America That Was 


After the bombs rained down, the world entire was an open wound; it was in those bleeding years that I became a man. I was twelve on November 8, 2016, the day America lost its collective mind, a day which now lives in infamy for those of us who remain, the few that survived The Fall.

I recall that my father never believed the country would elect The Donald; we used to laugh at the news shows as a family, shaking our heads in disbelief at the words spewing out of the man’s mouth, and marveling at the way so many decent people were willing to overlook the threats he made. It was all there, nothing concealed. The racism, the misogyny,the blatant lack of human decency was on full display on television and on the internet twenty-four hours a day during the months leading up to the last election. The other candidate had some issues with emails. No one remembers what those were anymore.

That was back when we had email and televisions and cell phones. Kids go blank now when we try to explain those devices, because that technology is so far outside the realm of reality, children don’t believe it ever existed. The old-timers who were there are viewed with great skepticism and a certain disdain, as though we are woefully ignorant of U.S. history.

Back when there was a United States, we used to learn history. Most of our history now comes from legend and lore, and history is no longer written, but spoken and sung.

But I remember.

The dollar collapsed. (This was when currency existed, before the time of barter). After that, the entire global economy imploded. Civil unrest spread like wildfire throug the city streets across the United States and western Europe. Nationalism surged, and interment camps sprouted up on both contingents, where refugees and dissidents were rounded up and never heard from again.

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Russia invaded the Balkans, and the west cowered in fear. NATO no longer existed, weakened by the U.S. pullout, and the EU itself was ripping itself apart. There was no way to stop the horde of armor rumbling across eastern Europe. The United States stood idly by, vowing to act on behalf of England and Germany, but staying out of the fray. “There will be peace in our time,” the President promised. Another lie in a long line of them.

I don’t know who launched first. Maybe it was the U.S. Maybe it was Russia, or Iran or Israel. It escalated too quickly from several tactical launches to full-scale global nuclear war to be sure. ICBMs streaked past one another through space and pounded major population centers. Submarines stationed off coastlines unleashed payloads onto military installations and vaporized navies.

We were on our way to the family farm in Tennessee when the Emergency Broadcast System blared in the middle of the night. I asked my father what the glow in the sky was, far off to the south, where the horizon looked like the sun was about to rise, the darkness cut with orange streaks.

“That’s the world dying,” my father said.

Later, when skeletal families showed up at the farm dying from radiation sickness, dysentery, starvation, or plague, I remembered what Dad said. He was right. The world was dying, and I watched the death throes every day for years. After the initial die off, there were more years of anarchy, when we were attacked by roving bands of people that didn’t seem like people anymore. They were animals, bent on death and destruction, murdering for fun and food, raping for pleasure, enslaving others because they could. The law of the jungle was the law of the land.

I’m lucky to be alive, I know. I lost my family during the years following the Fall. Now, when my kids ask me about it, they wonder why America didn’t do something to stop it. I tell them that most people are kind and decent, but that the really bad ones have a way of convincing everyone else to overlook the truth. I tell my children that because there’s nothing else I can think of that makes sense, and the words leave me with a hollow feeling.

Maybe there is hope, though. Maybe my kids will get it right, and the next generations will be better than the ones that came before.

The Writer… Free short story

The Writer
He flowed onto the bar, elbows perched upon the hard edge with his shoulders slumped, a cigarette in one hand while the other aimlessly caressed a shot of whiskey, neat. The smell of stale beer and smoke mingled with decades of accumulated broken dreams and lingering hope. He regarded his reflection in the bar room mirror, and his face, gray-bearded and worn, stared back at him, half obscured behind rows of liquor in the dimly lit dive.

“Hey, John, you want another one?” Mickey said. Like he didn’t know. 
“Yeah. Thanks.” 
John fell back into the foggy trance he’d wandered in for the last hour, meeting his own gaze, a certain kind of defiance in it. He remembered the first time he came in here, how he sat in front of this same dammed mirror, perhaps even on the same padded stool, back when he was shiny and new and his eyes burned with that fire which comes with youth and certainty. It was empty that first afternoon, just him and Diane, who still owned the place, and old Billy, who was sitting at a battered piano playing a hit song he’d written back in the seventies, three chords and the truth. It was magical; John was hooked.
That was why he’d moved to Music City, to be around people like that, places like this. To write songs and play music until all hours of the night and grasp the thrum of creative energy that hummed in the air all around this place and inside him. He yearned to find a way to unleash it, to tap into a force greater than he, to channel those ideas and create something great.
In those early years, ideas danced all around him in the way of magic, swirling threads of many colors, each one a line, a melody, an emotion, a truth. He figured that all he had to do was reach out and grasp those threads, weave them together, and sit down with his guitar, and something beautiful would eventually emerge, a song never heard before. Nashville, and then the world, would recognize this rare talent, of course, and reward him with the praise and cash commensurate with his ability.
It had only taken John a few weeks to figure out that he’d overestimated his unique skill set, which proved far less rare than he’d initially believed. There were folks writing poetry and lyrics that would have made Kirstofferson proud, singing their asses off in front of empty bars and tip-jars. Yet, he kept believing, working to get better, honing his craft. His fingertips were calloused from long hours playing his guitar, and his skin grew thick with rejection. Sometimes he wanted to quit, but he didn’t because he believed. Really, he didn’t have a choice, for writing was in him.
The years slid by while John wrote and played songs and networked and drank on Music Row. He lost his wife, who grew to despise him in spite of her kind nature, and he lost himself, too, somewhere right in the vicinity of where he now sat. She couldn’t forgive the wasted potential, and neither could he. She had a great job, while he was a mere “aspiring writer.” That’s how she introduced him at cocktail parties, and it made him grind his teeth then. Ten years of marriage down the drain. He wanted to think he was better than he was, and that label was something he chaffed at. Either you were a writer or you weren’t. 
“John, do you want another one?”
“What do you think?”
“You’re too ugly to be an ass, and not old enough to get away with it,” Mickey quipped, sliding another one across the bar.
“Thanks,” John said.
“Written any songs lately?” Mickey said.
“A few. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
Mickey used to write songs, too. But last night he sang the same four songs he’d played relentlessly ten and twenty years ago, though now his voice was shot to hell. Back when John first heard the man sing, he sounded like Garth Brooks. Now it was like Garth on gravel with bad pitch. Back then, writers would pass around a beat-up guitar at the bar until five in the morning, after the bar was supposed to be closed, and Mikey would play harmonica while Billy made the piano sing and someone was always there on the fiddle, and there’d be mandolins and upright base-guitars, and girls singing harmony. All the while, the beer flowed and people laughed and wrote and played and created. It was joyous. That’s how he remembered it, anyway.
“What happened to this place, man?” John said.
“Progress. We’re busier than we’ve ever been. Nightly live shows, tourists come in and out every day. Business has never been better.”
“It’s dead, though.”
“The hell it is! Look at that table over there, a tour bus from Tampa. They just tipped me a hundred bucks. This place is hopping now. You’ve been gone a while.”
“The whole Row has changed. It makes me sad. Don’t you wonder what the hell happened? The publishers all moving away, high-rises taking over. There’s no heart here anymore. It used to be…intimate. Now it’s all corporate, impersonal, worse than I remember it.”
“You sound just like the Doctor Doom I remember,” Mickey laughed. “I never liked you then. You were arrogant, always bitching about “politics.” Guess what? You don’t have what it takes. Never did. And this place is still here, while you’re just passing through.”
“Screw you, Mickey.”
“You deserve it.”
“Maybe. But I’m just trying to sit here and have a drink in my old watering-hole.”
“It’s not your watering hole any more. So, you don’t get to talk bad about it now. I saw your ex in the paper last week, by the way. She looks great. A real peach.”
“Good for her,” John said, meaning it. 
“So why’d you get divorced, anyway? I remember her coming in here to meet you, her all dolled up and professional in her business suit and you in your cut-up jeans and long hair. We all wondered when she’d leave your ass.”
John picked up his glass and gripped it tighter than he usually did, a slight nod of his head as he had a conversation with himself, the one where he reminded himself that he had much to lose and nothing to gain by coming across the bar.
“That’s not how it was. But you can go ahead and check yourself now, Mickey. Cause’ I never liked you either.”
“Just messing with you, Doctor Doom.” Mickey snickered and stuffed his rag down into the back of his jeans and turned away.
The juke-box which once wailed Haggard, Jones, and Cash now blasted pop-country-rap while a group of starry-eyed kids set up on stage with nervous energy and fervent belief, like this was their moment. They wore hats and cowboy boots, and John smiled. They launched into a predictable set of songs about trucks and beer and girls in cut-off jeans and the tourists from Oklahoma cheered.
A kid sat down next to John, after he’d left the guitar on his back next to the stack of them lining the stage. He grinned, his eyes full of wonder and glory, scruffy and earnest.
“Hey, man,” he said, “are you gonna get up on stage?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You new in town? I’m Lance, by the way.”
“John. Nice to meet ya. I’m just passing through.”
“Ah. Well, this place has a way of getting in your blood. Watch out, or you might just stay.” He laughed. “There’s a cool vibe here, you know? An energy in the air. It’s like nowhere I’ve ever been. What are you doing here, if you aren’t here to pick some songs?”
“Reconnecting. Remembering. I don’t know. I love this place. Or at least, I used to.”
Lance got a far away look in his eyes, something akin to pity and perhaps a bit of fear.
“Ah,” he said, “you’re a writer. Moved away. That’s a hard thing.”
“Not really,” John lied.
“If you didn’t miss it, you wouldn’t be here, though, would you?”
“I guess.”
“I worry about that, you know. Swinging for the fences and striking out. Failing in a spectacular way, because there are so many people more talented than me here trying to get through the same little door. And one day you wake up and you’re forty and wonder where your life went. No offense.”
“None taken. Trust me, I had that conversation with myself, right here, many times. Wondering why I what the hell I was doing. I moved away when I was thirty-five, no regrets.”
“So, what happened?”
“Life happened. And that’s a good thing, not something to be ashamed of. I used to think that there was nothing more important in the world than my music and my writing. I was a fool. By the time I figured that out, it was too late.”
Lance nodded his head, silent for a few minutes while the kids on stage wrapped up their set with an original song, a ballad about the death of a loved one. I noticed that the bar quieted down, and folks were listening, feeling it. 
“I think the same way,” Lance said, peeling the label on the longneck in front of him. “Maybe it’s the only way to make it, to be willing to give everything up. Art demands sacrifice. Somebody said that. I’m willing to go the distance, but I worry how I’ll feel in ten years if I still haven’t gotten a cut.”
“It’s different for everyone,” John said.
“I’m up,” Lance said, brightening. “Wish me luck.”
He marched up to the stage, unzipping his gig bag and removing a battered Martin. John grinned. The kid had taste in guitars, anyway. He played finger style, a unique arpeggio, and sang a song about whiskey and loss, and damn it if John didn’t find some rain in his eyes. Lance was good, really good.
The crowd clapped after the song, though not with the same enthusiasm they’d displayed for the trucks and girls in Daisy-Duke’s. He spoke into the microphone, his voice a deep baritone, and said “I’d like to get my new friend John up on the stage. What do y’all think?” More tepid applause.
What the hell, John thought. That’s why I came here, maybe. He stepped up to the stage, and one of the other writers offered him a nice Taylor to play. Lance grinned at him, one hand shielding the mike, and said “I hope you don’t mind me puttin’ you on the spot. Let’s see what you got.”
“It’ll be fun,” John said. “Back me up.”
“Right on.”
John played “Rainy Night in Nashville,” a song he’d written just before he left town, a sad song about broken dreams, and Lance sang harmony and laid down some cool licks. John lost himself in the melody, embracing the moment, weaving the threads dancing in the air around him.
After they left the stage, the two sat back down at the bar, and Lance slapped John on the back. “You’re pretty good, man.”
“Thanks. You’ve got it, Lance. That rare thing. You’re gonna make it, so don’t listen to old fools like me.”
“That song you played is still on the juke box here,” Lance said. “I dig it.”
John felt a warm hand on his neck, and he turned. His wife smiled at him, appearing from nowhere, long dark hair tumbling over her shoulders, her dress cut low enough for a hint of cleavage. She smelled like flowers and hope and sunshine. She kissed him on the lips and squeezed his thigh.
“How’s memory lane?” She said.
“Good. This is Lance, by the way. Really talented writer.”
“Hi, Lance, I’m Kelli. Did John invite you to the book signing?”
“Hi, uh, no.”
“Well, you should come. We’re going for drinks afterwards with some friends. You should join us. Always fun to hang out with a bunch of songwriters.”
“What signing?”
“He didn’t tell you? A book signing at the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble for his new novel.”
Lance arched his eyebrows, an almost relieved smile spreading across his face. “You write books? My faith is restored. You had me worried, there, for a minute.”
“Writers write,” John said, with a laugh.
Mickey sidled up to us, leering at Kelli. “So,” Mickey said. “It’s starting to make sense now.”
“Yep,” Lance said. “When you said life happened, I didn’t quite understand. But I do now.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Kelli said. 
“Well, you’re beautiful.”
“Isn’t she, though?” John said, running his hand over her backside, savoring the curves in all the right places. “Gave me two boys and thirteen years. Now we’re getting to the really good part, I think.”
“It’s hell being married to a writer sometimes,” she said. “We had to learn to quit worrying about what might happen, and live in those times between the folds. Once we did that, it got easier. You writer-types spend so much time pining away for a dream, you miss the good stuff happening all around you every day. Do that enough, and it all starts going to hell in a hand basket.”
John and Kelli said goodbye to their new friend, and strode into the pale afternoon light hand in hand and the old homes cast friendly shadows down Sixteenth Avenue, while the new offices and condos looked on with disdain and music from the last bar on the row poured out onto the street and life was good.

When the Towers Fell: The Beginning of a New Era


When the towers fell fifteen years ago, the world changed. We couldn’t know then how profound the impact of those despicable terror attacks would be, or that all these years later the United States and the world would still be reeling from the consequences.

In the years leading up to 9-11, I was cynical about politics, to say the least. I recall the embassy bombings in Africa and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole,  and at the time, I wondered whether this was something our own leaders had cooked up to distract the country from the investigation into the Clinton administration, in some sort of “Wag the Dog” scheme.

But watching the Twin Towers crash down against the crisp September sky, I saw evidence that evil existed, and that it was here. Those attacks pierced our collective sense of imperviousness to attack, destroyed our security, and kept us awake at night. There was much fear during the first few weeks. I was on an empty flight from Nashville to Charlotte the day that commercial flight was opened up. There were about ten people on the entire plane. A middle-eastern man boarded ahead of me, and I sat directly behind him. Another pretty big guy sat across the isle from me, and we looked at each other and nodded without speaking. If that guy with a beard even coughed wrong, we’d have beaten him to death. After we landed, the poor guy turned around and smiled at us, and I saw that he had a shirt with “I love Jesus” written on it.

When President Bush gave a speech from the still smoking ground zero, I thought to myself, “Thank God Bush won, and not Al Gore.” For evil must be defeated; it cannot be ignored. When the President talked about a war on terror, that sounded right, a call to action backed by force and resolve.

I was watching a Gator football game with friends when the news broke that the bombing had begun in Afghanistan, and I cheered along with the rest of the bar to shots of entire mountainsides going up in flames. There was a certain fulfillment in seeing that, a kind of gratfication. People started chanting “USA!” I was probably one of them.

In March, when the United States began bombing Baghdad, I was riveted to my television, hypnotized and thrilled by the images of flames blossoming into the night sky. When the President landed on an aircraft carrier, I applauded the swift and just victory.

I was swept up in the drama and the patriotism like most of the country at the time. The yellow ribbons and bumper stickers. It cost me nothing.

A price too high

I was writing songs in Nashville at the time, but in my day job I was a salesman, and many of my long-time customers were soldiers with the 101st Airborne. I met wives who lost husbands, children who lost their daddies. The toll continued to rise over the years, and I met men who suffered from PTSD after multiple deployments. Folks I’d known for years saw marriages crumble around them.

Those men and women paid a price that I did not. For most of us, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars we watched on television. I had a friend of mine who came back from his second tour of Iraq, and he wasn’t the same man anymore. He’d gone in full of enthusiasm, and emerged with something taken from him. I never pried, because I wasn’t there, couldn’t share that particular bond with him. One night, though, after  a few too many drinks, he told me. He talked about the boredom, the fear, and the intense adrenaline rush of combat, how it’s almost addictive. And how he’d watched some of his brothers die in front of him, and how he couldn’t stop seeing it.


We civilians can’t know what that’s like. It’s easy to sit in your recliner and howl for war, when you aren’t the one enduring long deployments, IEDs, mortar attacks, and PTSD.

America’s longest war is still being fought, and our men and women who served the country are not being taken care of properly. It is shameful.

Consequences

The 9-11 attacks lead directly to the invasion of Iraq. Clearly, that war was a mistake of catastrophic magnitude. Without proper intelligence, we destroyed the infrastructure of a country that posed no significant or direct threat to the U.S. The Bush-Chenny administration went to war assuming that democracy was the solution, and that if we rebuilt what we destroyed, we would have a new ally in the middle-east, in the same way that after WW II Japan and West  Germany became allies.

Those assumptions ignored the history of sectarian violence in the region and the vast cultural differences between the East and the West. The fighting between Suni, Shia, Kurd, and Jew dates back more than a thousand years. What hubris to think for a moment that democracy and tanks could solve the underlying issues.

Now, with Iraq and the entire region destabilized, ISIS poses more of a threat than Al-Queada ever did. With systemic bombings and attacks throughout Europe, ISIS has proved to be resilient, resourceful, and deadly. They continue wage a war of terror on the west, escalating and improving their tactics.

Unfortunately, the United States played directly into the terrorist’s hands. Terrorists win by instilling fear. The west is convulsing with fear at the moment, with nationalist movements sweeping Europe, and Trump’s rising popularity in the U.S. Terrorist’s win when we loose our civil liberties and change our way of life. We are now openly debating unraveling the Constitution of the United States by doing things like banning Muslims, restricting free speech, and allowing survailance at unprecedented levels. Torture, drone strikes against American citizens, and impeding upon the freedom of religion are diametrically opposed to the values our country was founded upon. That’s what the terrorists want.

Furthermore, when we begin to use language that makes it seem that we are at war with an entire religion, the terrorists celebrate. This plays directly into the terror handbook. They want to convince recruits that the west is bent upon another crusade, because it makes recruiting easy.

The Next War

I pray that before we send our citizens to fight again, we will have all of the facts straight. I hope that my sons don’t fall in some far-off place because people like me cheered from bars. And I pray that when we go to war the next time, the reasons will be just and true.

I pray that history does not remember 9-11 as the beginning of the end for this great nation.



Book Giveaway!!! Help me find the right title…


I’m not satisfied with the working title for my forthcoming novel (currently Into the Valley of the Shadow), so here’s the deal: I’m going to give away a Kindle version of Objects of Wrath, along with the next book, when that is released in the fall. If I use your idea, you get TWO free books!

The next book is tough to categorize, part historical fiction, part supernatural thriller, part military thriller. The chapters alternate between the past and the present, following a linear plot arc.  Here’s a quick blurb to provide context:

“Malak is an angel like no other, for his choices are his own and he can die almost as easily as a mortal. The consequences of his actions have rippled throughout human history; he’s been a gladiator, crusader, monk, and healer, but above all, a warrior. His faith is tested in every way, as he grapples with demons within and without. Now, with the apocalypse looming and the world teetering on the brink of destruction, he is fighting to stop Armageddon… But even if he can, should he? 

The novel delves into the eternal conflict between the dominion of darkness, and the Kingdom of Light, one which rages in all of us.”

So here are some alternate ideas for titles. I’d love some feedback, and if my readers have a better idea, you will be rewarded with free books. 

Stopping Armageddon

Angel of the Fall

Fallen is Babylon

Into Armageddon

Angel of the Apocalypse

Kingdom of Light

Angel of Armageddon

Into the Belly of the Beast: Throwing the book at Trump in Jacksonville

  
I ordered tickets to the Trump rally in Jacksonville which takes place August 3. No, I’m not crazy. I’m going to get as close as I can and toss a copy of Tears of Abraham right at his head. Since the book is about the coming American Civil War, perhaps my small act of protest will resonate.

Trump said this week that the general election “is already being rigged,” addding to the fear and paranoia that many of his supporters already walk around with every day. When Trump looses in November, all that bottled-up white rage will seek an outlet. A patriot would attempt to diffuse that rage in the aftermath of the election. Trump, of course, is a self-serving bloviating bastard, rather than a patriot. This is the man that mocked Senator McCain for being captured. Trump, wrapping himself in the flag, insulted the grieving parents of a hero who reciceved a posthemous Gold Star for valor in defense of our country. Trump is not a patriot.

He will make a bad situation even worse after the election, rather than falling on his sword the way Sanders did last week, or Al Gore did following his loss to Bush. Trump will scream, shout, retaliate, call for recounts and violence.

Tears of  Abraham is about the next American Civil War, arising in the aftermath of Democratic wins. Trump is just the sort of person to ignite that war. The novel is a cautionary  tale, taking a hard look at what such a war would truly mean for the country. For the destruction and misery heaped upon our soldiers and civilians would be worse than anything most people can imagine.

The Democratic convention  provided a stark contrast to the GOP convention in Cleveland. While the Democrats called for unity and hope, the Republicans rallied around fear. The nation needs healing, not more wounds. As much as I dislike Hillary Clinton, I will  vote for her because Trump is the worst candidate in our history to win the nomination of a major party. His temperment, woeful ignorance, arrogance, and petty maliciousness present a threat to the world in a way that Hillary does not. She’s not going to launch a Trident missile because she felt insulted. She’s not going to allow Putin to roll into the Balkans. 

Trump is dangerous, and I’m going to fight with my words. I’m throwing a book at him.

Stop pretending about Trump. Please.

Jason Writes About Stuff

It’s time to stop pretending about Donald Trump, fellow Christians. It’s past time, actually.

I know you think you’re right, I know you think Hillary Clinton is pure evil, but please stop.

Stop rationalizing and stop pretending.

Stop pretending that it’s OK to vote for him simply because he isn’t Hillary.

Stop pretending that picking “the lesser of two evils” is a civic duty.

Stop pretending that voting for him is the only “Christian” thing to do.

Stop pretending that a third-party vote of conscience is a wasted vote.

Stop pretending that his sins are lesser than Hillary’s sins.

Stop pretending that his past doesn’t matter.

Stop pretending that the way he talks, the way he lives his life, and the way he treats people doesn’t matter.

Stop pretending that he’s not temperamentally unfit to lead the country.

Stop pretending that you can trust a man who’s on his third marriage and who’s bragged…

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Solar Wars

 solar wars pic

A long time ago, in a state far away, the idea of public utility companies was born from the idea that electricity was a basic need that the government should provide its citizens.  The first public utility in the U.S. was a grist mill in Massachusetts. Since then, utilities, both public and private, grew into massive monopolies. A monopoly, by its nature, despises competition and will do whatever it takes to preserve its share of the market. It’s why anti-trust laws challenged monopolies in the era of robber-barons, and why we have the Public Utilities Commission, which in theory places checks and balances on the utilities.

In North Florida, JEA and FPL are the two existing monopolies, and both are threatened by the idea that consumers should have a choice between generating their own electricity and purchasing it from a behemoth.  As a result, the utilities have behaved the way that monopolies always do, looking out for their own best interest and attempting to bolster their bottom lines. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the general public. While they are not necessarily an “evil empire,” they have displayed a shocking ruthlessness and outright deception in order to obtain their goals. They have decided to strike back at the growing solar industry in Florida.

Despite the fact that Florida ranks far ahead of almost the entire country in terms of solar potential, the Sunshine State lags behind the snowy northeast, coming in at a dismal 17 for actual solar production.  That’s the way the utilities want to keep it.

The Trojan horse: Amendment 1

Nov. 8th

The group Consumers for Smart Solar ran a well-executed campaign to deliberately mislead voters and detract from the momentum of rooftop solar in Florida. This group is funded by the utilities, along with oil and gas interests. The Florida Supreme court upheld the language the group is placing on the ballot for voters in November.

In her descent, Justice Barbara Pariente offered harsh words of criticism: “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

The utilities pushed this through by telling citizens they were signing a pro-solar petition. The campaign they’re running now is “Vote yes on one for the sun.” It was a sneak attack, a Trojan horse in every way.

Justice Pariente went on to say “The biggest problem with the proposed amendment lies not with what the summary says, but rather, with what it does not say.”  And here is where that deception becomes crystal clear. “There is already the right to use solar for individual equipment for individual use afforded by the Florida Constitution and existing Florida Statues and regulations. It does not explain that the amendment will elevate the existing rights of the government to regulate solar energy use and establish that regulatory power as a constitutional right in Florida… this ballot initiative is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The language of the amendment and the slick marketing campaign behind it, all funded by utilities,  is designed to make voters believe that they are actually voting to help make solar more affordable and accessible to the citizenry of Florida. As an apparent afterthought, this language also appears in the amendment: “consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.” That sounds fair and good until the reality emerges that it is the utilities who get to decide what constitutes a subsidy and what doesn’t. It hands the ability to regulate and stifle solar to the very entities who are actively trying to kill it.

A New Hope:  Amendment 4

August 30

In the August primary, voter turnout will be much lower than in November, and this presents a real opportunity for activists and concerned citizens to make a tangible difference in the state’s future.  The ballot will include Amendment 4, giving significant tax breaks to property owners and businesses. If we can get this amendment passed, it will slow the momentum of the utilities, who are working to stop this initiative. Should the amendment pass, lawmakers will decide what incentives to create, spurring the growth of more renewable energy production in Florida.

So, vote No on 1 in November..

Vote Yes on 4 in August.

Your vote matters to the future of our state.solar wars pic

Yes, the World is Going To Hell in a Handbasket

When the wolf really is at the gates

One of my favorite children’s tales is The Boy Who Cried Wolf; my  boys understand it well. Parent’s know how frustrating it is when kids exaggerate or fabricate danger, provoking a response from us that is out of porportion to reality. The moral, of course, is that when the danger is real, help never arrives.

A good friend of mine, a staunch conservative, is fond of saying “Sean, people have been saying that the world is going to hell for as long as there have been people.” He’s right about that. Humans have always found reasons to fear the future, whether justified or not. The biblical flood is a part of mankind’s collective memory, with varying versions found on most continents. Furthermore, some form of Armageddon or the Apocalypse is also a part of most major religions.

Jesus said he was coming back soon, and the early apostles took that to mean within decades, looking to the heavens for signs of the return of the king. Since those days, Christians have proclaimed that the end times are upon us with regularity, and pointed to the alignment of prophecy and circumstance to justify the dire predictions.

In the U.S. an entire subculture has evolved around the idea of “being prepared,” and folks with varyng degrees of committment and motivations go to great pains to monitor the news while stockpiling food, weapons, water, and medical supplies to ride out The Fall while providing security and a future for their families. A lot of these folks are highly intelligent, skilled people with military backgrounds.

There is a certain tendency  in mainstream media to write off the preppers as crazy “tin-foil -hat” people. I write post-apocalyptic fiction and military thrillers, and I’m afraid these folks are right. The trouble is, no one is listening. I’m about to purchase a firearm for the first time in twenty years, and I’ve got a bug-out plan and a go-bag.

Why now?

The world has always been a dangerous place, and evil men are relentless in their quest to weild power over others. Our capacity for goodness, self-sacrifice, cooperation and innovation is in a constant state of war with our innate propensity for violence, destruction and atrocity. The religions of the world understand this ongoing battle between light and darkness.

For the first time in human history, mankind has the ability to eradicate himself in multiple ways. Nuclear winter, biological warfare, climate change, and Artifical Intelligence are all pathways to destruction. The doomsday clock is ticking, and the fate of the world hangs on the brink of a yawning abyss.  With the rise of nationalism, a resurgant Russia, and immigration problems that are doomed to grow worse, I fear for our future. The causes of danger and the methods of our self-destruction are tangled together.

Nationalism

Trump’s ascent to power is not an anomoly common only to the United States. The United Kingdom voted yesterday to exit the EU, bolstered by a populace reeling from and outraged by the infux of immigrants and the perception that they have lost autonomy and surrendered sovergeinty to the European Union. France’s far-right intends to call for a similar refferendum, as does Sweeden. Scotland will likely leave the U.K. in favor of joining the rest of Europe. The union itself took a huge hit, loosing 1/6 of its economy. There is enough momentum building that could propel the E.U. right off a cliff, taking the rest of the world with it.

The recent surge in nationalism around the world is inextricably bound to other factors. First, there is the anti-intellectual movement, which propagates the idea that experts are not experts, scientists are not scientists, and Facebook memes and snappy twitter characters hold the real knowledge. This age of unreason came to the United States with Sarah Palin as its poster child, and has come of age in the last months with Donald Trump now representing the party of Lincoln. Just about every country in the world has some version of Trump at the moment, from neo-nazis in Germany, to the South Pacific, and even South America.

Nationalism itself relies upon fear of others. It is the creed of walls and war, and history remembers this while men forget at their own peril. The last two world wars were the result of nationalism run amuck, and at the height of the cold war the Soviet Union and the U.S. took the world right up to the bitter edge of extincition. Bombers in the air, ICBM missiles awaiting launch codes, submarines stationed off coasts silent and deadly. While the far right in European countries beats its collective chest, Vladimir Putin is licking his chops. When Trump calls for abandoning our founding principles and wipes his ass with the Constitution, China sees opportunity.

Immigration and the refugee crisis

The rise of nationalism thorughout the west is tied directly to the refugee crisis, immigration, and the financial collapse that occured at the end of the Bush presidency. It’s an adverse reaction to globalization, and a longing for the dream of simpler times that were never simple nor true.

Had the United States not invaded Iraq, we wouldn’t be here yet. That war created a vacuum, which led directly to ISIS, which wants to kill the world and is spurring the influx of refugees throughout Europe. Failing economies make ideal breeding grounds for fear and xenophobia, and when there are legitmate concerns over terror attacks like Brussels, Paris, and Orlando immigration becomes a hot-button issue. Close the borders and let them drown, comes the battle cry. Already hurting economies are struggling to cope with people who aren’t assimilating quickly enough. It’s a global powder-keg.

Global Warming

As climate changes lead to more severe storms, droughts, and shifting weather patterns, the immigration crisis is going to get worse.

Mass migrations and displaced populations will continue to put pressure on the developed nations. Unfortunately, in this age of unreason, many politicians and voters believe that the experts have it all wrong. Global warming, my ass! It’s snowing outside. Never mind that the iceshelves are melting at rates that confound even the most aggressive models, the oceans are growing more acidic, the bees are dying off, and water shortages and wildfires are commonplace even in the West.

The combined effect of global warming and nationalism will inevitably lead to wars. Remember the fall of rome? Goths,  Visigoths and Vandals, displaced populations, sacked the capital more than once. The Huns came roaring across the planes.

  
The people who deny climate change are either doing so because they have a vested intrest in doing away with envornmental restrictions, or are just plain duped by the propaganda campaign funded by the first group. Either way, the result is that nothing gets done in time to stop what’s coming, let alone prepare for it. Because that is going to take cooperation, and with the rise of nationalism, cooperation is turning into a bad thing, for we musn’t work with the enemy. Build a Wall!!!

WAR

Despite reductions in nuclear arsenals, men have more than enough warheads ready to launch and trigger a nuclear winter. There are multiple flaspoints.

  
1. The Middle-East

Whether it’s ISIS, Iran, or Israel, the Mid-East has long been a bomb waiting to go off. In addtion the the sectarian violence betwen Shia, Sunni, and Kurds, there is also the universal hatred for Israel. A war there could start in many ways and quickly escalate. Israel has nuclear weapons and those nukes are key to its defense doctrine. They will use them if attacked by Iran, and Iran  seems intent upon wiping Israel from the map.

2. Russia

Russia annexed Crimea, and is actively engaged in the Ukrainne under the guise of humanitarian aid. The fact is, many residents of Eastern Ukraine support a stronger relationship with Russia, so the country itself is divided, making this civil war vulnerable to Russian intervention. As Russia militartizes the artic, this also opens a pandora’s box. Canada and the U.S. are vying control of resources below the melting ice and for the sea lanes which are opening up due to global warming. Russia rages against the sanctions placed on it, and resents the expansion of NATO into it’s traditional sphere of influence. Putin can’t wait to see a weakened Europe, a distracted U.S.

3. China

China is building airstrips on islands manufactured out of coral reefs in waters contested by Japan and the Phillippenes. Last week, Chinese aircraft came dangerously close to U.S. warships in the region,  and flybys are becoming a common occurance. How long before someone makes a mistake? One with international, and perhaps catastrophic consequences. Furthermore, China and Russia are working to improve their relationship, planning huge infrastructure projects together and developing trade relations in an effort to cut the United States and Europe out of the loop.

4. The United States

  

  
If Trump wins the Presidential election, God help us all. This guy has advocated giving nuclear weapons to the Saudis, expressed admiration for Putin, and is one word away from declaring war on an entire religion of more than a billion people. He believes his own hype, and this is incredibly dangerous, thinking that international relations are nothing more than business deals he can bullshit and bully his way through.

If Trump doesn’t win, then all that outrage that got him this far is going to be seeking an outlet. We may end up destroying ourselves in the end. And where the U.S. goes, so goes the fate of the world. 

Given the current state of affairs, that’s a scary truth.

Defeating Radical Islam

  The west is at war with radical Islam, whether our politicians acknowledge it or not. The United States does not want this war, nor does Europe; but hoping to avoid a fight is a sure way to loose when the fight has already begun. The enemy is among us, and they want to kill us. We must accept that truth, understand the reasons for it, and execute a plan designed to defeat the enemy.

I happen to have Muslim friends, kind and good people who want nothing of any soort of war. Unfortunately, they are in it too, and on the front lines, for they must lead the fight to reclaim thier religion and wrest it from the hands of the radicals. Of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, based on PEW polls, roughly 10% are fundamentalist Islamists. That means worldwide, about 160 million people believe that killing those who leave the faith, stoning women, beheading people, and murdering in the name of religion are perfectly acceptable ideas. Ideas which originate in the Q’uran. 

If only 10% of those radicals are willing to become jihiadis, that leaves 16 million highly-motivated true believers willing to die tomorrow and take as many infadels with them as they can. This is a threat the west can no longer ignore or take lightly, because many of those jihadists already live here. 

In the wake of the worst terror attack in the U.S. since 9-11, coming on the heels of San Bernadino, Paris, and Brussels, the United States must accept the fact that radical, jihadist Islam is at war with us, whether we like it or not, and we must do whatever it takes to win. There is no single silver bullet, and the battleground is complex and evolving. 

Victory demands a multifaceted, nuanced approach. This war has been going on for over a thousand years, and it’s not going to end for decades. 

A Bit of History

The Islamic Caliphate captured  Jerusalem in 637; initially the Caliphate was tolerant of other religions, including Christians and Jews, but eventually became more conservative, expelling and executing those of other faiths. The current Islamic State models itself on the Caliphate. When the Godfrey and his knights took Jersualem in 1099 during the first Crusade, the fighting was bloody and both sides commited atrocities. The Crusades would go on for centuries, with Muslims and Christians battling for control of the Holy Land.

PikiWiki_Israel_13177_Christianity_and_Islam
The Ottomon Empire eventually took over from the Caliphate, and became a dominant world power. Constantinople was a center for global commerce for six hundred years. The empire, already in decline, sided with Germany during World War I, and following that defeat, the Allied Powers carved out a new nation… Turkey. There was a power vacuum in the Middle East left by the empire, as the British and French took the lead in influencing politcs in the region.  The French   controlled Syria and Lebanon, and the British held Palestine and Iraq.  Arabia and Yemen emerged. Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar were British Protectorates.

Following World War II,  with France and England reeling from the effects of the war, the mideast fought for independance from a long era of  European colonialism.  Israel was recognized as a nation in 1949 on lands that Palestine claimed, fomenting anger among the  Muslim populations throughout the region. More than once, Israel was attacked by its neigbors.

Demand for oil powered the economies of the entire Middle East, with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran building powerful armies and growing wealthy. The Soviet Union and Untited states fought proxy wars, propped up dictators, and vied for influence in the region in order to keep the oil flowing.

The U.S. toppled Sadam, and pulled out without a clear plan, leaving the country vulnerable to corruption and invasion. ISIS swept through Syria and is now in Iraq.  They now sposor terror throughout the world, and claimed the last two mass shootings here in the United States.

 Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, Al Queda, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and organiztions like them are growing more sophisticated and dangerous, recruiting via social media and communicating through encrypted emails, building sleeper cells and striking across thousands of miles. They prey upon the young, making attactive the idea of killing in the name of God. They have declared war on everyone who doesn’t agreee with them, longing for the apocalypse, and willing to die to obtain that goal.

So how do we stop the enemy?

Burst the Liberal Bubble

While liberals want peace and harmnony, (admirable goals), we tend to ignore the fact that evil exists, and the only way to defeat it is to fight. Not with mere words and calls for unity, but with bombs and blade and resolve. Religion is coming for us at the tip of a spear.

Liberals don’t want to offend, are reluctant to appear to hate, and will twist themselves into mental and emotional knots to avoid the truth because they don’t really understand it. The idea that humans are willing to die for religion seems a bit uneral to them, disconntected from their reality, and they cling to the belief that all religions are basically benign and created equal.  Radical Jihadist  Islam is inherently violent, and all the rainbows and unicorns in the world won’t change that. Wake up, people!

Cut off the money

The Saudis fund terror around the globe. Most of the 9-11 attackers were Saudi men, and ISIS gets  the bulk of its money from various back channels that end with the Kingdom. In the United States, and around the world, the Saudis fund many Mosques which subscribe to the brand of Sunni Wahhabism shared by ISIS. This is an austere interpetation of the Koran, a literal one.  According to their beliefs,  only those who folllow Whhabi are chosen. Others, including Muslims, are defiers of god. They are to be hated and persecuted. 

Poll  after poll shows that the citizens of Saudi Arabia hold deep hatred for the United States. They are not allies, not really. We buy oil from the Saudis because we must, and we fear thier power. OPEC controls oil prices, and if prices spike, our ecnomoy goes into free-fall.

The United States must become energy independant. This means renewable energy like solar, wind and geothermal. It means building more nuclear plants, and investing heavily in research for fusion, which is the holy grail of energy. Essentially limitless, safe, and inexpensive energy. 

This is going to take decades, but it is within our power. Only by becoming energy independant can we stop the Saudi influence on our economy and the way the Kingdom spreads its particular branch of Islam around the world. Without the money, it’s power will wane.

Increased domestic survailance

war

It is a terrible truth that a free society is vulnerable to attacks, and that the only way to prevent more loss of life is by giving up some of our liberty. This is not to say that we need an authoritarian government, only that there is a balance between our civil liberties, constitutional rights, and national security. We need to be vigilant, and some of that is going to be invasive. The NSA will be monitioring our phones and internet activity as the war ramps up, more so than they already do. More street cameras, more drones over our soil. It is scary. Big Brother is watching, and he’s going to keep doing it. There is no other way.

Judges will need more lattitude to issue wire taps and search warrants. The FBI will have to step up its intellegence gathering abilities, utilizing moles and undercover operations in the way that the CIA did during the cold war. Mosques which preach radicalization must be monitored. Immigrants with leanings toward Jihad must be deported. Citizens who fund terror groups must be put in federal prison.

Rather than open our borders to an influx of refugees, the U.S. needs to find a solution within the Middle East, and do it quickly. The innocents fleeing ISIS deserve a place to live in peace. As terrible as it is, that doesn’t mean that place is the United States. Germany is reeling from the influx of refugees, as are most other European countries. 

Stopping ISIS

The immediate threat is ISIS. The United States must form an international coalition which includes Russia and Iran, along with the EU.  This would entail boots on the ground, and would only be a temporary solution, because eventually power would haave to revert back to Syria and Iraq. The swiftest solution, although not pretty, would be to essentially give Putin the ability to do what must be done in Syria, going in with tanks and infantry, then rebuilding in the aftermath but maintaning a presence and influence in country. The U.S. is going to have to do the same thing in Iraq. 

There will be collateral damage, and we’ ve got to be ready for it. We won’t be able to leave for decades. There will be a constant insurgency, and American lives will be lost. Eventually, Iraq should be divided into separate autonomous states, with the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shia each with thier own nations. This would drastically cut down on the sectarian fighting.

Reformation and Enlightenment

Since the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and do not  subscribe to the violent beliefs of the Jihadists, they must take their religion back and propel it from the dark ages into the 21st century. Christianity went through its own evil period with the Inquisition, but eventually this gave way to the enlightenment.

The only way this can happen with Islam is for Muslims to act; the west needs to empower them. This means funding alternate mosques and schools. It means pouring money into regions where the only schools are Maderas for boys who are taught to hate before they are taught to read.

Within the United States, we must not condemn all Muslims. This is exactly what the terrorists want, an over reaction which only breeds more hate. However, while our next President must make it clear that we are not at war with Islam, he or she must acknowlege that we are at war with Radical Jihadist Islam, and find a way to unify the country, including Muslims rather than excluding them. We need them to be in this fight, with us, rather than against us, for they are us.

  


War on Solar in the Sunshine State

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Why does Florida rank behind the rest of the country in solar production?

Politics and greed, two all too common bedfellows.

Florida ranks third in the nation for potential rooftop solar output, yet comes in a dismal 16th in actual production.  “It defies logic,” says former Governor Charlie Christ. “It’s absolutely absurd.” Northeastern states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are ahead of the Sunshine State when it comes to rooftop solar, despite snow and cloud cover.

Follow The Money

The utilities in Florida have waged a systemic campaign against rooftop solar because they view it as a threat to their monopoly on power. Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) rack up staggering profits from coal, gas, and nuclear power. They make money through infrastructure projects and rate increases, and to protect their profit margins, wield tremendous power in Tallahassee among our state lawmakers. “The power companies hold sway here, and the consumers are at their mercy,” said state representative Dwight Dudley, the ranking Democrat on the energy subcommittee in the Florida State House.

Florida Power and Light, which proposed a 24% rate hike to the Public Utilities Commission this year, generated $1.65 BILLION in PROFIT  last year for its shareholders. The oil and gas industries, which are heavily subsidized by the federal government, are pouring millions of dollars into Florida to thwart the growth of rooftop solar, aligning themselves with the utility companies.

Former Republican legislator Nancy Argenziano, who chaired the Public Utilities Commission until 2010 stated this: “The legislature is owned by utilities. To me, it’s extremely corrupt. The legislature takes millions from utilities, who make billions from the decisions of the PSC. They get what they pay for.”

Every year, the utilities spend millions of dollars on paid lobbyists to whisper in the ears of our legislators. They hold a carrot and a stick, because in addition to the money spent on lobbying, the utilities also spend millions each year on campaign contributions. Since 2007, utilities spent more than $12 million on lobbying, delivering an average of one lobbyist for every two legislators.

More money flows to legislators through PACs, funded by oil, coal, and natural gas interests.  Energy magnates the Koch Brothers funnel dollars through various shadowy organizations, where the dark money can be spent without public scrutiny in order to slow the growth of solar in Florida.

In a display of unparalleled greed and deception, the utilities responded to the grassroots campaign mounted by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy by outspending them and counterattacking.

vote no on 1

Vote No On One!

Last year, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy assembled an impressive and diverse coalition of forces in an effort to make solar more viable in Florida. From Tea Party voices like Debbie Dooley, who helped to found the party, to green organizations like the Sierra Club, the SACE sought to place an initiative on the ballot that would protect rooftop solar in the sunshine state.

The utilities redoubled their efforts, and introduced an initiative of their own. Slickly marketed and blatantly deceptive, the “smart solar” amendment gives more power to the utilities, masquerading as a “green” initiative, while being funded by dirty coal. Investor-owned utilities spent $4 million on the campaign. 60 Plus, a seniors group which got more than $15 million from the Koch donor network, ponied up more than $1 million. They confused petition-signers and even adopted similar language to that of the SACE campaign, ending with deceptive wording which will ultimately appear on the ballot in November.

Should the amendment pass, the utilities will have free reign to hit solar customers with high fees, monthly charges, and up-front costs. And that is exactly what they will do.

Pulling at heart-strings

One manipulative argument from the utilities is that solar customers are unfairly subsidized by those who do not have solar, and that this results in an unfair tax upon low-income families.

This is part of the bait-and-switch campaign the utilities have waged in Florida and in other parts of the country.

First of all, the energy produced from oil, natural gas, and pet-coke is already heavily subsidized by the federal government.  The utilities begin with an unfair advantage, and ignore the fact that the energy they produce would cost more if the playing field were level.

Second, the value of energy from rooftop solar gets devalued by the utilities. A recent study by Arizona’s largest utility found that the value of solar is actually 50% more than the costs associated with it. When homeowners install solar on their roof, they are paying for the cost of the panels, not the utility. The excess power that flows back into the grid comes with no other hidden costs like power-plant upgrades, disposal fees, shipping costs, and environmental upgrades. Furthermore, the increased power leads to greater capacity for the utility, including peak usage times. Finally, rooftop solar leads to greater grid security in the event of an outage.

Subsidies for solar are dwarfed by those for oil and natural gas, which reveals that the argument made by utilities is a bold-faced lie. If utilities were so concerned about the welfare of their customers, they wouldn’t be posting billions in profits, doling out huge bonuses to executives, and increasing rates for everyone.

Moving Forward

Utilities must come to grips with the fact that a business model formed a century ago is outdated now, and face the fact that over the next 50 years, renewable energy will change the paradigm of monopoly.  In Florida, solar has suffered from the political attacks waged largely by conservatives who are in the pockets of utilities, but that perception is changing rapidly. Many conservatives are shifting their attitudes toward solar, not out of concern for the environment, but because solar gives citizens the ability to become energy independent, and because it is a sound financial investment.

Rooftop solar is a choice many people make to invest in their future, and we should have the freedom to exercise that choice. The oil companies and utilities don’t want you to be able to choose to go solar because they are afraid to lose their monopoly.