Thursday, March 6, 2014

Try Try Try Again

William Edward Hickson popularized the English proverb “If at first you don't succeed Try, try, try again.”  The sentiment is a good one – it encourages people not to give up.  It helps build endurance and character.  In my role as a not-for-profit executive I often find myself living the adage – constantly trying to move donors, audience, members, etc. towards something.  It requires patience and fortitude.  Many times it works out, but just as often it doesn’t.  In my case, you just move on.  In the case of politicians, it appears that even in defeat they won’t give up.

This week Congress voted for the 50th time to repeal ObamaCare.  I guess they don't care that the Senate and the President won't ever accept that.  They keep trying.  That's perhaps not the best use of time and resources and focus, but with the checks and balances system, it's relatively meaningless and they can keep whacking away at it.  Too bad the system doesn't work elsewhere in government.

In 2002 the National Security Agency (NSA) launched a program known as “Trailblazer” which according to Wikipedia:  “intended to develop a capability to analyze data carried on communications networks like the Internet. It was intended to track entities using communication methods such as cell phones and e-mail. It ran over budget, failed to accomplish critical goals, and was cancelled.” 

Waste, fraud and abuse came to light in a whistle-blowing incident that ended when then NSA Director Michael Hayden “told a Senate hearing that the Trailblazer program was several hundred million dollars over budget and years behind schedule.”  The American public was outraged and pushed back to have the program ended.  It was supposedly shut down in 2006 and the whistle-blower was criminalized and punished.

We know today that the NSA simply renamed and expanded the program, continuing to collect data – this time far more widespread than was known or authorized.  The public didn’t learn of the expansive and all pervasive program until another whistle-blower (Edward Snowden) came forward with the truth.  The NSA didn't take no for an answer, lied about shutting it does, and went forward anyway after telling the public it was over.  And they're surprised at the push-back from the public when it was revealed?

The Troubled Asset Relief Program – known by the acronym TARP and by the shorthand “stimulus” was President Bush’s attempt to “save capitalism.” The American public flooded Congress with calls begging their representatives to vote no – with the message:  let the banks go under, let capitalism work.  They were heard – if for only a day.  Politician after politician spewed forth that their constituents were heard loud and clear and that the “no” vote was a great day for democracy.  Within a week a slightly smaller package ($700 billion) with far fewer restrictions came to Congress and passed comfortably.  When the public learned about it, approval ratings for Congress began a downward spiral that now has the august body in single digits.  Bush didn't give up - he and his administration kept going back to the well until they got the government to give a blank check to industry.

As discussed in last week's post, the FCC recently tried to impose itself into the decision making process of how news is made and disseminated.  Thanks to a brave FCC Commissioner, the matter came to light before the first news agency got the questionnaire.  The FCC hastily withdrew the report, announced that no survey would go out and tried very hard to pretend that this hadn't happened.  The public has breathed a sigh of relief.  But patterns are patterns:  this one will come back.

There are plenty of parables and passages about vigilance.  It’s up to us to live them before government tries again to curb the Constitution.

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