Corporations Should be Owned by People

Corporations should be owned by people. They should be owned by living, breathing people. But they’re not. As I mentioned yesterday, at least 67% of all outstanding US stocks are owned by institutional investors. This is a huge problem, and it’s a big part of why the economy of today feels so disconnected from the economy of our fathers – and even the economy of our own childhood.

This problem manifests in multiple ways. The first problem is, who’s in charge? For those who are unfamiliar with it, corporations are organized along a certain pattern that’s more or less universal. The day-to-day operations of the corporation are controlled by the officers of the corporation. These are people with titles like President and Vice President, and sometimes titles like Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Chief Operating Officer (COO). But you can’t rely on title alone, because sometimes those last three aren’t officers, they’re actually directors (more on them in a minute).

Officers make daily decisions. They’re often authorized to spend corporate money – within certain budgets and up to certain dollar amounts – on their own authority. They’re in charge of hiring people. At small corporations, the officers may make all of the hiring decisions. At larger corporations, they usually hire the top managers and grant them authority to higher lesser people. They set corporate policies. They set the overall goals and strategies. They control the organization of the corporation.

They also have legal responsibilities to the corporation in most states. If the books of the corporation are wrong, the officers can be held liable. If the corporation commits a crime, the officers might be held liable (maybe – this can be murky). They have legal duties, such as preparing stock reports and filing annual (sometimes quarterly) paperwork with the state.

But they can’t just do whatever they want. Officers are appointed by the board of directors. The board of directors makes the very high level decisions of a corporation. They hire officers – and fire them. They usually set the budgets that are available for officers to spend – dictating not only how much, but also the broad categories that the money should be spent on.

Finally, the directors are appointed by the shareholders. These are the people (ahem) who actually own the company. Shareholders meet at least once per year, and usually vote at each annual meeting on some number of the board of directors (some companies elect directors every year; some stagger the elections and have directors serve multi-year periods).

Although they usually exercise little day-to-day influence, shareholders have ultimate control over a corporation. If they don’t like the way a corporation is run, they have the power to change it. In theory, the board of directors acts as a stand-in for the shareholders. Ideally, the shareholders say they don’t like something, the directors tell the officers to fix it, it gets fixed. In extreme cases, the shareholders fire the directors and appoint new ones and the new directors fire the officers and appoint new ones, and then something gets done.

But what happens when the shares aren’t owned by individuals anymore? When, instead, those shares are owned by mutual funds and investment firms? Mutual funds and investment firms are very different, but at the core, both of them pool money from multiple contributors and invest the larger pot of money as one. There can be a lot of advantages to this, but that’s a post for another day.

The relevant point is this: when you put your money in a mutual fund or another kind of pooled investment, you’re almost always also signing way proxy rights to any investments bought with that money. What does that mean, exactly? Think of each share as a vote in shareholder meetings (the most important vote being the selection of the board of directors). When you put your money into a mutual fund, the director of that fund now has the right to cast your votes for you on any stocks bought by that mutual fund.

So, for example, as of this writing, Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund controls 3,089,008,230 of stock (1.64%) in The Walt Disney Company. The director of that group has a larger say in the selection of Disney’s board of directors than any individual person does. In fact, he has more than twice the say of the top five largest individual shareholders in Disney – combined.

Who the hell is the director of the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund? I don’t know. I didn’t choose him. Even if you own that fund (which is a hugely popular fund, so you might), you didn’t choose him, either. Unlike most mutual fund directors, he doesn’t even keep or lose his job based on earning profits – this is an index fund, so the investments he makes with it are almost automatic.

But most of the others who have large votes were “chosen” because their funds make money, by thousands of individual investors who have absolutely no idea what’s being done with the money they’ve invested.

When corporations are owned by people, those people have an exposure to the company’s activities. If they don’t like the way a corporation is operating, they can direct the board to change it. But in this case, who get’s to make that choice? Not the founders of the company. Not the people. Not even a handful of rich bastards who own most of it with their own money. No, the decisions are made by a handful of rich bastards who bought most of it with your money.

These people have no skin in the game. They get their (very high, often in the millions of dollars) salaries for managing the mutual funds whether or not it makes a profit. And it’s not uncommon for them to get seven figure bonuses even when the funds lose money. The company does something illegal or unethical? These guys get to shrug and point out that their only legal requirement is to make their clients money. Then they go live the high life.

Who watches the watchmen? In a word, nobody. Our corporations aren’t owned by people anymore. But they should be.

Nobody Owns Big Corporations

bigcorporationsFor the first time in years, Slate has published an article that’s actually worth reading. I’ll get to it because it helsp make the larger point I want to make today. But first, a question.

Who are the elites who own the biggest corporations in America?

Whoops. It’s a trick question. The answer, believe it or not, is largely nobody. That’s right – nobody owns most of the world’s biggest corporations. Nobody.

Hold that thought, because we’re coming back to it. Our excerpt from Slate is from an article that purports to show why bank fees are so high. Ignore that part – it’s a side issue; a distraction. The important point is this:

Because numerous banks exist in most markets, the HHI for banks is quite low, and that is why economists have thought of the banking industry as competitive, and the prices as presumptively fair. However, Azar and his co-authors make an important observation: While many banks exist, different banks are frequently owned by the same entities. If 100 banks exist, but they are all owned by just a few institutional investors, then competition may be low rather than high.

Imagine, for example, that your neighborhood is served by six banks—JP Morgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, and PNC Bank. You might think that these banks—which happen to be six of the the largest U.S. banks—would compete vigorously for your deposits. However, it turns out that the biggest shareholders of these banks are, roughly, the same companies: BlackRock, Vanguard, State Street, Fidelity, Wellington, and Berkshire Hathaway. These institutional investors earn profits by owning shares in other companies and managing shares owned by their clients.

[Emphasis added]

That’s right – all of the large banks are actually owned primarily by institutional investors. Let’s take a look at one of those corporations – we’ll just pick the very first one, JPMorgan Chase. As of this writing, JPM has 3.8 billion shares outstanding, valued at roughly $59 a piece, for a total market cap of $224 billion dollars (actually a tad less than that because I rounded; but close enough). That’s a big company, no doubt.

But here are some interesting factoids. There are no individual investors who own more than 5% of the company. The largest individual shareholder owns 3,148,451. To be sure, that holding is valued at around $180 million dollars – a hell of a lot of money. But it’s also less than 0.1% of the entire company. In fact, the top five insiders and largest shareholders combined control only 4,210,264 shares – or 0.11% of the entire company. That’s right – no single individual owns a controlling interest in the company. Not one.

In fact, there’s only one investor who does own a controlling interest, and that’s not an individual. It’s The Vanguard Group – an investment firm. In fact, a full 76% of the company is owned by institutional investors: investment firms, mutual funds, etc.

What about those funds? Where do they come from? Much smaller pools of money invested by individual investors – the vast majority invested by very small time investors, typically in the form of retirement accounts.

Big Banks aren’t alone. Big corporations across the globe are largely owned by these same institutional investors. As of 2010, 67% of US publicly traded corporations were owned by institutional investors – and that number has been steadily rising since for decades. In the 1950s, only about 7 or 8% of US publicly traded corporations were owned by institutional investors.

Later this week I’ll be discussing why this is not only bad, it’s very bad. As it turns out, this has a ton of consequences on how our economy, culture, and even our political system runs today. But for now, take a moment and let it sink in.

A Green Knight Christmas

"Swan Knight's Son" by John C. Wright is now available!
“Swan Knight’s Son” by John C. Wright is now available!

I received a surprise Christmas gift this year, and it happened to be one of the best that I’ve ever been given. Mr. John C. Wright sent me the first twenty-two chapters of his current work in progress, “Green Knight’s Squire.” I forced myself to finish the book I was already reading first, knowing that I might not make it back to it if I allowed myself to be interrupted. And then, of course, Christmas itself hit with all of its obligatory time commitments. So it took a little bit before I was able to sit down and properly enjoy what I’d been sent.

I have now finished reading the story as it was sent to me. And I must share that even in its current incomplete form, Mr. Wright has accomplished something truly special here. Now, if you’ve read this blog for any time then you know that I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wright’s work. But what Mr. Wright sent me this Christmas is far more than just a wonderful story – although it is that. It’s far more than a mere few hours of solid entertainment – although it’s definitely that. It carries more than beautiful prose, interesting characters, and memorable lines – although it has all of that in spades.

The manuscript that Mr. Wright sent me this Christmas will be placed next to George Washington’s Rules on Civility, the Fear is the Mindkiller poem, and the “What every boy needs to know about being a man speech” as, well, the lessons I give my boys in what they need to know about manhood. More than that, this story made me face up to my own shortcomings as a man and double down on attempts to do better in the years to come.

I am very excited to see the final version of this tale, and to see the rest of the series as it unfolds. And I’m very grateful to have been given this early sneak peak at it.

Update (8/29/16): The final version, Swan Knight’s Son, is now available on Amazon!

Technology Will Not Solve Privacy Issues

Harvard Law School professor and quixotic Democratic presidential candidate Lawrence Lessig thinks that future technology will solve our privacy issues.

The average cost per user of a data breach is now $240 … think of businesses looking at that cost and saying “What if I can find a way to not hold that data, but the value of that data?” When we do that, our concept of privacy will be different. Our concept so far is that we should give people control over copies of data. In the future, we will not worry about copies of data, but using data. The paradigm of required use will develop once we have really simple ways to hold data. If I were king, I would say it’s too early. Let’s muddle through the next few years. The costs are costly, but the current model of privacy will not make sense going forward.

If I ping a service, and it tells me someone is over 18, I don’t need to hold that fact. … The level of security I have to apply … [is not] the same [that] would be required if I was holding all of this data on my servers. This will radically change the burden of security that people will have.

He’s wrong.

Back in the nineties and early aughts when the Internet was a new and wondrous beast, all of us in the tech sector believed that technology would open up society. The internet would make everyone anonymous. File sharers and pirates couldn’t be caught – but also, free speech would reign supreme and everyone could speak their mind without fear of reprisal. Web sites would give a voice to the little people, and big corporations couldn’t compete in the data sphere.

We were wrong.

What we forgot – or never knew in the first place because we were young and naive – is that technology isn’t the decisive factor in society. Human beings are. And human beings, in aggregate, are ridiculously predictable.

“People can violate the law all they want to on the Internet, because nobody can track them!” we thought. Until the government decided to get serious about it and start tracking people.

“We can say what we want without fear of the government reading it – nobody has the resources to track it back to us!” we thought. Until the NSA proved that they do have the resources to do exactly that.

“Big corporations won’t be able to lock down their data! Data wants to be free!” we thought. Until DRM and the DMCA came about.

“We can say what we want in this big free speech paradise!” we thought. Until SJWs started doxxing people and getting them fired over social media posts.

Technology will not solve the privacy problem because big corporations and big government don’t want you to have any privacy. They want all your data to be easily accessible. Standards like Lessig describes, where corporations discard your data after they’ve made use of it, won’t catch on for the simple fact that they don’t want to discard your data.

If they wanted to, they already could. There’s no reason they have to keep most of it around already. They do it because they want your data. Big government or big corporation, it makes no difference. They want to know everything about you. Big government wants to market to you in every possible way. Big government wants to milk every penny of tax revenue and regulatory compliance they can from you. Neither cares if this is to your benefit or not.

Privacy will not improve until the people who have the power to improve it want to improve it. This is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Entering the Space Age

While I absolutely agree with FuturePundit that we are not yet in the space age, I do disagree with him about what it will take to get there.

We entered the jet age decades ago. To enter a space age in the same sense in which we entered the jet age would require much cheaper energy to power the rockets, better propulsion systems for moving between planets, and an assortment of technological advances to make a space colony viable on another planet or moon. So we aren’t in the space age yet.

No, I’m not sure that we do need any of these technologies. At the $100 per pound price point that he describes earlier in the article, a lot of things already begin to change. The energy systems we have are actually incredibly cheap. The propulsion technology that we have is fine. We basically have most of the tech that we actually need to make colonies viable on other planets.

What we don’t have at all is space infrastructure. I hinted at this some with a few throwaway lines in “The Fourth Fleet,” but there’s a whole lot more detail that could be had. As Robert Heinlein famously said, once you’re in orbit you’re halfway to anywhere.

To put it more simply: the amount of energy it takes to get into low Earth orbit (LEO) is staggeringly huge. But once you’re there, it takes a whole lot less energy to go anywhere else. Note that the same general statement applies if you’re leaving any other planet or moon.

At $100 a pound, a lot of things become economically feasible that haven’t been in the past. And some of the most important things that become feasible are infrastructure. Right now, there is absolutely no infrastructure for doing anything outside of LEO – and there’s not really much infrastructure in place for LEO, either.

Start with LEO, where there actually is some infrastructure. NORAD is there to track everything around you and alert you to dangers. In a sense, there’s a kind of rudimentary “air traffic control” there. But it’s very rudimentary, and that’s not really it’s mission. Existing GPS units probably don’t, but one could build GPS receivers that provide adequate services in LEO. The GPS satellites orbit in geosynchronous orbits that are far higher, so you’d still be able to work the math out right. And there’s at least one orbital space station up there right now, even though its capacity is trivial.

Outside of LEO there’s none of that. No orbital stations, no navigational systems, no traffic control, no debris tracking. Nevermind all the other infrastructure you’d want for true solar system exploration. What kinds of things would you want?

  • Navigational systems, as I mentioned above. Ideally you’d want satellites in position to give precise navigation throughout the entire solar system. That’s not happening for a long time, though. In the shorter term you’d want an array of satellites that would provide accurate positioning on the moon, Mars, and the moons of Mars. Something that could give you accurate positioning between Earth and the moon, and also between Earth and Mars would also be nice – although the latter would be far more ambitious than the former.
  • Orbital stations. These are essential. You’d need them for refueling and resupply (more on this in a minute), transferring to other vessels (more on this in a minute, too), layover stops, and even tourist destinations in their own right.
  • Regular supply runs to the orbital stations. Remember, you don’t have to carry everything you need with you on the same vessel that you leave on yourself. To borrow FuturePundit’s own analogy, why take your food with you on your space shuttle when it would be far cheaper to ship it up separately on cargo-only supply vessels? Anything that doesn’t have to be human rated is going to be far cheaper to launch.
  • Specialized Ferry Vessels. Continuing that thought, why would you travel all the way to the moon on the same vessel you used to get to LEO? You wouldn’t – that’s not efficient at all. What you’d want to do is use a booster of some kind to get up to an orbital station in LEO, then you’d transfer to another vessel – say, an Earth/Moon ferry – for the trip to another station orbiting the moon. Need to land? You’d change vessels again to shuttle down to the surface. Specialized construction of the vessels makes them a far cheaper to construct, test, build and launch.
  • Orbital Construction Yards. Why build it on the Earth and then launch it? You run into massive size restrictions as you hit maximum capacity of existing boosters. And with all current tech, there’s a certain size booster that hits maximum price efficiency for a launch. Use those boosters and launch the raw materials. Manufacture the craft in space. But to do this, you need orbital construction capabilities.
  • Non-Terran Supply Sources. Why get all your supplies from Earth? Blasting ten tons of fuel up into LEO is expensive! Why not go mine some asteroids and process the fuel in space? If you run unmanned vehicles out and use them to haul the asteroids back for processing, the amount of fuel necessary is far less than trying to launch it from here. But again, you need regular suppliers out there doing it. And you also need…
  • Orbital Processing Facilities to process the raw materials you harvest from asteroids into usable substances like water and fuel.
  • Orbital Food Production. If you have water and energy, you can grow your own food in space or on colonies. No need to ship it from Earth.

None of this has happened yet, but all of it could happen with currently existing tech. We don’t need any major science breakthroughs. The only thing we’re really missing is the key to all of it: reliable, regular, and affordable transit to Low Earth Orbit. $100 a pound is still expensive. But it’s a price point at which some or all of the things listed above will begin to be built, because there will be a market for them. As more of the things above come online, more entrepreneurs will step up to begin creating the others – and charging for them.At $100 a pound, a person could take a trip to LEO for about the price of an average car. That’s a price that’s still too high for people to take regular trips. But an awful lot of people – not rich people, but moderately affluent – would pay to make that trip once or twice in their lifetimes. And remember: the key to cheaper LEO transit is not the propulsion technology. Fuel is a very small portion of the cost of a rocket launch. It’s primarily human factors. As the launches become more frequent, they will also become cheaper. This was the original promise of the Space Shuttle – a promise that was never delivered upon. But this wasn’t a flaw in our current engineering capabilities or known science. It was the fact that government employees and contractors, given the chance, always opted to make everything more expensive rather than cheaper. As for-profit businesses become sustainable, they’ll be looking for every way possible to cut costs.I don’t expect to see all of the above items in my lifetime. But I do expect to see at least some of them forming. As FuturePundit notes, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 should get the price point down to $250 per pound. I suspect that within 10 years that price will cut in half again – if not by SpaceX then by somebody else. And again in another 10 years.Key point: the technology industry didn’t witness massive price/performance changes because tech was improving so fast. OK, that was part of it. But the bigger reason was that it started out as an incredibly immature industry. Look at what Ford did to the price of automobiles. Space is likewise an immature industry. When it begins to grow, look for it to explode

Will the GOP Split?

Franklin Graham, President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and son of the more famous Billy Graham, has announced that he’s leaving the Republican Party.

Prominent evangelical leader Franklin Graham has quit the Republican Party because the omnibus spending bill passed last week in Congress will continue to fund Planned Parenthood.

Graham, who declared himself an independent in a lengthy Facebook post on Monday, said, “I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or Tea Party to do what is best for America. Unless more godly men and women get in this process and change this wicked system, our country is in for trouble.”

The coalition that makes up the Republican Party has been fracturing lately, finding themselves at great odds. There are at least three major groups within the party: social conservatives, neoconservatives, and the business wing – with further, smaller factions (the libertarian wing, etc) filling in the gaps. Recently it seems that these wings are finding little to agree on.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that what’s currently happening is a generation gap in politics. The Baby Boomers are on the decline as a percentage of the overall population and Generation X has started to exert its political power. But as with everything else, the Baby Boomers aren’t letting go easily. As the only generation I’m aware of that’s successfully fought intergenerational wars against both their parents and their children, don’t look to them to relinquish the reins to their children anytime soon.

Is a GOP split imminent? Many people I talk to seem to think it is. It’s happened before in American politics – but don’t get too excited. If there is a GOP split, it’s far more likely that one of the new parties will replace the GOP than it is that we’ll end up with a three party system in the long run. Game theory tells us that our “first past the post” voting system virtually guarantees that in the long run we’ll stabilize on two parties.

And Democrats? Don’t get cocky. The only reason this isn’t happening to you is because a Democrat sits in the White House right now. But over the next 8 years, you’re facing the same issue.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016The Force Awakens was a very surreal experience for me, and explaining my opinions on the film require a bit of a preface.

I’ve never known a world without Star Wars. I was born in 1978 – a little more than a year after the release of A New Hope. My earliest movie memory is watching The Empire Strikes Back in theaters. I barely remember it. I grew up watching the films on my parents’ old Betamax VCR. It’s a wonder I didn’t wear the tapes out from watching them so often. I certainly wore out my sister’s patience.

When the special editions were released in theaters in the late 90s, I was right there – lining up early for prime showings, huge crowds of friends with me. I had a Jedi costume that I’d put together a few years prior – a large group of my high school friends had done a Star Wars themed Halloween one year, and I picked Obi-Wan.

I wore that costume again when I camped out for the prequels. I was literally the second person in line at our local theater for The Phantom Menace. For a long time I had ticket stub #4 to prove it (the gentlemen with me bought three tickets). By morning, we had attracted rather a crowd – including a father and son who had flown in from Ireland so that they could catch the film on the US release date instead of the European release date.

Despite my disappointment with The Phantom Menace, I camped out for the other prequels as well. My not-yet-wife even joined me in line for Revenge of the Sith. And I have to say – watching all three of those movies was an absolute blast, despite all three being ultimately disappointing. It’s hard not to have fun when you’re with a crowd that enthusiastic.

This time around there was no camping. My wife and I have three young children. The oldest might have been old enough to take out with us for it, but it would’ve been a stretch. Camping would have required childcare. Also, forgive me here, but what’s the point? With online ticket purchasing, there’s no reason to camp out in line to get the first tickets anymore.

However, I did get to see it in a great group. My very awesome boss bought out an entire theater for our company. We had to wait until Saturday morning, but I also brought my two older children. The youngest stayed with Grandpa for the morning, which he loved.

So the actual experience of watching the film was a bit surreal. This was the first Star Wars since 1983 that I hadn’t camped out for, that I wasn’t at the absolute first showing for. And I was there with friends and coworkers – all very excited – but it still lacked the energy of those over-the-top fans.

And then, the movie itself. It’s true what they say – you can’t go home again. For me, the movie lacked both the freshness of the original (I never knew a world without Star Wars – but I’ve watched enough pre-1977 movies to know just how much Star Wars changed film) and the pent up anticipation of the prequels. Unlike The Phantom Menace, it hadn’t been 20 years since the last film in the series.

Also, it wasn’t George Lucas anymore. My final opinion is that this is both good and bad, but there was a very different feel to the films. Say what you want about the prequels, they definitely have a sense of feel that they share with the original films. To me, that was a bit jarring. This Star Wars is different.

So what do I think of the film? There’s a lot to like in it. It’s the Star Wars that a lot of fans wanted. But it’s also not a perfect film, and it’s not quite the Star Wars that I wanted. It took me all weekend to decide what I ultimately think of the film, and at the end of the day my verdict is still unsatisfying – because my opinion of this film ultimately depends on what they do with the rest of this new trilogy. Tentatively, I give it a thumbs up – a strong thumbs up. But this film leaves enough unresolved that the next two films could actually greatly ruin this one if they’re not handled properly.

A more spoilerific analysis is below the jump.

Spoilers Below

On Monday morning I finally nailed exactly what it was that bothered me about the film. When I say that, realize that I’d laid out a bunch of issues to my wife literally as soon as the drive home. But those things were small potatoes (more about them below), and I knew they weren’t really why the film didn’t quite settle right with me. They were all things that I could easily overlook.

What really bothered me about the film – and still does, to a degree – is the male leads. With the exception of Poe Dameron, the awesome fighter pilot (and he is awesome – one of the better characters in a movie that really nails characters), every single male lead in this film is running away from something. Not in a physical sense (although there is that, too) but in a moral sense. However, in each case there are mitigating circumstances, and this allows me to move past this and like the film – if and only if they handle the third one correctly in the next films.

First: Finn. His is the most excusable and the most honest, and he was the easiest character in the film for me to like. First he’s running from the First Order. He’s seen too much, he’s had enough, and he wants out. Then he’s running from the Resistance as well. He doesn’t want anything to do with that. He also, however, has the quickest and easiest redemption from this flaw. When Rey is in trouble, he turns around and heads right back into the fray.

Second: Han Solo. Everyone’s favorite rogue begins the movie after having run away from his son. I can see it with the character, but as a father it just doesn’t sit right with me. When your kids are in trouble, you don’t just run away from them. Mitigating this, however, is the consideration… what do you do when your son basically turns into Darth Vader? Especially if you’re really just this ordinary guy? What could he honestly have done? Also, at every point in the movie where people are in danger, Han runs into danger to help them – not away from it. This is a substantial character growth from the first trilogy. More importantly, Han gets the biggest redemption of all the male leads. Look at his face when he steps out on that bridge. He knows damn well what’s about to happen to him, yet he goes out there anyway.

Third: The elephant in the room, Luke Skywalker. The only living Jedi in the galaxy, with the responsibility to reform the order and continue it. This guy literally carries the weight of the galaxy on his shoulders – and as soon as the going gets tough, he sets it down. The movie strongly implies two different reasons why he disappeared. It’s stated at one point that he left after one of his students lost it and killed all the others – he simply couldn’t handle it anymore. It’s also stated, at another point, that he left to seek out answers from the first Jedi temple.

It’s possible that both reasons are correct. Indeed, real people rarely do anything for just one reason. We’re not that simple. But to me, everything for this film hinges on how they handle Skywalker in the rest of the trilogy. If they put the emphasis on that first reason – he just couldn’t handle it – then I’m done. I get it. It’s realistic. But it’s not heroic, and I’m not interested in having my childhood heroes further deconstructed. But if the put the emphasis on the second – that he’s searching for answers, trying to figure out how to fix everything… that I can buy. It’s not my favorite way of doing it, but I can live with it.

Once I understood that that was my main issue, I can give this movie a tentative thumbs up. Oh, it has other issues. The near carbon copy of A New Hope‘s story, the my-penis-is-bigger-than-yours bigger, badder “Death Star,” how do Rey and Finn manage to avoid cutting off their own limbs despite no training with a lightsaber?

But it also has some strong stuff in it. The original trilogy is about a son confronting his evil father, trying to bring him to redemption. The way they flipped that on its head and made it about a father confronting his evil son… that’s powerful. Unfortunately, it’s also criminally underused, and that is the reason I’m bothered that they killed Han Solo. That theme would’ve been better developed over the entire trilogy. On the other hand, Harrison Ford is old. So maybe they did what they needed to do. Also, it gave us the really bad-ass moment of Chewie going berserker, and that was epic.

Also, the one thing that this film absolutely did not do was repeat the mistakes of the prequels. The mistakes that it has are its own, and the filmmakers did learn.

Ultimately this is a film that I definitely want to see again, and it leaves me with hope for the rest of this trilogy. At the same time… I didn’t leave it with the same love that I have for the original trilogy.

But that’s probably something that no new Star Wars could ever recapture.

There IS War!

There Will Be War: Volume X
There Will Be War: Volume X

There Will Be War: Volume X is now available from Amazon! I’m very honored to have my story, “The Fourth Fleet,” included in this collection and I can only hope that readers find it as worthy as the rest. I just got my author’s copy yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to read the other stories yet – but I’m definitely looking forward to it!

Four Way Race in November?

Headline at CNN: “Bernie Sanders and the DNC: It’s War.

But the fight is about much more than a technical breach. It’s a battle over the future of the Democratic Party with Sanders representing a progressive wing disenchanted with Clinton and a party establishment it feels is enabling her.

Things have gotten bad enough that other Democratic senators are encouraging the Bern to run as an independent:

With Trump still waffling about an independent run… are we looking at the possibility of a four way race? Clinton, Sanders, Trump and either Cruz or Rubio? It’s happened before, even if it was 104 years ago. Interestingly enough, that one involved another self-style “progressive.” Granted, Teddy Roosevelt’s idea of progressivism was substantially different than The Bern’s.

If it does end up as a four way race, I’ve got a dollar that says it goes to the House of Representatives.