It was Supposed to be a Day of Triumph

As I write this, I am sipping, breathing the last of my 18-year-aged scotch whiskey. I have been looking forward to this day for a long, long, time. A project I have been working on is going live. And… there’s no euphoria.

The project is not truly finished, but it has reached its most significant milestone, and from here on out “finished” will be a gradient. Software is that way, sometimes. At the end of the day this is not a triumph of coding but a triumph of finally defeating a bureaucracy.

A big day. A day I have been looking forward to. Whiskey I bought accidentally and have no regrets about. I’m on the patio, watching a tiny crescent of a moon chase the sun toward the horizon, the air not awful, the breeze is rustling the leaves of the tree over my head.

But the triumph, anticipated for more than half a decade, seems small now, in the face of all the other stuff. I don’t want to make today’s events about me, because they are not, and deserve their own space. So I will not go into them here, except to say I am sad and angry and exhausted, and January 20, 2021 seems a long, long way away.

2

Hockey Stick

How will the future treat the year 2020? Here in the middle of it we see a wannabe dictator trying to usurp the world’s largest economy, we see hundreds of thousands dying from the novel coronavirus, and we see marginalized people shouting for reforms that actually mean something.

Big things. Things I am passionate about. But honestly, I think fifty years from now the human race will look back on 2020 as the hockey stick year. I knew this year was coming, but I hoped I would be old enough that I would not have to witness the aftermath. It seems I am not so lucky.

The Hockey Stick. It’s a reference to a graph of global temperature that gets gradually worse until a threshold is crossed and things get really bad really quickly. The graph looks like a hockey stick.

This is the year “Fire Tornado” was added to my vocabulary. Vast swaths of forest are being converted to atmospheric carbon dioxide, in a feedback loop of disastrous consequence. “But forest mismanagement…” you say. Fine. But the fucking tundra is on fire. Permafrost is melting, and Putin’s pipelines are rupturing.

The only way through this is with strong leadership and a full-on investment in adaptation. Our planet is heating up, there’s no getting around that now. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Important to note here, that Putin and Trump’s other “friends” make their money from oil. Apparently they don’t give a fuck about their children. Or your children. Or anyone under the age of 60. Because those rich bastards are woking really hard to live like kings now and screw the consequences. Apres moi, la deluge. In the case of Florida, it’s far more literal this time.

Here we are. Forests burning, hurricanes wailing, rivers flooding. Glaciers sliding into the sea faster than ever before. Not unpredicted. Our coastal cities will do what they can to suffer the sea level rise, but the storm surges will destroy them. I said, after Katerina, (quietly, to myself, or maybe in this blog), that we should not bother rebuilding that city. It is lost, like Miami, like much of Manhattan. Dead cities.

It is time to stop playing what-if games and understand that humanity is facing its most grave challenge ever. It is a challenge many human civilizations have failed before, but this time the peril is global. The planet we got comfy on is gone. It is time to suck up petty nonsense and accept that our only way out of this mess is forward.

2

Idiot

I spent the evening poking at the keyboard, trying to wrangle a new Tin Can story, the first in that series for years. But I couldn’t get my head in the game. First it was sports, then it was politics. Scandal broke around the president today (again), but it was a scandal he could easily have avoided were he not a narcissistic idiot. It was Bob Woodward, for crying out loud.

So I was trying to get my head to a creative place. After being distracted by the surprisingly-compelling Tour de France coverage of stage 12 (kid from Switzerland taking his first ever TDF stage and looking like a beast in the process — he was zooming down narrow, poorly-paved roads fast enough to challenge the lead car, only to mash up the next hill, while the Big Names launched futile attacks and fell farther behind), I turned off the television and set to writing.

And checking the news. It seems that our Stable Genius President sat down with Bob Woodward, a journalist instrumental in bringing down Nixon. They didn’t talk just once, oh no. Not five times. Eighteen times Donald Trump talked to this guy. And our President went on to tell this Journalist, on the record, a bunch of astonishing things.

I will not go into the astonishing things here. Mostly it’s stuff we already knew, but this time it came directly out of Trump’s mouth.

Instead, let’s discuss what a monumental idiot our fearless leader was to have the interviews in the first place. I imagine a conversation somewhat like this:

Bob: Hello, Donnie?
Donnie: Yeah, that’s me. [Donnie doesn’t ask who Bob is, because if Donnie doesn’t know who he is already, the guy is not important]
Bob: I’m writing a book about you!
Donnie: That’s great! Beautiful! All the best writers want to do a book about me. When will you be done?
Bob: Well, that’s the thing, Donnie — if we want the book to be awesome, it needs more of you in it. I need to talk to you. Get inside your head. Really feel the genius.
Donnie: Call me any time. Except when I’m golfing.

Jared or Ivanka could have stopped him; they didn’t. They just let him spend hours talking to Bob “Watergate” Woodward about whatever crossed his mind at the moment. And Bob, bless his heart, was not hostile. He actually tried to guide Donnie around the worst land mines, to give Donnie an escape hatch. Donnie would have none of that.

This episode shows a new and different kind of stupid for our president. Sure, he’s always been a sucker for flattery and a racist and a liar and honestly pretty stupid, but before he’s at least shown enough intelligence to not spill his guts to a man who has already brought down a president. This isn’t Entertainment Tonight.

3

Perspective

I think, as the death toll crosses a politically-minimized 150,000, that we have to accept that the horror we felt when we watched the towers fall was about the buildings, not the people.

Anger in the Air

It is late dusk, the Fourth of July, 2020. There is everywhere, all around me, the rumble and pop of fireworks. It has been going on for a while, now.

I don’t honestly remember any Independence Day being quite like this one.

But of course in my lifetime there has not been a day like this one. I hope there is never a day like this again. We are celebrating the moment we became a nation built on principle, and simultaneously we are revolting against a regime that has abandoned principle.

Around me is a nearly constant drumbeat of noise, near and distant, sharp with proximity or heavy with distant force. The soundscape is frothing, rolling and popping, unceasing. It has not been like this before.

But of course it hasn’t. Nothing has been like this before. This noise is coming from Americans, the true proud-to-be sort, even the earned-my-right-to-be sort, but it is certain the noise is not coming from people happy about the way things have been going around here.

As I type this the background has become a steady roar. You can take that as a metaphor if you want.

One of My Favorite Stories has Changed

Harken back with me, to 1985, the year I turned 21. In our mighty nation, it is an obligation to celebrate this momentous birthday with alcohol. There was a catch, however. My Most Significant Birthday Anniversary fell on a Sunday, and in 1985 in New Mexico, Sundays were no-booze days.

However, as a physics major I was able to count, and I realized that to have a boozy party on Sunday, I would need to buy the supplies the day before. It was a bullet-proof plan.

Except that Saturday night at New Mexico Tech is a time of madness, and friends came by and word of booze leaked out and so forth… and we drank it all. My roommate and I awoke Sunday morning, having promised a party that night, and having no alcohol.

I put out some feelers to see if I could scrounge the booze, but no dice. That left only one choice: Arizona. I can tell you now that it is 156 miles by Alfa Romeo odometer from my dorm room in Socorro to the closest booze store in Springerville, Arizona.

But highway 60 is a joy to drive, up through Magdalena, past the VLA, though Datil and Quemado, and over the continental divide at Pie Town. It was cold, but I had the top down and my friend Jane in the passenger seat, the heater was roaring, and the Alfa was feeling frisky that day.

I was driving just a tad over the posted speed limit. By “tad” I mean roughly 60% over the speed limit when the cop topped the hill right in front of me. Busted. I pulled over, and waited while the officer drove to a place where he could turn around safely, and returned to have a conversation with me.

There are tactics he used, which I have since learned are Standard Lies Cops Tell to Get Their Way. He said I’d have to follow him back to the station if I didn’t let him search my vehicle. I could have responded with “Am I under arrest?” but I was a dumb kid and I didn’t have anything to hide.* So I helped him search my car. It turns out I did have something to hide, but the guy just chuckled at the brick of bottle rockets in the glove box.

Without the heater it was pretty chilly at that altitude in early spring, and my co-pilot and I were stomping our feet and blowing into our hands. The cop laughed at that as well. “I remember when I was young and stupid,” he said, looking at the top-down sports car. He never actually finished searching the car.

Eventually he wrote me a ticket, and we continued on to Springerville at a much more sedate pace. We found the liquor store, and bought one of everything. Home we went, to a birthday party that had not a single female guest. So it goes.

It’s a good story. I especially like the “young and stupid” bit. The search was likely because highway 60 had become a major drug conduit from El Paso to Los Angeles. But the cop and I had even shared a chuckle, despite my flaying of the speed limit. And for many years after, I have enjoyed telling that story.

But you could change one thing about that whole encounter, and everything would have been different. You could add pigment to my skin. If I were black, or even brown, there would have been no chuckles. I would have been lying face-down in the prickly weeds on the side of the road, backup troopers watching over me, while my car was systematically dismantled. Before I could re-assemble it, the Alfa would have been towed, the impound fee more than the car was worth. The bottle rockets would have put me in jail overnight.

Fun story, right?

___

* “I don’t have anything to hide” sounds great until you’ve established the assumption that resisting search is implicitly an admission that you have something to hide.

You may be Hating Trump for the Wrong Reason Today

So on Thursday, Trump invited the head of science for the Department of Homeland Security to join his coronavirus press conference. Mr. Bryan said some things that were interesting, giving valuable information that could be used to slow the spread of the virus. And he did mention that yes, sunlight has been shown to kill the virus on surfaces.

That’s not really a surprise, UV light has been used to disinfect surfaces for a long time now. But the effectiveness of UV against this particular virus was encouraging, and supported Trump’s “this will all go away in the summer and I’ll take credit for thinking of it” plan.

After Mr. Bryan, himself not a scientist — he holds a masters degree in strategic intelligence — sat down, an obviously pumped president returned to the lectern. There were things that could kill the virus! He probably already understood that at some level before, but now he was really seeing it! All we needed to do was take the things that killed the virus outside a human body… and put them inside.

So he turned and said to his pet non-scientist from Homeland Security that Mr. Bryan should look into using light inside coronavirus patients. But why stop there? Disinfectants also kill the virus! Perhaps we should look into using those inside the body as well! Trump was, at that moment, spit-balling ideas with someone modestly more qualified than he was to figure that shit out.

Had they been alone in a quiet room, Mr. Bryan might have been able to say, “Good idea, Mr. President, but those things kill indiscriminately. The challenge is to find something that will kill the virus without killing the host, or to strengthen the host’s innate ability to fight the virus itself.” And Trump would be pissed, but probably not enough to fire the guy, and life would go on.

But that’s not what happened, because it was not a quiet room. It was a press conference, going live to the entire nation. Trump suggested investigating shooting up disinfectants.

Trump does not think before he speaks. If he did, it might occur to him that this is not the first virus humanity has encountered, and that perhaps there were reasons we don’t try to apply chemicals that kill indiscriminately inside our bodies. The closest we get (as far as I know) is chemotherapy, where the drugs are really nasty, but even then they target the bad cells more than the good cells.

Trump didn’t think, because he had a Great Idea.

What Trump thought would happen: His science pal would say, “That’s a great idea! We’ll get right on that!” Probably, in the short time of the press conference, The Donald didn’t even have time to get to the part of his fantasy where the world lionizes him for single-handedly solving the crisis. That came later in the shower.

What actually happened: The world went ape-shit because his incredibly stupid ideas were spoken in front of the whole damn country, and a lot of people instantly conflated “Tide Pod eater” with “Trump Supporter.”

Sure, people have already died from Trump’s medical advice, and some of the deaths have a Tide Pod glow to them, but not very many. Not very many deaths by stupidity can be directly attributed to Trump, anyway. We’ll never know the death toll from liberating Michigan. Might be zero, might be a thousand or more when all is over, but we’ll never know. However many people he does kill by supporting those protests, a disproportionate percentage of them will be first responders and health care professionals, and more than a few working poor.

His tweets about “liberating” certain states (he did not congratulate protesters in states with Republican governors, although the policies and the arguments were the same) are ultimately far more harmful than a few dumb-ass remarks that may get a handful of fucking idiots killed. Trump’s “cross your fingers and hope that sunshine saves us” strategy (I bet Australia can’t wait for… oh, wait, never mind) is much more dangerous to our nation as a whole than suggesting people should shove blacklights up their butts.

(Donald didn’t actually suggest that, just as he didn’t suggest people do I.V. drips of Lysol.)

I’d guess that Trump’s idiot musing on Thursday will kill ten people, tops. Ten stupid people. Probably fewer. And while I’m as big a fan as anyone at pointing out how goddam moronic our president is, we need to remember where he’s doing the most harm and who is being harmed. While the man-child president grasps for a miracle cure to get him (not us) out of this pickle, the rest of us have to keep pushing ahead.

This is the calculus we have come to, weighing the relative harm of Trump’s stupid-ass statements. But as long as we’re here, let’s keep a little perspective. More people will die from his evisceration of the EPA than will inject Lysol into their blood.

I look forward to things returning to normal so we can go back to trying to find all those children ICE misplaced.

I Was Speechless, Now I’m Not

Yesterday I wrote an episode about being absolutely flabbergasted that The Donald would support protests that will literally kill US citizens. Time has lent me a little perspective.

One thing about Trump’s murderous actions is actually smart in an evil kind of way. A few months from now, Trump will say, “I tried to stop the recession, but the damn Democrat Governors stopped me! It’s not my fault!”

Because he’s totally in charge — unstoppable, a fucking genius, just ask him — until it’s not convenient to be in charge and a scapegoat is needed.

And honestly, the coming recession is not entirely his fault, though if he weren’t such a pig-headed asshole, or at least even capable of listening to his advisors, the problem would not be so bad. But Trump’s say-it’s-not-a-problem-until-you-take-credit-for-solving-it approach was the guarantee this virus needed that it could go wild.

Things are bad. This is where Trump usually declares bankruptcy, and leaves the people foolish enough to do business with him holding the bag.

But, true to his bragging before he was elected, Donald Trump could literally take a Russian-made AK-47 into a nursing home and mow down the occupants, and if he said it created jobs, 42% of the American populace would say, “their sacrifice is for the best.” There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that will shake the conviction of that 42%. We can go into why another time (most of the reasons have little to do with Trump himself), but that bunch is fuckin’ entrenched.

Somewhat symmetrically, about 48% of the populace of this country would never, ever support Trump, even if he managed to do something magnificently awesome. A hypothetical that will never happen, but anyway.

So for Trump and his sorta-Republican handlers, this is all a game, playing the slavery-inspired electoral college and the disproportionate influence of rural voters to close the gap in the approval ratings. Thus, “Liberate Michigan”, a swing state. Some of those protesters may die as a result, but even more poor people will. And a significant group will say (not out loud) that a few more dead old folks is the price you have to pay to let me go back to making some asshole rich. Because the assholes have equated making them rich with survival.

Nowhere in that equation is the idea that maybe for a little while we can take care of people without making the assholes rich. Or, god forbid, the assholes could take care of their own.

For perspective, the retail employees of my company are still being paid while their stores are closed, and a heart-warming percentage of them are volunteering to bolster customer support over phone and Internet, as people need more remote help with tech than ever before. If you asked our CEO why he was paying idle employees, he would look at you funny and say, “because it’s the right thing to do.” If you were to ask those volunteers who could earn the same paycheck while playing WoW, they would say the same thing. “We have a rare opportunity to really help.” Ethics are powerful.

But there are no ethics in Washington, especially among the corporate dickwads who whisper in Trump’s ear. It’s 42-48 and all that matters are the votes and where they happen. The real threat to reelection that Trump faces is that if everyone can vote by mail, the Republicans won’t be able to rig the election by suppressing the vote in poor neighborhoods. Donnie himself actually said EXACTLY THAT on Fox the other day. Seriously. He said that if there was mail-in voting everywhere, Republicans would never be elected again.

I Imagine one of his handlers slapping his head and saying “of all the things we told him, that is the thing the idiot actually learned?”

A New Low

I’ve been trying to get my news from sane sources, which rules out Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media. So while I was aware that Trump ignored his own health and security advisors, who had been warning him about the virus heading to our shores, I had insulated myself from his ridiculous tweets. Trump did nothing in the face of those warnings — except to downplay them — because he didn’t want it to be true. In fact, he claimed it wasn’t true more than once.

There were plenty of warning signs that we now know Trump was informed of early on, but understanding things is not what Trump does best.

For example, Trump is just not equipped to understand that when a virus shows almost no mutation in very separate cases, that means it is really, really contagious. To be fair, I didn’t know how alarming the DNA similarity was until recently, but I am able to learn. Donald Trump is not. He is stupid and pig-headed, and since he has fired almost everyone who would dare contradict Fox News, there is no one left to try to guide him. If a problem can’t be handled conveniently, best to just assert it’s not a problem. That (almost) always works.

But then yesterday I learned that Trump has been tweeting support for the protests against social distancing. Sure, this is easier than providing leadership or doing something to materially help people who are in a very bad way right now.

The protests, incidentally, are funded by Trump’s pals, who care more about their corporate bottom lines than the lives of the people who work for them — and financing protests is way cheaper than supporting their employees directly, with the benefit of making the whole thing look like someone else’s fault.

The tweets left me utterly speechless. The same guy who is saying “this is for the states to handle” any time a state asks for federal help is also undermining the attempts of states to handle things, and people are going to die as a result. Not just a handful of the morons at the rallies, but the people those morons go on to infect, and the people who see the morons protesting and turn into morons themselves.

NOT on the list of people who will die as a consequence of these protests are the wealthy men and women financing the rallies, or the “journalists” who long ago forgot what the word means, who are now praising the morons, because those assholes ALSO don’t care whether the protesters or their families live or die. It will be the poor and the underserved, as always, who bear the brunt of the harm they are doing, and those people aren’t voting for Trump next time anyway.

Honorable My Ass

I got a letter in the mail a couple of days ago. It claimed to be from the Honorable Mike Pence, but it turned out to be from our current Vice President instead. “Confidential Material Enclosed” the envelope proclaimed.

Must be Important Shit.

You might be surprised to learn that what the Republican National Committee considers to be “confidential” would better be described as “bat-shit crazy”. Here was a letter that perfectly summarized the alt-truth narrative-trumps-evidence Republican fear-mongering dip-shittery. Dip. Shittery. The logic of dipshits.

Attached to the appeal for my money was a small survey, and in the package of confidential information was a postage-paid envelope.

So I filled out the survey. Where it asked (something like) “don’t you want those pesky democrats to stop persecuting Trump?” I used a big ol’ sharpie to answer no. There were other questions like that, and one that asked if I thought the media was dishonest. I wrote “Fox” over the yes box.

Then I sent the “survey” back, postage paid by the Honorable (according to him) Mike Pence and the RNC. If you have a similar opportunity to express your opinion, I encourage you to do so.

Why I am Not Convinced that We Should Remove Trump from Office

Anyone who thinks Donald Trump would even take the time to learn what the rules are before he broke them is delusional. The Donald has lived his entire life in a world where the rules don’t apply to him. He’s even bragged about that. He’s not intentionally breaking the rules, because he doesn’t care what the rules are to start with.

So it’s not going to take much digging to come up with a smoking gun bad enough to get Trump convicted of some malfeasance or other, and when the rat is on the table, a few carefully-selected Republicans in the Senate will have to “vote with their consciouses” and Donnie won’t be president anymore.

But here’s the thing. Should that happen, the Republican Party will let out a huge sigh of relief. The Republicans right now are paddling a canoe in choppy waters with a fizzing hand grenade rolling around in the boat. The ones doing the paddling know that if the hand grenade goes off, the boat sinks.

Along come the Democrats, who say, “We demand that you throw that hand grenade overboard!” The Republicans protest, but in the end they reluctantly jettison their deadly cargo. Not their fault! And so the same bastards that brought us WWE politics will be allowed to carry on, and suddenly the other clowns like Ted Cruz seem like rational guys (all of them are guys).

Or we could just suffer Trump for a couple extra months, and leave the hand grenade in their boat. The senate is in play in that scenario; just imagine the fallout within the party if Trump causes them to lose everything.

Ultimately, that’s what I want. I want the Republicans to suffer badly enough that they, ON THEIR OWN, not only throw the hand grenade overboard, but they also jettison the big-money assholes and foreign powers that paid to put that grenade in the boat in the first place. I want the Republican Party to be so damaged by this that they shift tack and try to be ACTUAL CONSERVATIVES.

If that happens, then perhaps Trump will have made America great again after all.

The Old-White-Man Fear Machine

Yesterday I read an interesting article over at FiveThirtyEight.com titled Could Trump Drive Young White Evangelicals away from the GOP?. It was an interesting article, but the title didn’t really fit. While Trump may accelerate the generational divide in the Evangelical world, the divide would be there anyway.

In a nutshell, the kids these days aren’t buying the fear that Republicans are selling. That applies to every segment of the population, and the Republican bedrock of white evangelicals is no different.

Younger white evangelicals aren’t worried about becoming a minority; in their world they already are. And they’re dealing with it. They are generally more conservative than their friends, and that’s just a part of life. Their church groups are less white as well. They spend significant time with people who are not lily-white, and many of those brown friends share their values.

Trump, as a world-class fear salesman, might be accelerating the divide between young and old. Older Evangelicals drink that fear like the Kool-Aid it is, but the young ones, while retaining their conservative ideals, just aren’t buying the “scary brown people” narrative. At least, not as much as their parents do.

Those kids will still throw down hard on the subject of abortion, but they’re not going to vote for some joker who has likely funded more than his share of terminations just because he promises to build a wall.

So can we take a moment to stop bitching about millennials? “Kids these days” are not buying the random fear of their elders and instead they are asking their predecessors to stop bankrupting the world just when it’s their turn. Republicans know they are aging out, and it pisses them off. But rather than adapt to the sensibilities of the new generation, they are digging in their heels, and saying that the kids are WRONG!

If it weren’t for the slavery-inspired Electoral College and some pretty damn flagrant gerrymandering, Republicans as we know them would be finished already. But here’s hoping that the young conservatives, even the ones I disagree with, can find a political voice outside the old-white-man fear machine that the Republicans have become.

2

What Makes Me a Liberal

I am against hunger. I am appalled that in this land where obesity is a major problem, we have smart kids getting washed out because they can’t concentrate because they haven’t had food since yesterday. It hurts all of us when this happens, and it wouldn’t be that hard to stop, except the rich people only want their children shaping the future.

I think we should take care of each other. Sometimes I am ashamed to be a citizen of this country when that simple precept is disputed. We should take care of each other. If your neighbor needs help, you offer help. This is not some giant socialist scheme, this is just a simple rule that Jesus (among others) made a point of emphasizing. We should take care of each other. That is all.

I believe in freedom. I believe that it is patriotic to speak the truth, and that the citizens of this country are obligated to speak up against injustice. Obligated. Ob-li-ga-ted. We crucify people for speaking up, when the real sin is keeping silent.

I believe a code of ethics applies to everyone who would choose to lead us, but morals cannot be legislated.

I am in favor of wealth redistribution. Workers are more productive now than they ever have been, yet none of the benefit of that productivity goes to the worker. Jane the Magnificent Spot Welder produces more, and the boss gets richer, while her wage stagnates. When Trump appeals to blue-collar voters about the good ol’ days, when a MAN could go to work at the FACTORY and make enough to have a house and a car and to send his ingrate kids to COLLEGE, Trump forgets that those good days were the product of labor unions.

I am against dynasties. If a kid can’t make it with the best education money can buy (“education”, in this context, actually means “making connections”), and with only $50 million of the family estate, rather than $150 million, I don’t think that kid should succeed. Inherited wealth has been the backbone of a ruling class since money existed. Let’s break that. Sorry, Kennedys and Roosevelts, liberalism has left you behind.

If the Bill of Rights were to be written today, it would include a right to privacy. What’s amazing is that right now privacy is a liberal cause, when it should be a cornerstone of conservative politics. This is the obvious indicator that in this country “conservative” is actually a code word for “authoritarian”. There are no conservatives left in mainstream politics, and that’s a shame.

And that’s what really brings me to being a liberal. There is no longer a conservative voice. You are either liberal or a supporter of the state.

4

How Quickly they Change their Tune

Remember when Republicans were all saying “Extend the patriot Act! Strengthen it! The FBI needs to be able to go after the bad guys!” and the Democrats were all saying “No! We have to protect civil liberty! Approving all this surveillance damages our democracy!”

That wasn’t very long ago. And by the way, ceding more power to the government is not “conservative”. It’s just one of many places where Republicans have proven to be the exact opposite of conservative.

Now the same people who loudly trumpeted the need to expand the ability of the FBI to investigate US citizens are crying about how the FBI is abusing its surveillance powers. You made this bed, Republicans, now lie in it. (And the lying has commenced, indeed.)

If that weren’t bad enough, the Democrats, who are often mistaken for liberals, have switched sides, too, trying their best to defend the FBI’s use of the power congress gave it. They’re crying about not being allowed to use the same low tactics the Republicans used to make political hay from the Trump/Russia investigation.

Why can’t just ONE Democrat point out that the FBI’s new power is a separate issue that may ultimately be more important than having an evil President for a couple of years?

An Engineer’s Approach to Tax Reform

A few years ago Malcom Forbes (I think it was) proposed a 17% flat tax – the same rate for everyone, no loopholes. That proposal would actually have increased revenue. How is that possible? Lower rates for everyone, but higher revenue? Crazy! But true. The increase in revenue comes from what Forbes (I think) called “loopholes”.

“Loophole”, when applied to the tax code, is a conservative code word that the liberals have not deciphered. Because really, no one wants loopholes in the tax code. Loopholes allow the rich to get richer, at the expense of the little guy. Of course liberals hate loopholes.

But in this case, “loophole” actually means “policy”. There are essentially two ways for our government to fund a goal: collect money and then distribute it where needed, or not collect money from where it’s needed in the first place.

Ideally, the tax code would be about exactly one thing: collecting revenue. But it is MASSIVELY more efficient, especially with our terribly inefficient government, to not collect money than it is to collect it, filter it through the bureaucracy, and return a fraction of the amount to the point of need.

Our current tax code is a relatively simple set of rules for collecting revenue, and a gargantuan codex of exceptions. Many, perhaps even most, of those exceptions are defensible for the good they do. Food for hungry children. Incentives for businesses to reinvest in themselves. It’s all over the map.

There are also purely evil clauses in the tax code, carefully designed to benefit specific campaign donors. Actually, there’s quite a lot of those. Actual loopholes.

So: we can’t just wave our hand and sweep tax law clean of all “loopholes”. A lot of people would suffer, and finally we’d pass a bunch of other laws to fund those goals in a less-efficient manner. But somehow we have to weed out all that evil.

From an engineering standpoint, it’s simple. Break the one huge, incomprehensible law into maybe five hundred smaller laws.

First you have the tax revenue collection law. It’s a simple baseline describing brackets or whatever. How we bring the money IN.

Second you have a framework that allows separate laws for single, specific exceptions to that rule. Single. Specific. Each voted on by congress separately.

“Madness!” you cry. “My legislator could never understand 500 separate bills well enough to vote responsibly.” You’re probably right, but your legislator already cannot understand the 500 exceptions in the one tax bill she votes on now. At least she could abstain on policy decisions she couldn’t get to.

So much debating, so much deal-making… so much more work for our legislators. THAT’S THEIR JOB! And when the chips fall, we will have a list of who voted for each provision independently. We would have an exact list of the people who supported “cash for bankers” and who supported “breakfast for children”. There would still be deals, but the deals would be a lot more transparent. And I think that’s a good thing. Each provision of the code would have to stand on its own merits. It is exactly what our legislators DON’T want. It’s a lot harder to hide the fact that you’re in the pocket of a special interest when that vote sits out there on its own.

Implementing this plan would be bloody and painful. Cash cows would wither in the light of inspection (vampire cash cows?), political careers built on hiding shit in the tax code would end. On the downside, the turmoil would probably paralyze government for a year or two, and more than a few of the programs I deem worthy would not survive. People would suffer.

But honestly I think the pain would in the end be worth it. If every “loophole” were scrutinized separately, we could eliminate a lot of pork while making the government a much more efficient expression of the voice of the people.