Enlightened Conflict

the non decline of American military

May 29th, 2017

military cemetery

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“Those who worry about an American military supposedly in decline should relax.”

 

—–

Michael O’Hanlon and David Petraeus

 

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U.S. Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley:

 

“the US Army … more capable, better trained … and more lethal than any other ground force in the world.”

 

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“Neither our strategy nor our psychology as a nation and certainly not our economy must become dependent upon the military establishment.”

 

——-

John F. Kennedy

 

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Ok.

 

heroes memorial-dayOn Memorial Day, a day on which we honor the ones who gave ‘their full measure of devotion’, I pulled out a piece that has been sitting in my draft folder for quite some time.

 

It is a thought piece on the rhetoric and thinking on the overall decline of the American military as well as some of the simplistic thoughts being shared on the spending and size of the American military.

 

I will not provide gobs of resources to support my thoughts but rather I will direct you to two foundational resources if you want some more thinking fodder.

The first is www.warontherocks.com . If you ever want to get a better grasp on military thinking & strategy, I find no one better than the people at WarontheRocks at offering a wide range of thinking, and thinkers, to help you move beyond the simplistic politician rhetoric.

The second is a fabulous piece written for Foreign Affairs magazine by Michael O’Hanlon and David Petraeus called America’s Awesome Military.

 

Anyway.

 

I can honestly say I have always had a point of view with regard to how much the USA spends on its military and I absolutely believe in spending on the military and defense.

100%.

 

But I sometimes believe we need to get a grip.

 

Now.

 

Politicians, Trump in particular, seems to have a nasty habit of tying spending to old school military things and thinking – lots of big ships, lots of people in uniform and lots of big weapons <and cool ones>.

always more and more life desire

Basically it is just a ‘more & big’ spending strategy.

 

But if you listen or speak to military people there are some real nuanced discussions going on – what do I actually need money to spend on and what strategies of combat do I need to invest money to support?

 

There are some real debates within the military with regard to spending to support the present and spending to support the future. I wish politicians would just step aside and let the military go directly to the people and say “this is what matters and this is how much it would cost” <with none of that wacky politician budget maneuvering and fake low ball estimating where we end up accommodating overages>.

 

I wish that because a couple of military commanders, Petraeus in particular along with Michael O’Hanlon, have put a nice stake in the ground with regard to some spending truths.

 

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Despite five years of official complaints about “sequestration” budgets, U.S. military spending remains historically high. In 2016, U.S. military spending will be $607 billion, including $59 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, the fund that ostensibly finances wars but also funds non-war (or base) accounts. Barring a new budget deal, the fiscal year 2017 budget, now stuck in Congress, will be virtually the same size.

 

In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, Americans spend more on the military today than at any point in the Cold War, except the brief peaks during the Korean War and the 1980s. Current military spending is 36 percent higher in real terms than in 2000, with two-thirds of the growth in base spending. The United States spends more than double what Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea collectively spend on their militaries.

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Their real point is that the military doesn’t necessarily need a bigger budget but rather they need money to update & upgrade.

And here is where I believe politicians are showing a true lack of imagination.

 

Year after year we haggle over annual budgets and all we end up doing is funding a great military operation in need of investment spending.

That’s stupid.

 

what-i-think-i-can-do-mind-over-matterWhat would I do?

 

Just as I would have done with the Iraq War <but Bush decided to not do> I would go to the American people with a specific number needed and a specific one-time tax to get the money. I would treat the upgrade need as a specific project with specific objectives for which the military will offer specific updates to the American people showing what their money is being spent on and what is happening.

 

Why do I believe that will work?

 

  1. The current budget is big enough. I may be interested in tightening the screws a little on current Pentagon budget management but, in general, they have enough money. Tell the people that because it sounds reasonable.

 

 

  1. People are fine with paying one-time costs … especially for something as important as the military. In addition it sets the military up for future “ask American people for specific project funding” asks. And you know what? if people cannot be convinced to invest in it maybe, just maybe, the military should go back to the drawing board. but I have to tell you … in my experience … the senior military personnel are better than 99% of business people at outlining needs & wants and rationale.

 

 

  1. To a certain extent the military should involve the everyday people more often. We often talk about the wealth inequality gap in America, well, there is an increasing gap between military and everyday people. Military people, and families, and associated services are becoming increasingly cocooned. This does not benefit the military nor does it benefit the everyday citizen. Both groups are made up of some incredibly patriotic people who have the best intentions for America … it would behoove America if they interacted more often.

 

 

  1. Lastly, military strategies are changing. And while my idea is about budgeting and asking for money it bleeds into the military sharing with people how conflicts will be conducted. This benefits both the military and the everyday schmuck like me. it sets better expectations and stops people from defining military by movies and past military historical events.

 

 

Now.

 

I brought up that last point because WarontheRocks had a fabulous piece on “the three things the current Army Chief of Staff wants you to know about the Army and the changing face of conflicts/war.”

 

The biggest thing that jumped out to me was actually a business idea <described in military terms>. I call it “controlled autonomy” <driving disciplined decision making in a business as close to the actual business itself> but the Army Chief of Staff called it “disciplined disobedience.”

 

Wow.

What a great fucking phrase.

Awesome.

 

But it also has budgetary repercussions <you need to train and recruit different types of soldiers>.

And the everyday schmuck like me needs to hear about this so I can better understand why the military needs a specific budget.

doing the right thing bravery

Milley offers several fabulous thoughts which impact funding.

 

Mobility versus static <not just troop movement but supplies, command posts & resources – “stand still and die” is the overriding thought>.

At the point of conflict ‘disciplined disobedience’ skill set.

Ability to adapt shifting necessary resources <air, ground, support & naval> in real time.

 

All of which suggest that monies need to be shifted to accommodate strategies.

 

All of which also suggest that U.S. military spending is partially high because U.S. security ambitions are broad AND the strategies are evolving but not evolved <this suggest inefficiencies>.

 

What do I mean? For example … quick strike & response is dictated by proximity and if you see threats everywhere then … well … you need to be everywhere with enough force to be meaningful.

 

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A strategy of restraint would serve the United States better. By narrowing the scope of what U.S. security requires, restraint would establish a true “defense” budget. Though cost savings are secondary to strategic benefits, a military budget premised on restraint would save substantially more than hunting “waste, fraud, and abuse,” a common method of finding military savings. Waste hunters implicitly endorse primacy by objecting only to what offends their sense of sound management: overruns in acquisition programs, failed projects in war zones, or research projects with foolish titles. The Pentagon’s efficient pursuit of unwise goals is a far richer target for cuts.

<source: WarontheRocks>

—————–

 

Once again … we have the resources, we have the trained soldiers … the military doesn’t need complete overhaul but rather some fine tuning <source: America’s Awesome Military>:

 

  • The condition of most weaponry compares well with that of the Reagan era. For example, most Army vehicles have “mission capable rates” exceeding 90%. To be sure, there are concerns, for example in certain helicopter fleets. Problems that exist are specific, not systemic.

 

 

  • Training is still recovering from the stresses and strains of recent years. The ground forces in particular, after so many years conducting counterinsurgency, are gradually restoring their abilities for large-scale maneuver warfare of the type vital to deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, among others. About two more years will be needed to complete the task. But the recovery path is now well charted and well funded.

 

 

  • The men and women of the U.S. military, though tired and strained, have never been finer. That is not a simple statement of patriotism. The data back it up. For example, today’s typical serviceman or servicewomen has even more experience in uniform than those of Reagan’s day. Military pay is solid, compared with jobs in the civilian economy. For example, the latest quadrennial review of military compensation calculated that the typical soldier, sailor, airman, airwoman or Marine earns more than about 85% of his or her civilian cohorts with comparable age, education and experience in overall compensation.

 

 

  • The defense budget, though itself not proof of quality, is high by historical standards. Counting combat operations as well as nuclear weapons accounts at the Energy Department (but not counting the Department of Veterans Affairs budget, which is separate), national defense now costs America slightly more than $600 billion a year. That compares with a Cold War average of about $525 billion, in inflation-adjusted 2016 dollars. It is at least three times China’s budget and six to eight times Russia’s. And those much-pilloried U.S. allies collectively budget about an additional $600 billion between them, meaning that the Western alliance system accounts for at least two-thirds of global military spending.

 

obama military stand up for the uniform politicsLet me summarize all the detail I shared <because I dint think everyone would go to the highlighted article.

 

Setting aside all the rhetoric … the US armed forces display high standards of professionalism, expertise, and experience. As Michael O’Hanlon and David Petraeus said in America’s Awesome Military:

 

———————

The United States has the best military in the world today, by far. U.S. forces have few, if any, weaknesses, and in many areas—from naval warfare to precision-strike capabilities, to airpower, to intelligence and reconnaissance, to special operations—they play in a totally different league from the militaries of other countries. Nor is this situation likely to change anytime soon, as U.S. defense spending is almost three times as large as that of the United States’ closest competitor, China, and accounts for about one-third of all global military expenditures—with another third coming from U.S. allies and partners.

 

Nevertheless, 15 years of war and five years of budget cuts and Washington dysfunction have taken their toll. The military is certainly neither broken nor unready for combat, but its size and resource levels are less than is advisable given the range of contemporary threats and the missions for which it has to prepare. No radical changes or major buildups are needed.

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“We have what we need, but we need every dollar, every training event, every person.”

 

———

Col. Robert Whittle, 1st Cavalry Division

 

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Now.

 

Politicians posture. That is what they do <no matter how misguided it is>.military respect salute

 

But we need to stop talking about military not only in last generation terms but also in a discrete way … what I mean by that is the United States has many resources to draw on beyond its military forces. The country’s high-tech and innovative sectors are the best in the world. It has solid economic fundamentals, including a gradually growing population base, the world’s best univer­sities, and a large market at the center of global finance and commerce.

 

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“We know already that computers are mightier than guns. We know that the new opportunities reside in the campuses of the scientists, rather than in the camps of the army.”

—-

Shimon Peres: May 1994, at the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Accord

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And, assuming the current administration does not dismantle it, the United States leads a globe-spanning system of alliances and partnerships that includes some 60 countries, collectively accounting for two-thirds of global economic output and military capacity.

 

Look.

 

Feel free and visit some of the resources I have provided. You will clearly find some incredibly smart military minds discussing what strategy & tactics look like in the future. Most discussion revolves around mobility, instant adaptability, ability to integrate with nation coalition forces, divesting force structure <remove some land bases and use increase navy as ‘moving platforms’ to deliver & deploy … which allows substantial savings in personnel, operations and maintenance, intelligence, and real estate costs> and the combination of combat & stability operations <post combat>.

 

They clearly recognize that the world looks different as does military response needs.

 

And all of that impacts budget needs beyond the simplistic “more ships, more planes and bigger stuff” arguments.

 

Lastly.

NATO.

 

Geez.

At some point I would either like Donald J Trump to have a NATO 101 lesson or simply let DOD secretary Mattis handle it.

 

Bottom line is that there is a relationship between what other members invest in their defense and what USA invests. But it isn’t ‘their money versus our money.’

 

Their investments eliminate the need for USA resources … that is the soldier dad youre-home-safe_largerelationship. They spend more and we can spend less <make some cutbacks>.

 

And you know what? Obama was able to squeeze out a promise to increase their own expenditures 4 years ago and … well … as Mattis just said: “And the bottom line is that nations are spending more on defense now than they were five years ago or ten years ago”.

 

The whole NATO discussion out of Trump’s mouth wanders between crazy ignorant and crazy grandstanding.

And the worst part is that uncertainty with NATO impacts budgetary needs.

 

Anyway.

 

On this memorial Day I want to suggest we need to provide the proper resources to our military … but that doesn’t necessarily mean just throwing money at them. In today’s world I want money to chase smart thinking. And, as I have already said, peruse the military minds around the country and we have the smart thinking … we just need politicians to get out of the way.

 

least expensive thing in life

May 17th, 2017

decent person ROI life humanity

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“It costs $0.00 to be a decent person.”

 

words to live by

 

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So.

 

When I saw this quote I started jotting thoughts down immediately.

 

Here was the most interesting note:  least expensive or most expensive?

 

Huh?

 

It costs you nothing to be a decent person but it can still be an expensive decision. This may sound incredibly cynical but deciding to be decent is not a zero sum decision … it is a Life value equation.

 

I decide to do this <be decent> or do not do this <not be decent> and ‘this’ is the repercussion of that decision <the value or lost opportunity/gain>.

 

Yeah.

By being decent in the business world you can be viewed as ‘too nice’ and get mangled by some cutthroat asshat.

By being decent in Life you can be viewed as naive and get taken advantage of by those willing to ‘do what it takes.’

 

 

decent person is hard understand

 

Therefore, oddly and unfortunately, decency can ultimately be assessed in ROI terms by many of us in our lives.

 

Boy … that sounds pretty fucked up when I say it out loud.

 

 

Ok.

 

So someone may argue with the ROI thing but maybe think of it this way …

 

You walk by 4 homeless people but give the 5th one you see $20. Does the $20 balance out the fact you ignored the other 4? You were decent but selectively so.

 

Don’t like that?

So set aside the money.

 

You walk by 4 homeless veterans … never acknowledging them or looking at them … the 5th homeless vet you stop for a second and look them in the eye and say “thank you for your service.” Does the one you give some dignity to zero out the 4 you completely disregarded?

 

Unfortunately, decency is an ROI assessment. And more excruciatingly … it is an assessment made moment by moment as well as cumulatively.

 

What I mean by that is decency is mutually exclusive not inclusive … and decent moments are independent of other moments <when you may not have been so, or as, decent> … not interdependent <warning: I most likely mangled the meanings of both mutually exclusive and independent>.

 

 

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Mutually exclusive events cannot happen at the same time. For example: when tossing a coin, the result can either be heads or tails but cannot be both. Events are independent if the occurrence of one event does not influence (and is not influenced by) the occurrence of the other(s).

—-

 

You do not accumulate ‘decency points’ in Life or in business.

 

Not being decent cannot be equaled out by being extraordinarily decent in another moment.

 

Yeah.

That doesn’t sound particularly fair does it?

 

But you have to think that way or you start thinking about decency in a conscious decision making balance sheet sort of way. “well, I am not going to be particularly decent in this situation because to do so I may not benefit as much as I believe I deserve” and then a couple days later you consciously say to yourself “I was kind of a dickwad the other day so maybe if I am particularly decent now that will make up for it.”

 

I absolutely hated myself for scribbling any thought down that suggested there was a cost to being a decent person. Fucking hated even having the thought.

 

But no matter how much I hated it … it surely does seem like it is a Life truth.

 

To me there is only one way to resolve this ‘self dilemma’ and it is an ‘either/or’ thought.decent person rude and nice

 

You accept the fact you are gonna be a decent human being all the time and accept that the chips will fall as they may throughout Life … and they  may not all fall your way <and you can spend your last days on earth feeling pretty good about yourself from a character standpoint by realizing a Big life can often be found in a shitload of small victories>.

 

Or.

 

You accept the fact that situational decisions are situational decisions and you are a decent person at heart therefore you seek to view life, in the end, as “I was more often decent than I wasn’t” <and a Big life meant you bucked the odds of a world constantly trying to encourage non-decency and you won more often than you lost>.

 

I cannot choose the path for you.

 

But I will state that simply recognizing that this is the dilemma we face in Life … and that this is basically your choice … you have accepted that being a decent person is an ROI analysis.

 

A decent person and ROI. Sigh. What a sad thought.

sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream

April 15th, 2017

 American Workers sweat hard hats

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‘In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream …’ It’s a ‘death trap,’ a ‘suicide rap.’

‘I want to guard your dreams and visions.’ ”

 

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

 

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“This man said that you can move to Greece, live in Greece, but you can’t become a Greek. You can move to Japan, live there, but you can’t become Japanese; or France and become a Frenchman; or German—or become a—all of these things.

But he said, everybody or anybody from any corner of the world can come to America and become an American.”

 

—————–

Ronald Reagan

 

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Ok.

 

I have a piece coming up on globalization but today it is about the American work flintstoneswork ethos and American workers and, I imagine, a view on any version of isolationism <extreme to practical>.

 

I admit.

I find very little appealing in an isolationist concept <any aspect of it> … even the common rhetoric of the day.

 

Simplistically I feel like it suggests we, America, cannot compete globally. In my pea like brain I view it like sports … sports in which almost every home team retains an advantage … despite the same rules, same number of players, same dimensions of the court & field. Mainly it comes down to coaching, ability and , I imagine, pride of home field … uhm … but I still get on a bus and go play away games.

 

I believe it was Ronald Reagan who said ”American workers don’t need to hide from anyone.”

 

Which reminds me of how much during American presidential campaign, and even now somewhat, I found it extremely aggravating how we had a bunch of people talking about American workers and American businesses.

work sheep wolf

They all seemed to forget that our ethos is “just do it.”

 

When set free to do the voodoo it does … American business is dynamic, energetic, innovative, can-do and actually gets out there and makes & sells shit.

 

We shouldn’t be impatient because the success is coming fast enough and in our impatience “change the rules” or “hide within our borders” but instead we should use our impatience to invite competition, sweat it out and beat the crap out of them.

 

My impatience? I sometimes get a bit impatient when I hear people moaning about the state of the world and the inevitable “the sky is falling” or “the world is unfair” <pick your poison>.

 

Given an opportunity every generation believes it is tougher for them and will create their own prognostications of doom & gloom and, yet, we are still here and still have the world’s largest economy <and best on a variety of measures>.

 

I am not suggesting there aren’t real business issues and I am not suggesting from a regulatory standpoint there are some tweaks to the system which would enable businesses to improve themselves to compete better <please notice I didn’t say “to constrict the competition” but rather to have us improve to compete>.

 

Isolation goes against every bone in our “just do it” American body & soul.

 

Nike trademarked it but the pilgrims brought it to America. From day one immigrants, with the help of Native Americans, went to work building America … stone by stone … seed by seed … idea by idea … sweat drop by sweat drop.

 

labor american workerAmerica First should never be America Alone.

 

America has never been an individual competition it has always been about a team competition.

 

America First should be earned on the playing field competing against the best of the best and winning <by the way … that defines ‘exceptionalism’>.

 

America should be about building a better engine, building a better race car and running a better race.

 

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”It’s time to gun the engines, not put on the brakes.”

 

——–

Ronald Reagan

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It is aggravating to hear “close the borders” combined with “the world is going to shit” … which all leads to ‘disengage from the world <competition>.’

 

Really?

 

REALLY?

 

What kind of shit response is that?

What kind of “winner” doesn’t want to compete and compete against the best?

 

It seems like we should be investing not in building advantages for ourselves but rather in building a better team. That is where money and energy should be spent.

 

Hire better coaches.

Offer better training programs.

Buy better equipment.

Study better strategies.

Create better plan of attacks.

no substitute for hard work sweat edison

 

 

I wasn’t a huge Ronald Reagan fan but he got it … he hated changing the rules of the business game <tariffs & regulations> and only did so situationally, tactically and for short term ‘balancing out’ … as he says …  given a respite from predatory import practices, can become competitive in a world market.

 

But … he understood the importance of the attitude of the American worker above all else … check out these words he said to Harley Davidson:

 

… you gave some folks in Washington an important lesson about how we go about buying and selling with other nations. You see, we’ve shaken hands on an agreement with most of the other nations of the world, an agreement that sets the rules for international trade. We have problems, of course, with some of those nations—the ones that don’t let us sell to their people as freely as they sell to ours. But the agreement, called the GATT agreement—that’s the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade — gives us ways of dealing with those problems, and it also gives us ways of giving industries the kind of breathing room we gave you.

 

And if they’re as serious as you were about shaping up—now we’re about to begin worldwide talks on how to make this agreement even stronger.

 

Because of the GATT agreement, when you were ready to sell more bikes around the world, no one stopped you.

But now there are some in Congress who say, in effect, that the United States should break its word with the other countries.

They say American workers need to run and hide from foreign competition, even if that means other countries will strike back by not letting you sell your bikes to their people. Well, Harley-Davidson has shown how wrong that is and what the truth is. American workers don’t need to hide from anyone. America does best when America sticks by its word. And American workers can take on the best in the world, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. No one is better than you are.

 

You may have heard that my temperature’s up about some trade legislation that’s before the Congress right now. On TV the other night, it was called one of the toughest trade bills of this century. I remember the last time we had a so-called tough trade bill. It was called Smoot-Hawley, and they said it would protect American jobs. Instead, after other nations were through retaliating, it helped us—or it helped give us, or at least deepened, the Great Depression of the 1930’s. I’m probably the only one here that’s old enough to remember that. I was looking for a job then. [Laughter] Twenty-five percent were unemployed, including me.

 

The Harley-Davidson example makes a very strong statement about how government, through the judicious application of our trade laws, can help the best and the brightest in American management and labor come together in ways that will create new jobs, new growth, and new prosperity. Government’s role, particularly on the trade front, should be one of creating the conditions where fair trade will flourish, and this is precisely what has been done here. Our trade laws should work to foster growth and trade, not shut it off. And that’s what’s at the heart of our fair trade policy: opening foreign markets, not closing ours. Where U.S. firms have suffered from temporary surges in foreign competition, we haven’t been shy about using our import laws to produce temporary relief. Now, there are those in Congress who say our trade policies haven’t worked, but you here at Harley-Davidson are living proof that our laws are working. The idea of going to mandatory retaliation and shutting down on Presidential discretion in enforcing our trade laws is moving toward a policy that invites, even encourages, trade wars. It’s time to work to expand the world market, not restrict it.

 

Today, as many as 10 million American jobs are tied to international trade, including many jobs right here at Harley. For more than a century, when America’s trade with the world has grown, America has created more jobs. When trade has declined, so have the number of jobs. So, when it comes to making new jobs, free and fair international trade is America’s big machine. It’s time to gun the engines, not put on the brakes. Your chairman, Vaughn Beals, summed it up when he said, and I will quote him: “We’re sending a very strong message to our competitors and to the international industrial community that U.S. workers, given a respite from predatory import practices, can become competitive in a world market.”

 

The best way to meet foreign competition is also the right way: by sticking to our agreements with other countries and not breaking our promises, by making sure other countries also stick to their agreements with us, and by being the best. As America prepares for the 21st century, you’ve shown us how to be the best. You’ve been leaders in new technology. You’ve stuck by the basic American values of hard work and fair play.

 

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A danger we are currently meandering our way toward is one of attitude.

 

attitude foreign life adventureWe currently have a president who doesn’t foster attitude and belief in self but rather believes success is found solely in removing disadvantages, real or not, and removing “unfairness” <even if the other team were simply playing the game better or had better players>.

 

He is wrong in his approach.

 

Business is often more about attitude and fortitude then it is about whether “the pitch was mowed at 1 inch instead of an inch & a ½.”

 

It is a false narrative, and a dangerous narrative, to suggest success is based on ‘fairness’. Why? Because … well … more often than not we will always find that the world was unfair in some form or fashion … and you know what?

You still gotta compete, you still gotta play the game and you still gotta figure out a way to win.

 

America is at its best just doing it … sweating it out on the streets seeking the runaway American dream.

 

America is at its best when it ignores all the reason why we cannot do something and just go do it anyway.

 

America is at its best when we have a leader standing up in front of us not making excuses, not whining about unfairness and all the reasons why we haven’t been successful … but one who is instead saying “here is what we are gonna do and lets go do it.”

 

It was Theodore Roosevelt, in 1904, who said:

“We, the people, can preserve our liberty and our greatness in time of peace only by ourselves exercising the virtues of honesty, of self-restraint, and of fair dealing between man and man.”

But he also reminded everyone of the importance of work ethic.

“They stood for the life of effort, not the life of ease.”

Freedom, Roosevelt warned, had to be earned by the exercise of restraint, and its bounty could only be harvested by diligent labor.

 

Anyway.

 

I am not an isolationist mostly because of all I have written today. I am a compete flower bloombusiness guy and as a business guy I want to compete … and I believe I can compete well and win often enough if I put in the smart thinking and the diligent labor.

 

While I may proudly wrap myself in an American flag I also proudly wrap myself in an attitude … ”American workers don’t need to hide from anyone” … and I am an American worker.

 

We should never underestimate the American worker and American business ingenuity.

We shouldn’t hide from the world … we should be building the best team and sending them to the far corners of the world, wherever they may have an opportunity to compete, and win through hard work and fair play.

 

Isolation is the wrong path. It’s not American. We compete, work hard, play by the rules … and win more often than we lose.

 

American workers can take on the best in the world, anywhere, anytime, anyplace.

Enlightened Conflict