Opinion editor’s note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Election Day nears. As appropriate a time as any to talk about space aliens and funny money, no?
It sort of is, and we’ll tell you why.
In demanding the best of government, as they should, people tend to ascribe to it either sweeping capability or certain fallibility, which they really shouldn’t. It’s a framework on which many votes have been and will be based in the election season ending Tuesday.
Yet the best work of government is often dull, incremental and at the margins. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s worked in any job ever. But there it is.
As it happens, there are incremental developments worth reporting on two subjects we’ve touched on in this space before. Both show government at its detail-oriented, buzz-killing, process-y best.
It’s not yet been shown that space aliens have visited Earth. Closer examination of the aerial phenomena that have captured attention in recent years is uncovering logical, terrestrial explanations.
Quick background: During the last few decades, military pilots have reported encountering airborne objects moving in ways that defy the known laws of physics. Related video made it into the public realm, and the seriousness with which the Defense Department began taking it, along with some prodding by Congress, whetted the appetites of the UFO-curious.
We wrote favorably of efforts to investigate, noting that anything that puts pilots at risk demands as much. In addition — while the possibility of alien visitation is always interesting and never completely dismissible given the vastness of the universe — we noted that advanced surveillance by other countries seemed as likely a concern.
A declassified report of the latest intelligence has been due for release. It wasn’t yet available as this editorial was completed, but advance coverage in the New York Times, quoting unnamed officials familiar with the findings, reported that many of the sightings have ordinary explanations, including optical illusions. Some have indeed been attributed to Chinese surveillance, though with known technology.
Not all sightings have been explained, but data collection and analysis have improved. Moreover, the work continues. Last month NASA announced the members of an independent study team that will focus on unexplained aerial phenomena over the next nine months. As a related commentary argues, that will be science at its best.
Another subject we’ve been watching in the last few years is the advance of cryptocurrency — money issued not by governments but by computer networks based on encrypted, decentralized record-keeping.
Crypto is used by some people for transactions and is traded widely for investment and speculation. It hasn’t yet proven a hedge to economic events. During this last year of inflation and rising interest rates, it’s mostly followed the risk-on, risk-off patterns of the broader markets.
We’ve written that the cryptocurrency universe can be given some time to coalesce with limited regulation, but not forever. A chief concern, besides that some people who participate will do poorly, is the notion that a market engaged in by many but understood by few poses a systemic risk. Think, for comparison, of the packaged home loan instruments that led to the Great Recession.
You’d want your government to take that risk seriously, and evidence that it is came last month when the Financial Stability Oversight Council released a 120-page report outlining crypto’s risks. The council was established after the 2008-09 financial crisis and involves leaders from the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, among others.
You can read a summary of the report at tinyurl.com/crypto-fsoc-facts, where there is also a link to the full report. The upshot is that there are steps that need taking against excessive leverage, disorderly trading and more, including enforcement of existing rules and regulations.
Cryptocurrency regulation in particular will be a subject for Congress, perhaps as soon as next year, but complex issues are dealt with at all levels of government.
Elections tend to focus on promises and personalities. Often neglected is consideration of candidates’ ability to engage with the technical details that should guide their actions.
If you didn’t vote in advance or haven’t already made your choices, it’s one more thing to think about on Tuesday.