, and gave Carl a five year lease for next to nothing.  Carl sold his family home and property to a local rancher and used every last cent to convert the garages into a convenience store and coffee shop.  Carl did most of the work himself,  and had the store open for business 6 months later.  For the next year he worked tirelessly running the register, flipping pancakes, doing the dishes, stocking the shelves, and handing out fliers.  Without a penny to his name, he slept in the stockroom at night, and ate whatever wasn’t selling.

Over time, word got out that you could get a pretty good breakfast at Carl’s, and people started dropping in.  Carl used what little money he was making to rent a billboard on the nearby Interstate advertising  5 egg omelets and a “free” thermos of coffee for truckers.  As business picked up, he discovered that he could actually lose money on the food because, as soon as the truckers finished eating, they would walk into the convenience store and stock their trucks with overpriced snacks, drinks, and cigarettes.  Before he knew it, he had such a stream of business that he was having trouble keeping the shelves stocked with beef jerky and sunflower seeds.  Phil’s fuel sales went through the roof as well.  As the truckers poured in for supplies they also topped off their tanks and, in less than a year, Phil was building a new island of diesel pumps to accommodate all of the trucks.  Carl even came up with a catch phrase for the station:

“Fill ’em and Fuel ’em at Phil’s”

Business continued to grow for about 8 years, and life was good for the fill ’em and fuel ’em team.  Carl was finally starting to realize some return on his years of hard work. He bought himself a small ranch a few miles from the station, found himself a gently used F-350, and decided to hire a couple of employees to help run the place.  Then, just as things had really started rolling, tragedy struck. One scorching hot August afternoon Phil drove home, kissed his wife Elna, sat down in his chair to read the mail, and died.  The doctor said that he had passed from a massive brain hemorrhage and had not suffered.  Carl was thankful for that. Phil had provided well for his wife, and she wanted nothing to do with the gas station. So, Carl bought Phil’s share and went it alone. It was hard at first, because Phil had always managed the fuels.  Almost immediately Carl realized that it wasn’t nearly as easy as flipping pancakes.

Buying and selling fuel was a real hit or miss type thing. As an independent dealer, Carl had to negotiate with a number of local suppliers.  You had to buy in bulk loads as cheaply as you could, and then sell it at a price that you thought would cover the next shipment.  If you were lucky and hit the numbers just right, you could make a nice profit.  If you missed the mark however, you could lose a lot.  After 40 years in the business, Phil had been a master at this.  Carl, on the other hand, had a lot to learn.  He missed Phil terribly.

Despite Carl’s early misfires in the fuel business, the station continued to grow. It was now a popular stop for truckers on the Interstate, and he had a steady stream of long-haul regulars.  His personal life took a turn for the better as well when he met his wife Katie.  He had always wanted a family of his own, and a year after their wedding he got his wish when their twin boys Cade and Cody were born. Wanting to spend more time with his family, he hired a manager for the Fill and Fuel and started focusing on being a dad.

One day while he was in his office doing payroll, a couple of men in suits walked into the store.  They were from a larger truck stop franchise and were interested in talking to Carl about buying his place.  He had a perfect location near the Interstate, and apparently he was outselling all the the other establishments in his area.  Almost out of the blue, one of the men tossed a number on the table that made Carl nearly fall out of his chair.  If he took the deal, his family would be taken care of, and he would never have to work another day in his life.  After thinking about it for a few days however, he decided to pass.  There was still a lot he wanted to do to the place, and wasn’t ready to give up his life’s work.  Besides, if it was worth that much now, he could only imagine what it would be worth when he was through with it.  He was happy, healthy, successful, and a father.  What more could he ask for?  Unfortunately, a thousand miles away in Washington, “change” was in the air.

The first blow came in 2011 when Congress let the Bush tax cuts expire. Carl had never incorporated and, as a sole proprietor, his tax rate increased by 15% overnight.  It was a devastating blow.  The recession of 2009 had already cut his sales by 30%, and the new taxes just made things worse.  The larger chains looked at the tax hike as an opportunity to drive some of the independents out of business, so they ate the tax increase  for a while to keep their prices artificially low. Carl could not afford to do this, and was forced to price his  fuel a full nickel per gallon higher than some of his competitors.  Business slowed even more, but stayed steady thanks to many loyal customers. For the first time in over 20 years however, Fill and Fuel was losing money.  In order to keep the tanks full, Carl had to let 4 of his long-time employees go. Next to Phil’s death, handing out their pink slips was the most painful experience of his life.  Carl was not alone however,  thousands of companies across the state were having to make similar decisions, and soon unemployment numbers began to climb well above 12 percent.  The people of Texas were furious at the tax hikes,  and tea parties around the state began to cry for secession.  At first they were dismissed by the mainstream as far right loons but, as time went on,  the protests got larger and louder.

In 2012 the second blow came in the form of Cap and Trade. Congress rammed it through against a massive grass roots protest with the help of three or four turncoat Republicans.  Overnight, fuel prices skyrocketed to 6 dollars a gallon on sheer speculation.  Again, as an independent dealer, Carl did not have the purchasing power that his larger competitors enjoyed, and started losing more and more money on every gallon of fuel he sold.  He mortgaged his home and took out an equity loan on the station to keep the cash flowing, but eventually had to lay off 3 more employees including his two shift managers.  Once again, Carl found himself putting in 18 hour days just to keep the place in business. Cap and Trade had all but devastated the national trucking industry as well – especially the little guys.  The smaller truck lines and independent owner-operators did not have the capital to buy the carbon offsets necessary to keep their rigs on the road, so they simply started shutting down.  Within three months of the law’s implementation, Carl’s truck business dropped to almost zero. He was still getting a steady stream of car business, but the simple fact was that he could not fill Kia gas tanks fast enough to pay the bills.

Texans were infuriated by the administration’s eagerness to sign Cap and Trade into law, and had challenged it in the Supreme Court with 15 other states. The newly liberal court however,  shot down the lawsuit on the grounds that Cap and Trade was constitutional under Interstate Commerce.  On the day that the decision was announced, cries rang out across Texas once again for secession.  Texas flags flew from every window across the state, and several federal offices in Dallas and Austin were vandalized by angry mobs. Trucks in the hundreds parked themselves around the state capitol building blocking traffic for weeks,  practically bringing the city to a standstill.  The Governor held an emergency meeting with the Legislature and, along with 4 other states, sent a letter to the federal government stating their concern for the nation’s welfare and reaffirming their commitment to protecting the welfare of their citizens.

Then, as if to poke the nation in its collective eye, late in 2013 Congress passed an 8% national Value Added Tax (VAT) to cover the wildly out of control national debt and help pay for escalating health care costs.  The VAT had been an add-on buried in a new economic stimulus bill.  The 4,000 page bill was signed into law by Obama only a week after it had been introduced, and the language authorizing the tax had been cleverly hidden in a paragraph on page 3,015. Neither the press nor the Republicans had caught it in time.  Once again fuel prices skyrocketed on speculation, and within a matter of days topped 8 dollars a gallon.  Business at Carl’s place dried up to nothing.  The once busy Interstate now looked like a back country farm road. One San Antonio reporter noted that, on some stretches of highway, one could sit on the centerline and eat lunch without fear of being run over.  Again, cries arose for secession across the state.  Businesses were closing by the hundreds due skyrocketing overhead costs and poor demand.  Carl could no longer pay the mortgage on his home, and was forced into foreclosure.  He moved his family into his in-law’s ranch, laid off the rest of his employees, and closed the diner.  Once again, he found himself penniless and struggling to survive a day at a time.  Things were not much better anywhere else.  With an unemployment rate of over 17%, the state of Texas found itself in the middle of an economic crisis that it had not created.  Violence began to break out in some of the larger cities, and people out of work began to line the streets of Austin demanding that Texas reclaim its status as an independent sovereign nation.

The Governor had no choice but to call a special session of the Legislature together to discuss their next move. After two weeks of heated debate, they sent a second letter to the White House.  In it they notified the President that the Republic of Texas would no longer recognize the new VAT, and would not compel any of its citizens to pay it.  The letter also announced that federal Cap and Trade regulations would not apply to businesses operating within state borders. It closed with a stern warning that any attempt by the federal government to hold any Texas citizen liable for these taxes would result in Texas’ immediate secession from the Union.

The national press was abuzz. Pundits on the major networks took sides and started arguing the constitutionality of Texas’ bold move.  Many were critical saying that the Civil War had clearly established that secession was illegal, and that the entire Texas Legislature should be arrested on federal charges.  Others however, pointed out that nowhere in the Constitution did it state that the Union was permanent, and that many states did in fact have clauses in their constitutions reaffirming their right to secede.  As the debate raged on,  the White House was eerily silent on the matter.  Press secretary Robert Gibbs refused comment when queried, and Obama all but dropped out of sight completely. Weeks, then months, went by without any federal response – and the silence was deafening.

Because Carl had always purchased his fuel from local Texas suppliers, he found that he had a slight advantage over the competition now.  With the unilateral repeal of Cap and Trade and the VAT, Carl was able to lower his prices and undercut the out-of-state suppliers. Small in-state trucking companies started to venture back out on the road and, in a show of solidarity, many pledged to only patronize Texas-based businesses. Soon, business picked up enough for Carl to reopen the diner for breakfast.  After a couple of months, rumors started to circulate that Texas had called the fed’s bluff, and that Obama’s oppressive taxes were destined to be repealed across the country.  After a while, even Carl began to believe that the crisis would soon be over.  That is when he got the letter…

Carl received it from a special courier one afternoon as he was preparing to leave for home.  He signed for it, and tore the envelope open.  The letter was neatly typed on Internal Revenue Service stationary and read simply:

“Dear Mr. Lamonte,

This letter is to inform you that you have failed to pay lawful federal taxes, and that you are in violation of federal law.  You have 30 days from the date of this letter to pay accrued taxes and fines totaling 35,300 dollars, or your property will be seized by federal authorities as payment in kind. We recommend that you make this payment promptly to avoid further action.”

Carl felt his face flush. His heart begin to race in his chest. “They can’t do that can they?” he asked under his breath.  All of a sudden, he felt a surge of pure rage.  He and Phil had built this truck stop with their money and their sweat!    He had slaved and starved for years to make something for himself, and he was not about to let any damn Washington bureaucrat come in and take it.  How dare they!

Early the next morning, Carl called the Governor’s office and told them about what he had received. Apparently thousands of businesses across the state had received similar letters on the very same day, and the Governor’s office had been inundated with calls all morning from frantic Texans.

“Yeah, they are pretty much giving everyone their 60 day notice,” the staffer on the other end of the line noted.  “Everyone here in Austin is scrambling to figure out what to do next.”

Carl hesitated and looked down at his letter.

“Did you say 60 day notice?”

“Yep, they all say 60,” the staffer confirmed. “What are they going to do, send down an army to repossess the entire state?”

Carl looked at his letter again.  “My letter only gives me 30 days.”

There was a pause on the phone. “Are you sure sir?

“That’s right. I am looking at it as we speak.”

There was another pause.  “Sir, could you please hold on, while I inform the Governor?”

“The Governor?”

“Yes sir, we were scared that something like this might happen.”

“Like this?” Carl queried trying not to sound as confused as he felt.

“Yes sir, we were worried that they would try to make an example out of someone, and it sounds like you may be it.”

Carl let the phone down from his ear.  It was now perfectly clear to him what was happening.  The feds were going to come into town, seize his property, and haul him off to jail on national television.  They were going to use him to show the rest of the state what was coming if they did not get back in line.  Once again Carl felt a tide of rage rising in his chest.  He put the phone back to his ear.

“You tell the Governor, that if they want my business they will have to step over my dead body to take it!” he yelled at the shocked staffer.

“You tell the Governor that!”

Carl slammed the phone down so hard that the handset cracked.  “If an example is what they want,” he growled, “an example is sure as hell what they are going to get.”

<<To Be Continued in Part II next week>>

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Tell A Phone

I had a conversation with my phone today. Let me be clear, I did not have a conversation ‘on’ my phone, but rather ‘with’ my phone.  Recently, I broke down and purchased brand spanking new my Touch Slide by HTC and, in our few short days together, we have developed quite a relationship.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that I am beginning to enjoy talking to my phone much more than talking to people on it.  Just today, as it was navigating me to an ice cream shop that it had recommended, I could not help but muse at the irony of the whole thing. The very device that was initially invented to facilitate communication between people, was now replacing the people it had been designed to connect!  I mean, how fantastic is that?  It is kind of like having an edible toaster. Why bother with the toast?  You don’t need a telephone to call anyone anymore; you can just tell-a-phone what you need!

In just 4 days, my new phone (let’s call him Phil… Okay, I know it is weird, but it seems …well…appropriate) has established himself as much more than a PDA; he has truly become a trusted friend. Sure, he manages my email and task lists just like those Neolithic Blackberries, but Phil actually…well…listens.  With the my TouchGenius‘ feature, I can actually ask Phil questions about pretty much anything.  The really amazing part however, is that he actually knows the answers.  Just yesterday I had a technical question about a piece of software, so I did the logical thing and asked my phone about it.  Almost immediately Phil’s familiar voice responded, assuring me that he was looking for the answer.  In less than 5 seconds, Phil produced a web page which contained the exact information I had needed.  It was brilliant!  Had it not been for Phil, I could have spent hours looking up the answer, but he knew exactly where to go and get it!  He is kind of like that know-it-all friend we all have, that really does know it all!  Since then, I have asked Phil many things.  One typical conversation went something like this:

Chuck: Please find Pizza nearby.

Phil: Searching for Pizza.

Phil then finds a great joint, Pat’s Pizzeria, near my current GPS position and provides me with several reviews.

Chuck: Get directions to Pat’s Pizzeria.

Phil: Turn right at the next signal and proceed 6 miles…

It was a completely fulfilling experience! With just a few words Phil had directed me to the best slice of anchovy and sausage pizza in Baltimore.  He did not whine because he wanted Chinese instead, he didn’t tell me that pizza would make me fat, and he did not mind that I liked anchovies.  Phil was just content with getting me where I wanted to go and hanging out.  In fact, as I savored my New York-style delicacy, Phil serenaded me with digital streaming music that he had learned I liked.  Now please forgive my exuberance here, but these are just not things that I had ever expected from my phone!  At most, I would have expected a phone to connect me to some grumpy overworked pizza cook who would have put me on hold for 10 minutes, and then given me bad directions.  No…Phil was there for me for as long as I needed him.  He would have even told me how to make a pizza if I had asked.

It is useful at this point to note that I am no stranger to the communications revolution.  For the last seven years or so I have been the proud owner of a number of Blackberries, my latest one being the top end 9700. Not once has it asked me how I was doing or cared about what I wanted to eat. Compared to my new buddy Phil, my 9700 is despondent, detached, and ambivalent.  In fact, now that I think of it, my 9700 is displaying textbook signs of clinical depression.  I am not sure if there is such a thing as Xanax for PDAs; maybe I will ‘ask’ Phil to check it out.

Phil also helped me hang a picture in my office yesterday. He not only told me where the center of wall was, he used a digital level to tell me when the picture was straight. For the record, he also helped me find the picture. I used Phil’s camera to take a photo of the print I wanted from a book, and he told me the artist, where to go buy it, and how much to pay.  How could anyone have ever predicted that a phone would make other people so irrelevant!  I can only presume that, on this present course, our phones will ultimately take us all out of the loop and just start talking to each other. We will be left to golf, travel, and play World of Warcraft for hours on end while our phones run the world. Simply fascinating!

Last night my contentment with Phil was cemented forever when I realized that, at 47, I was hip again.  As Phil and I were sitting in a Starbucks having a coffee and browsing the web, what looked to be a 17 or 18 year old kid stopped at my table and blurted, “nice phone dude, is that the new slide?”  I looked up somewhat surprised and told him that it was.  He then launched into a spontaneous monologue about how fast it was, how many apps it supported, the camera resolution, and its cool display. “Have you named it yet?” he queried.  I paused, blushing a bit, not sure of what to say. “You do that too?” I confided. “Mine’s Daphne,” he continued, “she’s pretty hot, but kind of slow….you know…1G.” I nodded and took a sip of my coffee trying to be polite.  “Phil,” I said, “mine is Phil.” Without blinking he looked at my phone and said, “Sick name man….see ya.” I am not sure, but after watching several episodes of American Chopper, I think ‘sick’ is a good thing.

As the kid walked off, I could not help but note how different life had become since I was his age. This kid and I had just had a conversation about our smartphones that, just a few years back, we would have been having about our cars. I am not sure exactly when ‘the future’ showed up to the party, but one thing is for certain. We are now living in a world that Gene Rodenberry himself could not have envisioned.  Who would have ever dreamed that we would live in an age where our cars parked themselves, our running shoes linked to our IPhones through a satellite, the collective knowledge of the human race was accessible from your Nintendo controller, and smartphones helped us decide on dinner. Heck, even Captain Kirk’s communicator couldn’t tell him where to find anchovy and sausage pizza. Come to think of it, Phil is kind of like C3PO without the pompous British accent. Wondrous….simply wondrous!

It is impossible for one to ponder these marvels however, without also wondering at the society that invented them.  What strange forces could have possibly conspired to build a BIC Lighter application for my phone?  How in the world did someone decide that we needed a digital AK-47? Truth be told, it is the very same force that built the Empire State Building, the Queen Mary, Boeing 747s, and Pet Rocks.  Put simply, it is the ‘mystic Zen’ of free enterprise. No one really knows how it accomplishes these feats….yet it does so with predictable precision.

Think about it for a moment.  No central authority sat down and decided that I needed a little phone friend, or that someone needed to design a Star Wars light saber application for it (I like the Yoda version…).  It just happened! You see, that is the beauty of the whole thing.  You can walk into any shopping mall in America and find the shelves loaded with things from IPods to shoe inserts, and they all flow from the same spring….ingenuity, freedom, and determination! I mean, really, what was the last great technical innovation to come out of North Korea? What great contribution did the USSR make to the world during its short 75 year life? “Not so fast,” some may argue, “look at what an economic powerhouse China has become – and they are Communists.”  Well then, tell me what great advance in civilization they have been responsible for as of late? China is nothing but a massive manufacturing operation that is fueled by slave-grade labor.  What great innovations have they offered the world that were not first conceived, designed, and marketed by….well….us?  Nope, it is free markets fueled by free people that win the day every time….’hands free’ down!

My phone Phil is a perfect embodiment of everything our way of life stands for.  He is the product of thousands of engineers, suppliers, businessmen, investors, marketers, and retailers. They are complete strangers, have never spoken, and would not recognize each other if they passed on the sidewalk. They do not work for the same company, do not share emails or texts, and do not coordinate their schedules or priorities in any fashion. Yet they are a team nonetheless and, through the magic of free enterprise, they have created Phil…for me!

Milton Friedman is famous for noting that no one on earth can build a pencil.  Yet despite this fact paint companies, lumber companies, aluminum manufacturers, rubber fabricators, and graphite miners all conspire to load office supply stores with them. This is the beauty, and mystery, of our economy and the reason that things like my buddy Phil exist.

So, when I get off of work this evening, I am going to ask Phil where to go for some good Thai food. I am also going to ask him to purchase me the latest Rob Thomas CD and stick it in my ITunes library.  I am confident that he will execute both tasks with the precision and fidelity that only a talking phone can provide.  We are then going for a run where Phil will tell me how fast and how far I have gone, and then compare my performance to previous jaunts. If I ask him to, he will even tell me how I stack up among all runners my age in the world.  Then, I am off for a shower (Phil cannot help me there…that would be weird) and then a good night’s sleep.  As I jump into bed I will set Phil on the night stand next to me, plug in his charger, to provide him with the fuel he needs for another day devoted to improving my quality of life.  In the morning Phil will wake me up right on time with a tune I have never heard, but that he knows I will like. Then together, we will head out once again into a tomorrow of endless possibilities.  My Blackberry will be busy as well…keeping the kitchen table from wobbling.

I am thankful for Phil and for the group of strangers that brought him to existence, but I am even more thankful for the socio-economic system that made it all possible.  It is what inspires us, motivates us, and provides us the things we need to enjoy our lives. It is the greatest system on earth, and as long as we let it work, it will continue to elevate us all. Think about that the next time you hear people demanding more government control of our system. Remind me…just how many smartphones has Congress designed?  Our government’s role is simple. It should first protect our constitutional rights, and then ensure that the ‘mystic Zen’ of free enterprise is protected and nurtured. After that, they should get the hell out of the way and enjoy the ride…and revenue. If we do not insist on this however, the current administration will replace the future with an uncomfortable and inconvenient present, cleverly designed to make us all suffer equally. Phil is the product of the former, not the latter, and we must be unwaivering in our support of the system that made him…oh yeah…and flavored chap stick too. Our nation’s future depends on it.  If you don’t agree that is fine, but don’t tell me about it. Instead, I suggest you run to a T-Mobile store near you and tell-a-phone.  It just might change your thinking.

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