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If you're reading this, you have not been vaporized by advanced alien weapons. America has survived the first few hours following the raid on Area 51.
Early this morning, citizen investigators were scheduled to carry out an invasion of the federal government's secretive military installation in the desert of Nevada, which is suspected of harboring secrets about extraterrestrial contact.
It started with the Facebook event 'Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us.” A few million people indicated their interest in attending, united by a common mission: 'Lets see them aliens.”
The event's creator acknowledged it was a joke, but military leaders didn't think it was funny. They warned the classified facility is heavily protected, and trespassers are met with force.
'Our nation has secrets, and those secrets deserve to be protected,” an Air Force official told Air Force Times.
Whether or not we ever see them aliens, 'Storm Area 51” is a notable moment in the history of weird things on the internet. It's a sign of young Americans' sense of nihilism, their defiance of authority and the universal presumption that the government is lying to us.
U.S. Sen Joni Ernst is latching on to the Area 51 moment to bring attention to government waste. She dedicated her monthly Squeal Award to 'our federal government's out-of-this-world spending.”
Maybe it seems like a stretch of a comparison; a politician trying too hard to connect public policy to a pop culture phenomenon.
On closer examination, though, you can see how the two subjects - secret aliens and out-of-control spending - are indeed linked.
Ernst's office compiled a list featuring alien-themed examples of federal largesse - $222 million for a failed flying saucer, $125,000 to study interplanetary pizza delivery and an untold sum to develop an alien invasion survival guide.
The more substantive piece is Ernst's bill to address inefficiencies in the Department of Defense. Her proposal would authorize military leaders to close unneeded storage and distribution facilities, which could save $500 million.
While Iowa's junior senator is dismissive of the Area 51 conspiracy theories - 'The only thing the government is hiding is waste,” her new campaign proclaims - she is tapping into the same distrust of government that fueled the rise of the 'Storm Area 51” movement.
Our government is so large that nobody could possibly know where all of our tax dollars go.
The federal 'black budget,” which funds secret military and intelligence projects, totals tens of billions each year.
Last year, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caught criticism when she said $21 trillion in Pentagon accounting errors could cover most of the cost of Medicare for All. That wasn't true - the sum reflects accounting errors, not just unaccounted spending - but her misstatement was understandable if you consider the enormity and opacity of military spending.
The federal government is a behemoth machine, large sectors of which are totally unaccountable and invisible to the people.
I'm not sure if intelligent life exists outside our solar system. But if any entity is capable of covering up a visit from another world, surely it is the U.S. government.
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