Monthly Archives: May 2010

Memorial Day

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In memory of LT. Dustin C. Trowbridge, USNR. July 13, 1944 – MIA Dec. 26, 1969, USS Coral Sea

In memory of Capt. McCrea (Mac) Tuttle, USMC, 1943 – March 9, 1868

Craig Miller on the ease of spending other people’s money

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A question of leadership

Issue # 75

Stephen Combs in Orlando, Florida

Could this be the year that Republicans finally make a convincing case for electing candidates who understand something about business and economics, how money works and how wealth and jobs are created? It would be a modern-day first, for the Republican Party more than anything else can be identified by its astonishing inability to convince voters how capitalism is superior to state-controlled central planning.

            Of course, business doesn’t run itself but needs competent skippers at the helm, people who know how to act decisively with a willingness to accept whatever consequences may result. This willingness is one of the defining differences between a business leader – whether the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the operator of a hotdog kiosk – and a politician. As the financial author John Steele Gordon noted in a Wall Street Journal piece last year, business leaders need results; politicians need headlines. The press finds it far easier to repeat catchy, often simplistic sound bites than to explain complex economic applications to people who can name the American Idol winner but not their own Congressman. 

            But things have gotten so bad that even some of the sports-bar crowd may be ready to listen. May be. We’ll see. If they hadn’t before, certainly the shrimpers around Plaquemines Parish are paying attention. In the past weeks they have witnessed the stark contrast between a President who has never so much as worked in a hotdog kiosk, let alone run one, and a strong, decisive governor who has been pinpoint specific about what Louisiana needs in her war with the oil mess. More on that in the item below. 

Craig Miller is one of those people who isn’t shy about proselytizing the need for experienced business management in government. It’s a hard sell, he acknowledges, because “We’ve raised a whole generation of people to believe that government is the answer and that government will support you.” It’s too easy to get elected by promising voters somebody else’s money.

            Mr. Miller is the former CEO of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Inc. He didn’t arrive there by way of the Congress-lobby-media revolving door, but through the kitchen door. He began his  career at 13, busing tables and washing dishes at the Neptune Restaurant in Rockledge, Florida, now the 24th Congressional District, home of NASA and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the one he hopes to wrestle this fall from a first-term Democrat. Now 60, he says that after “Having my hands in hot water for 40 years, I felt it was time to give back. I’ve spent enough time in the kitchen to understand the difficulties that businesspeople and common Americans face.”

            Is the time coming when voters will look to people who have experience running large organizations? Why are voters so attracted to candidates whose only experience is running for office?

            “People with business backgrounds come to politics with a view that is different from career politicians regardless of their party affiliation,” Miller said. The reason they have so much difficulty in politics is that “the political system is afraid of that independent objective type of person coming into the system. These people are here for totally different reasons than the career politicians.”

            The everyday challenges, he said, of “facing adversity, having to make decisions under enormous time pressures and having responsibility for thousands of people’s lives are important elements that are not imbedded in our political system, particularly given the fact that so many elected officials – career politicians – don’t bring real-life experience. That’s far different from the way our country was founded. It was founded by farmers and printers and business people, silversmiths and lodging owners – people who were living under tyranny who wanted to shed that tyranny. Representative government was supposed to represent the people. Unfortunately it crosses political lines. No political party is immune to this.”

            Miller may represent an emerging breed of office-seeker this year, people who would rather be doing other things who are answering the call – not the call to celebrity, but the call to genuine, not-manufactured duty.

            Events in the Gulf of Mexico only highlight the deeper crisis the country faces now – government by ideology, a dangerous ideology whose purpose is to expand the size of government while killing the economic engine that supports it. But it is one thing to advocate an all-powerful nanny state that regulates the most minute details of individual daily lives. It’s quite another to advocate such a state under the direction of people who are – there is no other way to state this – incompetent.

            And while Craig Miller is too even-keeled to put all the blame on Democrats (“I’ll take an ideologically different person over an inexperienced career politician,” he says), it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Democrat Party is the party of government. Democrats run for office for the purpose of gaining and wielding power. They salivate at the thought of being able to tell everyone else how to live and what to eat. Republicans tend to be people who are too busy working – meeting payrolls, punching the clock, feeding their families – to protest in the streets demanding more and more government, higher and higher taxes (on other people, not themselves), more and more punishment of the successful. And so Mr. Miller (and others like him) takes the high road, leaving writers like me to wallow in the ideological mud. If folks like this win, that will be good for the country.

I say even-keeled because a successful business leader has no countenance for ideology. He must manage for results, not headlines. Let us go back to August 2005, in New Orleans.

            Three weeks after Ruth’s Chris became a public company, Hurricane Katrina came in and wiped out, among other things, the company’s headquarters and its three local restaurants. Within days 230 Ruth’s employees, from executives to dishwashers, were scattered over 20 states.

            While Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (both now safely out of office) sat glassy-eyed with no inkling of what to do, Craig Miller flew into action.

            “As a leader of that company I had responsibility to my shareholders, to the restaurants, and to the employees to ensure that the company continued to function,” he said. “We lost our corporate headquarters and three local restaurants, and people were out of jobs. It was not so much the loss of the restaurants as the loss of the nerve center.” Ruth’s had 115 or so restaurants around the country.

            First Miller moved the operation to an apartment condo in Central Florida. “We set up a war room,” he said. “Within 48 hours we had a concrete game plan to ensure the welfare of our employees and within five days had a plan to re-establish our headquarters.” The levees broke on Monday, and by Friday the company was back in business. Back in the Big Easy, Mayor Nagin continued to blame George Bush for all the problems – while hundreds of school buses, which could have helped evacuate the city had the mayor acted decisively, sat in high water, waterlogged and disabled.

            School buses, the mayor explained, weren’t good enough for the nursing home and hospital patients stranded in New Orleans. He demanded, but did not get, chartered Greyhound buses. 

            While corporate staff people were making their way to Florida, Ruth’s put out the word to the dishwashers and waiters: Go to the nearest Ruth’s Chris Steak House wherever you are. There you will be given $1,000 in cash, “and most importantly, a job. These people had no jobs, no phones, their ATM cards didn’t work.”

            Contrast the quick response of a private business to that of Mr. Obama, the one who announces every day that he is in charge, who was paralyzed for eight days before he could work up a response to the oil spill. Thirty-eight days after the explosion, we still hear nothing from him but blame and vows of vengeance. 

            The test of leadership, Miller said, “is crystal clear in times of crisis. It exposed itself during Hurricane Katrina. Contrast what we did compared with what Mayor Nagin did. You gain from life’s experience how to deal with situations you face.” Leadership is about making “tough decisions, acting responsibly and keeping the support of your people.”

            Ruth’s Chris “came out of it a stronger company and we never skipped a beat,” he said, adding that “I’m not trying to make a comparison between our situation and Katrina or the oil disaster.”

            Miller had been tested under fire before. He and his brother opened a Pizzeria Uno in Los Angeles three weeks before the 1994 earthquake. “I learned a lesson then,” he said. “If you spend a lot of time looking backwards and trying to put the pieces back together rather than looking forward, you lose time, you lose incentive and the ability to make good decisions.”

            In business, he adds, “if you’re unwilling to take risks, you will never, ever move into a position of leadership. You have to assume responsibility for decisions and be a forward thinker. It is the only way to the top.”

What we need right now is mature leadership, battle-tested, non-ideological. We will not convince especially younger voters that their future depends on what we do this November unless we can explain in clear language what happens when government gets too big.

            “We’ve never shown that more federal government contributes to the enhancement of what the private sector can do better, whether it’s delivery of mail or health care,” Miller said. “We’re starting to figure out that government is not the answer and can’t be the answer.”

Craig Miller – snapshot

Age: 60
Married to Susan, with 3 grown children.
Military: Served at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam with Air Force. Discharged as Staff Sgt. E-5.
Education: University of Central Florida, B.A., business administration.
Career: Red Lobster Inns of America, Uno Restaurants, Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Offices held: President, National Restaurant Association, 2005-2006. National Operator of the Year, 2007.
Florida State Tourism Commission, 2007.

A question of leadership, in their own words

Barack Obama, President of the United States, before announcing that he is in charge of the oil disaster: “Plug the damned hole.”

Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana: “We need more boom, more skimmers, more vacuums, more jack-up barges that are still in short supply.”

Barack Obama, in response to Jindal’s request for permission to construct some barrier islands and berms: nothing for 37 days. EPA’s reason for delay: It might harm the environment.

Jindal, urgently trying to get government permission to build: “We know it works, we have seen it work, but if they need to see it work, they need to do that quickly. We don’t want the federal government creating excuses for BP. They could have built nearly 10 miles of sand boom already if they would have approved our permit request when we originally requested it.”

Calderon lectures U.S. on immigration law

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A detestable affront to our sensibilities

Issue #74

Stephen Combs in Orlando, Florida 

Americans are genetically wired to repel attempts by outsiders to tell us how to live. It’s our white cells at work, throwing our natural defenses into gear when they detect a threat. Not everybody has these: Germans, for example, whose national testosterone was pretty much wiped out by two World Wars, are mostly passive and pacifist. Like French and other Europeans, they are used to being run over and manipulated. While some on the Left are beginning to understand – very, very belatedly – just what the fighters for American Independence meant with their warning of “Don’t Tread on Me” (words on the flag named for Col. Christopher Gadsden), our self-absorbed, childlike President seems not to get it. In fact he seems to have learned nothing during his 16 months in office. He remains as narcissistic and immature as the day he began running for the Illinois Senate.

            While some leftist lawmakers see stormy seas ahead in the mid-term elections, President Obama and his team charge ahead at full throttle to remake America, destroy our sovereignty, our capitalist economic system, our individual liberties and our uniquely American culture. It just seems not to matter to him that his party may go down in flames.
            This week President Obama played host to the president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, and gave him a forum for trashing American sovereignty in general and Arizona law in particular. While dressing us down on the evils of protecting our borders, Mr. Calderon managed to work in his opposition to the Second Amendment to our Constitution.
            Mr. Obama did not bring the Mexican president before the American people wondering what he might say. The reasonable conclusion is that Obama created this stage play with full knowledge of the plot.
            Earlier I said “some” leftist lawmakers, because most House and Senate Democrats gave Calderon a standing ovation when he lectured them on American law. Let them all be gone, the lot of them.
            The new Arizona immigration law, which mirrors long-standing federal law, “is a law that not only ignores a reality that cannot be erased by decree but also introduces a terrible idea using racial profiling as a basis for law enforcement,” Mr. Calderon said to cheers from Democrat Representatives and Senators.
            These are fighting words, my friends, when the leader of a foreign nation taunts us with a message that says, “You cannot turn back the reality that our people are overrunning your country. We will impose our culture on you, whether you like it or not.”
            In English he warned of the risk when “core values we all care about are breached.”
            What are those core values of which he spoke? The rule of law?
Senator John McCain issued a statement saying that it was “unfortunate and disappointing the president of Mexico chose to criticize the state of Arizona by weighing in on a U.S. domestic policy issue during a trip that was meant to reaffirm the unique relationship between our two countries.”
            But Mr. Calderon saved his biggest laugh line for his statement that the U.S. is responsible for violence on the border because of our easy access to high-powered weapons. Was that meant to be a joke?
            Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said Calderon should not lecture Americans on state and local law. And, he added, “the Second Amendment is not a subject open for diplomatic negotiation, with Mexico or any other nation.”
         All Mr. Obama has done with this dog and pony show is remind Americans of how detestable he is, how insulting he is to our sensibilities. He is truly the first President to not accept the fact that his stewardship is but a temporary franchise, and this temporary appointment does not give him license to uproot our foundations. The best we can do is keep the heat on the Congress to slow this runaway freight train until it can be derailed on Nov. 2. We need remember only one line from this pathetic episode to keep us motivated, President Obama’s statement during the Calderon visit that “A nation is not defined by its borders.”
            We’ll see about that, in due time.

Rule of law: a ‘troubling trend’

Michael Posner is Assistant Secretary of State. He is the founder of Human Rights First, a leftist pressure group funded with $1 million from Obama Democrat George Soros, an open borders advocate. Mr. Posner once sued former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “for torture.” More recently, he compared the treatment of Muslims after 9/11 to the American internment camps of Japanese during World War II.

            On Tuesday he told reporters that the State Department brought up Arizona’s new immigration law during talks on human rights with Communist China. Mr. Posner called the law “a troubling trend in our society.” His guests hail from a land far away where former dictator Mao Zedong killed 77 million of his friends and neighbors, a very effective statement indeed of who is in charge.

Quotes of the week

            “He says he’s not going to let people distort his record. His record of lying?” – Former Senator Fred Thompson, after calling Connecticut Attorney General and Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal “a lying weasel,” on “Fox and Friends.”

            “It was a good night.” – Obama advisor David Alexrod, on election night after Obama’s endorsement record fell to 0-4 with the primary loss of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.

Let’s hope the Dems have a great night like this in November.

            “I am a romantic about the National Health Service. I love it. All I need to do is rediscover the romance is to look at health care in my own country.” – Donald Berwick, the pediatrician  President Obama has picked to oversee health care rationing under government health care, in July 2008. (Note to Gretchen Carlson: It’s Twenty-Oh-Eight, not “Two Thousand and Eight.”)

Issue No. 73

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May 14, 2010 – Issue No. 73

Mother Obama knows what’s best

Stephen Combs in Orlando, Florida

Does the government have the right to tell us what we can eat, how much salt and fat we may have, what size portions restaurants shall serve, how much alcohol we can consume, how many and what kind of soft drinks?

            You bet it can. And anybody who claims otherwise simply doesn’t understand what’s going on here. But then nothing is new about this. These are the same folks who slept through the 2008 election and who to this day do not understand its significance.

            Many of these folks are single-issue voters who wanted to make sure that a candidate who is squishy on abortion did not get elected. They got their way.

            So let us not hear complaints from these people when they wail about Big Government looking over their shoulder at dinner time to make sure they wash their hands and eat their broccoli.

            We now reveal a nasty little secret, something they didn’t much consider when they voted for Barack Obama and the leftists who control the House and Senate: When government runs health care, it gets to decide how we take care of ourselves.

            As we are reminded every Friday on these pages, elections have consequences. Every pie into which this government sticks its finger – and it is a very large finger indeed – reinforces this reminder. The latest is Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court, his second nomination of a singularly unqualified, undistinguished candidate in less than 16 months in office.

            Some of us understood with stark clarity before the 2008 election that this election would have consequences. If Republicans, conservatives, Independents and free-market capitalist Democrats fail to grasp this concept by November 2, we are finished.

 I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it

 Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that he hasn’t read the new Arizona immigration law, but he’s pretty sure it’s a bad one. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend he said the law “has the possibility of leading to racial profiling.” Earlier he had wondered aloud if the law is unconstitutional because it assumes powers reserved for the federal government.

Even Constitutional powers the federal government refuses to wield?

You can pry those doughnuts

from my cold, dead hands

Last week New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg helpfully explained that the Times Square Bomber was most likely a lone wolf, maybe “someone with a political agenda (who) doesn’t like the health care bill or something . . .” He was referring to the May 1 attempt by a man now identified as a recently-naturalized Pakistani, Faisal Shahzad. Now we learn that at least four people have been arrested as accessories, including one in Pakistan. Fox News reported this morning that sometime before the failed Saturday night bombing, Shahzad met a man at a Dunkin Donuts and received thousands of dollars in cash, ostensibly to finance the operation.

Probably some guy who dug through all 2,700 pages of the government health care bill and found that part about closing down the doughnut shops.

Meanwhile, President Obama has cut $53 million from the New York anti-terrorism budget.

Quotes of the week

             “Republicans want them to work and not vote. Democrats want them to vote and not work.” – Dick Morris on why the government refuses to stop illegal immigration, to Bill O’Reilly.

            “She was aiding and abetting violation of a law. . . . I am deeply offended that a school that models itself as the finest in the nation – at least they claim that – would not allow recruiters to come on their campus and ROTC to be conducted on their campus.” – Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s ban of military recruiters from Harvard when she was law school dean there.

Lights out on Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa’s 100th birthday is Aug. 26, and to honor her, the Catholic League asked that the Empire State Building be lighted that day in her colors, blue and white. Sorry, politically incorrect. Never mind that the building was lit in red and yellow last year to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Revolution. Mao, you may recall, snuffed out 77 million of his countrymen during his transformation of China into a Utopian paradise.                      “There’s an air of bigotry in this country against Christians and against Catholics in particular,” fumed Bill Donohue, the Catholic League president, on “Fox and Friends” today. “I’ve turned thousands of people in the streets before. I have the money, I have the determination. We’ll take out ads. They don’t know what they’re dealing with, those preppy boys at the Empire State Building.”

            To sign the organization’s petition in support of Mother Teresa, go to www.catholicleague.com.

That’s what they always say

 The Philadelphia City Council approved Mayor Michael Nutter’s $3.9 billion budget and plugged a $150 million budget gap with a 9.9% increase in property taxes. An official told NBC Philadelphia that the tax hike will only last for two years.

 Sure. And I promise I will still respect you in the morning.

Let’s run this one past

the Department of Peace

            U.S. troops in Afghanistan could soon be awarded a medal for not doing something, a new award that would be given for “courageous restraint” for holding fire to save civilian lives. The proposal is now circulating in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, a command spokesman confirmed Tuesday. – From an article in the Navy Times.

The Friday Letter #100514 Year 2, Issue No. 73

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