My own agenda…

I use to treat the State of the Union Address like my own version of the Super Bowl – an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry while consuming the massive amounts of information being beamed directly into my head from the well of the House and a few well-selected news sites. It was good times, even with the understanding that what was being delivered live on television was, at best, a wish list of ideas rather than any definitive statements of policy.

Politics for the most part has joined the increasingly large number of topics that I mostly lack the interest in dealing with on the wholesale level. Yes, there are a few areas I care passionately about and pay close attention to, but the broader discussion of how many times a speech is interrupted by applause, or who did something stupid 25 years ago, or gods forbid, said something that someone, somewhere might find in poor taste. I’m sorry, but the field in which I grow my fucks is desolate and barren. I have not one more to give on “issues” like those.

So, like the actual Super Bowl that preceded it, I will not be tuning in to hear the president’s remarks on the State of the Union tonight. I know I can rest assured that by the time I wake up tomorrow morning Twitter will be sure to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to think about it. I’ll read the highlights. Probably.

Congress and the president have their own agendas and I have mine. Between the three, I’ll let you be the judge of which one I think is the most important. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

In an extraordinarily rare edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week, I present the following five items without comment.

1. Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America.

2. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

3. Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.

4. Mitch McConnell, the United States Senate Majority Leader.

5. Chuck Schumer, the United States Senate Minority Leader.

A simple proposal to end the current shutdown fuckery…

I’m not an expert on parliamentary procedure or a scholar of the arcane rules of the House or the Senate. With that being said, I think I’ve struck upon a simple and entirely constitutional solution to ending this government shutdown fuckery in which out elected representatives are engaged in up to their beady little eyeballs.

My proposal is simple: Take the President of the United States out of he loop. No, I’m not talking about impeachment or something more extreme. I’m talking about a procedure that’s so simple I taught it to high school freshmen way back in my past life as a civics teacher.

The thrust of my proposal is in remembering that Congress doesn’t actually need the president to pass a bill into law. A unified congress – or at least a Congress that is 2/3 unified can override a presidential veto. So what we do is pass an omnibus spending bill with a line item forbidding spending appropriated funds on a wall, but appropriating $4 billion for enhanced border security. The president will veto the bill. Congress then votes an override and *poof* the government opens over the objections of the president. 

This proposal has the added perk of affirming centuries old prerogatives of the legislative branch and has the effect of reign in unfettered executive power that has grown too vast over the last three decades. If congressional leadership could pull it off, their collective approval rating might even climb out of single digits .

The problem, of course that would require congressional Republicans and Democrats to play nicely for a few days days. It means they would have to do what congresses have done for 200 years – compromise. If our “leaders” are too far gone to put the good of the people over party politics, perhaps we can sweeten the deal by enhancing the power of their own office.

My problem with Trump…

My friends on the left like to opine regularly that President Donald Trump is some combination of crazy, evil, a nazi, morally bankrupt, criminally corrupt, beholden to the Russians, or all of the preceding. In the same breath they want to believe he is simultaneously dumb as a stone as well as the mastermind of the greatest con in the history of the republic.

My actual problem with Trump isn’t any of these things, though. From my wheelhouse, I agree with a fair number of his basic policies. Even here in over-taxed Maryland I benefited from his tax reform plan. I believe the we ought to have tight control over who is allowed into the country and a strong defense on the southern border… and the northern border… and at all the air and seaports in between. I think the federal government would best served by getting out of the education policy business – funding schools through block grants to the states if we collectively insist that the federal government absolutely has to be involved in some way. 

By the same token I soundly disagree with his approaching the State Department and international diplomacy as an afterthought. I question his positions on when and how to employ the mailed fist of the US military. Unlike some people, though, I somehow manage not to slobber all over myself while articulating what I believe.

At the heart of it, I suspect that’s what I find most troubling about the age of Trump. He’s a man with no indoor voice and no filter. There are ways to get most of his agenda accomplished – or there were when his party held all the reigns in congress. Most of those ways, though, required some deft maneuvering, horsetrading, and not saying much – basically old school political wrangling.

I never found Donald Trump a particularly appealing candidate. His approach to politics is boorish and largely ineffective and that’s my biggest problem with him. You’d think The Art of the Deal would have included a chapter on subtilty, keeping your own council, and the value of working the system behind the scenes. As for the shrill crowing of the “progressive” left, well, I discount a fair amount of that noise as more or less what they’d be casting at any candidate who dared not share their particularly skewed view of the world. 

The unnecessary search for the perfect pen…

As much as the government likes to claim that we’ve gone or are going “paperless,” such claims are fabrications if not an outright lies. There as much if not more volume of paper flowing around the office now as there was when I showed up almost 16 years ago. One of the only other consistencies in all that time is that I’ve been on an eternal quest to find just the right pen. 

Copyright ANN PINSON/STARS AND STRIPES 

I’ve used roller balls, gel inks, ball points, felt tips, fines, and ultra-fines. I even picked up – and very quickly put down – a couple of fountain pens along the path. The truth is, I have the perfect pen sitting on the desk in my home office already. The Cross Century pen that my dad handed to me the night I graduated high school fills the bill as a “good pen” nicely. Given its sentimental value there’s no way I’m willing to risk losing it somewhere in the vast bureaucracy. Adding another Cross is cost prohibitive. What I’ve always searched for is a good, serviceable everyday pen. 

The fact is, I probably found the right pen for the job long before my search really began. All I had to be willing to accept was the learned judgement of a bunch of bureaucrats way back in 1968 when the General Services Administration adopted the 16 pages of requirements that ultimately resulted in the production of the definitive Pen, Ball-Point, Black, NSN 7520-00-935-7135. The venerable Skilcraft pen is harder to find in government offices than it used to be, but it’s still there if you know where to look. 

It’s not the best pen I’ve ever used. Sometimes the ink is a bit clumpy and it feels a little small in hand, but by way of trade off, I’ve never actually run one out of ink. That’s a claim I can’t make about a run of the mill Bic or modern gel ink wonders. I suspect this little wonder has more of a cult following than many will admit to, as plenty of them have been swiped from my desk over the years. It’s one of those rare moments when design and function are pretty much ideal even 50+ years later. 

That’s all a long way to say that I think my search for the perfect pen is probably over. I’ll keep my fancy Cross at home, but for the office I’ll be keeping a supply of archaic black ball-points on hand to meet my writing needs. It feels like one of the few designs that we, probably by pure dumb luck, managed to get right the first time… if I ever catch wind of anyone threatening to improve the design I’ll just have to requisition a dozen boxes to see me safely through the back half of my career. One box would probably be enough, but the inevitable reallocation through theft must be considered when determining supply requirements. Same as it ever was.

The state funeral…

When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years. 

State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty. 

From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget. 

If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself.