Welcome to Shutdown Theater, 2015 Edition

The western front of the United States Capitol...
The western front of the United States Capitol. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Well, here we go again. Sample annual headline: “Republicans Threaten Government Shutdown.” This year’s excuse: A feud over whether or not to continue writing an annual $500 million corporate welfare check to Planned Parenthood.

With bated breath, the mainstream media informs us that the usual suspects on Capitol Hill are “working feverishly” to avoid the “shutdown.” If they don’t work out a deal, the media will squeeze a few more days’ or weeks’ worth of purple prose out of this fake calamity.

Yes, fake.

There’s not going to be any “government shutdown.” There’s never been one, nor is one likely in the future. Or at least not until the US government as we know it “shuts down” for good (yes, that will happen someday — nothing lasts forever).

Nor are these fake “shutdowns” anything close to calamities. At worst they’re mild inconveniences, and then only because Americans have acquiesced in government doing far too many things for far too long.

When we hear that the government has, or is about to, “shut down,” there’s always a curious follow-on clause: “Except for essential services.”

You’d be surprised at the variety of seemingly non-essential services the US government considers “essential.” The list is too long for this column, so I’ll just throw out one example: TSA agents will continue to feel up air travelers, even though letting not-quite-qualified wannabe cops routinely sexually assault people has, on the evidence, never prevented so much as a single terror attack.

But here are two more important questions than what’s “essential” or “nor essential”:

First, if something is not “essential” — a synonym for “necessary” or “indispensable” — why is the possibility that the government will stop doing it for a little while always portrayed in the mainstream media, as an impending disaster of epic proportions?

Secondly, if something is not “essential,”  why is the government doing it in the first place? Especially when that government is $18.5 trillion dollars in debt, runs annual spending deficits in the neighborhood of half a trillion dollars each year, and faces future unfunded liabilities which may be in excess of $200 trillion?

It seems to me that the impending fake “shutdown” should be greeted not with angst but with anticipation. Or, at worst, with apathy.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s not even the end of an era. It’s the finale of a bad sitcom’s bad season.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.


Election 2016 Reminder: Who Needs Who?

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Memory has a way of playing tricks on the mind, but my recollection is that each of the seven presidential elections since I reached adulthood (I turned 18 the week after Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984) has been advertised — by the parties, by the candidates, by the media — as “the most important election of our lifetimes.”

Here comes the eighth. Same schtick,  even if the Jerry Springer atmospherics have been turned up a little. The world will end if Candidate X is elected. Americans will starve in the streets if Candidate Y isn’t elected. You know what I’m talking about.

Of course, each presidential election IS incredibly important to the parties, the candidates, and the media. Elections are their bread and butter. But are they really that consequential to the rest of us? On close examination, the only plausible answer is “no.”

Politicians of both major political parties trot out big plans and contrast those big plans with the big plans of the other candidates. Yes, those plans differ between the parties and from candidate to candidate, but only in degree, not kind. They all boil down to minor variations on the theme of  “let ME spend your money and run your lives.”

Look, I get it. I’m a politics junkie. I love the horse race, too. Like most Americans, I let myself get wrapped up in the dueling narratives.  Probably more so — I’ve been an activist at one level or another in every presidential election since 1992. It’s easy to forget that there’s more to life than politics. But there is.

Here’s a secret the politicians don’t want you to know: You don’t need them nearly as much as they need you. In fact, you need them like you need another hole in your head, while they need you desperately.

Without them, your life goes on. Without you, their careers screech to a halt.

Their conflicting plans are a  constant low-level social contaminant.  Sure, those plans vary by single-digit parts per million in content and composition, but that variation isn’t anything to obsess over.

We’d all be better off ignoring them until they close up their campaign offices, go home and get real jobs in the productive sector.

Okay, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. But let’s at least commit to giving this new crop of presidential candidates the attention and respect actually due them instead of the attention and respect they demand. Turn their fake “debates” into a drinking game. Picture the various candidates in their underwear. Mentally preface each of their speeches with “if I was on drugs, I might say …”

But whatever you do, don’t take them seriously.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.


Pwnd Again: Don’t Trust These Jokers With Your Information

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There’s an old television trope — I’m not sure where it originated — in which a shady-looking character walks up to a group, flashes open his trenchcoat to reveal a bunch of cheap (and presumably stolen) timepieces, and asks “anyone wanna buy a watch?” That image springs to mind every time I hear it suggested that Americans should trust the security and confidentiality of their personal information or critical data to the US government.

The latest:  The US Office of Personnel Management now acknowledges that hackers (allegedly from China, but who knows?) who compromised the government records of more than 22 million individuals got away with the fingerprints of 5.6 million federal employees rather than the mere 1.1 million OPM earlier admitted to.

The US government can’t seem to keep a secret.

Sometimes that’s a good thing, as when a Chelsea Manning or an Edward Snowden exposes war crimes and other abusive and illegal state behavior.

Sometimes it may be a bad thing, as when the immediate past US Secretary of State illegally transmits classified information through, and stores that information on, a private server and apparently entrusts maintenance of that server to people who don’t even know how to delete files and make them unrecoverable.

I say that “may” be a bad thing, because Hillary Clinton’s ineptitude in data security may be better in the long run to the extent that it ends up exposing additional crimes on her part and on the part of other government functionaries. Politicians and bureaucrats don’t deserve the privacy they routinely attempt to deny the rest of us.

There’s a word for people who trust their data security to screwups like president Barack Obama, would-be presidents Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie, FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and other politicians and bureaucrats.

That word is “naive.”

When it comes to your data and personal information, the US government seems to possess two operating modes: Gathering your information by every means fair and foul, whether you want them to have it or not on one hand, and leaving it lying around unsecured for every bad actor on Earth to copy at will on the other.

The tools you need to secure your data from bad actors — including the very politicians who falsely promise to secure it FOR you — are widely and freely available. Stop trusting and start encrypting.

Thomas L. Knapp 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.