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Friday, April 22, 2011

Two Views of the Movie "Atlas Shrugged"

View One. The Tea Party Express.

Normally we're not too focused on what movies are playing in local cinemas, but the release of Atlas Shrugged The Movie (based on Ayn Rand's monumental book) has become a seminal event in the tea party movement.

And we've got some good news to report to you on the success of this movie that has liberal film critics up in arms.

In its debut weekend, Atlas Shrugged surprised everyone, grossing more in ticket sales per movie screen than any other movie save the hit family movie, "Rio."

And this week, Atlas Shrugged expands - from 299 screens last weekend to 423+ screens this weekend.  You can find the closest movie theater showing the film near you - FIND MOVIE THEATER HERE

The movie, like the book, serves as a wake up call to the dangers posed when governments take on too much power and subvert the will and freedom of the individual.  Specifically, it showcases what happens when entrepreneurship and free market principles are deemed to be unseemly and unacceptable to Big Government.

When you watch the movie you'll feel like you could be watching the real-live events of today, not a fictionalized account written by Ayn Rand some 60+ years ago.

And the fact that this movie touches on many of the problems we face today, and that we in the tea party movement are fighting, explains why so many liberal movie critics have slammed this movie and urged people not to see it.   They don't want you to see this movie, because they don't want you to see the truth about what is happening in America today.

Michael Phillips, writing in the Los Angeles Times, complained about the film's "tea-stained politics."
Peter Travers in RollingStones vented, "Who's the idiot responsible for this fiasco?" Roger Ebert gave the film just 1-star and whined:  "And now I am faced with this movie, the most anticlimactic non-event since Geraldo Rivera broke into Al Capone’s vault."
Peter Debruge incorporated a swipe at Fox News Channel in his review for Variety, writing that: "...Atlas Shrugged" becomes a series of polite policy conversations interrupted by Fox News-style updates whenever exposition is called for..."

Yes, we get it, liberal film critics.  You all can't stand free markets, and you can't stand that there is a film out there that echoes many of the same evils that the tea party movement here in America is fighting against.

You can see the movie for yourself this weekend, and in the process angry a Big Government, autocratic, liberal.  Watch it again, even if you've already seen it once.  Oh, and  be sure to take a friend with you too.

To find the nearest cinema showing "Atlas Shrugged" - JUST CLICK HERE.

View 2.  The Washington Post.

By Michael Gerson, Thursday, April 21, 8:00 PM
The movie “Atlas Shrugged,” adapted from Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel by the same name, is a triumph of cinematic irony. A work that lectures us endlessly on the moral superiority of heroic achievement is itself a model of mediocrity. In this, the film perfectly reflects both the novel and the mind behind it.
Rand is something of a cultural phenomenon — the author of potboilers who became an ethical and political philosopher, a libertarian heroine. But Rand’s distinctive mix of expressive egotism, free love and free-market metallurgy does not hold up very well on the screen. The emotional center of the movie is the success of high-speed rail — oddly similar to a proposal in Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. All of the characters are ideological puppets. Visionary, comely capitalists are assaulted by sniveling government planners, smirking lobbyists, nagging wives, rented scientists and cynical humanitarians. When characters begin disappearing — on strike against the servility and inferiority of the masses — one does not question their wisdom in leaving the movie.
None of the characters expresses a hint of sympathetic human emotion — which is precisely the point. Rand’s novels are vehicles for a system of thought known as Objectivism. Rand developed this philosophy at the length of Tolstoy, with the intellectual pretensions of Hegel, but it can be summarized on a napkin. Reason is everything. Religion is a fraud. Selfishness is a virtue. Altruism is a crime against human excellence. Self-sacrifice is weakness. Weakness is contemptible. “The Objectivist ethics, in essence,” said Rand, “hold that man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”
If Objectivism seems familiar, it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence. Many of us experienced a few unfortunate years of invincible self-involvement, testing moral boundaries and prone to stormy egotism and hero worship. Usually one grows out of it, eventually discovering that the quality of our lives is tied to the benefit of others. Rand’s achievement was to turn a phase into a philosophy, as attractive as an outbreak of acne.
The appeal of Ayn Rand to conservatives is both considerable and inexplicable. Modern conservatism was largely defined by Ronald Reagan’s faith in the people instead of elites. Rand regarded the people as “looters” and “parasites.” She was a strenuous advocate for class warfare, except that she took the side of a mythical class of capitalist supermen. Rand, in fact, pronounced herself “profoundly opposed” to Reagan’s presidential candidacy, since he did not meet her exacting ideological standards.
Rand cherished a particular disdain for Christianity. The cross, she said, is “the symbol of the sacrifice of the ideal to the nonideal. . . . It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture.” Yet some conservatives marked Holy Week by attending and embracing “Atlas Shrugged.”
Reaction to Rand draws a line in political theory. Some believe with Rand that all government is coercion and theft — the tearing-down of the strong for the benefit of the undeserving. Others believe that government has a limited but noble role in helping the most vulnerable in society — not motivated by egalitarianism, which is destructive, but by compassion, which is human. And some root this duty in God’s particular concern for the vulnerable and undeserving, which eventually includes us all. This is the message of Easter, and it is inconsistent with the gospel of Rand.
Many libertarians trace their inspiration to Rand’s novels, while sometimes distancing themselves from Objectivism. But both libertarians and Objectivists are moved by the mania of a single idea — a freedom indistinguishable from selfishness. This unbalanced emphasis on one element of political theory — at the expense of other public goals such as justice and equal opportunity — is the evidence of a rigid ideology. Socialists take a similar path, embracing equality as an absolute value. Both ideologies have led good people into supporting policies with serious human costs.
Conservatives have been generally suspicious of all ideologies, preferring long practice and moral tradition to utopian schemes of left or right. And Rand is nothing if not utopian. In “Atlas Shrugged,” she refers to her libertarian valley of the blessed as Atlantis.
It is an attractive place, which does not exist, and those who seek it drown.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oil Tax Winners & Losers

Anchorage Daily News

In any language, oil tax haste a bad idea
COMPASS: Other points of view


(04/16/11 19:01:50)
Scott Hawkins' compass piece attacking the Senate ("Senate stands idle as pipeline dries up," April 14) for resisting lobbyists pushing for oil tax breaks is a classic piece of rhetoric and should be studied in all classrooms for its flaws.
First, Hawkins commits the fallacy of "argumentis ad populum" by treating us to a dog-and-pony parade of all tax-break supporters.
Next comes a false premise, which also poisons the well: "ACES is not working" is the premise. It is a "policy disaster" and is based on "punitive tax hikes."
Then Hawkins commits the error of "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" or confusing a correlation with a causation -- specifically, that a drop in production on the North Slope is tied to ACES. It isn't. The governor's own charts show a long decline since the 1980s.
Then he "appeals to authority" -- quoting Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan of all people -- and sauces his rhetorical salad throughout with ridicule: the Senate is "out of touch," "obtuse," "sits on its hands."
He ends with arguments of emotive persuasion, fear: "oil pipeline close to shutting down."
Of particular note is his angry rejection of "study." He is angry that the Senate wants to study the issue. This seems odd coming from an economist, which he once was, but I guess it is understandable coming from a businessman beholden to the industry, which he now is.
The "studies" that Hawkins contemptuously rejects are precisely what is required by the fiduciary trust embedded in the oath of office that the senators took, to uphold our state constitution (e.g., Title VIII) and to look out for our collective interests, not just those of Mr. Hawkins.
There were so many red flags on the field of play during this debate over oil tax cuts that for the Senate to do anything less than deliberate would be an abrogation of their responsibility; Sen. Gary Stevens and his colleagues deserve applause rather than ridicule.
One red flag in particular has not been talked about much but deserves to be mentioned. The governor hired a consultant to review the House version of the tax break in February. The consultant is Richard Ruggiero with Gaffney, Cline & Associates of Houston, Texas. Here is a summary of what he told the House Resources Committee:
The companies may or may not invest the proceeds of their tax cuts in Alaska. There are no guarantees. Mr. Ruggiero wisely took no position on HB 110. Instead he presented a range of possibilities based on his reading of the bill. If Sean Parnell's gamble pays off and the oil companies vigorously reinvest in Alaska's fields, the state could realize $210 billion over the life of the fields; if, however, they reinvested those tax-break dollars elsewhere, the state would lose $20 billion over the next 15-20 years. In so many words, Mr. Ruggiero was telling us that HB 110 (and its companion Senate bill) is a crapshoot.
Since then, a new analysis reveals a somewhat more pessimistic view of the crapshoot. Mr. Ruggiero gets wiser by the day.
On April 13, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) produced a preliminary cost-benefit analysis of the effects Conoco Phillips' proposed $5 billion investment if HB 110 were implemented.
As Sen. Wielechowski put it: "Essentially ... Alaskans are being asked to give up $13.5 billion ... in exchange for about $3.2 billion in new state revenues (from new oil production). I don't know many CEOs who would be OK with a deal like that."
Now back to Mr. Hawkins and his echo chamber of real and alleged supporters. They all would be more intellectually honest to say that they need the state and future Alaskans to lose so they can win. That way, when they all leave us to follow Big Oil out of Alaska to work in some other center of global investments funded partly by our dollars, we won't take it personally.

Elstun Lauesen is a lifelong Alaskan, financial development consultant and former socioeconomic officer with the state Pipeline Coordinator's Office.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Let The Big Dog Out!

Big Dipper Oil & Gas. Have you heard of it? It operates here in Alaska. It owns Billions of Barrels of oil and it owns trillions and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. It pays you a dividend every year. Unlike Conoco-Phillips that claims to be “Alaska’s Oil and Gas Company”, Big Dipper Oil & Gas really is. Big Dipper Oil Company or “Big Dog” is, of course, the State of Alaska.
Now let’s see a show of hands: how many Alaskans have received a dividend directly from Conoco-Phillips? Ok…I see a few of you out there. How many of you receive a dividend directly from he State of Alaska. Do you get it now?
There is only one oil company that cares about maximizing benefits to Alaskans; there is only one Oil Company that gives a fig about Alaska’s ‘public interest’ and that is the Big Dog.
All the other companies are up here pretending to be our friends because they want what the Big Dog’s got. Oh, they spend a pretty penny on the gauzy lens and inspirational music, showing our First People in moving shots and lots of neighborly faces talking sincerely for the camera. But in the end, when the easy money is gone, so will they. As Walter Hickel once told a reluctant ARCO regarding undeveloped leases: “You drill ‘em or I will!”
Wally Hickel went eyeball-to-eyeball with the industry and the industry blinked.
Now that was a CEO of Big Dog that all of us Alaskans could be proud of.
Contrast THAT CEO to Sean Parnell. It appears to me that the main reason Governor Parnell can’t go eyeball to eyeball with the industry is that the Governor closes his eyes when he kisses.
Here are a few facts that haven’t been made in other articles on the Governor’s proposed Tax rollback for the Oil Companies:
·      A consultant hired by the Administration, Rich Ruggiero, of Gaffney, Cline & Associates of Houston, Texas, told the House Resource committee last month that he couldn’t endorse the Governor’s bill, but could only give an up and down scenario; In other words: it’s a crap shoot. 
·      Conoco-Phillips most recent 10-K report openly discusses its plans for the next 5 years: sell old assets, buy-back shares, enhance shareholder equity and invest in proven, emerging ventures.
·      Over 47% of new hires for Alaskan oil fields have come from outside the state. Let’s make certain that any employment deal that may be struck is not just an assurance of jobs, but hires inside Alaska and the best way to ensure that is through a project-labor agreement and a unionized workforce.
·      None of these oil companies are standing still, they are all investing to meet the changing future and so should we. $2 B worth of holes in the ground, if the desired reinvestment is realized, would rerun the last 20 years but would not diversify or transform our economy for a new century. Perhaps a $250 M a year University-Conoco partnership that would effectively shift their Research and Development unit to Alaska from Texas would look like more sincere investment than some vague promise to spend $5 B of our dollars enhancing oil production.
The bottom line is that our oil and gas future should be driven by Alaska’s real Oil and Gas Company and NOT by someone else. Alaskan’s don’t care how they do it ‘Outside’? It’s time we prove it.

Elstun Lauesen is an economic development consultant, writer, and lifelong observer of the Alaskan political scene.