From the old playbook…

Among the many things I’m not, is a foreign policy expert. I have an awareness of issues and a personal opinion, of course, but lack any significant academic knowledge beyond what I’ve picked up from books and the mass media. Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War makes me far more comfortable looking at, and trying to understand events in and around the old Soviet Union, but honestly, I’m far more comfortable talking about the Crimean War than I am any contemporary issues surrounding the Ukraine situation.

In retrospect, maybe we should all have assumed Ukraine would be the flashpoint it seems to have become. In our collective defense, we’ve spent a lot of that time focusing on Korean dictators, the failures of the Trump presidency, its domestic implications, and fighting among ourselves. 

Here we are, threatening sanctions, arming the Ukrainian military, and staring down our old adversary while NATO rushes nominal reinforcements towards Eastern Europe. Sixty years ago, my old man wore our nation’s cloth in Bavaria serving the same function – a forward presence in Europe to deter Russian aggression. For fifty years, the great powers staring at each other across the plains of Europe managed to keep the peace, because the consequences of not keeping that peace were considered catastrophic by both sides.

There’s nothing new under the sun… though as we begin our evacuation of family members and non-essential personnel from Ukraine, I’m left to wonder if the old playbooks will hold up in this brave new world of ours. 

In continued opposition to right wing nutters…

A year ago we watched as conspiracy theory fueled, right wing violent extremist nutters stormed the Capitol after being egged on by then President Trump. 

Today, I’d be hard pressed to say that anything has gotten better with the exception of Donald no longer being able to use the machinery of government to circumvent the laws and Constitution. It seems a not insignificant percentage of the country still thinks that disgraced carnival barker is still the rightful president. About the same percentage think that the COVID-19 vaccines are a one world government effort to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids or some such abject fuckery. I’d expect the Ven diagram there to be a near-perfect circle. That would make fine fodder for a separate, but related, post on the price we pay for the rise of disinformation, willful ignorance, an America’s peculiar strain of anti-intellectualism.

If anything, I suspect conditions have deteriorated as positions have hardened. Little or nothing has been done to sure up the institutions of government, making it more difficult to subvert the peaceful transfer of power following an election. Baring something unexpected, we could even see Donald back again as the presumptive Republican candidate for president in 2024. A second Trump presidency reinforced by a sycophantic Republican controlled Congress is the nightmare scenario, because then all brakes, guardrails, and safeties would be off.

I used to think a terrorist loose with a nuclear weapon on the streets of Washington or New York was the worst-case scenario. Now I’m far more worried about the ring leader of a domestic terror movement seizing control of the government and all the levers of power that go along with it. 

Our Constitutional government is, perhaps, more endangered than it was when insurrectionists briefly seized the seat of American government and sent the Legislative Branch into hiding. Republican leaders won’t condemn the vile, treasonous creatures who lead, financed, and participated in the Capitol insurrection – but I will curse their names and memory for as long as I have breath… and I’ll consistently use my voice to oppose any and all who seek to undermine our Republic

Gordon Gekko versus the do-gooder Senators…

The Thrift Savings Plan (hereafter TSP) is billed as the world’s largest defined contribution retirement plan. Having in excess of $700 billion of assets under management, I’m sure it makes a very tempting target for politicians looking for some new and interesting way to make their mark or get their name in the papers.

Most recently, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), have sent a letter of interest to TSP’s managing board encouraging them to increase the presence of “racially, ethnically, and gender diverse asset managers” overseeing this giant pot of money.

That’s fine, I suppose, if what you’re into is some kind of feel good, hold hands, and sing along kind of moment. When it comes to TSP, though, the only thing I care about is that the fund managers are the very best money makers that can be found for the job. I want the people in charge of growing my principal retirement account to be relentless and absolutely ruthless in finding better returns. It’s simply never occurred to me to care whether they also happen to be black, white, brown, yellow, straight, bi, gay, men, women, or other.

However admirable the above listed senators believe their goals may be, when it comes to managing a vast portfolio for millions of current and future retirees, the old adage is true – if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. As such, I’d encourage these distinguished members of the US Senate to take their genuine imitation do-gooder tendencies and pandering elsewhere.

Maybe I should just run for Congress. From the sounds of it, getting your jollies by telling other people how to live their lives or what they’re supposed to care about is a far better way to feather your nest anyway.

What Don wants…

I watched a clip last night of a rally over the weekend in which the former President of the United States waived off the January 6th Capitol Insurrection as an event that never happened.

Republicans in the House might be willing to go along with such blatant disregard for facts. Republicans in the Senate might be willing to stay silent for fear of drawing the ire of those who continue to support the failed candidacy of a one term president. State level Republican committees and state parties may line up behind the fabrication too.

I have no influence at all on what those other Republicans do or say. 

Unlike them, though, I have a sometimes uncomfortable tendency to stand with facts and truth in the face of lies – even when, maybe especially when, those lies are told by those in positions of power.

The facts in evidence are these: Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. There is no substantive evidence of fraud. He (eventually) conceded, after first expending great effort to undermine the electoral process and people’s faith in it. As his supporters stormed into the Capitol, he refused to call them off at best and actively encouraged them at worst. 

Now, Don wants us to refuse to accept what we’ve seen. He says he didn’t concede. He says there’s no way of really telling who won an election. He’s saying nothing happened at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Who are you going to believe, he seems to ask, a disgraced former president who fled Washington in shame on January 20th, or your own lying eyes?

Other so-called Republicans can do what they will, but from my seat here, I’ll stand against Don’s bid to rewrite history. I’ll stand against the weight of the party that just wants its members to fall in line because they think we all value power more than truth. I’d rather see the Republican Party cast down for the next generation than give in to those who betray the republic and hope we’ll all just look away.

My fellow Republicans – whether they be friends, family, or the party at large – are going to be sadly disappointed if they think I’ll stand with them for the sake of preserving peace and tranquility. I stand with and for the republic, the Constitution, and the laws… and there’s absolutely nothing political about that.

Weak in size and spirit…

The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.

One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.

If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.

So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.

Shutdown prep…

Years ago, the federal government was touted as stable employment, promising a career that wouldn’t make you rich, but ensured that you wouldn’t die poor. It was a guarantee of a solidly middle class lifestyle during your working years and a comfortable retirement when the time came. The trade off, for such stability was forgoing the big salaries that could sometimes be had for similar work in the private sector. Those salaries, of course, came with risk that the contract that paid so well could disappear overnight.

Stable is a relative term, of course. Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked through hiring freezes, furloughs, and more government shut downs than I can really remember. That’s not the hallmark of a particularly stable employer. Then again, when I look at the elected officials who the people, in their questionable wisdom, have sent to Washington to represent them, “stable” isn’t a world I’d choose to use for many of them – both the politicians and the electorate.

So here I am, with the next government shut down hovering in the wings, once again preparing to defer or stop payments and dramatically reduce the scope and scale of operations at Fortress Jeff.

I’ve got enough years on me now to ride out a run of the mill government shutdown if I must. Still, planning for a few weeks or months without pay does make you question going with the “stable” choice all those years ago. If you’re going to be planning how to cut spending down to the bone every couple of years anyway, maybe some of those contract jobs would have been better in the end.

Our elected representatives are increasingly incapable of acting like grown adults, but then again, the same is true of the people who elect them. The curse of democracy is we continue to get exactly the kind of politicians, government, and society that we deserve.

Honoring the public debt…

It feels like only yesterday that we were last arguing about whether or not the government was going to (or should) raise or suspend the debt ceiling – the legislatively applied limit to the amount the US Government is allowed to borrow in order to keep on conducting business as usual. I’m the first to tell you that Uncle Sam’s hallways and offices are filled to the brim with wasteful spending… but trying to get after that waste by passing a law that says we can only borrow $X unless Congress passes another law to say we can spend $Y more isn’t a recipe to actual limit or reduce government spending. At best, the debt ceiling creates political theater. Now that it’s a thing we have, however, failure to raise the self-imposed limit and drive the federal government into default would result in all manner of catastrophic outcomes. 

I see today that we’re now in the period where the Treasury has begin exercising “extraordinary measures” that should be sufficient to keep us out of default for the time being. The congressional office responsible for making such projections says it’ll probably be October or November before we actually run out of wiggle room. Based on recent history, that will be about the time Congress gets around to doing something. 

Before we go into default and our bond rating collapses, though, we have to get through what’s supposed to be the federal budget season. Given the current state of our politics, I’m not in any way expecting there to be an actual approved operating budget when Fiscal Year 2022 kicks off on the October 1st. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a perfect storm of impending default and no functioning bureaucracy simultaneously. That feels like a recipe for good times. 

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here restocking my supply of beans and spam in case we need to ride out a post-plague economic apocalypse. Given the kind of leadership we have in all quarters it feels like the only reasonable course of action. I mean I’m due for some extra time off… with eventual back pay, of course.

The commission…

Following major events in our political life, the United States has a long history of setting up national commissions to conduct investigations and issue authoritative reports outlining key facts and findings. The most familiar of those are probably the 9/11 Commission or Warren Commission. For those of us of a careening into middle age, we may even have vague childhood memories of the Tower Commission.

In general, these bipartisan commissions, armed with subpoena power and an army of staff investigators, are given the charge of uncovering exactly what happened during the moments leading up to and following key historical events or moments of great controversy. 

Establishing a commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Capital Insurrection of 2021 should be a no brainer. I suppose it is a no brainer for anyone who’s idea of acceptable political activity doesn’t including storming and attempting to occupy the seat of government in an effort to overturn a lawful election.

In what I can only consider a truly bizarre turn of events, I find myself agreeing with Speaker Pelosi in that voting against establishing a commission fully empowered to investigate the facts and details of what drove insurrectionists into the halls of the Capitol and to uncover who gave them leadership, aid, and comfort, would be an unmistakable, and unforgivable, act of personal cowardice.

I’d like to think House and Senate Republicans might at some point display the barest hint of possessing a spine… and yet I expect to see them inexplicably doubling down on fervently licking the boots of the failed candidate who led them to wrack and ruin.

The honor system…

According to the Centers for Disease Control, those who have been fully vaccinated are more or less free to unmask and get on up in each other’s personal space again. It’s a decision that certainly speaks to their growing confidence that the vaccine is very nearly bulletproof. Yes, if you’ve been vaccinated, you can still contract COVID-19, but the research they referenced yesterday seems to conclude that the instance of becoming truly sick from it is negligible. Likewise, the risk of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19 is next to nil. 

Those who aren’t vaccinated, which by this point is largely a group of people who do not want to be vaccinated, are supposed to keep wearing their masks. There’s a catch, of course… and that’s this is largely the same group of people who have been violently opposed to something as simple as wearing a mask at the height of the Great Plague.

There’s no way of looking at someone and telling whether they’ve been vaccinated or not. Our friends from the CDC basically say we’ll be on our honor as to whether we’ve been vaccinated or not and behave accordingly. Personally, I hear that as a very polite way of saying “We’ve saved as many of you who want saving as possible and from here on out, if you want to go out and catch the bug, you’re on your own.” Put another way, if you’re part of the minority who refuses to acknowledge science, the immortal words of Ivan Drago can be your valedictory: If he dies, he dies. 

It’s not an elegant solution, but at some point it’s important to accept that you simply can’t protect people from themselves. According to the CDC, at least, we’ve arrived at that point. Now all that remains to be seen is how state and local governments and businesses respond. 

My personal prediction is that we’ll make every bit as much of a hash of exiting the Great Plague experience as we did getting into it in the first place. We’ll soon see, I expect, a country that isn’t so much divided between those who are vaccinated and those who are unvaccinated as between those who are vaccinated and those who are infected.