Monday, May 30, 2016

A Day for Reverence

The word “holiday” comes from “holy day.” Sometimes we forget the underlying sacred meanings of our special days, as they become an extra day off work or school. But I’m trying to honor the meaning of Memorial Day with this post.

Memorial Day is the day we remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives for our country’s freedom. Each one is a life cut short, but forever meaningful.

I love the way they are honored at Arlington Cemetery—every day. These photos were from our trip there in September 2014.

As with many other holidays, there are songs that remind us of the meaning. So I’m sharing a couple of those today. This first one came up on Facebook, and I like both the song and the visual tribute. The person who posted said the photos represented three separate funerals he attended—one was the son of a dear friend.

This next one I came across a few years ago, linked in a post about the true meaning of Memorial Day. The song is old, and more often used in the UK than here. But it was written to honor those sacrificed in war. Because of the sacredness of the words, it is by tradition, never practiced or performed publicly, but only performed at funerals for those lost in war. It’s hauntingly beautiful, and I go back to it on Memorial Days now.

Also mentioned in that same piece is an ongoing series called IGTNT (I Got the News Today), honoring the fallen ones, one at a time. Worth checking out.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Let Us Reason Together*

I heard a couple of opinions this past week that gave me pause. One was from a news program on a BBC station. The story was about a particular sect that performed exorcisms on children who were misbehaving. The practice looked very much like abuse—probably was, by every definition. There were interviews with young people who had suffered through such practices in their childhood. It was a particular story, a particular sect. Rare. Uncommon. Almost unheard of, which I guess is what made it interesting enough for a news story.

One of the news commentators at the end of the story said, “And that’s why religion is so dangerous.”

The other item was from an online seminar, generally about positive thinking. But it lost me when the interviewee said that, because some Muslims are violent terrorists, that is why organized religion is a bad thing.

People are entitled to their opinions. Even when they’re wrong. But they don’t get credit for being logical when they’re not.

Mistakes in a tiny portion of a particular, uncommon, obscure religion do not mean that all religions and religious people are in the wrong.

And evil among a small but scary portion of a worldwide religion (which is not even what you’d call “organized” in the sense we use it for religion) does not negate the good among all the other religions in the world.

Logic is math. So let’s set up the problem.

Let’s call the set of all religions R. And we’ll label the particular sect S. S is part of the set of R. S does not make up all of R, only a very small portion. S is always R. But R is rarely S. It is therefore inaccurate at best to say, if S is bad, then all R is bad.

For a non-math analogy, you might look at sorting apples. Every now and then you find a bad apple. You can cull it and toss it. Or you can say, “Because there’s a bad apple in the basket, all apples are bad, and we should throw out the whole basket.” If you choose the latter, then you never get to enjoy the basketful of good apples.

While we’re reasoning together, let’s ask the question, Do we need religion?

I believe we do—as an essential element in civilization. Civilization requires a critical mass of people who honor God, life, family, honesty, and property—those are the basic categories covered in the Ten Commandments, and are pretty easily agreed to by any civilized people.

Honoring God is essential for comprehending where our rights as human beings come from. If we do not have any inherent right to life, liberty, and property, which God has granted us, then we have only what the current tyranny—benevolent or, more likely, malevolent—deigns to grant us.

Without God, there are no rights. Government should be for the express purpose of protecting those rights, and leave everything else to the free people.

You can live a moral life among moral people even as a nonbeliever. Still, we need a critical mass purposely living lives dedicated to good, in order to have a thriving civilization.

I won’t solve the God versus reason debate here, in a blog post. But I do believe it is more reasonable to believe in God than not to.

Christianity and science are opposed… but only in the same sense as that which my thumb and forefinger are opposed—and between them I can grasp anything.—Sir William Bragg, Nobel Prize for Physics (1915)
I will claim that religion—the search for truth and the earnest striving toward goodness—is more likely to yield civilization than the random whims of self-dedicated individuals.

I got to take a look at civilization—and civilizations past—this past week. I was in London. My first trip there. I spent a lot of time doing tourist things: sight-seeing, going to museums. And I’m fascinated by the various appearances of beauty in art and architecture.

While the Spherical Model talks about Civilization, Freedom, and Prosperity—the northern hemisphere goal—as a destination, in actual life, we find pockets of the good often surrounded by the decay of tyranny, poverty, and savagery. But where we find beauty, historically it’s likely to connect to a time when people were thinking, reasoning, and seeking the Good.

I was in the British Museum, and the Rosetta Stone is one of the first exhibits to draw you in. Photos were difficult, because of the glass surround and the lights causing reflections. But that got me thinking about writing in general. I love seeing the various examples of ancient writing. Some of it was mundane, such as a receipt for goods. Others were more monumental, such as describing the life and battles of various royalty. It’s miraculous when it has survived. Writing is probably a necessity for civilization, for passing along information and thinking.

I was looking at ancient Assyrian and Egyptian works, and then there was a doorway into the Greek room. It was like walking into light, or enlightenment. The art was more realistic, less stiff, more for the purpose of beauty than other purposes, such as honoring or impressing through monument, although many were depictions of either eminent people or their gods and mythological beings.

Since we can also read the philosophy and thinking from this time period, it’s not surprising we keep looking back to this particular civilization.

I was interested in the dates, because some very accurate, detailed art happened very long ago, in various places.

When you study art from early Renaissance through the 19th Century, you see a progression from stiff to more lifelike, better perspective, more natural movement and accurate nature. But, while it is a progression, it isn’t always continuous. There were times when art was lifelike, with the grace and movement we recognize as beauty, long before this latest millennium.

The Tower of London was one of my favorite sites. There’s so much contrast there. The artisanship and art that went into armor, weapons, and displays—like the carved horses in the Parade of Kings—are pretty amazing. And then you can visit the dungeon torture chamber. There’s a pub nearby called the Hung, Drawn, and Quartered, named after that practice. Beheadings were common—we saw the location—and heads were put on pikes along London Bridge. The savage seemed quite content next to the civilized and beautiful.

We toured the Globe Theater, which is a relatively new reproduction of Shakespeare’s theater. The original was built on “the wrong side of the river,” where plenty of uncivilized behavior took place. And boisterous crowds packed in, in Shakespeare’s day, to watch, and call out loudly and participate from the audience. Food and drinks were sold during the show, like we see today at baseball games. And yet the beauty of the plays themselves lets us know, people could write and think and understand long before internet and keyboards were available to help out.

We saw churches, but they tend to be old—very old, and picturesque. And some of them definitely worth exploring for their history and beauty. We toured St. Paul’s Cathedral—which is where the song “Feed the Birds” comes up in Mary Poppins. A church has stood on that site for 1300 years. That’s about a millennium longer than anything built in the US.

The final few days we stayed near Kensington Park, and walking the neighborhood there revealed a number of churches—all old. One was a synagogue, also old. Some churches had long since been turned into other uses. There seems to be a reverence for the past, and the history, even though maybe not so much for God in current daily lives.

There’s so much about the city that tells of longtime civilization. It’s not forgotten. 

There’s still some traditional special feeling about royalty, but in general the class system has moved toward the egalitarianism we have in America. I think that is our influence for good.

People there are from everywhere. I heard more languages than I could identify, just about everywhere we went. And a lot of African and Indian accents (and others) among the variations of British. I enjoy that variety. I noticed no racism—except in news stories that seemed to try to bring it up more than necessary. (I’ve seen that in our media as well.)

People in London seem to me generally good, friendly. Helpful when I was lost on the underground. It is goodness in people that is key. Even with decay around, a people whose hearts long for goodness, truth, and beauty, civilization hangs on. I’m glad it’s still there for visitors like me.

Civilization is always worth preserving—and restoring.

*Isaiah 1: “17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow./ 18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Texas Plan

The US Constitution has been amended 27 times. Each of these times, the method has been that Congress passes the amendment, and then three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendment. This is a slow and arduous process. On purpose.

There is another method available, according to the Constitution. Here’s the entirety of Article V of the Constitution, with the relevant option highlighted:

Article V
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.
This method, called an Article V Convention, or sometimes a “Convention of States” to propose amendments, is not the same as a “Constitutional Convention.” The latter would be open to rewriting any and all of the Constitution. The Article V Convention would be a call for amending the Constitution in some specific way. It could handle more than one amendment, but only those that the states have called for and have authorized their representatives to discuss. It would be equivalent to Congress presenting a bill to amend the Constitution in one particular way at a time—and if the bill passed, then sending it to the states for the ratification process. Each amendment would require 34 of the 50 states to ratify it before it would take effect.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott
Uncommon Knowledge interview at
Texas Public Policy Foundation
Governor Greg Abbott, of Texas, recently did an Uncommon Knowledge interview, talking about his version, which he calls the Texas Plan. He answers questions about the need for it, the scope, and other concerns.

One concern has been that a convention could get out of hand. But Governor Abbot says that is easily handled by having the states agree beforehand on both the limitation of subject matter and the limitation of time for the ratification process. The states give no authority to deal with issues not previously authorized. And they would agree to a time limit, something like ten years, for the states to handle the ratification.

Governor Abbott explains, “The Texas Plan is not so much a vision to alter the Constitution as it is a call to restore the rule of our current one.” Near the end of the interview, he is quoted from the Texas Plan, saying, “The Constitution itself is not broken. What is broken is our nation’s willingness to obey the Constitution.” So the purpose of all this is to adjust course back to the Constitution.

Governor Abbott’s plan offers these specific possible amendments:

1.       Prohibit Congress from regulating activity that occurs wholly within one State.
2.       Require Congress to balance its budget.
3.       Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from creating federal law.
4.       Prohibit administrative agencies—and the unelected bureaucrats that staff them—from preempting state law.
5.       Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
6.       Require a seven-justice super-majority vote for U.S. Supreme Court decisions that invalidate a democratically enacted law.
7.       Restore the balance of power between the federal and state governments by limiting the former to the powers expressly delegated to it in the Constitution.
8.       Give state officials the power to sue in federal court when federal officials overstep their bounds.
9.       Allow a two-thirds majority of the States to override a federal law or regulation.

In the interview, likely amendments are summarized into three categories: Balanced Budget, Term Limits, and Limiting the Commerce Clause.

Another way to look at the list is addressing the deviations from the Constitution by all three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Dealing with the legislative problems (and the Commerce clause), Governor Abbott says this:

What percentage of laws you live under from the federal government are actually even voted on by Congress? The answer is about 6%. About 94% of all the laws, rules, and regulations governing your lives are never even voted on by the people you elect to represent you in Washington, DC. That goes back, and violates a rule that even predates the United States of America Congress. If you go back to John Locke, and maybe even before Locke, it talks about the compact between the people and those they elect to represent them. And the people you elect to represent you are accountable to you. You should be able to hire and fire them based upon what they do.
That’s not how our government works. The laws that we live under are passed by unaccountable, unelected bureaucrats who run the EPA, the IRS—all these alphabet soup federal government agencies. I think that’s wrong, and what I propose is that no agency rule has any binding effect unless and until it is voted on by the United States Congress.
The legislative branch has ceded its lawmaking authority to the executive branch. Governor Abbott says, about these executive branch bureaucracies,

They make the law; they adjudicate the law; and they enforce the law. That was defined by Madison as tyranny itself. Our federal government has transformed into the very definition of tyranny by Madison, by having all three branches of government consigned into one, and that one branch is unelectable and unaccountable.
The solution, he says, it to have every agency regulation null and void until it is passed by legislative vote.

Because Governor Abbott was a state supreme court justice, followed by more than a decade as Texas Attorney General, suing the federal government and standing up to the bullying, he is especially effective talking about the overreach of the US Supreme Court. Here’s part of the interview:

Peter Robinson: The Texas Plan and the Supreme Court. I’m going to quote you from that 92-page document…. “The Supreme Court was for the most part able to control its ambitions for the first 170 years of our nation’s history. But in modern America, the policy preferences of five robed unelected septuagenarians will trump even the most politically popular legislation on any topic—from voting rights to abortion to religion to speech to criminal procedure to guns to healthcare to the environment.” I read that, and I thought, that’s the angriest sentence in this document. It’s the Supreme Court that really gets you, doesn’t it?
Governor Abbott: If you think that’s angry, you need to read this book. [holds up Broken but Unbowed, a book he has just written] I’ve got a lot more in there, where I fully expose the Supreme Court for what it has become….
Let me ask a question:… How many votes does it take to amend the Constitution? The audience knows the answer here. Most people think, well, it’s two thirds of the House and then three-fourths of the states. The fact is, the Constitution is amended every single year by five votes, of five liberal judges, sitting on the United States Supreme Court. If Madison and Hamilton saw that happening, they would never have created the system that we have now.
If we can’t trust our representatives in Washington to do straighten out the mess, then this is a remedy worth trying. Governor Abbott noted that, while it hasn’t been used before to amend the Constitution, it has been tried—at least twice. Once, a century ago, related to the 17th Amendment, which came within one state of calling for the convention when the House decided to put forth the amendment themselves, rather than be forced. And a similar situation happened during the Reagan administration.

As Governor Abbott says near the conclusion:

It’s never too late. It’s never too large. Never too impossible. That was the attitude that Hamilton and Madison and Franklin and George Washington had. This is America. This isn’t some other country. This is a country where we can do anything—once we realize the necessity of doing it.
He tells the story of one person, who was responsible for getting the 27th Amendment passed. And, when asked about his own handicap, he used the story as a parallel. Who would have thought that someone could go from a hospital bed, following a freak accident that left him paralyzed, to eventually becoming governor of the twelfth largest economy in the world. He was broken, but unbowed.

In the last Texas legislative session, a bill to propose a convention of the states to amend the US Constitution made it out of the House but not the Senate. This year, since it is a priority of the governor, it is likely to pass. Many states have already passed similar bills, and other states are somewhere in the process.

I’ve been slowly learning about this issue. I recommend the Uncommon Knowledge interview [below] as a primer. And read The Texas Plan. Governor Abbott’s new book Broken but Unbowed: The Fight to Fix a Broken America is likely to be another great resource. And for the past several years, people have been turning to Mark Levin’s book The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic.

I suggest getting up to speed quickly, and then doing some citizen lobbying to get your state on board for an Article V convention of the states to amend the Constitution—while there’s still an American Constitution to restore.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Parent's Job

So, you’re a parent of school-age children. Suppose you have a family situation where you can’t take a vacation during summer, because of the job of one of the parents. But there is a week you can take off during a week in April, say. You look at your children’s grades and attendance records, and you make the decision to go to take a well-earned trip to Disney World. The kids will miss a full week of classes. You meet with their teachers and arrange for work to be made up. And you go make some good family memories.

And then you get fined for failing to have your child attend school, a criminal offense.

That’s ridiculous, so you take it to court. And you win, because a court isn’t going to go all the way to the logical conclusion that letting your child do something other than school for even a single day is criminal parental behavior.

This was big news in Britain on Friday.

A couple of days later, on a British news show, there was another educational issue that came up. As I recall, it was about a parent’s choice to take a child out of a failing neighborhood school and go into a school of the parents’ choice. The newsperson thought this was fair and right. But when she was asked about the outcome of the vacationing father’s case, she thought that was wrong. It would encourage other parents to take their kids out of school for holidays. The news people agreed that there was a limit to what sensible people could allow parents to do, and compulsory education was for a good reason.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the president put forth an ultimatum regarding his latest social agenda item. He sent out a decree to all public school districts in the country, threatening to cut off federal funding for education to any that did not comply with the requirement to allow self-proclaimed transgender students to use the bathroom and showers of their choice.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott responded, “I announce today that Texas is fighting this. Obama can’t rewrite the Civil Rights Act. He’s not a king.”

So maybe it’s time to think about education.

Let’s start with a basic question: Who has the natural right to see to the care and upbringing of their children?

If you believe the parent has that responsibility, you’re in the freedom zone. If you believe the government has that responsibility, you’re in the tyranny zone.

If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but it’s in everybody’s interest if we educate the next generation. And we can’t expect all parents to take care of that—or be able to. So we’ve agreed together to do that,” then you’re partially right, but there’s more to it if you follow the thought through.

Yes, we all have an interest in an educated populace. But that doesn’t automatically give the responsibility to the government. And yes, there are some parents who will not or cannot provide for the education of their own children. But, as an alternative to government monopoly, wouldn’t it be better to help only those incapable of affording education, and taking responsibility away from only those parents who have proven to be negligent?

Let’s assume we’re in agreement that, a) education isn’t a government responsibility; it is a parental responsibility with societal help as needed; b) to the extent any government participates in education, it should be the most local level possible and should exclude the federal level.

Given that, the next question is, how do we get there from here?

The answer, as usual, is to limit government to its proper role and allow the free market to find innovative solutions.

So then the next question is how.

I’m not sure of the answer, but a week and a half ago I spent a day talking with Heritage Foundation visitors to Houston. They were here to listen—I got to talk education one-on-one for a couple of hours, before even hearing from their panel and then evening speaker, Jim DeMint. Part of their purpose was to introduce an idea that I’m beginning to consider.

Have you heard of ESAs? That’s Educational Savings Accounts (or other meanings for the letters, depending on where you are, but with that general idea). It’s similar to a medical savings account—money that follows the child, that can be used in various approved ways for the education of that child.

This is already being tried in five states. In Arizona, it started with special needs students. It took 90% of their state funding (leaving alone their local and federal money) and gave it to the parents. The parent could leave the child in the local public school program, but they had the option to take the allotted money and spend it one some combination of tuition, tutoring, therapy, classes, and educational equipment. This could include, maybe, a parochial school plus tutoring and equine therapy (which helps rewire the brain).
Educational Savings Account in use
photo found here

One example we were given showed the parents being allotted some $19,000 of the total $21,000 (the amount spent by the state on each special needs student in public schools), to use as best they could. They were able to provide very well, doing all they had intended—and had about $2000 left over for the year.

This leftover could be spent later in the year, or rollover to the next year, or accrue for the child to use for a college education.

Arizona expanded its program beyond special needs. As the money is made available to families to use as they choose, the market responds. And competition drives both innovation and lower prices.

Heritage was suggesting to Texas that we endeavor to persuade the legislature to initiate an ESA program, and that we set it up from the start to include all students who choose it, including homeschool and private school students, whose family’s currently pay taxes for their children’s educations, which they do not benefit from, and additionally have to pay out-of-pocket for their expenses.

I’m hoping to consider this in more detail in the future—with my notes in hand, and with some of the data and charts that Heritage showed us. But I was heartened to see that people have been thinking about marketplace solutions to free us from the government monopoly of education.

If we’re able to find ways to get better and cheaper ways to educate our children, that is good for everyone. If we’re able to return the responsibility and choice to parents, bypassing the federal government and its social engineering coercion—that’s priceless.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Demise of the Constitutional Republic

Since the world essentially crashed last Tuesday, I guess I should respond to that.

I’m referring to Ted Cruz suspending his campaign after the Indiana primary.

Ted Cruz suspends his campaign
image from here

Yes, I’m in mourning. As a lover of the US Constitution—and its purpose in getting us to freedom, prosperity, and civilization—Tuesday was the end of hope. There’s still the convention to come, technically, but….

I had hoped that the American people would have the opportunity to have a day-and-night clear choice between freedom, prosperity, and civilization versus tyranny, poverty, and savagery. That’s what the presidential election would have looked like with Ted Cruz on our side. He is the most consistently constitutional conservative candidate in my lifetime. The hope was for some recovery of the country we have been missing for at least a decade.

My realization, last week, was that my faith in the American people was misplaced. We hadn’t even moved toward the work of convincing Democrats that the Constitution was the way to get to prosperity and freedom. We got stuck at convincing some 40% of Republicans that the Constitution—and human decency—mattered enough to care about.

We didn’t win that debate. A plurality of Republicans joined with the totality of Democrats to choose some authoritarian, bullying, lying, pushy tyrant.

The choice has already been made. It doesn’t much matter who wins in November; the option of returning to the Constitution and getting out of the mire is now off the table.

But the pressure hasn’t ended. It’s coming at us Ted Cruz supporters from those who ought to be on our team, from our party. They’re saying if we don’t join them in voting for a progressive, lying, narcissistic tyrant, it will be our fault if we get a progressive, lying, narcissistic tyrant as our president. Ironic.

Here is what hasn’t happened: Donald Trump has not reached out to say he would welcome people like me. Instead, he has said there are some people he’d just as soon did not unite with his Republican Party:

I am confident that I can unite much of it. Some of it, I don't want. There were statements made about me that those people can go away and maybe come back in eight years after we serve two terms….
Honestly, there are some people I really don't want. I don't think it's necessary. People would be voting for me, they're not voting for the party.
So, if you didn’t fawn over him, you’re not welcome in the party of Reagan and Lincoln. Or whatever party it is now that he has made it anew.

Clearly it is not on me to forego my morals and join such a person. Unless I’m the kind of person who enjoys subjecting myself to abuse.

There are arguments from fellow Republicans, who suggest we must vote for Trump to avoid Hillary. Too late. But, let’s hear their arguments, out of respect. Because I really do respect many of these people, and keep looking to see if I’ve missed something.

Supreme Court: You have to vote for Trump, because the next president will get several chances to appoint Supreme Court justices, and we could lose the court for a generation or longer. This was a very good argument for voting for Cruz in our primary; he knows how to select a constitutional originalist. Trump does not; he seems unaware of the concept. Will his appointees be as anti-law as Hillary’s? I don’t know. But I expect there is zero possibility of getting any justices more law-abiding than Justice Kennedy. In other words, a vote for Trump guarantees we will lose the court for a generation or longer.

It’s done. We warned you. You didn’t think it was important enough to vote for Cruz instead of Trump. So, don’t blame us.

The Border: Hillary is going to continue the open-borders, invite-illegals-in status quo policy. Trump claims he will build a wall. And make Mexico pay for it. Which may be necessary, because he does nothing to work with Congress to provide him funding for whatever he wants to do. But his policy for illegals has been a temporarily-deport-and-invite-back policy that is more of a PR stunt than a solution. It's a lot of tough bully talk, but it isn’t an actual policy or plan.

Here in Texas we have been defending our own border for a while. Ted Cruz, a Texan, had a real plan. But we weren’t given that option. Because of Trump voters. It’s not on me. I’ll continue to work toward Texans protecting ourselves regardless of continued failure of the federal government to meet its obligations.

Foreign Policy: Hillary is a disaster in foreign policy: Benghazi. Russia. Arab Spring. No one in their right mind ought to trust her anywhere near foreign policy. Her cavalier failure to protect government secret documents is the final nail in that coffin. But Trump approves of Putin, likes his style. Thinks the deal with Iran might be OK, but he would have made a “better deal,” though without giving details. In other words, he doesn’t understand what principles to talk about related to the deal, but we should trust him because he knows about real estate. He threatens to annihilate ISIS members—and their families and children. Targeting noncombatants isn’t what we do, nor is torture, but he’s in favor of that, and he says the military will do whatever he orders them to do, “Believe me,” he says.

Hillary will be bad; but she will try to claim she’s doing good. Trump will be bad; and he’s telling you how bad. Is it all bravado? Maybe. But voting for someone because you don’t think they’ll do what they say is not wisdom. That’s not on me. Can he convince me otherwise? Not if he’s unwilling to try, because gaining the goodwill of people like me doesn’t matter to him.

The Economy: Hillary is a socialist. Hardcore in favor of controlling the economy. Get rid of capitalism. Let government decide who gets government’s favor or disapproval based on support of the administration’s preferences. Trump is a cronyist. Sometimes that’s called “crony capitalism,” but that confuses things. Crony capitalism isn’t free market capitalism; it’s government deciding who gets government’s favor or disapproval based on who supports the administration’s preferences. Sounds familiar.
Please don’t insult my intelligence by saying I should vote for Trump, because otherwise it’s a vote for Hillary, and that would be disastrous. Yes, I agree she would be disastrous; she’s clearly the worst candidate the Democrats have put forward in my life memory. Almost anyone the Republicans put forward should theoretically be able to beat her. 

But the Republicans didn’t choose a Republican; they chose Trump. I don’t believe Trump can beat her (she got about three times as many votes in his home state as he got in the primaries). And in a hypothetical world in which he actually won, I believe that would also be a disaster for America.

It’s already too late to bother about the presidency. There’s no silver lining. It is as bad and depressing as it sounds.

The principle should be to vote for the strongest anti-tyranny candidate you can. In this case, you get certain tyranny either way. So stop calling us “treasonous” for not jumping on the Trump train. 

I’m not giving up the quest for freedom, prosperity, and civilization. We vetted a lot of good people on our primary ballot in Texas, and we need to support those state and local candidates.
This past week I’ve begun looking at the level where it’s possible to make a difference. I’m fortunate to live in Texas. We’re big enough and strong enough to resist federal tyranny—if we can maintain the will.

Real Cruz supporters can't possibly support Trump. What we can do, however, is continue to stand for Cruz's (and our) principles: the conservative principles that have made America and every other Western country great.
Those principles work at any level. The higher the level where those principles are at work, the more freedom there is for the lower levels to work, without interference. Our founding fathers set that in motion for the nation, and we had a good long run. I mourn the loss of our constitutional republic. But maybe strengthening the lower levels will lead others to follow suit, leading to some future rebuilding and returning to the Constitution. So we may have lost, but we haven’t succumbed.

I expect to write very little about the presidential election after this, since it has become a moot point. I don’t intend to try to persuade people to my view. People are free to differ with me on what to do in November. I think I’ll look into procedures for write-ins, and take a look at third party candidates, just in case there’s an option better than leaving the presidential race blank. But I won’t stay home; I’ll vote, because the rest of my ballot was vetted by people who voted mostly for Cruz. The rest of the Republicans on the ballot will be far better choices than the Democrats, and they’ll deserve my vote.

I don't know what life looks like going forward. I wake up thinking, "So this is what people in other countries feel like." But there's still good that can be effected by continuing to work toward the northern hemisphere goal of freedom, prosperity, and civilization. And so far we're not prevented from speaking out and persuading others to join us in our efforts.

So, it's a time to mourn. But it's not a time to stop living.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hardening the Grid

Two years ago I wrote about the book One Second After, by William R. Forstchen, which novelizes the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) strike. It’s time to write about that issue again.

Frank Gaffney
photo from
Center for Security Policy
This past Saturday I was privileged to sit in a room with some influential people, and listen to Frank Gaffney, Founder and President of the Center for Security Policy, a national security think tank; Dr. Peter Pry, Executive Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, a Congressional advisory board dedicated to protecting the US from an EMP attack and other threats; and others who were trying to get us informed about this issue.

Here’s the short of it: an EMP is a super surge that fries electrical systems. It’s like a lightning strike—only much much more powerful and much more widespread. It can affect any unprotected electronics, from giant transformers down to phones, computers, appliances, cars, and the whole gamut. It can mean that a large portion of our infrastructure—the electric grid—is vulnerable, leaving everything we use electricity for ruined.

There are natural and man-made threats. The natural threat comes from the sun: solar flares. Not just any flare, but really big ones, called a coronal mass ejection. The size to be concerned about is called Carrington class, named for a really big one that happened in 1859, taking down the telegraph system. Telegraph units burst into flame. Even trans-Atlantic underwater cables were affected.

We weren’t at that time dependent on electricity as part of our infrastructure, like we are today. Estimates now predict that loss of power could lead to the deaths of up to 90% of the population in a relatively short time—a few weeks or months. Our food, transportation, communications, and sometimes even air and water depend on electricity. People dependent on electricity for medical conditions might be most immediately affected. It could take up to several years (not days, weeks, or months) to rebuild infrastructure—assuming that the resources still exist outside the affected area.

Dr. Peter Pry
photo from Center for Security Policy
How likely is a large coronal mass ejection? Likely. In 2012 we had the largest one since 1859, and two years ago we had a near miss. It’s sort of like waiting for an earthquake. Chances are, at some point, the big one(s) will come. In the meantime, you can ignore the danger, but ignoring it does nothing to alleviate the threat. Such a solar flare would travel to us at a speed of 3 million miles per hour, so we would have nearly no warning time to prepare.

The man-made threat comes from a nuclear explosion above the atmosphere. Our enemies know our vulnerability. Enemies include North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, and any other bad actors with nuclear capabilities or seeking them. This type of attack is more likely than a nuclear missile attack on land. And since most of our defense technology depends on electricity, our ability to respond would be compromised.

The awareness of our vulnerability has actually been there a while. One of our speakers on Saturday was Texas State Senator Bob Hall, who gave us some history. Back after he graduated from the Citadel, in the 1960s, as a second lieutenant, he worked on the Minuteman Missile program. The Pentagon had become aware that their high altitude tests knocked out power in the islands below. 
Meanwhile, Russian tests knocked out power in the Soviet Union. That led to agreements to halt high altitude tests (underground testing continued after that). So, with the awareness that electronics were vulnerable, Senator Hall’s job was to protect—harden—the missiles.

He eventually left the military and never talked about this, because it had been highly classified. And then a few years ago people started talking about it openly. And he realized it was something he felt called to act on. He calls himself a “recovering political apathetic.” He stepped out of what he retirement, took on being a state senator—and in the last legislative session he carried the bill dealing with this issue.

Even though it’s a trans-partisan issue (we all use electricity, and we’re all vulnerable to the loss of our electricity), it’s just barely reaching people’s awareness. Issues often take multiple times in the legislature to get through. But we remain vulnerable as long as this isn’t handled.

Let me spell out a few important details. Hardening the grid is not technologically difficult. It’s something like putting metal in the right places, so that a surge would hit the metal rather than the electronics within. A Faraday cage is a simple version—scalable to use at home.

We learned Saturday that your home microwave can be used as a Faraday cage—to protect your essential medical equipment or something else, of course only when the microwave is not in use. Another simple home version can be a metal garbage can. Whatever you place inside should be placed in a plastic bag or container, so the electrical object doesn’t touch the metal walls of the can.

Nor is hardening the grid expensive. The entire US could have the basic grid protected for $2 billion. If we gave up a single unconstitutional regulatory program, we could immediately pay for it. Greater protection of the entire infrastructure could cost up to $20 billion. But that investment could come eventually; the immediate insurance should be the basic grid.

There are three electric grids covering the contiguous US states: the eastern grid handles about 75% of the population. The rest is covered by the western grid and the Texas grid. Yes, Texas has its own independent grid. We have no federal oversight. It is our responsibility. We can protect ourselves, regardless of what the federal government does or does not do.

Electricity is essentially a private industry product—85% private in the US. And those of us talking about it are free-market anti-harmful-government-regulation types on principle. So what’s going on? One question that came up Saturday was, why don’t the utility companies do something about this?

The answer isn’t exactly simple. Already in Texas, government officials have offered the money necessary to harden the grid—at no cost to the utilities. And the utilities said, “No thanks; we have it under control.” To this, Senator Hall asked directly if they were ready to be audited for an EMP attack; they obfuscated.

Their workers, board members, and owners will all be subject to the same loss of life and civilization as the rest of us. Yet they refuse to act.

One explanation is that these companies aren’t run by engineers; they’re run by lawyers. Their priority is to protect against liability. In a way, responding that they know the danger exists is an admission that they should have already protected the grid. So refusing to act is a way of refusing to admit knowledge—so their liability is safe.

The best answer I heard Saturday was from Dr. Pry, that the electrical industry is acting similarly to other industries in history. The zeppelin industry insisted on hydrogen, and refused to pay a little extra for helium, claiming they were so careful, an accident would never happen. Until it did. And then the industry was destroyed entirely.

The automobile industry didn’t put safety glass in cars, and seat bests and other safety measures—until public demand followed by government regulation forced them to.

Union Carbide pesticides are another example. They went to Bhopal, India, where they were free from regulation. Until they had an accident resulting in many deaths. This cost them $100 million that they could have saved if they had taken the required safety measures.

There is a natural reaction—put this off. Don’t think about it now. Maybe nothing bad will ever happen.

If the public demands grid hardening from the utility companies, it will happen. But maybe not soon enough. Maybe not until government regulation forces them.

So, that brings us to the what-can-we-do question. It’s time for some citizen lobbying.

There’s an awareness at the national level. At least eleven studies have led to the consensus: “The nation’s bulk power distribution system can be disrupted or destroyed over large areas due to various man-caused and naturally occurring phenomena.[i]” The Shield Act, to harden the grid, has come up in several legislative sessions. But it hasn’t gotten through both houses. The threat of an EMP strike was mentioned by Ted Cruz during one of the presidential debates. All of the Republican candidates have been briefed on the issue,but no one else has made it a priority.

Call your representative and senators; let them know you’re aware of the issue, care about it, see it as essential—and you will hold them responsible.

If you’re in Texas, contact your state representative and state senator. Let them know how urgent you believe this is. If we work during the next several months, we can get them to make it a priority in the next legislative session. Let them know that Senator Bob Hall will be carrying this bill again, and encourage them to sign on with him.

But that means we’re looking at the legislative session that starts January 2017. Most legislation that actually gets through that session gets implemented around September 2017, or even later. That’s another year and a half away, during which something could happen.

This could be handled by executive order. The necessary budget for handling this critical infrastructure could be diverted from other infrastructure funding—right away. Since offering help to the electrical industry hasn’t worked, and since protecting infrastructure is an essential government function, if we let Governor Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick know we care about this, we can get action much sooner.

If you’re in another state, press your governor to act. Once one governor acts, others will begin to follow.

Guilty Knowledge
by Frank Gaffney
If you need more information to take on this issue with knowledge, there’s a short book by Frank Gaffney, published by the Center for Security Policy, called Guilty Knowledge: What the US Government Knows about the Vulnerability of the Electric Grid, But Refuses to Fix. For updates and more information, try their website

There’s also the Forstchen book I mentioned earlier; even though it’s a novel, it contains notes on what’s real and where to find that info. As I was researching today I came across a book called A Nation Forsaken: EMP—the Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe, by F. Michael Maloof. I haven’t read it, but it looks informative.

Last Tuesday, April 26th, on the Glenn Beck Show, he talked about this issue and other disasters with some experts, including what you can do to protect and prepare yourself at home if the government and utilities refuse to act. I believe he made that episode available without a subscription.

Among the suggestions for preparing for any disaster: have some food and water available to get you by for a while. Start with a three-day kit. Extend to a month. And then extend to a year if you can.

We have been prudent and done that, for a couple of decades, at our house. Long enough that a good portion reached its expiration date. We resupplied about eight years ago. But by then I was pretty limited in my diet. I need a refrigerator in order to eat without poisoning myself. So I’d much prefer hardening the grid—in time—to depending on my personal preparedness.

If you’re not ready to go off grid and live off the land, then this is the time and the issue to take on with citizen lobbying.

[i] From the foreword of Guilty Knowledge, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., p. 6.