Political Shutdown Games

I am not normally political. This post will be an exception because I am an American and I am concerned.

Please allow me to frame the issues involved with “the wall” in its actual terms. Despite what the media is saying, this is not about Democrat vs. Republican. In short, the executive branch of our government is threatening to declare a national emergency since the legislative branch will not authorize the seizure of private American property for a federal works project nor will fund it. The executive branch has already shut down the federal government. It is currently threatening to extend this government shut down for however long it takes for the legislative branch to cave.

Let us break this down. 

First of all, the framework of our government is based on checks and balances. Power is divided into three branches: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. The Legislative branch controls the purse strings of government and creates laws. The Executive branch carries out those laws. The Judicial branch tells us whether the laws are constitutional or not. Each branch was designed to be able to balance the other branches.

Why? As shown by our original rebellion, Americans didn’t want a King or a Dictator when we were setting up our government. We were not particularly thrilled with a House of Lords telling us what we could or could not do either.

In this case, the executive branch wants to:
(1) take governmental cash; 
(2) create its own law; 
(3) take away private property from American citizens; 
(4) create its own federal works project. 

At least three of these functions fall within the power/ responsibility of the legislative branch. So, what is the problem? This is one of the most naked power grabs by the executive branch over the others in recent history. Once that power is exercised, it is going to be difficult or impossible to regain any balance again. The executive branch was never meant to have that much power (see our country’s previous concerns about Kings and Dictators). Is this constitutional? Very doubtful. Should all Americans be concerned? That is a question for you to answer yourself. 

Second, a “National Emergency” is generally declared under these general conditions: 
(1) Natural disasters including hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes to name a few; 
(2) Public health emergencies such as significant outbreaks of infectious diseases;
(3) Military attacks; 
(4) Civil insurrection;
(5) Any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, or economy.

Now the first 4 aren’t applicable. The last category was meant to be short-term only. It was designed to be reviewed by the legislative branch every year after it’s enacted (because again; the check and balance is fundamental to how we operate).

So, what is the problem here? If national emergencies can be declared by the executive branch for non-emergency purposes which vest power in one branch of the government why would that branch ever let go of that power again?

Third, the seizure of private property (known as “eminent domain”, a body of law which says the government cannot just take your home without due process). You are joking, right? No. The US/Mexican border is 1,933 miles long. It runs through 4 states (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). Only 33% of that land is actually owned or managed by the Federal Government. A sizable percentage of that land is owned by the Indian nations. It is land preserved for those tribes by treaty and land given under treaty is not land owned by the United States. These tribes already have a lot of reasons to be angry at the Federal Government. This would be pouring additional gas on an open flame.

The other 64% of that land is privately owned. 

How much land would have to be taken? The amount of land that the Federal Government would have to take would likely run 1,237 miles long to 12,371 miles deep (assuming a 1 to 10-mile DMZ from the border into the United States). Even if we could only take 100 to 500 ft of land in densely populated areas, that is a lot of private property that is going to be seized by the Federal government. 

The land necessary for this project would also run through some highly populated areas in the US such as San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, and Laredo. There will be a lot of Americans who are going to have their homes and businesses taken by the federal government. Which will also mean a lot of lawsuits.

In terms of the federal works project, these types of works include hospitals, bridges, highways, walls and dams. These projects may be funded by local, state, or federal appropriations. If they are federal, they are funded by the legislative branch of our government (the same branch that our executive branch is currently trying to take power from). Is the seizure of power constitutional? Not likely given the separation of powers discussed above.

Finally, these considerations do not take into account the sheer cost, human and monetary, that will be involved. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the current cost at $21 billion for construction alone (not counting costs of maintenance or costs associated with increased military/federal patrolling). 

Ask yourself a simple question. When was the last time that you saw a governmental project brought in under time and under budget? Does anyone remember the “big dig” in Boston, Mass? The actual costs are likely to be much higher. This estimated cost also does not include compensating folks for taking their land or the associated impact upon their businesses. 

The Federal budget deficit grew to $779 billion dollars in 2018 according to the Treasury Department. How are we, as a country, going to fund this project? How are we, as a country, going to deal with the additional debt? Unlike private businesses, our country cannot declare bankruptcy. 

This is not about Democrat vs. Republican. It is not about who has the best zingers measured in 10 second sound bites. It is about our country. The core of this issue deals with the profound and immense changes the outcome will have on the structure of our nation. This is the way that we, as a country, should be framing these issues. Please think about it.

Wall of Misinformation

Over the past year, our news has been filled with information and misinformation ranging from alternative facts, fake news, to downright bizarre statements. An interesting observation is that such information bias has been going on for centuries. If nobody has learned lessons from the Trojan Horse, Bill Clinton’s Affair, or The Watergate Scandal then perhaps the ordinary citizen has become desensitized and accepting of half-truths.

In fact, our attention to half-truths is palpable when we watch the evening news. The first indication of our prejudices and preconceived bias is when an accused is splashed across the television screen. No matter how small or insignificant the issue the belief we have adopted is “they must be guilty because they were arrested.” At no point do media, journalists, or the public identify a segment dedicated to whereas those accused are mentioned as pardoned, dismissed, or exonerated. Doing so could bring discredit upon journalism or perhaps adjust future news feeds as after the fact. However, many countries report only guilty findings well after trials. I am not suggesting that method would be acceptable. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we need to take a step back in how we as a nation embrace innocent until proven guilty. The current scheme that society adapted is insinuating people are guilty by arrest, outrageous bond assessments and merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Perhaps the worst part of fake news and half-truths is when someone accuses another individual of a crime that didn’t occur. There are numerous protections both from law and media that place anonymity to those that claim to be victims. But a Trojan Horse moment is when the Duke Lacrosse players were exonerated after spending tens of thousands of dollars to prove their innocence. It was only then that the “victim” was mentioned but was never criminally charged. The wall of misinformation didn’t suddenly collapse. A reason it didn’t crash is that we are desensitized and accepting of half-truths. Instead, more half-truths and false allegations began to increase because the scales of justice protect the victim with no consequences when bogus and fictitious information is presented to police, prosecutors, and the public. The only occurrence where the wall can crumble is when the accusation affects you personally. That is when you begin yelling in a room to be equally heard and provide a rationale defense only to be silenced by numb and disinterested parties.

In today’s social media world it doesn’t take a sex offender registry to make an innocent person guilty in the eye of public opinion. In fact, a look at those accused without trial is immediately detached from the public view never to be mentioned again; unless it’s about allegations. The victim either quietly builds a coalition under the protection of anonymity or leaps into stardom without challenge or inquiry from journalists or hosts as to not bring additional scorn, discomfort or backlash from overly sensitive viewers. Prosecutors and police typically thank victims for being brave and courageous despite only taking the individuals word rather than profoundly investigating for potential holes or irregularities. Prosecutors and police are protected from immunities as well even if there is no evidence whatsoever. But if police or prosecutors discover an impropriety or issue that could exonerate an individual, it is quietly and conveniently omitted to shield its agency or division from further liabilities or internal review.

A lessons learned moment is that the general public doesn’t give a rats ass about the accused versus victims. Society enjoys entertainment value even if it has harmful effects on others.  The notion is that our judicial system is fair despite gripe about overload and cumbersome bureaucratic systems usually embraces a dark message of “you cant fight government” or “government always operates like that”. Again, we have become numb, desensitized, and far-removed from what doesn’t affect people directly because we accept wrongs as a norm. It is not uncommon for people to interject idioms such as “if you lie with dogs you will catch fleas.” However, the lowest level of humanity is slowly becoming the normative behavior as anyone can say anything without proof, evidence, credibility, or inquiry. We are quickly becoming an anarchy society with an absence of fair and reasonable government combined with a complete loss of basic rationale.

I predict a future where the sex offender registry will no longer be relevant. Instead, we will live in a world where social media and the internet will decide who is allowed to engage. There will be no need for a criminal background check because Facebook, Yelp, Google, Microsoft, and phone apps will best determine with its analytics who fits the mold of acceptable behaviors. This is not to meant to sound like a conspiracy theorist or alarmist. It is a fact that these social media indicators are already relevant and working today. With the over fifty different and propriety offender registries and police records managed differently by each state will eventually become a crazy mishmashed data service connecting to Facebook or other media providers.

Why do I say this? Because ordinary citizens have become desensitized and accepting of just about anything that sounds like the truth. We are products and no longer people essentially because some rushes to social media to voice outrage yet do nothing to actually make a difference.

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