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.

With a song in my heart…

I remain, for now, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. How much longer that remains true depends largely on how Republicans respond in this moment. The decision now is simple, does the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan continue to follow a disgraced carnival barker ex-president down the path towards its eventual destruction and historical irrelevancy, or does what’s left of the sane center manage to haul in the reigns and rebuild a Republican brand that’s focused on rolling back creeping socialism, confronting growing international threats, and presenting a clear-eyed conservative vision for the future of America.

The Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t survive a transition to standing only for “Trump good, everyone else bad.” A modern political party should have a vision of America’s future beyond perpetually rehashing the 2020 election while excluding such inconveniences as science, evidence, and basic common sense. 

With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, Republicans stand a fighting chance of retaking one or both houses of Congress in 2022. History says it’s fairly likely. If those seats are filled by slavering conspiracy theorists, the long-term fate of the party could likely be set. Retaining Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Conference presented Republicans with an opportunity to save ourselves from the ascendency of the small, but vocal batshit crazy wing of the party. It could well be the last viable exit ramp and we’ve now put it squarely in the rear view mirror.

I don’t expect many of our elected representatives to have the personal courage to take that kind of stand. Going along with the lie is far easier than speaking out, standing up, and making yourself a target of lunatic outrage. To quote Liz Cheney, though, “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” 

I’ve served the republic nearly all of my adult life. If the price I pay for continuing to support it now in opposition to a loud and determined cult of personality is dirty looks, angry comments, and “unfriendings,” it’s an easy cost to bear – and even if we reach a point, perhaps during the 2022 election cycle, where I can no longer in good conscience do so under the banner of the Republican Party, I’ll pay it with a song in my heart.

Duty done (for today)…

There are times when doing your duty is also an absolute pleasure. I’ve always, for instance, enjoyed physically going to cast my vote on Election Day.

Today, though, was not one of those moments when duty and pleasure merge. There’s nothing that fills me with less confidence in our justice system than looking around at my fellow citizens in the jury pool holding area. Just in my little room of 20 COVID-distanced potential jurors we had granny in her housecoat and fuzzy slippers, the 20-something reeking of patchouli oil, the open mouth snorer who sat directly in front of me, and two people who spent hours inexplicably staring at a blank wall.

These, should I ever find myself in the dock, are the pool of those eligible citizens who would constitute a duly sworn jury of my peers. That idea makes me tremble down to my very core.

I don’t suppose we can institute an IQ test as I’m sure that’s bound to offend someone… but maybe a general knowledge quiz… or demonstrating the ability to dress yourself or even just to stay awake. Those feel like reasonable expectations for an alleged peer group.

No matter how low I set my expectations when faced with the general public, coming face to face with that them never fails to give them the opportunity to find the bar and drag it lower than I would have normally thought possible.

Four more days of on call status. Sigh.

More news from our stupid century…

I saw an article a couple of days ago from a nominally reputable news source, published under the headline “Retailers urged to re-think police calls for low-level crimes.”

Unsurprisingly, I fall into the camp that would take the exact opposite approach. As long as people are rewarded, or at a minimum not punished for criminal behavior, there’s no disincentive at all against continuing to engage in that behavior. I’m no sociologist, but it feels like a reasonable assumption that if I get away with some number of these “low-level” crimes, at some point I may be tempted to escalate towards criminal actions that aren’t minor. That’s pure speculation based on my estimation of basic human behavior, of course.

I’d hoped we could all agree on something as basic as stating “crime is bad.” Apparently here in the 21st century even that is a bridge too far.

While I’m perfectly willing to concede that some crimes are worse than others, I’m nowhere close to the idea that we shouldn’t enforce the law, deter would be criminals, and punish those who choose to live outside the law. I’d go so far as to say there should be more arrests and prosecutions for criminal activities rather than fewer. Otherwise, have the courage to change the laws so everyone has an equal opportunity to pass counterfeit notes, shoplift, or engage in whatever other petty criminal behavior strikes their fancy in a guilt free environment.

Retailers may be willing to look the other way, but catering to a criminal element by condoning or enabling bad behavior feels like precisely the opposite of the actions we need to be taking to discourage and penalize criminal activity.

The price of power…

Apparently in Texas you can sign up for a “wholesale” electricity plan. Just like a loan with a floating interest rate, it could be a real benefit to the consumer when rates are low. The catch is, the interest rate for loans or the wholesale cost of electricity changes over time. Sometimes it changes both dramatically and quickly.

Signing up for the “wholesale” plan makes eminent sense when gas and oil is flowing and prices are low. All it takes, though, is a single unexpected event to make such a decision catastrophically wrong. It’s the inherent risk of pinning your plans on a floating rate that’s governed entirely on the vagaries of supply and demand in a potentially volatile marketplace.

While I feel badly for the people who woke up this week to a $16,000 bill for electricity, I presume the contract they signed included a pretty large warning that price moved both up and down and often does so with great rapidity. I felt sorry, too, for people who signed up for zero percent mortgages only to realize that when their mortgages rest to the “real” rate they couldn’t afford both the principle and the interest.

In both cases, these are people who willingly bypassed traditional service agreements or mortgages in favor of “exotic” options. The low up-front cost of exotic options, even if no other explicit warning is made, should be a clear indication to the average consumer that they are assuming a greater than normal degree of personal risk. Both are just one step better than walking in to the local casino and putting your month’s mortgage or rent payment on red and hoping for the best.

Though I feel sorry for both groups, I don’t feel any more sense of personal responsibility to bail out electricity consumers who made bad choices than I did for bailing out homeowners who took on unreasonable levels of debt. Expecting to enjoy all the benefits of low prices without encountering the corresponding negative possibilities smacks of immature thinking. Constantly protecting people from the natural consequences of their own actions clearly hasn’t done us any favors, as it seems no one has taken any of the lessons to heart. 

Now because I’m not a complete bastard, I could be convinced that low-interests emergency loans for those needing relief is a reasonable idea, but simply wiping out legitimate debt because it’s politically expedient sends an appalling message. Mine won’t be the popular opinion, of course, since no one wants to be responsible for themselves and politicians don’t win votes in this modern world of ours by expecting anyone to live up to their personal obligations when a billion dollar bailout is available. So, really, those whole post is about nothing more than yelling into the void.

Tax stuff…

Presidents Day is more than just a federal holiday. Historically it’s the day I sit down and pull all my “tax stuff” together so it can be sent off to my friendly semi-local accountant. Yeah, I know, I’m not in any way a creature of habit.

Put another way, Presidents Day is my own personal day of rage as I start getting a sense of just how much of the last year I spent working just to avoid being thrown into state or federal prison for non-compliance with an extortion racket backed by the full force of government. 

Then I start to ponder the fact that the national debt will crash through $28,000,000,000,000 in short order… and realize that it would take more than 1.5x the current Gross Domestic Product to pay off our current dept.  I have no idea how that level of debt is sustainable over the long term, unless, of course, we adopt some wildly confiscatory tax scheme. That comes with its own inevitable pitfalls too. 

I’ve heard it said that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” but as I’m sitting here looking at sheets full of numbers, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we can reasonably expect the government to carry the full freight of those costs. Given the profound ineptitude of our elected officials, I’m even more incredulous about why we’d even want them involved in all the nooks and crevices where they’re currently spending our tax dollars.

According to some random website, 71% of people surveyed currently disapprove of how Congress is going its job. Allowing an organization that more than 2/3 of the country believes is doing the wrong thing to walk around with an open checkbook and cheering while they spend feels like the height of absurdity. 

A political house fire…

Immigration policy has been a house fire of a political issue for at least the last forty years.  In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed the unimaginatively named Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. In part, what that law did was offer amnesty for three million foreign nationals who entered the United States illegally before 1982. That was the proverbial carrot. The stick, however, the sanctions that should have fallen on businesses that encouraged further illegal immigration and the border enforcement that should have vastly reduced the number of illegal crossings, either never materialized or was rarely enforced. 

The net result overall, is that after reforming the immigration system 35 years ago the boarder is still inexplicably porous and there are nearly five times as many foreign nationals illegally residing in the United States as were granted amnesty way back in 1986. Even by government standards, the IRCA doesn’t feel like a shining example of successful policy implementation. 

The departed Trump administration could be called lots of things, but soft on illegal immigration generally isn’t one of them. The Biden Administration now appears determined to run as far as they’re able back in the other direction. From my seat of judgment, it feels distinctly like both parties are more interested in continuing to have immigration as a wedge issue, fundraising opportunity, and all-around political football than they are in actual immigration reform or securing the border.

My friends on the left will wrap themselves in tear-jerking stories of hardship and mistreatment, wanting to pull up the gates, and open the doors to all comers. They’re kind people, with big hearts, but I wouldn’t trust them to secure the local lemonade stand. It’s great to pass a bunch of laws (or sign a bunch of executive orders) that give everyone a warm fuzzy, but until the Biden Administration gets serious about border security to go along with its liberalized immigration policies, the president isn’t tackling the more difficult, and far more dangerous, part of the equation. The results of that are entirely predictable.

Catching my breath…

I had the privilege of attending two inaugurations in person during the opening years of this century. It’s an experience – one I’m glad I had when I was younger and more tolerant of crowds, necessarily intrusive security screening, and standing around for hours in the cold with no access to coffee and limited availability of restroom facilities. It’s a bit of unique Americana I recommend everyone do if they’re able at least once in their life.

Today’s inauguration of President Biden looked different, even from the toasty warm vantage point of my home office. As it turns out, during the Great Plague era, even pomp and ceremony ain’t what they use to be. I suppose whatever poor bastards were stuck planning the thing did the best they could within the confines of virus-constrained procedures. I’m happy beyond measure for their sake that the big show is over. The Treasury doesn’t have enough cash on hand to convince me to want their job. 

Here we are on day one of the Biden Administration. I could try waxing philosophical, but honestly, I’m just trying to catch my breath a little after the last two weeks, so I’ll just congratulate, again, our new President and Vice President… and we’ll just have to pick up with any necessary ranting and raving tomorrow. 

Taking stock…

With less than 18 hours left to run in the Trump administration, it’s time to take stock. 

Besides firing off tweet-storm broadsides and creating a few new words, what’s to be made of this president’s time in office?

– Appointed a shit ton of vaguely originalist judges not just to the Supreme Court but across the federal bench

– Ended American participation in the appeasement of Iran

– Asserted that a rapidly strengthening China is an increasing threat to America’s global interests

– Entered into a new and improved free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

There are more, but those are fine exemplars of the modest improvements, mostly around the margins, that we can attribute to the Trump Administration. The question, then, is what was the cost?

– Abandoning the centuries old traditions of American political life by subverting the electoral process and attempting to raise and insurrection

– A general foreign policy legacy best labeled “America only” that badly damaged relationships with our most important global allies and empowered some of our most bitter enemies

– An inexplicable failure to respond to the dangers of a new and deadly pandemic as it swept the globe and the United States

– Ratcheting up government spending and driving up the national debt to unprecedented and unsustainable levels

Even leaving out the sedition, historians would have eventually filed this administration away as inconsequential at best and a failure at worst. There was simply too little forward motion on priority efforts when weighed against how much was guided so badly off the rails.

The damage done to America’s standing in the world and the mortal division of our internal politics will be the work of generations to patch up – if the job can be done at all. The alternative, though, is simply unthinkable, so let us begin.