Twelve Days of Congress: gifts for the government that has everything (2013 Gift Guide)

Twelve Days of Congress: gifts for the government that has everything (2013 Gift Guide)

Summary: How much do you love your country? Enough to shop until you drop, choosing just the right gifts? If you're stumped on exactly what to give your favorite nation, we have the answers. Come on in!

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  • Day 10: A Fiverr for Department of State

    Wow, this has just not been the best year for America's top diplomatic institution, the United States Department of State. First, there was the whole "blame-it-on-YouTube" incident in Benghazi a year or so ago. And then, apparently, there's just not enough love (or at least "Like") in the Department of State (which abbreviates, disturbingly, as DoS, which we all know as Denial of Service). Hmmm...

    In any case, some very lonely officials at Foggy Bottom decided that they wanted to froth up their reputation, and decided to go about spending $630 thousand on acquiring Facebook "Likes". Yep, almost a million bucks to raise their likability on Facebook. Using our tax dollars.

    After this, State's own inspector general put together a 57-page report on how much money was wasted on getting Facebook "Likes," because writing a 57-page report at government speed was an excellent way to throw good money after bad.

    So, to both the State Department itself as well as State's Inspector General -- and, hey, let's be generous and include Hillary and John Kerry as well -- we gift a free registration to Fiverr.com. You can get almost anything from Fiverr for five bucks.

    You want a pile of useless Facebook Likes? Rather than spending nearly a million bucks, pull out a Lincoln and you got it. Want a 57-page report on something? Another five bucks. We estimate that with this gift, we can save State millions of dollars.

    Not spending our money? Hmmm... I wonder if people will "Like" that?

  • Day 11: Cybersecurity policy with the wisdom of Franklin, Jefferson and Adams

    What a difference a year makes. We opened up this year with a big (and very necessary) push to increase America's cybersecurity defenses (and, less publicly, it's offensive capabilities as well). We ended the year with the government on the defensive about its own data gathering practices, with barely a mention made anywhere about the ongoing, terrible threat of cyberattack.

    It's hard to find a gift for the gift that keeps on giving, and that's what cyberwar is. Whether it's for espionage, money, or damage, cyberattacks and penetration attempts are constant, both against government and civilian targets.

    Worse, it's not just the big players fighting with each other. Cyberattackers are aiming their digital arrows at moms and dads, grandparents, teachers, students, and even little kids. They're trying to break into and steal information, credentials, and identities of anyone they can -- and they're succeeding.

    While we already have laws on the books for cyberdefense, we don't have good comprehensive laws. As is always the case in a union, the various agencies and operations don't play all that well with each other. Yeah, I know. It's a surprise to me, too.

    Our gift to the United States government would be all the funding needed to fight cyberattacks, but only if it employs the wisdom of a Washington or a Jefferson or a Franklin while doing so. We encourage the government to work with the likes of Larry Lessig, the EFF, and other outspoken proponents of both digital rights and digital safety.

    If our public servants can put Americans' interests first (and that means not taking any more calls, lunches, or favors from lobbyists), then comprehensive cybersecurity operations are possible.

  • Day 12: No Internet sales taxes for you!

    You know how you sometimes make those wish lists and fill them with everything you'd like, even when you know it's not advisable? You know how you really want five bags of Cheetos even though you'll be sick for a week?

    Well, sometimes, the very best gift is the gift of saving you from yourself by protecting you from your own worst instincts. That's what this last gift, on the Twelfth Day of Congress is all about.

    On this, the Twelfth Day of Congress, we give you the gift of not taxing Internet sales. Oh yes, I know you want to let every state and municipality go wild on sales and use taxes, you want to beat the heck out of Amazon for making so much money, and you really want to get extra cash for the states, not from the federal coffers, but from consumers.

    But Internet sales tax would be bad for everyone. Our gift is to take that away from you. No Internet sales tax for you. Merry holidays and all that!

Topics: Government US, Government, Privacy, Security

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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17 comments
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  • David Gewirtz

    I was think earlier today "not enough David Gewirtz lately." Glad to see the clever article--even the parts I don't agree with.
    Bill4
  • I took the "liberty" to edit your Constitution comment. All in good fun.

    To misquote, "After all, if the NSA seemingly can spy on everyone and everything (they can't ... But pretty darn close) and can share all that with anyone they wan't (they can't ... oly because there are only five countries in the "Five Eyes" cabal), why should we have laws on the books that allow the US government to increase it's cyber security surveillance and communication?"

    The short answer to your "why" question is this. Most Americans are dumb but very trusting towards their elected represenatives. They trust they will due "the right thing" and more often than not, they succeed in doing that. But sometimes they don't.

    Then how to explain the failure of existing laws to curtail a rogue agency, in this case, the NSA. It can be explained by simply referring to "The Golden Rule" and it's more modern interpretation. That is, "He that has the gold, makes the rules." And, more precisely, "He that has the power, is above the rules." In this case, the NSA has both the gold (an almost unlimited budget) and the power (knowledge almost always guarantees power and the NSA specializes in getting - and selling - information.)

    And that is how the Constitution can be side stepped.
    kenosha77a
  • This is what the Government has given us...

    Ineptocracy~~(in-ep-toc’-ra-cy)~~A system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.
    Steven J. Ackerman
    • Ineptocracy

      Ooh, is that yours, or was it a word someone else used? Love it!
      David Gewirtz
  • Utter rubbish.

    Well written at times, but when the biased mind of the writer begins to protrude its ugly head out of the shadows, the story begins to feel too much one sided and at times even hypocritical.

    Perhaps you need some of these gift yourself?
    fo128
    • Hear! Hear!

      @fo128: I agree with your response wholeheartedly. When it comes to interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and how it is designed to reign-in the Federal Government, this author is a "freaking" loon! Specifically,

      - A "heart for Congress" would be better used to ensure the liberties of the producers that "do" have health insurance from the tyranny of the non-producers.
      - No federal agency/department should have the surveillance powers ascribed to NSA and upheld by FISC. Restriction of federal powers -- not expansion -- is the design of the US Constitution.
      David A. Pimentel
      • Day 1 vs Day 6

        Good points Pimentel! Especially the restriction vs expansion of power!

        And to further elaborate on my own post:
        No need to look far for the self-refuting points in the story.

        For example:
        Day 1 and Day 6 mutually exclude and contradict each other.
        So which one it is Sir? Can you make up your mind if we must uphold or disregard the Constitution!
        fo128
        • Day 1 was snark, day 2 was serious.

          While the right wing is accusing the left wing of doing things that are physically impossible (such as planting a fake birth announcement in the Honolulu paper in 1961, or Jimmy Carter causing the Arab oil embargo four years before he ran for President in 1976, as Rush Bimbo once said on the air), remember this:

          IF THE DEMOCRATS EVER GET A TIME MACHINE, President Gore will have squelched the 9/11 attack and killed Osama bin Laden in August 2001.

          And to the person who complained about the "productive" members of society "suffering" from the "tyranny of the non-productive" I offer this: after you have spent a month living AS a person who NEEDS assistance, and does NOT GET IT, let me know if you THEN feel like you are a "tyrant" making your wealthy former friends "suffer." Remember the "mile in their moccasins" rule of the Native Americans.
          jallan32
          • Agree about the snark...

            ..but knowing the author's stance on the subject, Day 1 can be easily interpreted either way - i.e. as a real point of view.

            To me, the story is presented as a funny tale, but nevertheless, it also strongly projects the real attitude and standpoint of the author behind this humorous masquerade.
            fo128
          • Agree about the snark...

            ..but knowing the author's stance on the subject, Day 1 can be easily interpreted either way - i.e. as a real point of view.

            To me, the story is presented as a funny tale, but nevertheless, it also strongly projects the real attitude and standpoint of the author behind this humorous masquerade.
            fo128
  • government bashing

    It's easy to bash the government...you'll get a room full of people in hearty agreement. But the reality is that the voters caused this mess. As HL Mencken once said "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." The blame really belongs with the voters. If you sincerely want change in this country you need to stop voting for the same people. Stop voting for Democrats and Republicans.

    ok, never mind. Just keep doing the same thing and maybe it will miraculously change. Maybe Santa will fix it.
    gdstark13
    • Common people know what they want and deserve to get it

      Your statement might be true if the system was not rigged.
      Think of the consequences of your actions. The number of voting
      people would go down. The problem is the same choices are still the only choices. Those not voting are labeled with "don't care".

      The solution is a change in the election system. You will never get that change because the two party system has control (power).

      The current system is defective in that it does not allow the person(s) who do not want either candidate to state their view
      point. They are lumped together with the "i don't care" (the tuned-in, turned-off, drop out group).

      If you really want the people to have the say in the government, you need to change the voting system.

      I am sure there are many solutions to this. Some other countries and some US states have tried to find a solution. I would be in favor of trying for a trial period, one change, and see if it works. If it does not produce better results then try a second one, etc. Let the people decide which improvement they like.

      I for one would like a simple (least cost to the tax payers) solution. This solution is to add "None of the Above" as a
      candidate to every election ballot. It's initial cost is the
      price of the ink, and the change in the process of counting
      votes.

      It has the benefit to minimize the effect of gerrymandering.
      In districts where only one candidate runs. The candidate
      will still have to run against the "None of the Above" option.

      It goes a little further, in how the results of an election is
      determined. The person who wins the office is the one
      who gets more votes in his/her favor, than the sum of all those opposing votes. By this I mean you must get a majority of all votes cast. If you do not get a majority, you do not win.

      The consequences, could be that no person wins the election.
      If your opponents votes plus "none of the above" is grater
      then yours, you don't win.

      What happens with no one wins the election? The same thing
      that happens in Italy and other countries. You hold another round of voting. However, since none of the candidates won the
      previous ballot, they are disqualified from all subsequent
      rounds of balloting for this election cycle (office term).

      After a failed ballot, the parties would be given 4 weeks to choose, a new candidate, if they wish. After 4 weeks, the
      campaigns would begin again. After 8 weeks the voters
      will make another judgement. If nobody wins again, the
      judiciary branch appoints an interim office holder. This
      interim holder cannot run for election in any subsequent
      round of balloting for this term, or in the next election cycle.

      After the second round failure to chose a winner, the parties
      are allowed to choose, if and when the next round of balloting will begin. At each round new parties can submit candidates
      or withdraw.

      Each additional voting round is subject to the same 4 weeks of
      campaigning. (Let the parties spend as much money as they
      want!!! Its a free society). If the parties can not agree on
      when to hold the next round of voting the interim office holder
      remains until the term of office expires.

      Of course this will never happen. The two party system is a
      fixed/rigged the system, so that one (and only one) of their two hand picked candidates will win. The two parties have the power
      and control of the system. They are not going to give it up.

      You can say all you want about how candidates are selected
      and the free and open primary system. You can give examples
      of how successful the system works. And I say, it never fails that a candidate is elected. And look at the results. (Know the tree by its fruit).
      just.a.guy
      • RE: Common people know what they want and deserve to get it

        I understand your point, and that might be one way to go. I think a better approach is to fully support the write-in candidate mechanism. Of course the two parties have worked over the years to abolish our write-in option, so to that extent you're right...the system is on it's way to being rigged. Once they've fully eliminated our option to write-in candidates, we will be no better than Iran where the candidates are hand-selected by the powers that be.
        gdstark13
    • Einstein's version

      I think Einstein said (not verbatim):

      "You can't expect a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over"
      fo128
    • Einstein's version

      I think Einstein said (not verbatim):

      "You can't expect a different result if you keep doing the same thing over and over"
      fo128
  • Taxes

    We NEED to tax everything - income, savings, consumer spending - any and ALL money transactions. That is the only way to force the greedy RICH to cough up their FAIR share.
    HackerJ
  • Franklin, Jefferson and Adams

    Isn't that Franklin, Washington and Adams in the pictuer?
    lloydkuhnle@...