You’d have to be living deep in the wilderness not to at least catch some of the reporting on the ongoing drama in Washington. I tune it in and out, mostly interested in keeping informed of the broad strokes of who’s up and who’s down. Even if you’re not paying attention, the coverage is hard to miss – no matter how hard you’re best to stay out of the day-to-day details.
Given the nature of of our representative republican form of government, the simple fact is the biggest chance I have to influence national-level policy direction and political questions happens every two years. Getting myself twisted around each news story doesn’t accomplish much other than raising my blood pressure. I have no interest in spending my days picking fights on social media or plotting to storm the damned barricades. We’re watching a political process unfold between the two political branches of our national government. Standing around waving a sign is about as influential as standing on the front porch waiving my fist. I’ll take a pass, thanks.
The one thing I know for sure is that the ongoing battle between the executive and legislative branch is sucking just about all the available oxygen out of the room. It makes the more cynical and jaded part of my brain wonder what’s not being reported. It makes the paranoid part wonder what slight of hand is being carried out while we’re all collectively busy following the drama that surrounds talk of impeachment.
I don’t think this is some grand Illuminati plot or anything, but stealing the lawn tractor out of the backyard shed is a hell of a lot easier when everyone is busy trying to figure out why there’s smoke coming out of the house. It would be a good time for all of us to remain vigilant.
1. “Blood in the street”. The first financial news I consciously remember hearing was during the great bull run of the 1980s. In January 1987 the Dow cracked 2000 for the first time. I was eight years old and heard the news that day in my grandparent’s living room. Today, 30+ years later, after a two plunge, the Dow stands at 25,052.83. I’m not a financial expert by any stretch. I’m not a stock picker. I pay a limited about of attention to broad trends because I do have a vested interest in being able to retire at some point in the middle-ranged future. What I’ve learned from keeping an occasional eye on these trends over the last 20-years of having a small dog in the fight, is just this: prices go up, prices go down, prices go up again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Yes, I hate seeing account balances bleeding away as much as anyone, but the blood in the streets reporting from major news outlets feels completely overblown.
2. “California is underrepresented.” I’ve seen it a few times now – the “infographic” that shows California has only 2 senators while the 7 least populous states in the west have 14. The conclusion is that Californians, therefore, are underrepresented. They conveniently fail to mention that the same seven states are represented by only 13 representatives in the House while California weighs in with 53 members of that august body. Such posts, of course, neglect to discuss the intricate system of checks and balances designed into the Constitution – where the House of Representatives was designed as the direct representatives of the people and senators were elected by the state legislatures for purposes of representing individual state interests within the federal framework. You could almost be forgiven for believing that the United States was a democracy and not a federal republic. After all we so regularly and incorrectly use the words republic and democracy interchangeably. It’s safe to say that the founders knew a little something about mob rule and its dangers to good order and civil society. The whole massive machinery of federal government was designed, in part, to ensure that radical change couldn’t be rolled out across the country at the whim of the mob. Rest assured I’ll be at least one consistent vote against dismantling any such bulwark restraining the passions of a would-be mobocracy.
3. Reply All. Sometimes an email gets out by accident, launched across the ether using a distribution list that sweeps up all people, everywhere regardless of whether they need the information contained in the message or not. Here’s a helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff: If you receive an email message via distribution that’s obviously not meant for you, you can literally just delete it and the offending email goes away. Or you and 27 of your closest friends can “reply all,” ask to be removed from the offending distribution, and be revealed as the enormous twatwaffles that you are. I mean I know from personal experience that people barely read the email that’s addressed to them for action. Why in seven hells the reply all is the one they choose to engage with is just simply beyond the limits of human understanding.
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.
Since I don’t yet live in a cave sequestered from human contact, I switched over to the game in time to see the halftime show. Say what you’d like about Americans in general, but I have to admit we put on pointless spectacle better than any other group of people I know. Most other places on the planet seem content with having a sporting event, a concert, or a fireworks display at completely different times.. but not us, my fellow Americans. No, not us. We want it all crammed into one very telegenic package so we can consume it all at once.
I’m not at all sure if that makes me proud or fearful for the future of the republic.
Yesterday, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) forwarded a memo to the heads of federal executive departments and agencies instructing them to prepare for a government-wide shutdown beginning on October 1st. Congress seems prepared to once again neglect one of the only specific duties it has by failing to pass a budget to fund the government into the new fiscal year. I only wish I could say that such asshattery from our alleged political leaders is surprising. I think at this point, I’d actually be more surprised if they could collectively manage to do something that was in the best interests of the country.
After enduring an ongoing hiring freeze, three+ years of frozen pay, furloughs, and no discussion of a plan to repeal nine more years of sequestration-driven budget cuts, an all out federal shutdown really just feels like par on this ridiculously stupid course. Add a dysfunctional legislative branch, an executive who would cut down every constitutional right in the book to advance his agenda, and an almost universally apathetic electorate, well, maybe we’re getting exactly the kind of “leadership” we deserve as a country.
On the whole I’m finding it more and more difficult to figure out if I’m a professional serving the world’s oldest operating constitutional republic or an extra just passing through an increasingly farcical two bit comedy.
According to former Director of the CIA and NSA, because I’m an advocate for electronic privacy, I should think of myself as part of a collective of “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years.”
I usually try to keep this place about halfway family friendly, but the only response I can come up with is: Fuck You, Mike Hayden. I swore an oath awfully close to the one you swore as a Air Force officer. We both swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Check that again. Foreign and domestic.
This republic has endured two centuries of revolution, invasion, civil war, trench warfare, sneak attacks, and terrorism. Our foundations are too strong to be brought down so easily from the enemies at the gate. If it is to falter, fail, or fall it will be from the domestic advocates who are willing to cut down every protection guaranteed by our Constitution to prove their point or press their agenda. Once that happens, I don’t know what the hell we’re bothering to fight for anyway.
A year ago, hell, six weeks ago I would have called Edward Snowden a traitor. Handing information to the press, especially classified information, goes against the grain and against a decade worth of training and experience. I can’t fathom a circumstance under which I’d do it… I’m philosophically opposed to finding myself in a federal prison or being “disappeared” by some of the more clandestine elements of our government, you see.
Maybe the country would be a happier place if we were all left fat and ignorant of what happens behind the fence line. With reality TV and the celebrity of the moment to entertain us, I wonder how long our collective national focus will remain fixed on what I think we can agree is at best an egregious violation of our collective rights as citizens of the republic. I’m sure it won’t be for as long as it should.
Look, our data is out there. We’re giving it freely to companies like Apple and Google every second of every day. It’s not that I have a problem with Uncle having a peek now and then, it’s that he’s blatantly said for so long that he’s not doing it. If the president or the Director of National Intelligence stood up and said “yep, we’re keeping an eye on phone calls and email and we’ve stopped X, Y, and Z as a result,” I’d probably be on the government’s side of this one without a second thought.
It’s the lie that chafes. It’s always the lie. That’s why I’m conflicted. And that’s why I can’t quite bring myself to condemn Mr. Snowden.
I feel like I should write a post about some combination of the IRS, NSA, privacy, and executive overreach… but honestly it’s just all too exhausting to put into words. This great country was a constitutional republic once and could be still if more than a handful of people were interested in holding the elected representatives of the people accountable for their words and actions. I’m not holding my breath. If anyone needs me, I’ll be downstairs turning the basement into a room-sized Faraday cage so I can have the occasional untapped conversation.
I philosophically disagree with nearly every one of the president’s major policy initiatives. I strongly supported his opponent during the election and I will continue to speak my mind here and to my elected representatives voicing that opposition. I think for a few minutes today we can all stop the rhetoric and look at what a remarkable moment an inauguration really is. When a president isn’t reelected, it represents a peaceful transfer of power, from one person to another, and often from one party as another. For all the acrimony in our politics, the fact that we can still manage it without tanks in the streets probably speaks more to the wisdom of the Framers than it does to our own clearly limited amount of national self control.
Even second term inaugurations are something special – an elected leader, a man we imbue with seemingly absolute power – comes before the people, and swears to uphold and defend the Constitution. We can debate how well or poorly he manages to do that over the next four years, but for today, we should simply agree what a remarkable feature of republican government that really is. Our leaders don’t swear to do a good job, or be popular, but to defend the very idea of self government. That’s heady stuff… but it’s our job as the body politic to hold them accountable for it.
Most of us never swear an oath to support and defend the constitution (though a few of us do), but it’s an inherent responsibility in or collective role as citizens of the republic. So, today, let’s enjoy the spectacle that is the inauguration of an American president. And tomorrow let’s get on with the hard work of being actual participants in the process.
Today is the 236th anniversary of American independence. It would be exceedingly easy to wrap this post up in the flag and let it be. I’ve done that often enough in the past. Like most other birthdays, we don’t spend much time on the 4th looking at the things we collectively got wrong. That’s ok. We don’t go to Great Uncle Leo’s 100th birthday party and remind him about all the times he screwed up. It’s just tacky. But still, there are going to be plenty of blog posts, news articles, and talking heads eager to point out every flaw. There are plenty of other days in the year to do that. I like to think of today as the perfect opportunity to look see beyond the mindless cheerleaders and the cranky detractors and look at our country for what it really is: a work in progress.
Our founders knew times would change and they gave their fledgling republic the flexibility to change with them. We’ve made some really, really bad decisions as a country… and then we’ve changed direction to right those wrongs. We’ll make more bad decisions in the future and in time we’ll correct those too. Part of the joy of America is that we don’t usually stay on the wrong side of history for very long. In 1776, the United States was one of the few examples of a working republic in a world ruled by hereditary monarchs. Almost two and a half centuries later, only a handfull of monarchs are left and most of them exist as heads of state and not heads of government. As a new founded country we went to war against piracy on the high seas rather than paying tribute, we fought brother against brother to decide what kind of country we would be, passed up the opportunity to gather an empire of our own, stood up against laundry list of tyrants bent on world domination, and then more or less built the modern world. At the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, America is kind of a big deal.
For good or bad, right or wrong, she’s my country and I’m incredibly thankful for having been born a citizen of this great republic.