What I Did On My Unpaid Vacation: Week Two

The furlough of several hundred thousand federal government employees is finishing its second week. In nearly thirty-three years of public service, this is not the first furlough I've had, but it is (at least for my part of the system) the longest. Should this still be the case by the 17th, it may interest the reader to know that this would not be the first time the federal government has defaulted on its loans. According to The Daily Caller, it has happened twice before, under the administrations of both James Madison in 1814, and "Jimmy" Carter in 1979.

But enough about that. Let's talk about me.

Much of the time is spent going through things around the house, and in storage. It is amazing how much you manage to carry around in three decades, two of them on your own. When you're an artist by profession, you tend to accumulate the tools of your craft, which can be pretty broadly defined. Then there's having so many interests to begin with. So this is the year (maybe going into next year) that I have to start cleaning at least some of what I can't take with me (if you get my drift). I had no idea I had so much camping equipment. I might have to donate some of it, maybe to a local scout troop that's just starting up. (When you're a commissioner, you get wind of these things.) Then there's old guitars in various stages of disrepair that I actually saved for spare parts. Maybe the spare parts by themselves would take up less room. I also have a lot of books, which is what happens when you spend most of your life reading two or three at the same time.

Now you know how I know so much. I was Wikipedia before Wikipedia, which is why I once thought I had Asperger's syndrome or some other form of high-functioning autism -- but that's another story.

Meanwhile, what with the so-called "government shutdown" (the one where the majority of federal employees in the DC area are by now considered "essential," and are back to work anyway, if not knowing when they'll be paid), I've had reason to watch the news. Of course, when I want the straight story, there is no more reliable source (other than Fox Business News' Neil Cavuto) than Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show. In two clips here, he conducts a two-part interview with Health and Human Services Secretary and ostensibly practicing Catholic Kathleen Sebelius. As you can see from the interview, Madame Secretary has a difficult time giving a straight answer to a question, even when the inquirer is someone who favors the terms of the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as "Obamacare"). She even denies that businesses are cutting worker hours to part-time status, to avoid a loophole in the law.

Notice how, before going to the commercial break (and ending part one), Stewart asks: “Can we come back and ask some more questions? Can I ask the same one?” Before it's over, Stewart makes a big plug for a single-payer plan, which got an applause. Good one.

It also seems that Madame Secretary is in distinguished competition for the role of Queen of Denial. Listen to Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC stumble her way through an interview with Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin.

On the other hand, you have to hand it to the professionals when it comes to an opinion about the "Obamacare" website itself, namely HealthCare.gov. Designers of the system are furiously attempting to maximize the capacity of users, but the problem may be more fundamental than that. In a recent report from Reuters, several information technology experts have said that the problem lies with the architecture (that is, the design and structure of the entire website) itself.

For instance, when a user tries to create an account on HealthCare.gov, which serves insurance exchanges in 36 states, it prompts the computer to load an unusually large amount of files and software, overwhelming the browser, experts said.

One possible cause of the problems is that hitting "apply" on HealthCare.gov causes 92 separate files, plug-ins and other mammoth swarms of data to stream between the user's computer and the servers powering the government website, said Matthew Hancock, an independent expert in website design. He was able to track the files being requested through a feature in the Firefox browser.

(Mozilla's Firefox is a very robust and versatile web browser. It is also a notorious memory hog, which is how it handles so many features. For several years, it was my workhorse browser, especially when working on web coding and design. Until I go full tilt into web development again, I'm sticking with Safari for now.)

All told, the user must give a lot of personal information before even gaining access to any of the plans, which many IT experts say is causing the system to crash. And yet, only in giving such information can the user find out just how much it's going to cost. All the server space in the world won't help a system that is overloaded at the offset. Even now, people are already finding out that the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable. No less a publication than Forbes has suggested a motive for the lack of web usability.

A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally-sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping. This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government verifies your information and decides whether or not you’re eligible for subsidies. HHS bureaucrats knew this would make the website run more slowly. But they were more afraid that letting people see the underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans would scare people away.

That's a pretty audacious claim, even for this writer. And it's not just coming from those wingnuts on the political right, either.

+    +    +

“Tyrants preserve themselves by sowing fear and mistrust among the citizens by means of spies, by distracting them with foreign wars, by eliminating men of spirit who might lead a revolution, by humbling the people, and making them incapable of decisive action.”

The warning of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, given twenty-three centuries ago, was not lost on those who came to the Nation's capital this past weekend to protest the government shutdown, and to voice general discontent with Congress, and especially the President. A group known as “Truckers Ride for the Consitution” organized dozens of eighteen-wheelers to drive around the Capital Beltway, not so much to stop traffic as to just slow it down a bit (which already happens on a given day without their help). At one point this past Sunday, a group of them broke ranks and actually drove into Washington itself, blaring their horns en masse as they did so.

The truckers' initiative was augmented by hundreds of veterans and other citizens, waving American flags, and breaking through the fences that were erected to block access to the monuments along the National Mall, including the Lincoln Memorial, as is shown in the previous video.

But perhaps the most stirring moment of all came, when dozens of military veterans carried the town-down barriers -- "Barrycades," they were called -- and literally carried them at least one mile to the middle of the north gate in front of the White House, where they were laid down in a heap before a cheering and flag-waving crowd. While networks like CNN focused on a few crazies in the crowd who couldn't shut up about whether the President was a Muslim -- yes, Barack Hussein Obama (then under the name of Barry Soetoro) was raised Muslim by a stepfather during his childhood, and he probably didn't have much control over that -- and at least one dumb@$$ redneck (or a plant) who picked the worst possible moment to wave a Confederate flag (which some view as a symbol of racism, as opposed to its more accurate identity with regional pride and self-determination), the local ABC and NBC affiliates, as well as -- you won't believe this -- the American edition of Russia Today, provided a more balanced view of events.

Of particular interest to this writer was the reporting of Megyn Kelly of Fox News Channel, in particular, her interview with documentary filmmaker Dennis Michael Lynch, producer/director of They Come To America. He provided a very moving, up-close-and-personal account of what happened in front of the White House.

I was up close looking into the eyes of many police officers. I saw only one cop who had no issue with being aggressive, but the rest of them ... I could tell they did not appreciate the assignment. For example, one cop kept hitting me in the side with his stick whenever I got too close. We were often hip to hip. I asked him politely, "Hey pal, please hit me a little easier." And then I saw a little boy who was in our line. I inched closer to the cop to avoid the child and said, "There's a little boy here." The cop gave me the stick. I yelled at him, "Hey, there's a kid here." He screamed at me, "Well then why don't you stop what you're f*cking doing." I lost it, "Why don't you stop what you're f*cking doing.

Take a good look at this photo, people. Those law enforcement officers are not from the Secret Service Uniformed Division (the "White House Police"), but from the DC Metropolitan Police. Anyone who has lived in or around Washington DC for more than a few months has to be asking themselves, why the hell are the DC Police doing crowd control in front of the White House? Equally interesting (and in fairness to those who otherwise serve and protect) is the regret that has been noticed in the faces and through the actions of so many who have had to enforce unjust laws in the Nation's capital. If things start to escalate, will it become like the 1986 "People Power" Revolution in the Philippines, when thousands of Filipino Catholics singing hymns and praying the rosary, convinced the army to join them in their non-violent march on the Presidential Palace, thus ending the rule of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos?

Could it come to this?