Diplomacy…

I’m not, either by training or disposition, suited for the world of diplomacy. There they use find words and polite phrases to make even the simplest issues sound complex. The complex issues, well, they make sound too difficult for a mere mortal to comprehend. Certainly not all people will ever grasp the detail of policy but the brad strokes don’t feel like they should be out of reach.

While I can’t in good conscience support all of the activities on the world stage of our current president, I do have something of a gut feeling that an occasional shake up in the polite world of diplomacy might actually be a net good overall. Turning the polite, made-for-tv photo op frippery of international diplomacy on its ear makes a dark little corner of my heart just a little bit happy.

With the G7 conference left in a tizzy, I’m waiting with great interest to see what news comes from Singapore. I fully expect the hand wringing of the international media, talking heads, the left here at home to be something worth seeing – even if only for its entertainment value.

No, I don’t want to watch the world burn, but I don’t mind at all seeing it dragged out of its comfort zone from time to time.

Like I said, I’d well and truly suck as a diplomat.

What a difference thirty years makes…

When I was about eleven years old, I remember distinctly watching coverage on the then fledgling Cable News Network of protestors in their thousands pouring into the streets of Eastern Block countries to demand liberty and the rights of citizens from their Communist masters. Moscow itself trembled under the weight of these demands for freedom.

This afternoon on the same news channel, I watched as thousands of American citizens took to the streets to demand their government strip away centuries old, foundational rights of their republic. As they say, those who don’t know history…

Honest to God, the longer I live the less I recognize my own country.

Remaining silent…

I’m taking a brief pause from writing this evening. I’ve opted instead for warmed leftovers and a movie I’ve seen at least two dozen times.

Frankly the things I have to say about our elected representatives and my employer’s apparent lack of planning for how to handle a shutdown in a efficient and orderly manner would sail dangerously close to treason and insubordination. So I’ll just sit here and avail myself of my right to remain silent.

Your tax dollars (possibly) not at work…

This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.

There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.

I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.

Death and taxes…

Depending on your news source of choice, you’ll hear a lot about the tax bill that just passed through Congress being the best tax overhaul in a generation or the worst catastrophe to ever befall the republic. The line I heard today that most sticks with me, though, is that “the tax bill does the most for the people at the top of the income ladder.”

Um, well, yeah. I guess it does. Those are the people who are paying most of the income taxes collected by the federal government. It seems that any changes at all to the tax code would likely impact them more than it does the 43% of the population who currently pay no income tax.

In a quick review of the discussion, I found that “A Pew Research Center analysis of IRS data from 2015, the most recent available, shows that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more paid well over half (58.8%) of federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all returns filed.” Drop that income level down to $100,000 and it accounts for 80.6% if all federal income tax receipts but only 16.8% of tax returns filed with the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. About 17% of those filing their taxes carry more than 80% of the burden of paying income taxes. This doesn’t even account for people who for whatever reason aren’t required to or don’t file with the IRS. I’m not now nor have I ever been a math major, but the numbers do seem to indicate pretty strongly that a small percentage of the population is doing a very large percentage of the heavy lifting when it comes to the overall income tax burden.

Knowing all this, when the discussion comes around to who needs to pay their “fair share” or how wrong it is that the people who actually pay the vast majority of income taxes should benefit from a reduced tax burden, I honestly have no bleeding idea what you’re talking about.

Reciprocity…

The House of Representatives has on deck this week, a bill known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This bill says, in part, that a concealed carry permit issued by a citizen’s state of residence must be honored by the rest of the several states. It imposes limitations on this reciprocity in the case of people who are not eligible to possess a firearm under federal law (felons), those who are dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers, and those who have several other disqualifying factors.

Suddenly the Democrats find themselves standing up as the party of state’s rights and the Republicans are the party pushing for federal law to supersede the will of states like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, so called “may issue” states, where concealed permits are virtually impossible to get for the average citizen. Given the way the law is written, as an American citizen residing in the State of Maryland, this bill, if passed, does precisely nothing to allow me to carry concealed either within Maryland or in any other state. It does mean that residents of Pennsylvania, Delaware, or the District could carry their firearm concealed into the state based on permits issued by those jurisdictions.

I don’t buy that this should be a state’s rights issue any more than I buy that argument when it’s used in opposition any other Constitutionally protected right – same sex marriage, for example. The Constitution should apply equally to all people regardless of the state in which they reside – and that’s why I have a hard time supporting the CCRA.

From my vantage point here in Maryland, it creates a condition under federal law where a resident three miles away in Delaware is allowed to exercise a Constitutional right that I, living in Maryland, cannot. The solution in this case isn’t to overlay the current patchwork of state permits with another layer of federal law. The solution is for federal law to recognize that all citizens, with limitations spelled out clearly for felons, the mentally ill, etc, have the same rights and standing under the Constitution. The solution is for the Congress to recognize the inherent right to self-defense found in the 2nd Amendment and clarified by the Supreme Court’s Heller decision and legislate accordingly.

My reading is the CCRA is a half measure that adds complexity rather than clarity.

Neutrality…

​With our political and media celebrities having trouble keeping their dicks in their pants, the possible end of Net Neutrality is something that’s not getting as much coverage as it probably should.

There’s a big part of me that generally favors deregulation. Having worked under and been responsible for writing government regulations, I can attest that they often have a certain stifling effect on whatever they touch. I also recognize that “the internet” isn’t some ubiquitous “thing” that sprung into existence in nature. It’s a network that exists because companies went out and designed, built, installed, and maintain the infrastructure that has come to deliver us the connectivity we know and love. The “net” in net neutrality, then, is underpinned by a whole lot of businesses that spent a whole lot of money based on the assumption that they’d make massive amounts of profit by doing it. You didn’t think they developed the net out of the kindness of their hearts so we could exchange funny animal memes did you?

​On the other hand, I’ve learned to despises Comcast with the burning fire of a thousand suns don’t want to give them any more control over the internet or give them and the other cable/intent providers the chance to bleed me for even more money every month than they’re already getting. It’s a painfully interesting case of self interest versus governing philosophy.

​Google, Apple, and the rest of Big Tech are arrayed against Comcast and the companies who own the “pipes” the internet flows through. It’s not like they aren’t profiteering off our data left and right themselves, though.​ Unlike the cable companies who take their cut month by both, the tech giants skim theirs in the more subtle way of data mining and selling the personal information that we’ve all chosen to give them. Most of us choose not to notice that bit.

My bottom line is that the internet is going to be controlled by someone – some big business pursuing their own self interest in collaboration with big government who wants to keep an eye on all of us.​ Whether it’s the cable companies and monthly fees or its big tech mining our personal information, probably doesn’t make much difference in the end.​

So which side do I fall down on? I don’t know yet. It feels a lot like picking the lesser of So What or Who Cares when it’s really just picking which set of companies will run the show for the foreseeable future.