I’ve been spending so much time covering the 2012 presidential election that I really needed a break from it all. Sure, there were the Nevada caucuses this past weekend and I do plan to write my two cents on the results but I was thoroughly distracted by three days of greatness. Saturday was spent at the Hilton in Naples, FL at an all-day event held by FEE: the Foundation for Economic Education. Sunday was full of lots of meat, beer, a bounce house and the Super Bowl. Monday capped off the long weekend with an event at the Ritz-Carlton that was put on by one of the greatest libertarian think tanks in the world, the Cato Institute.
Friday night, I planned to get to bed early, as I wanted to be bright and alert for the all-day FEE event in my hometown. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to sleep so I sat in my room, sipping a tall glass of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Bourbon while picking at some leftover BBQ ribs and watching ‘Battlestar Galactica’ on Netflix, as I haven’t watched the newer series but was a big fan of the original as a kid. I typically don’t get into shows until they are over, as I hate the suspense of waiting week-to-week for cliffhanger resolutions. After that, I tried to kill time in ‘Just Cause 2′ on my PS3 but I just couldn’t doze off. It was well after 3 a.m. before my head finally hit the pillow, which seemed like the quickest sleep I ever had when my iPhone alarm started blaring Wu-Tang Clan’s “Bring the Ruckus” at 6 a.m.
So I woke up, showered, killed a bowl of Cracklin’ Oat Bran with a peanut Sweet & Salty bar, threw on a three piece suit, jumped in my car and drove down to the Naples Hilton half-asleep nursing a heavy hangover. Needless to say, I was ready for ten or so hours of hardcore economic thinking. Truth be told, as soon as I hit the hotel, I wandered into Shula’s Steakhouse looking for a tequila sunrise. Apparently it was too early and the bartender wasn’t working yet so I had to fill up on bagels and Diet Coke, which had a very negative effect on my mind and my nerves, as I gave up caffeine a month or so prior. It did nip that hangover in the bud though.
While waiting to move into the hall where the event was being held, I had a good long talk with one of my local heroes, Ismael Hernandez, who runs the Freedom & Virtue Institute. I also spoke to my friends from the Libertarian Party of Collier County, FGCU’s Eagles for Liberty and the Ayn Rand Society for Individual Rights of Naples (ARSIRN). After immersing myself in philosophical and political discussion for a good forty-five minutes, I felt ready to begin my day of economic awesomeness.
The event was emceed by Michael Yashko, who not only did a great job at coordinating and managing the event, but also gave a fantastic presentation on the Founding Father’s Constitution versus the abhorrent version of that sacred document we are stuck with today. I’m not sure if anyone at FEE was filming the event but if they did, I’d definitely link to the video on TheSwash.com as part of our Tuition Free Tuesdays weekly feature.
Yashko was then followed by Professor Nikolai Wenzel who teaches at Hillsdale College as well as Florida Gulf Coast University. Prof. Wenzel’s presentation was a perfect compliment to Mr. Yashko’s as it was about constitutional constraint and government mischief. Wenzel gave a great lecture and like Yashko’s (and really all the lectures at this event) I’d love to post video of it to the Swash so that our loyal SwashPeeps could experience it for themselves.
The next speaker was Lawrence Reed, who I have had the pleasure of seeing several times now between events held by FEE – which is the organization he is the president of, The Southwest Florida Young Republicans and Eagles for Liberty, who are FGCU’s chapter of the more widely known Students for Liberty. Mr. Reed’s lecture was called “Money Mischief Since the Founders”. It was an amazing lecture jam-packed with so much knowledge that taking notes was damn near impossible but it did give me several ideas for articles I should probably write. Like his other lectures I’ve seen, one about the myths of the Great Depression and another that compared the United States to Rome during its collapse, this fifty minute lesson was a real treat and had me captivated the whole time. I leaned over to my friend Shawn when Mr. Reed wrapped up and whispered, “I could sit through four hours of this guy.” He nodded in agreement.
The next speaker was Ismael Hernandez who gave an incredible speech about compassion. Not government compassion with a gun to your head but real honest truthful compassion and how to express it effectively. Mr. Hernandez spoke about his past and how he grew up in Puerto Rico as a communist raised by a Black Panther father and how he came to America and experienced this country for himself without the direct influence of communist rhetoric. After telling his very personal tale and giving the audience the rundown on how compassion truly works, the crowd got to their feet and applauded Mr. Hernandez for his great story and his invaluable insight.
After Ismael Hernandez’s great lecture, we all went off to lunch. I was fortunate enough to partake in a special luncheon with Lawrence Reed that helped to benefit students wanting to go to FEE camps to learn about economics. At that lunch, I was seated next to both Michael Yashko and Lawrence Reed, which was awesome in itself. While munching on salad, a turkey sandwich and a cookie, I got two more doses of Mr. Reed, who went on to tell those of us at the special luncheon two stories. One was about Nicky Winton who saved 669 mostly Jewish children from the Nazis and found homes and safe passage for them in Britain. The second story was about a pirate radio station somewhere in Soviet controlled Europe. I can’t even begin to try and retell these tales, as Mr. Reed did it in such a profoundly poetic way. However, both these stories were really touching and went to show that no matter how bad we think we have it in the United States right now, it could always be very much worse. In retrospect, this is why we need to fight for liberty and freedom because it isn’t a stretch to envision an America that could fall that far.
After lunch, we went right back into more fantastic lectures. Professor Bradley Hobbs of FGCU gave us a pretty awesome lesson about business and economics. He spoke to us about his personal experiences growing up on the Space Coast where, as a kid, he worked for his father in the family pharmacy. The business has been so successful over the years that it has grown large enough to fill up an entire strip mall, minus a bagel shop and a medical supply store that the family also owns. Hobbs lectured greatly and had a very pleasant demeanor that made his presentation enjoyable, which made me feel like I should go back to school and take up economics at FGCU. The college is practically in my backyard, therefore much closer than George Mason where I was thinking of applying if I decided to go back to college.
The next speaker was former CEO of BB&T, John Allison. Mr. Allison, who has had several appearances on one of my favorite shows – ‘Stossel’, has been known to be a big fan of Ayn Rand and her philosophy: objectivism. In fact, Mr. Allison used to assign ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to all of his senior executives as required reading. He has referred to ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as “the best defense of capitalism ever written.” He’s been a large contributor to the Ayn Rand Institute and through the BB&T Charitable Foundation has given dozens of colleges and universities millions of dollars to start programs devoted to the study of Rand’s work. Apart from all this backstory, Mr. Allison gave one of the most inspiring lectures of the day. He talked about leadership and how to properly grab the reigns of a company or any situation and take control effectively and respectfully. John Allison gave us insight into the TARP bailouts and how he fought against them but ultimately lost and was forced to partake in the financial tyranny. He spoke heavily against regulation, especially in the financial industry. Truth be told, I walked away from these lessons with the intent to leave Wells Fargo and put all of my money in BB&T. You have earned a new customer Mr. Allison, even though you no longer work for BB&T.
Following John Allison was author John Blundell. This well-spoken Englishman talked to us abut his newest book ‘Ladies For Liberty: Women Who Made a Difference in American History’. Blundell, who wrote a well-respected book about Margaret Thatcher turned his attention to many of the woman who have played a major part in building and shaping America throughout the years. He gave us some deep insight into the book and how it came to be and through his passion he sold me on buying a copy on the spot: call me an easy sell. I got to talk to Mr. Blundell one-on-one while he signed my book where we briefly discussed the possibility of him doing a follow-up book about woman who fight for liberty today.
After Blundell, two FGCU professors closed out the day. First up was Dean Stansel, who gave a great talk about taxes at a more local level. He pulled out a bunch of studies he did for the Cato Institute that showed the correlation between taxation and economic growth in various cities throughout the last several years. It didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know but it did present a lot of data, collected through Stansel’s hard work, that solidified my beliefs even further.
The last of the final speakers was Professor Carrie Kerekes. Prof. Kerekes gave us a pretty solid rundown of FGCU’s economic and business programs. I feel like it was a thirty minute infomercial for FGCU but it was effective and made me incredibly happy to know that there was a university, just down the street, that was teaching the right side of economics. If I do indeed end up going back to school, I think I may be a future student of several of the professors who spoke at this FEE event.
Once the event was officially over, I got a tequila sunrise or six and sipped them down at the bar in the hotel lobby where I mingled with the other attendees. I didn’t hang long, as I don’t nurse my alcohol and was pressed for time as I had to drive down to my boss’ lounge to celebrate two of my other bosses’ birthdays. I left that crazy party fairly early however, as I was tired from a previous night of no sleep and a day full of awesome economic discussion.
I do have to say that the FEE event was, by far, one of the greatest economic and political events I have ever attended and trust me, I’ve been to a lot more than my fair share. If you are in the Naples area and you don’t go next year, you’re certainly missing out on a great day; consider me a FEE lifer at this point.
Sunday – Super Bowl XLVI:
The following day was Super Bowl Sunday and even though I couldn’t care less who won between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, I was geared up to party with my peeps and indulge in a lot of food and booze. It’s hard watching American football when it isn’t a New Orleans Saints game but the overindulgence in food and booze made dealing with my team not being in the big game much more bearable.
I kicked the day off by going to my mum’s where I watched the Chelsea v. Manchester United game, which may have been the best EPL game I’ve seen this season even though it ended in a tie. Between kicks and goals, my mum and I emptied two cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon into a bowl full of flour and made some real serious beer bread. Shortly after this, I helped my friend Michael make our special treat: meat turtles. Essentially, you take a giant mound of ground sirloin and mix it up with a bunch of shredded cheese and whatever sauces you may want to put in it. You then wrap the big ball of meat in a shell of bacon – woven together. You then stick three hot dogs through it – making four feet, a head and a tail, which creates the shape of a turtle (see pic to the left).
So we took our meat turtles (made of Kobe beef and Kobe bacon) and our beer bread to Michael’s co-worker Mikey’s house. Lots of Mikes I know but it gets even more confusing when Mikey’s father and grandfather are also both named Mike. Anyway, we blew up a bounce house, drank beer and had a real party going even before the Super Bowl kicked off. To compliment the day even more, Mikey’s dad made a monstrous beef brisket and a giant mound of pulled pork. There was also BBQ chicken, homemade baked beans and so much other food that listing it all would take entirely too long for me to type and too long for you to read. Plus this is making me hungry again.
The food was beyond amazing! I gorged until I couldn’t move, waited a while and gorged again. We all drank beer and whiskey to wash down the giant mounds of meat scattered throughout the large kitchen and followed that up by firmly planting ourselves in recliners in front of a giant screen to watch the game. I missed parts of the contest between the Giants and Patriots as I kept nodding off into sporadic but very short-lived food comas. When I was able to be mobile enough to get up, I only did so to cut myself a piece of red velvet cake. I was on a serious mission and it was mission accomplished!
In the end, the Giants won and I couldn’t find anymore PBR or whiskey.
I woke up late Monday morning, as my alarm either didn’t go off or I somehow crawled across my room, turned it off and then crawled back into my bed. While that is theoretically possible, I’ve never made it comfortably back to my bed after turning off my alarm. Usually I awake to find myself curled up in the fetal position trembling from being in my boxers on my very cold tile floor. It’s kind of like waking up on a frozen lake with nothing more than swimming trunks on. Luckily for me, I didn’t find myself on the floor and I didn’t have to fight off hypothermia as I showered and threw on a suit to head down to the Ritz-Carlton, Naples Resort for the Cato Institute event featuring Tucker Carlson, David Boaz, Ed Crane and Robert Levy.
I arrived at the Ritz-Carlton just before 10 a.m., so I at least got there before the opening reception and was able to score the best table in the house for attendees who weren’t a part of a larger group. The early bird most definitely catches the worm and in my case, these words were never truer, as the table I selected was quickly filled with a few other like-minded early birds – one of which provided me with one of the best moments of my life.
The woman who sat to my left came to my table and asked if she could sit there or if it was reserved. I told her anyone could join me, as I was by myself with seven empty chairs surrounding me. She sat down and I’m not sure how we arrived to this point but we started talking about objectivism. After several minutes of discussing Ayn Rand’s philosophy, this woman – who’s name is Elayne Kalberman, opened up and told me that she used to work for Rand. In fact, she was the sister of Nathaniel Branden, a very close confidant and partner of Rand who helped bring her philosophy to the world.
Mrs. Kalberman went on to tell me that she used to be a part of a group that would meet with Rand weekly at her home to discuss ‘Atlas Shrugged’ while it was being written. This small group of intellectuals met in an effort to make sure that Rand’s philosophy was coming through and that all the points that she needed to make were hit effectively. So here I am, sitting in a room full of libertarians of all ages who would probably worship this woman, if they were even slightly aware of her presence there and I was the lucky guy that got to sit next to her out of the 400 plus other people!
I’m not going to discuss the details of all the things she told me and the stories I found so engaging and incredible, as they are her tales to tell, not mine but it is worth mentioning that we talked for a few minutes about the fall of one-time objectivist and Rand ally Alan Greenspan. Mrs. Kalberman and I discussed the Federal Reserve, inflation and she shared her insightful thoughts and solutions on it with me. We spoke about her brother and about the fact that there was a falling out between their family and Ayn Rand. One thing she did say, that I will share, as I know others who knew Rand felt the same way, is that Mrs. Kalberman didn’t like the way Ayn Rand treated young people who wanted to better understand objectivism. Rand was often times mean and had a very abrasive attitude towards those wanting to come to the same conclusions Rand arrived at.
Mrs. Kalberman and I also talked about Murray Rothbard, my favorite economist and someone who she had a lot of dealings with throughout the years. She was a pleasure to sit next to and a very nice woman. I hope to one day cross paths with her again as I couldn’t fully pick her brain on things due to the fact that we only had a few minutes here or there to discuss these things between all the different speakers who were at the event.
Speaking of which, the event was emceed by Cato’s Robert Levy who is not only hilarious and quick-witted but also a great teacher and speaker. Next up was Cato Founder and President Ed Crane who gave us an informative Powerpoint presentation that included a great scene from ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’ about people needing to be individuals and not a collective desperate to follow a leader. Cato’s Executive VP David Boaz lit up the room with his lecture, as he always does. He talked about effective ways of reclaiming freedom and entertained the crowd with his sharp and witty ways. All the Cato speakers aren’t just near-geniuses they are all practically stand-up comedians who know how to properly mix together their lessons and their humor in a way that keeps everyone engaged.
This was followed by a reception in the courtyard outside of the event hall where I may have drank too much “lady wine” – my name for white wine. After the fifteen minute binger, we were brought back into the large hall for lunch. We were served some sort of strange salad with a green dressing that was more like an emerald-colored Béarnaise sauce than actual salad dressing. The main course was a chicken cutlet covered in tomato sauce with a strange potato thing and a mixture of spinach leaves and mushrooms, which was surprisingly the tastiest thing on the plate. Dessert was a small rectangle thing that looked like it came straight out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. When I bit into it, I realized that it was the world’s fanciest piece of key lime pie. I don’t mean to knock the Ritz-Carlton, as they host events incredibly well, but being the food snob I am, I wasn’t all that impressed with the culinary display on this day.
After lunch we got the main event, which was a great lecture by Tucker Carlson who owns the Daily Caller, works for Fox News and has previously worked for CNN and MSNBC. He talked about the 2012 presidential race and gave us all some of his personal insight on Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. He talked about supporting Ron Paul during his 1988 run for president when he ran under the Libertarian Party. He spoke about Rick Santorum the man but understands why people are turned off from him due to his stance on social issues. Tucker told us about his relationship with Newt Gingrich and mentioned that Newt’s office is practically next door to his. He also talked about Romney being the “prefect candidate”.
Tucker explained that all the things that the voters gripe about they actually don’t care about because it rarely, if ever, sways the consensus. He talked about how people always point to flip-flopping but defends it saying that when you get all the facts and new data becomes available, you should take the best stance and in certain cases, that could mean that a politician flip-flops. Realistically, the issue is what they flip-flopped on and why, not just that they switched positions. While I understand this point and agree with it to some degree, I do feel that politicians should be real students of the game and truly study up and know what it is they are voting on or supporting. I’m not a politician but if I don’t know something as fully as I should, I tend not to comment on it and I’m honest about it when pressed on it. Maybe it’s different when you’re playing the games that the Beltway Suits play.
He also told us that the night before the Cato event he was in Chicago with Andrew Breitbart and a few others where they had dinner with domestic terrorists and leaders of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. He said that they pretty much denied everything Tucker asked them about and that these fighters for socialist causes hosted the dinner event in the penthouse of one of Chicago’s nicest and tallest buildings. Maybe it took place in the penthouse that the Joker crashed in ‘The Dark Knight’, seems fitting anyway. In any event, Tucker finished by telling us that Ayers asked where he was going from there and Tucker responded by telling him a Cato Institute event, which caused Ayers’ lip to quiver.
During the Q & A session after the lecture, Tucker said that he didn’t believe Ron Paul would run third party and that Gary Johnson going third party and potentially getting a Paul endorsement would most certainly split the vote and get Obama re-elected. Tucker said that Obama was beatable and then went on to talk about how Ron Paul is resonating with people and that the GOP is essentially careless in not embracing him and more of his ideas, as it could cost them the race. He was also asked if Hillary Clinton would run as Obama’s VP but Tucker was certain she wouldn’t and then shared some recently acquired insider knowledge that she may become the new head of the IMF or the World Bank. He then spoke about how Joe Biden is made to look dumb by the press who are fed stories from the White House but in actuality, even though he is an outspoken passionate blowhard, he understands the game much more than Obama and is actually a solid VP for the Democrats.
At the end of Tucker’s time on stage, people quickly filtered out of the large hall, as I walked towards the front of the room to talk to the man. We talked about a few different issues but the most important part, at least for me, is that he was very complimentary of what it is I do. We talked about building Internet new sites from the ground up and he gave me some solid advice on what I need to do to take TheSwash.com to the next level. We talked about the difficulty in getting started and how to build your brand and bring in other contributors. He said that he really likes the name “The Swash” as it was really memorable and it sounded “dirty”. It was a great discussion with a great guy that only wanted to offer advice and to help out another guy clawing his way up from the bottom of the barrel to the top.
Tucker dipped out and so did I while running into a good friend and congressional candidate Trey Radel. I talked to my friend Trey and mentioned interviewing him for the Swash. He’s game and I’m going to try and set something up. He’s already got my vote, not because he’s a friend – I have other friends in the hunt, but because of his stance on NDAA, SOPA and PIPA. He’s also a very pro-constitution candidate, which we don’t have enough of. This was followed up by a thirty minute wait in the valet line and a trip to my local watering hole to reflect on the awesome weekend.
I did good this round.