done with the state of the union address

Once upon a time, I was a rabid football fan. I spent nearly every weekend holed up here or there, ingesting endless hours of college and pro football to the point where I knew the names of some of the key players’ wives and mothers just from hearing them so much.
podiumThen one day, the NFL players started complaining about how they were being treated and their pay rates. I read article after article about the issue and discovered I gave absolutely zero fucks about how bad these players who were being paid millions of dollars a year to play a game – granted, a brutal and punishing game – felt they were being treated by team owners and the league.

I believe everybody should be paid a fair wage for the work they do, and playing in the NFL is definitely work, so don’t get me wrong – these guys SHOULD be paid. I had to take a hard look at what my fanaticism said about me, though, and I decided that supporting that many millionaires with my time, effort and loyalty was unwarranted.  I gave up the NFL and focused on college ball.

Not long after that – maybe a couple of years – I started paying attention to how much college players are exploited by the NCAA sports-industrial complex, which essentially commoditizes young men and turns them into entertainment revenue without truly compensating them. Sure, they get a college education, but if you want to know how that works, you should take a look at NCAA Division I football graduation rates.  Without getting too much into it, the NCAA basically functions as a feeder league for the NFL and since I gave up the NFL, I felt like a hypocrite for continuing to support the NFL by being an NCAA football consumer.

What I noticed after walking away from NCAA football is how much free time I had on the weekends.  It was amazing.  Watching football had become the equivalent of a part-time weekend job for me, and bailing on it gave me time to do numerous rewarding things with my life, like spend time with my family, play music and ride motorcycles.  I haven’t watched the Super Bowl in close to 10 years and haven’t seen an NCAA bowl game in at least 8 – don’t even get me started on the NCAA’s “playoff” system.

I told you all that to tell you this: I’m walking away from the State of the Union address.

For the last 6 or 8 years or so, I haven’t been watching the SOTU because I haven’t had cable TV and am not interested in sitting in front of my computer to stream this annual event.  I satisfied myself by poring over transcripts of the address, as well as the enemy – er, opposite party’s retribution – um, I mean rebuttal – and basing my analysis on WHAT was said rather than HOW THEY SAID IT.  I felt removing the viewable event aspect of the SOTU helped me better understand what was being said without bias derived from facial expressions, hand movements, etc.

That’s over as well now.  Not SOTU for me, no more. It’s not that I don’t care about the country or our politics, because I do.  Rather, it’s that the SOTU has slowly become political theater, an opportunity for the president to grandstand, pontificate, bloviate, obfuscate and outright lie to the American public.  You might think because of the timing that I’m talking about Trump, and while I am, it’s not just him.  Trump is just the latest, worst offender when it comes to the SOTU.  Obama, both Bushes, Clinton, even Reagan all used the SOTU podium in a joint session of Congress to deliver a cheerleading chant rather than a substantive, thoughtful statement on the progress being made by and challenges to our society and its grand democratic experiment.

Add to that the opposite party’s “rebuttal” that follows directly on the SOTU’s heels and you have more political theater.  The other party isn’t listening to respond, they’re just waiting for their turn to say “NO – THAT IS ALL WRONG!” and do the same thing the president has done – bloviate, pontificate, obfuscate and lie to the American public.

From 2019 on, then, I will not be putting any of my time or attention into watching, listening to, reading, reading about or discussing the State of the Union address.  Instead I will pay attention to political events and issues that actually matter, that can serve to have some positive effect on our society and give us the opportunity to learn and grow rather than just listen to partisan rhetoric that gets nothing done and takes us nowhere.

unpacking the state of the union address

Everybody’s in a tizzle over Nancy Pelosi disinviting the president from delivering the traditional State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.  Then everybody got in a tizzle over Donald Trump just cancelling the whole thing instead of finding another venue from which to deliver the speech.

If you ask me, it’s all more examples of Donny and The Nance acting like children instead of leaders, but that’s a discussion for another time.

This whole the president delivering a speech in front of a joint session of Congress thing is a tradition, anyway, not law.  George Washington addressed Congress, as did John Adams, but Thomas Jefferson said fuck that noise and sent his update to Congress in the form of a hand-written letter. Seems Jefferson felt the whole ritual smacked too much of what the kings of England used to do, so he ditched it.  Once the speeches started back up, they weren’t even called State of the Union addresses until Franklin Roosevelt started calling them that during the Great Depression. The name is catchy and it stuck.

For about 100 years after Jefferson ditched the speeches, presidents submitted written updates to Congress, not giving speeches at all.  That changed in 1913, when Woodrow Wilson gave his speech before Congress.  This was a big deal, not because Wilson was addressing Congress, but because everybody could see Europe headed towards war and Wilson wanted to push his agenda of neutrality.

The reality of the situation is this: the US Constitution requires the president to inform Congress “from time to time” about the state of the union.  Bottom line is that the president is required to do this, but there is nothing mandating it be an annual update, or even done regularly at all.  Congress has to agree to allow the president to give a speech to both chambers – aka a “joint session” – and that’s where we are.

Congress doesn’t have to allow the president to give the speech in their building, and the president doesn’t have to give a speech, let alone even submit an update to Congress on anything resembling a regular schedule.  Those two things – the speech part and the annual part – are simple traditions established by previous presidents and Congresses.  Sometimes there are even two updates given – one by an outgoing president at the end of his term and another by the incoming president at the start of his.

Some interesting facts for you – Jimmy Carter was the last president to submit only a written update, in 1981; Warren Harding delivered the first update broadcast on radio, in 1922; Harry Truman delivered the first update broadcast on television, in 1947; post-address commentary was added to the television broadcast for the first time in 1968 – Lyndon Johnson was president then; Bill Clinton delivered the first update streamed live on the internet, in 1997; the first response to the update given in Spanish was done by Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) in 2004; only one scheduled update has been postponed so far – Ronald Reagan pushed back his 1986 update due to the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger; only one scheduled update has so far been indefinitely postponed* – Donald Trump did this in 2019.

* This was initially written as “cancelled,” but Trump’s 2019 address has not been cancelled, but rather postponed indefinitely.

4 tips to spot a phishing attempt in your email

Phishing is one of the most visible and easy ways for internet bad guys – referred to in the biz as “threat actors” – to separate you from your personally identifiable information, or PII.  PII is how a threat actor can compromise your business and personal accounts, steal money from you (by gaining access to your credit card(s) or bank account(s)) and even take over your identity – all in the name of fraud.

Phishing attempts – or attacks, if you will – use legitimate-looking email in the hopes that you’ll click on the link(s) in them. Once you do, you’re usually exposed to one of a small number of types of attacks (“threat vectors”).

One threat vector associated with phishing attacks is the installation of malicious software (malware) on your computer, either as an application that’s hidden from your view or as an extension in your browser. Either way, your computer now has what many people will refer to as a “virus,” but is in reality software designed to snoop on you and your activities, all the while looking for and collecting your PII. Vicious types of malware will even take over the operation of your computer, enabling threat actors to spread their malware in a way that looks like YOU are the problem!

Another – and frankly, far more common – threat vector from phishing attacks involves simply getting you to try logging in to what you think is a legitimate website. Take, for instance, PayPal, a web-based payment service used by millions of people around the world.  If you get an email that looks like it’s from PayPal, say, like this one I got just this morning…

Looks legit, doesn’t it?  Many people would just click on the “update your information” button and BOOM! YOU’RE COMPROMISED! Instead of insta-clicking on that button, though – or any other link in the email – stop and think.  Is what the content of the email realistic?

  • Do you even have a PayPal account?
  • Do you actively use it?
  • When is the last time you updated your information/profile/payment/address?
  • Have you ever received an email like this from any company before?
  • Will PayPall really restrict your account if you don’t respond within 72 hours? Have they EVER done that to ANYBODY you know before?

Now, before you click on that button (or link), there’s two other things you can check to see if you’re being phished or not.  First, the reply-to address.  If it’s something like “support @ paypal.com” then it just might be a legit email – but no guarantees.  Continue to be suspicious and investigate the email. If it’s nothing to do with PayPal at all, then be suspicious. In the case of the actual email I received (above), this was the return email address

Does that say PayPal? NO IT DOES NOT.  That’s a big-ass red flag right there. (Note: If all you see in your email program is usually “no-reply” and NOT the full email address, change that immediately in your email client preferences. If you use Apple’s Mail app, that process is Mail > Preferences > Viewing > UNCHECK Use Smart Addresses.)

In case the reply-to address checks out, you can check out a link before you actually click on it.  Mac and Windows computers both use “context menus” for many things; you may not know they’re called this, but I’m betting you know how to bring them up.  Hover your mouse pointer over the link (or button) and right-click on it.  If you don’t have a two-button mouse or a trackpad that understands the concept of right-clicking, hold down the “CTRL” (Control) button on your keyboard and then click the button. You should get a context menu, which (on my Mac) enables copying the link, as such:

Then paste the link into a text editor (TextEdit, WordPad, etc.) and see if it looks legit.

Well that certainly doesn’t look like a PayPal address!

Here’s some alarming information about phishing that may wake you up a little.

  • 1 in 12.5 million spam emails generates a successful phishing attack
  • 14 billion spam emails are sent every day
  • 76% of US businesses suffered phishing attacks in 2017
  • The average email account receives 16 malicious emails a month
  • Over 92% of malware is delivered via email
  • The most common phishing attacks are emails disguised as invoices (bills), delivery failure notices, law enforcement actions, and package delivery notices
  • The FBI says phishing attacks and other email-based scams cost US businesses over $676 million in 2017

By taking just a few moments before clicking on the link in that legitimate-looking email, you can save yourself from a whole lot of trouble. Be Smart: Shop S-Mart… and also protect yourself from phishing attacks!