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Welcome to Off on a Tangent, the online repository where I share my creative endeavors with the world. Inside you will find fiction, news, commentary, poetry, music, and more that I have produced over the years and am still producing today. I am always open to feedback, so please don't hesitate to contact me or leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Will the Euro Last?

Posted December 1, 2011 7:45am ET

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve and several of its foreign counterparts announced a plan to increase ‘liquidity’ and ease the ‘global credit crunch.’ This is in response to European banks’ increasing difficulty in raising money for their day-to-day operations. So what’s going on is a kind of foreign-relations equivalent of the Fed’s ‘quantitative easing’ domestic money-printing programs and, like ‘quantitative easing,’ it doesn’t actually address the underlying problems. It treats a symptom, not the cause.

The U.S. stock markets surged in response to the announcement, in part because the plan alleviates a little bit of the immediate-term uncertainty being wrought by the European sovereign debt crisis. But that’s not all. You see, when the stock market goes ‘up’ it can do so for two reasons: either the total average value of our publicly-traded businesses has gone up, or the value of the dollar relative to stocks has gone down. Perhaps some investors were reacting to the increased short-term stability; perhaps others were reacting to the associated decline in the value of the dollar. Indeed, the only reason the stock market looks as high as it does even in the midst of a recession is because it has mirrored the inflation rate which, by honest measures, has been hovering around 10%/year.

So will these moves save the Eurozone currency union, or solve the European sovereign debt crisis, or prevent our own looming debt crisis? No. They, like most previous moves by our dysfunctional Fed, might buy us a little bit of time…but only at the cost of the later implosion being incrementally worse than it might otherwise have been. As to the Eurozone, well, there are rumblings among some economists that it might not last (at least not in its current form) for more than another two weeks. The grand experiment, unique in world history, of multiple sovereign states sharing a single currency may well be coming to an inglorious end.

Subjects: ,
Posted in Analysis, Briefly

Students Have Rights Too

Posted November 30, 2011 7:30am ET

On November 21, eighteen-year-old Emma Sullivan was on a Kansas Youth in Government field trip to the Kansas capitol. While there, she used her phone to post a message to Twitter about Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS): “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Needless to say, Sullivan’s ‘tweet’ doesn’t exactly rise to the kind of political discourse I would like to see in our country. First off, it’s a lie—Sullivan did not actually speak to Gov. Brownback at the event. Second off, expressing disagreement with a politician by saying he ‘sucks’ and ‘blows a lot’ is not much of a contribution to civil debate. But whatever I might think of Sullivan’s ‘tweet,’ there is no doubt that she has a fundamental First Amendment right to post it.

Well, Brownback’s office didn’t like it and notified Sullivan’s principal, and then Sullivan’s principal demanded that Sullivan apologize in-writing to the Governor. Sound at all familiar? Since then, both Brownback’s office and Sullivan’s school district have distanced themselves from the situation. Brownback blames an over-zealous staffer for contacting the school, and the Shawnee Mission School District now says that Sullivan is not required to write an apology. Good.

Should Sullivan apologize? Probably. But her school has no authority to require it, and Brownback has no right to request it. The whole point of the First Amendment’s free speech clause is to protect political speech, no matter how offensive or absurd it might be. Sullivan posted the ‘tweet’ from her own phone to her own privately-obtained Twitter account, and as-such it’s none of her school’s darn business. If it were posted on school equipment or in a school publication, that would be different. Or if she were a minor, then the school would have some limited authority as her acting legal guardian. But Sullivan is eighteen, and made her own statement from her own equipment. Her school has no authority in this matter whatsoever.

Time and time again (and again, and again, and again, and again, and again) I find myself having to remind our public educators that they are government employees, and are thus bound by the constitutional limitations on government. Even if this weren’t the case (as in private schools), there is educational value in permitting students the broadest possible civil liberties in their schools. You cannot teach students about how to operate in a free society from an academic environment that more closely resembles totalitarianism—telling students what to say, what to think, what medicines to take, when to take them, when to urinate, when to inquire, and when accept blindly. One cannot learn about how to responsibly exercise freedom in an environment where they have none.

An Act of War…Against Pakistan

Posted November 26, 2011 12:59pm ET

Back in May, United States military forces killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout near Islamabad, Pakistan. Although U.S. officials initially reported that the Pakistani intelligence services were instrumental in finding bin Laden, there are many open questions still remaining about Pakistan’s complicity in protecting bin Laden during the years he was hiding in their country. Relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been strained, with a flurry of accusations and counter-accusations going back and forth between the two countries.

But today, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces—led by the U.S.—attacked two Pakistani military outposts on the Afghan border and killed at least 28 Pakistani troops. In retaliation, Pakistan has closed its Afghan border, cutting off supply routes that bring one-third of coalition supplies into Afghanistan.

Our raid against the bin Laden compound was clearly justified, as bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been making war against the United States. Pakistan wasn’t the target; al-Qaeda was. This is another example of what makes the Global War on Terror so unique among wars. The belligerent is not properly a state, but a non-state entity that operates within other states. Pakistan, of course, could have interpreted this as an act of war against them…that was a risk we had to take.

But in this case, there is no such nuance. We attacked Pakistani military outposts manned by Pakistani troops within Pakistani territory. We have committed a clear, undeniable act of war against Pakistan, and they are within their rights to retaliate. Given that Pakistan likely did protect bin Laden and other al-Qaeda elements for many years, I’m the first to question whether they are the ‘ally’ they claim to be…but we can’t label them an ally while we blow up their border outposts. If we’re going to be at war with Pakistan, let’s admit it. If we’re going to be allies with Pakistan, let’s not wage war against them.

Posted in Analysis, Briefly, Reports

When Men Revile You…

Posted November 24, 2011 12:40am ET

I’m the first to admit that I’m not always the humble, even-keeled guy I ought to be. I’m very opinionated and very outspoken about those opinions. I often find myself diving headlong into online debates about politics and, occasionally, religion…admittedly, sometimes when I probably ought to keep my mouth shut. But no matter how passionate I am about a particular subject, I always try to express myself in a polite, respectful, honest way that reflects my Christian values.

I dove into one of these debates recently on a friend’s Facebook wall. The topic began with an innocent post on the subject of people’s sometimes overly-sanctimonious ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ posts, but the comment thread quickly turned to a broader discussion of the original basis for a number of Christmas traditions—including a number of pre-Christian Roman, Nordic, and Pagan festivals. I covered this same basic topic back around Halloween, but I had some time to write up a reply and posted it. I also added my opinion on the subject of holiday-season political correctness and the double-standard with which it is usually applied (i.e., ‘Merry Christmas’ is branded intolerant, but ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Happy Eid al-Adha’ or ‘Happy Kwanzaa’ are all considered perfectly acceptable).

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. What stunned me was one the the replies I received:

“Scott Bradford, you are an absolute LIAR. Which is pretty much what I’d expect from a Christian.” – Bill Wodenhelm

continued… →

Failure is an Option for the ‘Super Committee’

Posted November 21, 2011 7:30am ET

As part of the hilariously insufficient debt ceiling deal back in August, Congress established a group called the ‘super committee’ that would be charged with deciding how to actually make the cuts mandated by the compromise. This group was Congress’s way of avoiding doing their job. Instead of actually making choices about how to reduce federal spending, Congress set up a new committee with a ludicrously tiny mandate (in comparison to the size of the crisis) and hoped they would do it instead.

The ‘super committee’—formally titled the United States Congress Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—is made up of three House Republicans, three House Democrats, three Senate Republicans, and three Senate Democrats. Their responsibility is to figure out how to cut a paltry $1.2 trillion from the next decade’s combined federal deficits…which are running at over $1 trillion/year. You do the math. And they have to report their decisions by this Wednesday.

We won’t really know if they meet that deadline until we get there, but the major media broke the story over the weekend that it appeared the ‘super committee’ would fail, and would either make no compromise recommendation or would make one that fell far short of the $1.2 trillion target. Fine by me.

You see, Congress foresaw this eventuality. In the absence of a plan presented by the ‘super committee,’ a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts go into effect in 2013 to reduce the deficits by the targeted amount. Good. Instead of fighting to the death over which Congressman’s pet-programs will be spared and which will be cut, we’ll just cut them all equally. This is what we should have done in the first place anyway, although we should cut enough to balance the darn budget instead of just reducing the planned increases. No program is actually being cut under any of these proposals; we’re discussing whether to increase each program’s budget by X% or Y%. They’re still increases either way.

Which is really the problem anyway. We need to quit wasting time with all this talk about non-solutions and start discussing how to actually solve our sovereign debt crisis…before we start looking like Greece. We can’t keep buying more government than we can afford.

Man Charged With Obama Assassination Attempt

Posted November 18, 2011 8:00am ET

Last Friday, there were scattered reports of gunfire reported near the White House in Washington, DC, followed by reports that a vehicle had been seen leaving the area at high speed and was later recovered (abandoned) near the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Bridge. I assumed at the time that this was simply your standard DC gang violence, though this incident was somewhat notable for its proximity to the normally-safe federal section of the city.

It turns out that my assumption was incorrect. This week, the United States Secret Service reported finding at least two bullet holes in White House windows (the bullets were stopped by a second layer of ballistic glass). The owner a the abandoned car—Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez—appears to have traveled 1,800 miles across the United States from Idaho Falls with the intent to kill President Barack Obama (D). Obama was in Hawaii at the time of the shooting.

Ortega-Hernandez was arrested yesterday in Pennsylvania and charged with attempting to assassinate the President of the United States—a man he referred to as the ‘anti-Christ’ who told his friends he “needed to kill.”

There have been many attempts to assassinate our presidents over the years, four of which have been successful. Many of the attempts (including this one) have been badly thought out and poorly executed by people who appear to be mentally unstable, though there have been occasional attempts that one might characterize as being more ‘serious.’ The last president to be injured in an assassination attempt was President Ronald Reagan (R), who was shot and seriously injured by John Hinkley, Jr. in 1981. There were several attempts against President Bill Clinton (D), notably including a private airplane crash on the White House property in 1994 and a shooting at the White House later in the same year. George W. Bush (R) was also victim of several attempts, including another White House shooting in 2001 and an attempted hand grenade attack while he was visiting Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005.

This incident is a good reminder to all of us—political allies and opponents alike—to pray for the safety of the President. Nuts like Ortega-Hernandez are after him every day, though most of them get stopped long before they’re shooting rounds off at the White House. The presidency is a very dangerous job. Consider that, so far, 4 out of 44 presidents have been murdered in the line of duty. That’s 9%. Would you take a job that had a 9% murder rate?

So agree or disagree with the President’s policies, and do so vehemently. That’s politics. But while you’re at it, don’t forget to pray for the safety of the man—the human being—who holds the office.

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Posted in Briefly, Reports

The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties

Posted November 14, 2011 6:30pm ET

The United States Supreme Court has been faced with a number of very important cases over the last decade that address our most fundamental civil liberties. Thankfully, in most recent cases it has ruled correctly—though often by a depressingly narrow 5-4 margin.

Here is a review of how the Supreme Court has ruled on three important civil liberty issues over the last several years, and a look at two new ones the Court will be ruling on within the next year.

Right to Free Speech (Citizens United, 2010)

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2010 that the 1st Amendment right to free speech still applies in election season. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (558 U.S. 08-205 (2010)), the court found that several provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law were an unconstitutional limitation on corporate speech.

Critics say that the 1st Amendment applies to people, not corporations, but the Constitution doesn’t say that. The 1st Amendment plainly states that “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” In fact, the Amendment goes on to say, “…or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Corporations are peaceable assemblies of people, which have their own Constitutional protection in the context of the 1st Amendment. The Bill of Rights clearly codifies free speech as a fundamental civil liberty enjoyed equally by people acting individually and collectively (whether they be in corporations, non-profits, or ad-hoc protest communities on Wall Street). continued… →

‘This is Only a Test…’

Posted November 9, 2011 8:00am ET

This is a test...

Because overwhelming us with mostly-spurious weather alerts, fire drills, and terror warnings just wasn’t enough, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon be performing the first-ever nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS) test.  At 2pm ET today, every broadcast television and radio station in the United States will (or rather, should) interrupt its regular programming to let you know that EAS is capable of sending out a national alert.

EAS’s predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), was put in place in 1963 as a mechanism by which the President of the United States could authorize important emergency information to be broadcast all across the country in a national emergency. The system was expanded later to allow local and regional emergency broadcasts and severe weather alerts. The EBS and its dual-frequency activation tone were replaced in 1997 by the EAS with its digitally-encoded ‘SAME’ header (similar to an old modem noise), which has been used ever-since for local emergency broadcasts.

Like EBS before it, EAS is primarily intended for use by the President (or his designee) in a full-fledged national emergency…but in its fourteen year history, this national alert capability has never been used or even tested. While I object to the constant ongoing stream of weekly local tests and spurious alerts about a 2.7% chance of a tornado, I’m equally troubled that the main function of something like EAS has never been tested in realistic conditions. All television and radio broadcasters and providers (including broadcast, cable, fiber, and satellite) are part of the EAS network, and they are all required to be able to receive and rebroadcast alerts, but we really don’t know if the thing would actually work the way we expect it to in an emergency.

Well, this afternoon we’ll find out. And our officials seem to have come to their senses because, from now on, the national alert capability will be tested annually. Better to test your systems fourteen years late than to never do it at all, I guess.

Update 3:30pm: Well, the EAS test didn’t work very well.

I verified that it was carried on a DC-area broadcast channel over Verizon Fios, but it came through with poor quality audio. It was understandable, but it sounded like a bad AM-radio transmission. It also seems to have not worked for a significant number of Americans, including (notably) the New York metro area. Most satellite television customers didn’t get any alert at all (with some DirecTV viewers reporting that their TV’s played a Lady Gaga ‘song’ instead). Many others report getting no alert or hearing only static.

In other words, we’ve had a national emergency alert system in place for 14 years that doesn’t actually work properly. Nice.

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Posted in Briefly, Reports

Election 2011 Results (Final)

Posted November 8, 2011 6:00pm ET

Loudoun County Precincts Reporting: 77 / 77
Per Off on a Tangent policy, candidates are listed alphabetically by last name.
Winners noted with 
(w) when Off on a Tangent projects an outcome.

Virginia General Assembly

13th District Senate

Dick Black (R): 57% (w)
Shawn Mitchell (D): 43%

87th District Delegate

Mike Kondratick (D): 49.48%
David Ramadan (R): 49.94% (w)

Loudoun County Local Offices

Board of Sup., Chairman

Tom Bellanca (D): 35%
Scott York (R): 64% (w)

Board of Sup., Dulles

Matt Letourneau (R): 63% (w)
Larry Roeder (D): 36%

School Board, At-Large

Jay Bose (I): 12%
Bob Ohneiser (D): 31%
Tom Reed (R): 56% (w)

School Board, Dulles

Anjan Chimaladinne (I): 30%
Margaret Michaud (I): 11%
Jeff Morse (R): 59% (w)

Commonwealth’s Atty.

Jim Plowman (R): 52% (w)
Jennifer Wexton (D): 48%


Mike Chapman (R): 54% (w)
Steve Simpson (I): 36%
Ron Speakman (I): 10%

Revenue Comm.

Bob Wertz (R): 99% (w)


Roger Zurn (R): 99% (w)

Soil & Water (3 Seats)

Peter Rush (D): 35% (w)
Chris Simmons (G): 38% (w)
James Wylie (I): 26% (w)

Loudoun County Bond Referendums

Fire & Rescue Bonds

Yes: 72% (w)
No: 28%

School Bonds

Yes: 58% (w)
No: 42%

Election LiveBlog

Watch this space for news from important local and regional elections! continued… →

Get Out and Vote! I Did!

Posted November 8, 2011 10:30am ET

I voted... Did you?

While the media continues to drone on and on about next November’s presidential election, the actual civic life of the country is focused elsewhere today. Here in Virginia, we are voting for who will represent us in the Virginia General Assembly and in our local city and county governments. Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey will also be holding state legislative elections and the people of Kentucky and Mississippi will be choosing their governors and other state offices. The people of Mississippi will also be voting on a very important state constitutional amendment that would legally recognize that human life begins when science, faith, and logic all say it does: at conception.

As I have told many friends and family members over the last several weeks, we do ourselves a disservice if we ignore these elections and focus instead on a national election that is still a year away. The national elections are important, no doubt, but our state and local governments have more real impact in our day-to-day lives. Your roads, fire departments, schools, police, libraries, and public utilities are the business of your state and local governments. Federal policy has comparatively small impact in these areas. The founders envisioned a system where the bulk of government would be at the state and local levels, while the federal government would stay focused on its comparatively narrow areas of responsibility (foreign policy, interstate commerce, printing money, etc.).

So it is important that you pay as much attention to your local elections as you do to your national ones. It is important that you go out and vote today, assuming you live in a jurisdiction holding elections and are legally eligible. I did (and I even got to shake hands with a couple of local candidates). The polls in Virginia don’t close until 7pm, so you still have plenty of time to research your candidates and ballot issues and get out there.

Posted in Briefly, Life, Opinion

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