Category Archives: Politics


The "Southern Cross" was not actually the Confederate flag.
The “Southern Cross” was not actually the Confederate flag.

I didn’t want the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee until the busybodies decided to tell me I couldn’t have one.

Wait, what was that about the flag of the Confederate States of America? Well, no – that’s not actually what this flag (aka the Southern Cross) actually was. The confusion most likely stems from the 1970s TV show The Dukes of Hazzard, in which the Duke brothers had a variant of this flag painted on their car. Because their car was named the “General Lee.” As in General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, which used a square version of this flag as their battle flag.

Pop culture being what it is, nobody actually remembers any of this. And, of course, I’m being a bit pedantic here. And yet it matters. It matters because there’s a lot of very loud “discourse” back and forth about this flag and what it means.

“The Civil War was about slavery!” shout some. “No, it was about states’ rights!” shout others. About 99% of these people, on both sides, honestly don’t know enough Civil War history to participate in an adult conversation about it. Here’s a hint: if all you know about it comes from high school classes, a Ken Burns documentary, and occasional conversations with friends, family and coworkers then you’re just as ignorant as the guy on the other side that you’re lambasting for being so ignorant.

Here’s the thing: denying that the Civil War was about slavery is facile and colossally ignorant. But pretending that the Civil War was only about slavery is equally facile and colossally ignorant.

There’s a lot of history between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and they don’t cover much of it in high school history classes. There’s also a lot of history before the Revolutionary War, much of which is also left out of high school history classes. And here’s the truth: the constitution that we so know and love was a product of massive compromise. Without that compromise, the northern and southern states never would have joined together in the first place. Yes, slavery was one of those compromises. But there were many others: representation in Congress being one of the biggest (hence our bicameral legislature).

We can’t ignore that slavery was the issue that set off the powder keg. Oh, but what a powder keg it was. The rift between southern and northern states was big enough that George Washington himself devoted significant energy during his presidency to bridging it. He never quite succeeded. In between the ratification of the Constitution in 1789 and the first shots at Fort Sumter in 1861 there were 72 years of political tension leading up to the war – much of which had little to do with slavery. That keg was ready to go.

Ultimately, though, very little of that matters. Here’s what does matter: we live in a country that has decided that we have the right to burn a flag. It’s ridiculous that we’re now trying to tell people they can’t display a similar flag. We have companies and stores that are banning this flag because they find it offensive. Yet those same companies and stores are selling plenty of other offensive material.

The political players who are setting off this chain of events will not like where it leads. If we can pressure Apple and Amazon into discontinuing battle flag products, then we can pressure them into discontinuing anti-religion products. “Oh,” you say, “but they wouldn’t do that – they’re ruled by the almighty dollar!” Go look up how much revenue comes from these battle flag products and get back to me. The pressure to remove these products cuts both ways – and the players kicking this off will be surprised to find how much pressure the other end of the spectrum can bring to bear. This is a fight that doesn’t end well for anybody.

At the same time, there is one aspect of this that is so patently obvious that I can’t believe I have to say it. This flag is also the flag of an armed uprising against the United States government. It should not be flying on any government building at any level of government within this nation. Period.

But we’re also a nation that was founded on armed uprising against our government. As citizens, we should remember that aspect of the flag as well. And we should remember that for many people who fly it, that and not race is what it’s about.To end where I began: I didn’t want one of these until people started telling me I couldn’t have one. Now I want a dozen of them, prominently displayed, only because people are saying I can’t have one. It is nobody else’s business but mine which flags I choose to wear on my clothing, display on my car, or fly over my home – or why I choose to display them.

USA Freedom Act Passes

nsa_logoThe USA Freedom Act passed the Senate this afternoon 67-32. Unfortunately, this act renews most of the provisions of the Patriot Act that expired Sunday night. On the plus side, the sections that were used (perhaps illegally, although the Supreme Court never weighed in) to authorize bulk data collection without a warrant were not renewed. The new act still allows access to the data, but only with specific warrants – and the telcos save the data itself, not the NSA.

On the negative side, two additional amendments proposed by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) were not even considered by the Senate. Those two amendments would have weakened the bulk data collection even more.

At the end of the day this is still a legislative and ideological victory for Rand Paul. Without his filibuster, and without forcing the clock to run out, there’s a halfway decent chance we would’ve ended up with the full, unaltered Patriot Act renewed. This is definitely better than that.

How will this play out for Senator Paul’s presidential campaign? I have no idea. I, for one, am happy to see it, for two reasons. First, on ideological principle I’m with him. But second, and almost more importantly, Senator Paul made a stand on principle. In this day and age, that’s an incredibly rare thing for a politician to do. The angrier the party “leadership” gets over this, the happier I am, personally. Party leadership on both sides of the aisle is corrupt and shortsighted. Following their lead on anything is far from the best course for our nation.

Patriot Act Expires – At Least For Now

Rand Paul’s 10 hour filibuster on Wednesday, May 20th was initially viewed by many as a failure. Indeed, reports at the time were that even Paul himself knew that the filibuster wouldn’t stop anything.

However, as I predicted on Wednesday, the Patriot Act will expire tonight at midnight. The question of the moment is, “for how long?”

The USA Freedom Act has already passed the House.  The bill contains most of the Patriot Act, with a few sections modified to address concerns about the NSA. The bill has already been voted on once by the Senate, and failed: 57-42. However, at least some of the Senators who opposed it appear to have opposed it because they wanted the increased power of the full patriot act. It is unclear what the vote will be now that we know for certain that the full act will not pass the Senate.

The vote appears to be set for Tuesday morning, so we’ll know soon. The bill already passed a cloture vote tonight, so only a simple majority vote is needed at this point to pass it. Still, that’s seven votes that need to be swayed from the last time the bill was voted on. This is going to be a very interesting week.

Why Longshot Candidates Run for Office

Governor George Pataki
Governor George Pataki

Rick Santorum and George Pataki officially entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this week. Both candidates are showing ridiculously low numbers in the polls. And both seem to be lagging behind in money and organization. With the major networks announcing that they’ll be limiting the debates to the few who are doing best in the polls, both men seem to be longshot candidates at best. Pataki, in particular, seems to have basically no prayer at all of winning the nomination.

So… why are they running? For the same reasons that longshot candidates always run. It turns out that there are an awful lot of benefits to running for office, even if you lose.

First, you can make a lot of contacts. This can be a pretty big deal. Good contacts can get you some nice special deals, land you that great job you’re looking for, mentor you in other stages of your life, etc. In short, contacts are nice.

It will help you pad out your mailing lists. As someone involved in the operation of three small businesses, I can promise you that mailing lists are extremely valuable. They can be great for your own purposes. If you’re the unsavory kind who sells them (we don’t, at any of our businesses), they can be literally worth rather a lot of money.

You get to do the whole thing on somebody else’s dime. The campaign itself is ultimately funded by campaign contributions. Whether you can win or not, if you can convince enough people to donate then you’re not going to have to pay for it out of pocket.

You can get away with billing an awful lot to your campaign. There are a lot of rules on what you can and can’t call a campaign expense. But like all federal regulations, there are a lot of clever ways around many of them. There are an awful lot of things that you can bill straight back to the campaign. At the minimum, you can travel around your entire campaign region (which is national, if you’re running for President) on the campaign’s dime. And you can do it all in style: first class seats, luxury hotels, limousines, fine dining – the works.

It can build your name, fame, and brand. These are all highly valuable things, and they can also be translated into money: book deals, speaking fees, lobbying gigs, etc.

When you look at all the benefits, they’re actually pretty big.

A Bill by Any Other Name is Still a Turd

If you’re a political junkie, last Friday evening offered one of the most interesting bits of political theater to come along in a good while. At the very least, it’s the most interesting since Rand Paul’s filibuster against drone strikes two years ago. It might be the most interesting since the shenanigans that were pulled to pass ObamaCare.

It’s only fitting that Rand Paul is at the center of the show again. Although the conventional wisdom is quick to announce Paul’s latest filibuster a failure, the reality is that this one may actually succeed where the last one failed. Due to parliamentary rules, it is extremely unlikely that the Patriot Act will be renewed in its complete form. This is good news. Frankly, from looking at the parliamentary rules, it looks pretty likely to me that the bill will almost certainly expire, at least temporarily.

  • There’s almost no way to pass the bill without changes under the current deadlines and procedural situation.
  • For the same reasons, the only way that an amended bill could pass would be with Rand Paul’s support – support he may not give.
  • Once the bill expires, it faces the same political pressure that it’s currently under. Renewing it in full will be nearly impossible.
  • It’s not entirely clear that the political will exists to pass the bill again, even if it’s modified.

This is a good thing. Remember, the name that a bill is given bears little reflection on what’s actually in the bill. The Patriot act contains precious little patriotism. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act does little to protect patients and less to make their care affordable. Look, this is just the way Washington works. They slap whatever name they want on the bill to drum up your support for it. And then the bill itself does whatever it is that they actually want to do to screw us.

A bill by any other name is still a turd.

Just Say No to American Monarchy

americanmonarchyI have to admit to being absolutely flabbergasted that anybody is seriously considering voting for either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush. It’s not because Hillary is an untrustworthy lying elitist who pretends to be a strong, independent woman but who actually rose to prominence on her husband’s coattails and stood by the lying cod while he abused his position of authority with a twenty-something intern. It’s not because Jeb bush is a pot smoking prep school frat boy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has admitted that he’d repeat the same mistakes of his brother. All of this is true, and amazingly the voters don’t seem to care. Still, that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that once upon a time one of the world’s greatest men turned down a third term of office because he was afraid of establishing an American Monarchy. The real issue is that we fought an intercontinental war to rid ourselves of a monarchy. The real issue is that we enshrined in our constitution that no American should be given a title of nobility.

There is absolutely no excuse for any self respecting American to vote for either one of these candidates. As memorial day passes and we remember the honored dead, remember too what they fought for. Remember what they died for. Whatever your politics are, literally any of the big name candidates would be a better choice than either of these two. Whatever your current pet cause is, whatever item you think is the litmus test, whatever single issue is a deal breaker for you, remember that if we allow our nation to slip into dynastic rule, none of those things will matter and all of those choices will be taken away from you.

Just Say No to American Monarchy.

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

–Frank Herbert, Dune

To fans of classic science fiction the above quote is nothing new. And yet fifty years after Frank Herbert’s masterpiece was first published we find ourselves in a society where these words would be utterly alien. Fear is everywhere and ever present.

But fear truly is the mind killer. Fear kills us in tiny ways each and every day. Whether it keeps us from talking to the pretty girl, prevents us from starting that side business, stops us from asking for that raise, or causes us to flip out over “trigger warnings” fear is everywhere. Fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of a poor economy. Worst of all, today, seems to be the ever growing fear of “badthink” that is overtaking modern politics – the fear that somebody, somewhere doesn’t agree with all of the “right thinking things” that some group or other has declared is now ironclad.

Our modern society is becoming more and more fear driven every year. Every aspect of our lives is ruled by it.

Fight this. Face the fear. Let it pass through you. Face your life as your life and move forward.

Let There Be Incandescent Light

I have tried nearly every kind of light bulb out there. I was a very early adopter of compact fluorescent bulbs. Pay a bit more now for a bulb that lasts longer and uses less energy, thus saving a lot of money in the long run? What’s not to like?

Nearly everything, as it turns out. First, the bulbs were a lot more expensive than the plain old incandescent light bulbs. I spent a pretty decent amount of money to change everything out in my house. Second, after literally changing every single bulb in my house… the energy savings was far too small for me to pick it out of the noise in my month-to-month energy bills. I probably really was saving energy, but it was such a small amount that I couldn’t even prove it to myself. Hardly worth the time and effort. Third, there’s a bit of an annoyance factor with them because they take a bit to “warm up” and really come up to full light. Fourth, there’s a new environmental factor: disposing of them without leaving mercury traces everywhere.

But worst of all – by far – is that the light quality absolutely sucks. Now, most people don’t notice this – but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t bothered by it. Light quality has a huge subconscious effect on us. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real phenomenon, and the primary driver of it is light. A decent portion of that is physical – a lack of true sunlight causes vitamin D deficiencies. But some of it is purely mental. The visual quality of the light has a direct effect on our subconscious minds. This effect is also present in other forms of depression, not just SAD.

As it happens, depression runs in my family and in my wife’s family. SAD also runs in my family (and, although undiagnosed, probably in my wife’s family as well). So after dealing with shitty light for a few months, I made another sweep through my house later and threw out all of the compact fluorescent bulbs. I replaced them all with good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs again. Only this time, not the cheap ones. I paid a bit more for the good ones that were a bit fuller spectrum.And it made a difference. Not a huge one, but it was noticeable – more noticeable than the energy savings I was theoretically getting from more expensive light bulbs.

On occasion since then I’ve run similar experiments with newer technologies – although I’ve never since changed out the whole house without running smaller scale experiments first. I learned my lesson there. And I have yet to find a bulb that lives up to good old incandescent light.Until recently, it was hands down the price winner as well (ignoring energy costs). So I paid a bit more in energy, but saved on the bulbs. Even the more expensive full-spectrum incandescent bulbs were cheaper than the “high efficiency” bulbs. This became an even bigger deal when we moved into our current house. Something isn’t right in the house. It burns through light bulbs like no tomorrow. At the moment, there are at least nine light bulbs burned out in our house. And this is only in the last few weeks – we replace them frequently.Or, at least, we try to.

The problem is that some assholes in Washington (aka Congress) decided that for some reason this was in issue that just absolutely needed their input. And now the manufacture or import of incandescent bulbs is heavily regulated. The result is that the full spectrum bulbs we used to get now cost four times what they used to. At the rates that bulbs go out in our house, the price is killing us. We’re having to drop back to cheaper incandescents (which still cost twice what we used to pay for the more expensive ones).

I’m all for saving energy. I’m all for helping the environment. But I refuse to do so at the expense of my family’s mental health. Congress should never have placed this burden on us – and on you. Because whether you know it or not, this is effecting you at a subconscious level as well (the degree to which this effects people varies, but the effect is very real and well documented).

Saudi King Lays Groundwork for Civil War

My very strong opinion is that whatever his actual intentions, King Salman has just laid the groundwork for a Saudi civil war.

In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line.

Muqrin himself was only appointed “Deputy Crown Prince” just over a year ago, and became Crown Prince when King Abdullah died a few months ago. His appointment jumped him up the line, bypassing several senior princes. The circumstances of the appointment leave cause for doubt that everyone was happy with the situation:

The royal decree stated that King Abdullah had made his decision in cooperation with Salman, but it appears that the council was not called into session to participate in Muqrin’s selection. Instead, its members were polled individually, according to an April 1 tweet by Khalid bin Talal, son of Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz who is regarded as an independent-minded maverick within the royal family. Asked about this tweeted information, the Saudi academic wrote in an email, “It seems that what Khaled bin Talal tweeted is more realistic and is accurate in stating that members were consulted individually.”

[text bolded by me].

By accounts, 25% of the council opposed the vote. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the educated guess that it was, most likely, the princes skipped over by this appointment who were unhappy with it. Additionally, Muqrin held the post for about 13 months. Long enough to gain a bit of a power base, but not long enough to cement it. He is, however, a prince of the royal family, which means that he’d almost have to have a power base of his own before that.

bin Nayef, on the other hand, is recently appointed to the position and hence will also not have had much time to consolidate his power. Again, however, he is of the Saudi royal family, so there will be some built in power base there. But he’s also unlikely to have the time to consolidate a power base. King Salman is 79. How many years before he, too passes? His predecessor, King Abdullah, lived to 90. So perhaps another decade? Maybe a few years after that?

So two factions now exist for sure, each of which has an unconsolidated power base. Let’s not pretend for a minute that the princes who were passed over by these two aren’t interested in making a play themselves. And then recall that Saudi Arabia has only been a country since 1932 – a mere eighty three years since it was united by conquest. Don’t forget that there’s also an ongoing power struggle between those who would support the jihadis against the west and those who want to continue comfortably making money selling oil to the western world.

There’s no way to predict a timeline, but ultimately this only ends one way.