Election 2018: Make Gridlock Great Again?

President George W. Bush honors with the 2006 ...
President George W. Bush honors William Safire with the 2006 President Medal of Freedom during ceremonies Friday, Dec. 15, 2006, at the White House.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Gridlock is great,” wrote the late William Safire. “My motto is, ‘Don’t just do something. Stand there.'”

Well, maybe he wrote that. The quote is plastered across numerous web sites with attribution to Safire, but I’ve yet to find one that cites any of his numerous books or columns as source. It sounds like something he might have said. Close enough for government work (a phrase that originated either in the US during World War Two or Canada circa 1906, take your pick), right?

Safire died in 2009, at a time when American politics seemed to be proving him wrong.

Congress has been controlled by one party and the White House by another for eight of the  last 12 years. But instead of gridlock, what we’ve mostly seen is a sort of mutual back-scratching process in which each party rages (with all the vigor and believability of professional wrestlers) at, then “reluctantly” supports, the other’s excesses.

George W. Bush and Barack Obama vetoed 12 bills each during their combined sixteen years as president —  less than 2/3 as many as Bill Clinton in his eight years. The last president to veto fewer bills than either Bush or Obama was Warren G. Harding, who served for less than 2 1/2 years.

The betting public sets reasonably good odds on a return to “divided government” after this November’s midterm elections. At PredictIt, in answer to the question “What will be the balance of power in Congress after the 2018 midterms?”  shares in “Republican House, Republican Senate” and “Democratic House, Republican Senate” are each trading at 40 cents, with “Democratic House, Democratic Senate” at 28 cents and “Republican House, Democratic Senate” at 3 cents.

Prediction markets aren’t perfect, but they reflect the opinions of people who have money riding on being right, instead of just the opinions of people who happen to have opinions. A considerable percentage of people with skin in the game think that Republican president Donald Trump will face a partially or completely Democratic Congress, instead of a Congress dominated by his own party, starting next January.

Could real gridlock be on its way back into fashion? I’d like to think so. But I don’t.

Throughout Donald Trump’s career, he’s been anyone’s dog who’ll hunt — er, make deals — with him (ask the Democratic politicians he’s donated to over the years). If the Democrats do well in the midterms, he’ll probably just pronounce himself the most Democratic president in history, and act accordingly.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State

FBI Badge & gun.
FBI Badge & gun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the “Russiagate” probe began, US president Donald Trump and his supporters have used lots of bandwidth raging against what they refer to as the “Deep State.” Does the Deep State exist? If so, what is it, and are its forces arrayed specifically against Donald Trump and  his administration?

Yes, the Deep State exists — probably more so at one end of its numerous definitions and less so at the other, but to some degree at both ends.

At the seemingly more benign end, the Deep State is simply what one might think of as the “permanent government” — the army of bureaucrats and functionaries whose careers span multiple administrations. Like all career employees of large organizations as groups, they tend to fear and resist change, and their sheer mass has an inertial effect. They energetically do things the old way and drag their feet on new things.

At the end dismissed by mainstream commentators as “conspiracy theory,” the Deep State is an invisible second government which acts in a coordinated manner to protect its prerogatives and advance its interests and favored policies versus changes supposedly demanded by “the people” via their elected representatives in Congress and the presidency. The premier example of this view is the claim that John F. Kennedy was assassinated by the CIA and the military industrial complex because (in one version) he was about to get the US out of Vietnam.

If that end of the spectrum sounds crazy to you, consider:

Former FBI attorney Lisa Page and former FBI deputy counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok, while working on a pre-election investigation into alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government, exchanged text messages with incendiary content such as “there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”

In mid-May, it emerged that an FBI informant approached two or three (reports vary) advisers to Trump’s campaign during the same period to pry into those advisers’ alleged ties to the Russian government.

Is President Trump stretching the reports we’ve seen when he tweets “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story?”

Well, maybe. But not by much. On any fair reading, those two stories combined do look a lot like the second definition of Deep State skulduggery. The FBI was meddling in — acting to influence or in extremis overturn — a US presidential election (sound familiar?). The messages between Page and Strzok color that meddling as intentional Bureau political action, not as incidental investigative fallout which just happened to touch on the election.

While I disagree with President Trump on most issues, it’s hard to disagree with him when he rails against a transparently political witch hunt that has dragged on for more than a year visibly and for months before that beneath the surface. The Deep State is real. And dangerous.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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@Twitter: Net Neutrality For Thee, But Not For We

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“Net Neutrality” is back in the news. On May 16, the US Senate voted 52-47 to undo the Federal Communication Commission’s undoing of the previous FCC’s doing of … yes, it’s complicated. There are really only three important things to know:

First, Net Neutrality as implemented by the FCC in 2015 was a bad solution to a non-existent problem — a corporate welfare program for Big Data at one end and an Internet censorship enabling act at the other, pitched to the public as the fix for an Internet that wasn’t broken.

Secondly, when Net Neutrality ended in 2017, something else didn’t end — the world. The Internet continued (and continues) to hum right along, with or without Net Neutrality.

Thirdly, the Senate vote is a tale told by politicians, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Repeal of the repeal of Net Neutrality won’t pass the US House of Representatives, and if it did President Trump wouldn’t sign it. It’s just grandstanding.

In other news, it seems that one of Net Neutrality’s big supporters — Twitter — doesn’t really support Net Neutrality. Or, rather, it supports Net Neutrality for everyone else, just not for itself.

Back in 2015, in a blog post titled “Why Twitter faves #NetNeutrality,” Twitter manager William Carty wrote: “[T]he Internet provides an almost frictionless experience for an individual to communicate with the world … We need clear, enforceable, legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet remains open and continues to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. This is the heart of Twitter.”

Pretty standard Net Neutrality dogma: “Free and Open Internet.” No “fast lanes” for some people’s data while everyone else gets pushed into the “slow lane.”

But on May 16, Twitter announced, you guessed it, a fast lane for itself and a slow lane for third party apps. The Verge reports on coming changes to the company’s API which “prevent new tweets from streaming into an app in real time” and “delay some push notifications.”

Companies that use lots of bandwidth love the idea of Net Neutrality because it’s a subsidy.

Under Net Neutrality, Internet Service Providers aren’t allowed to charge bandwidth hogs extra for providing more, bigger, faster pipes for their data to travel down. Big Data doesn’t want to have to charge their advertisers (Twitter) or subscribers (Netflix) more to cover the costs of those pipes. Net Neutrality shifts those costs, by law, to Big Telecom. In other words, to your cable bill.

When it comes to their own apps, though, this “no fast lane, no slow lane” stuff goes out the window in a hot second. They want to cash the corporate welfare checks, not write the corporate welfare checks.

But it’s in the best interest of regular users to do away with the corporate welfare checks altogether. Let’s just pay an extra buck or two for our Netflix accounts instead of trying to shift parts of our bandwidth bills to the little old lady next door who checks her email twice a week.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

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