Last week we saw what's become a regular headline: "Republicans Threaten Government Shutdown." This year's excuse was a feud over whether to continue writing an annual $500-million corporate-welfare check to Planned Parenthood.

With bated breath, the mainstream media informed us that the usual suspects on Capitol Hill were "working feverishly" to avoid the "shutdown." If they hadn't worked out a deal, the media would have squeezed a few more days or weeks of purple prose out of this fake calamity.

Yes, fake.

There was not going to be any "government shutdown." There's never been one, nor is one likely in the future. Or at least not until the U.S. government as we know it "shuts down" for good. (Yes, that will happen someday; nothing lasts forever.)

Nor are these fake "shutdowns" anything close to calamities. At worst they're mild inconveniences, and then only because Americans have acquiesced in government doing far too many things for far too long.

Memory has a way of playing tricks on the mind, but my recollection is that each of the seven presidential elections since I reached adulthood (I turned 18 the week after Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984) has been advertised - by the parties, by the candidates, by the media - as "the most important election of our lifetimes."

Here comes the eighth. Same shtick, even if the Jerry Springer atmospherics have been turned up a little. The world will end if Candidate X is elected. Americans will starve in the streets if Candidate Y isn't elected. You know what I'm talking about.

Of course, each presidential election is incredibly important to the parties, the candidates, and the media. Elections are their bread and butter. But are they really that consequential to the rest of us? On close examination, the only plausible answer is "no."

Whenever abortion comes up in a political context, pro-choice advocates highlight pro-life candidates' refusal to support a "rape and incest exception" to any proposed ban on, or regulation of, abortion. The 2016 presidential campaign is no exception. Recently CNN anchor Dana Bash handed the hot potato to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee's response: "A 10-year-old girl being raped is horrible. But does it solve a problem by taking the life of an innocent child? And that's really the issue."

Pro-choice publications predictably erupted, painting Huckabee as cold-hearted for his position. But that position flows inexorably from the logic of his larger pro-life stance, and is in fact a libertarian argument.

Notice that I said "a" libertarian argument, not "the" libertarian argument.

Presidential candidates work hard to convince ordinary Americans that they're just like us. Regular folks. Put their pants on one leg at a time, you betcha.

But nobody clears the airspace for me when I fly into a city.

Nor, I bet, do federal agents cordon off several blocks around venues in which you're scheduled to speak, restricting people who don't like you to "free-speech zones" for the duration of your visit.

And if either of us puts the pedal to the metal and flies down Interstate 89 at more than 90 miles per hour to keep appointments in Keene, Claremont, and Concord, New Hampshire, we'll be lucky if we get off with stern lectures and expensive tickets.

Hillary Clinton gets a Secret Service escort. The police don't even consider pulling her over for a ticket. They're there to make sure all us regular people - you know, the ones she's just like - keep ourselves out of her way.

Supporters of a national constitutional convention, as provided for in Article V of the U.S. Constitution, have gained the support of 27 state legislatures for the idea. They need 34.

Republicans and Democrats are at war both with each other and within their own parties over the proposal. Some Republicans want such a convention for the purpose of getting a balanced-budget amendment.

Some Democrats also want a convention for the purpose of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and regulating political-campaign spending.

Some members of both parties fear that a convention might get out of hand, producing unforeseen results. History says these Cassandras are correct.

It seems like a common sense, life-saving proposal: U.S. Senators Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) want state motor-vehicle agencies to require completion of automakers' safety-recall repairs before issuing license plates.

Their justification, of course, is safety. But on a closer look, the bill is just a sop to the auto industry. Its biggest effect will be to hurt working people.

Pop quiz: Of the top three causes of auto accidents, where does "failure to get recall items fixed" rank?

Answer: It doesn't.

In late January, the U.S. military-industrial complex reported results for 2014's fourth quarter and expectations for 2015. Good times! Northrop Grumman knocked down nearly $6 billion in Q4 2014 and expects 2015 sales of around $23.5 billion. Raytheon did about as well last fall and expects a big radar order from the Air Force this year. Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced a travel upgrade for the president of the United States - a new Air Force One. Base cost for the Boeing 747-8? $368 million, before presidential modifications.

Anyone who doesn't live under a rock (or whose rock gets bombed periodically) knows that the U.S. government spends more on its military than any other nation-state. A useful way of understanding how much more: If the U.S. "defense" budget were cut by 90 percent, it would remain the first- or second-largest military spender in the world (depending on fluctuations in China's military expenditures).

That 90 percent - and then some - is the single-largest welfare entitlement program in the U.S. government's budget, even omitting "emergency supplementals" for the military misadventure of the week and military spending snuck into other budget lines.

Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to "shut down" Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they're a way to look both "tough on police violence" and "tough on crime" by spending $263 million on new law-enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter, and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

(Editor's note: According to a recent article in the The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus, Hampton, Illinois, recently began using body cameras, and the Davenport, Bettendorf, and East Moline police departments have either tested them or plan to acquire them.)

It's exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We've already seen the results of numerous technology "solutions" to that problem.

The introduction of mace and Tasers to police-weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with "suspects" ("suspect" being law-enforcement-ese for "anyone who isn't a cop"). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn't produced de-escalation, either. Quite the opposite, in fact: Now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police-car "dash cams"? That's obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam often seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it's absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced, and analyzed against law-enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial-recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight-hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that's 400,000 hours per day of random, warrant-less searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn't go so far as to have 1984's Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can't be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don't control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action - as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California, police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 - it's incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee and end to police violence is to bring an end to state "law enforcement" - in fact, to the state itself.

Thomas L. Knapp is senior news analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS.org), where this commentary originally appeared.

The other night (I was channel-surfing and don't remember which network, show or host was involved), I caught House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) talking about the "fiscal cliff" negotiations between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Paraphrased, the alternatives Pelosi posited in these negotiations were:

On one hand, raise taxes on "the rich" (Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, like every other Democrat I've heard on the issue, dishonestly characterized this approach as "asking them to pay a little more" ? taxes aren't something that are "asked" for).

On the other hand, run up more government debt and pass the costs on to the next generation.

The third alternative ? cutting government spending ? never made it on to the studio table.

The whining from both sides of the partisan aisle in Washington notwithstanding, there's nothing "draconian" about the cuts required to balance the federal checkbook with no changes in tax policy. Based on 2013 revenue projections, reducing federal spending to 2008 levels would balance that budget. Reducing it to 2006 levels would yield a $300 billion surplus.

In fairness to Pelosi and the Democrats, that studio table isn't the only table such a proposal is missing from. It isn't on the real negotiating table either, because neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are willing to put it there.

Politicians are capable of ? indeed, given to ? sweeping visions and great excesses. It's hard to imagine a damn-fool scheme that someone in Washington won't take seriously and make an effort to move through the bowels of the legislature for eventual deposit on the president's desk.

But there's one idea that's deemed inadmissible in political proceedings: The idea that the size, scope and power of government could ever, in any particular or for any reason, be reduced by so much as an iota.

That idea isn't just dreaded and despised. It's literally unthinkable to the political class. So much so that politicians attempt to erase the concept from our political vocabulary by using words which would normally denote it for exact opposite purposes.

Thus when we hear of pending "draconian cuts" in this or that program, we can translate that as "slight reductions in the rate of growth" without fear of error. And we can know to a high degree of certainty that any reference to "austerity" applies only to the productive class and never, never, ever to the political class.

As other writers are fond of observing, political power is like a ratchet. You can turn it in either direction, but it only moves the socket one way. The back-turn is just an illusion. It's really the politicians putting on a show while they work up some more leverage to tighten the nut down on your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Or proximately, in the case of the "fiscal cliff," on your wallet.

Every state, from its founding, puts its feet on the path toward total statism. The nature of power is to harness itself ? and its victims ? to the accrual of more power. There may be fits and starts along the way, but never a departure from the path or a real reversal in direction absent popular rebellion and political collapse.

At this point, the United States is much closer to the end of that path than to its beginning. The "fiscal cliff" mugging is sham and theater, of no real import save to the extent that it masks the rea question: Do we take this government down, or wait for it to take us down with it? There is no third alternative.

As a company over the past few years, Apple has come a long way in the wrong direction - exactly the opposite direction from that indicated in the seminal, game-changing Macintosh "1984" commercial. As time goes on, Apple seems to rely less and less on its ability to create a groundbreaking product, and more and more on its ability to use the power of government to prevent others from doing likewise.

The verdict in last month's patent lawsuit - in which Apple managed to have Korean electronics firm Samsung sanctioned for, among other things, violating an Apple patent on the shape of tablet computers - is just the tip of an iceberg extending well below the waterline of recent history.

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