Banana republicanism…

Yesterday in Brazil, thousands of election denying insurrectionists stormed their congress, presidential palace, and supreme court. While the damage was extensive, Brazil’s legally constituted authorities were able to roll back this assault on democracy. 

Having happened so close to the anniversary of January 6th, it’s hard not to look at the similarities. In both Brazil and the United States, right wing crackpots, led by defeated and disgraced ex-presidents were whipped into a furor and aimed at their respective institutions of government. In both cases, the attacks were carried out by those claiming to represent “conservative” principles. 

As a life-long holder of conservative beliefs, let me say for the record that these fucknuckles wouldn’t understand conservatism if it shot them in the ass. No matter how you try to dress it up, radical reactionism simply isn’t, by definition, conservative. To be conservative is to be, at heart, an institutionalist. By all means, disagree with the direction government and civic institutions are taking and work to change them, but undermining those institutions at the direction of wild-eyed charlatans is the polar opposite of “being conservative.” It’s banana republicanism at best.

Whether they follow Bolsonaro, Trump, or the next wave of MAGA Republicanism that seems to now be emerging, the threat against democratic norms and institutions continues to increase. We ignore this rising tide, or pretend we have put down the insurrectionists once and for all, at our own peril. This insidious threat to liberty may have been rolled back or held off, but it hasn’t been defeated.

Arizona independent…

I mean you’re not really surprised Krysten Sinema has left the Democratic Party, are you? Over the last two years, Sinema, along with Joe Manchin, built themselves into the powerbrokers of the Senate. That’s easy enough to do when you’re one of two critical votes giving the Democrats majority control. With the just finished election in Georgia giving the Democrats a true Senate majority, Sinema’s departure was the only real way to prop up her status as a Senate dealmaker or deal breaker in the next Congress.

I haven’t read any opinion pieces on it – and probably won’t at this point. Sure, it’s a blatantly self-serving tactic to preserve her power and influence, but that’s just politics. Democratic leaders in the Senate will still need to court her vote and give her voice an outsized hearing in the great debates to come. If anything, they’ll need to be even more solicitous as long as she keeps at least one foot outside the big tent of the Democratic Party. 

I don’t expect a newly Independent Krysten Sinema changes all that much. It’s not as if she’s going to start suddenly voting in bloc with the Treason Wing of the Republican Party. She can, though, be a voice of restraint against any serious far left tomfoolery the progressive caucus in the Senate dreams up. Really, it leaves us more or less exactly where we have been – and honestly a Congress that’s busy tying itself in knots and not passing a metric shit ton of unnecessary new laws isn’t the worst thing I can think of at the moment. I mean an actual federal budget would be nice to have, but as long as they can stumble along and get the continuing resolutions passed on time, maybe that government is best that governs least. 

Disgust and disdain…

Just like that, election season 2024 is underway. As someone who’s had a passing interest in politics his entire life – and whose paycheck depends in large part on the elected “leaders” of the government not making the entire creaking edifice dysfunctional – I look on the entire spectacle with disgust and disdain. The thought of spending the next 24 months listening to these contemptible assholes stroking their own egos and stoking up the lowest common denominator among their respective bases just leaves me wanting to eat a cyanide sandwich and wash it down with an ice cold glass of bleach.

Maybe that’s slightly exaggerated. Maybe. It probably depends on the day when you ask me about it.

It’s like the classic car crash scenario… no matter how much I want to look away from the burning hot mess, I won’t. The shitshow in which we find ourselves caught has to be seen to be believed – or disbelieved – whichever happens to be your preference.

If they ever come up with a relatively non-invasive way to fry the little part of the brain that gives a shit about politics and leaves the rest undiminished, you can sure as shit find me in line on opening day.

Fourteen election days…

It’s election day. Again. It keeps coming back… like we’ve all collectively been eating bad oysters. If my math is right this will be my 14th election day as a registered voter.

This is the time when I usually do a little bit of prognostication. The only thing I still know with any certainty, though, is the “way it works” I learned 20+ years ago sitting in my American politics courses no longer feels particularly valid. From here on out, I’m going on sheer guess work. 

With that said, I think at the national level, Republicans are going to have a good night. The weird economic conditions are just too much headwind for the incumbent party to achieve much in the way of gain. If I were forced to call the ball, I’d say Republicans pick up 15 seats in the House and get +1 in the Senate… leaving us with the most divided of divided governments.

Locally, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the Democratic candidate will win the governor’s race. Andy Harris, the crank, crackpot, insurrection supporter, and all around shitty human being will retain his seat representing Maryland’s First Congressional District.

None of these are the results I want. Of course, I’ll never get the results I want because most of the candidates I’d really want to vote for have been dead for a very long time – a few for decades and others for centuries. 

The only thing I feel confident in saying is that our politics will continue to get worse. We’re not even going to take a breath when the polls close tonight before we’re off to the races and running for the 2024 election cycle. And in the process, we’re going to get exactly the kind of government we, the people, deserve… because we’ve allowed it to get this bad by continuing to send the same set of asshats back to do our work. 

The profit motive…

About once a day you can count on President Biden tweeting about evil oil companies making money hand over fist while “excess profits are going back to their shareholders and their executives.”

As much fun as it is to watch the president attempt to turn “profit” into the next dirty word, I respectfully suggest he’s out of his damned mind on this track. I mean it’s not as if oil companies are chartered non-profit organizations. The whole point of investing in a company is the expectation that you’ll receive a return on that investment. The board and corporate executives would probably have some legal liability if they weren’t actively trying to return value to shareholders. The shareholders are the ones bearing the risk that accompanies running a business after all. 

I know that POTUS and his Twitter account like to pretend it’s just the 1% getting dividends… but according to a Gallup report dated May 12, 2022 the number of Americans who hold individual stock shares or who are invested through mutual funds or IRAs is in the neighborhood of 58%. That number probably ticks up a bit if you account for the various and sundry pension plans that also invest widely across the whole market. Even without accounting for pension funds, that’s a majority of Americans who stand to gain when businesses profit, dividends are paid, or stock is bought back by the company. That large percentage of Americans being “in the market” in some way would seem to indicate their belief in the power of growth and profit. 

Maybe the big buy backs and dividends would be moderated a bit by a political environment that was more encouraging of entrepreneurship, of R&D, or of exploration. As it is, Big Energy doesn’t have much incentive to spend money on those things under an administration that would very much like to kill off their entire sector. Companies tend to invest when they have a nice stable regulatory environment, rather than when the government keeps threatening to yank the rug out from under them.  

Our president, it seems, wants to have it both ways. He wants the cash cow to fund the welfare state but he also wants to butcher it and sell off the pieces. Having said that, if President Biden were serious about any of this, he’d be working with Congressional leaders to cut off federal subsidies to the energy industry and the broader system of subsidies in general instead of Tweeting about it every afternoon. I’d be the first one on board if he made that pitch. Until then, I’d appreciate it if Mr. Biden could give it a rest with trying to demonize the profit motive. 

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed…

Inconsistency makes me just a little bit crazy. This week, I’ve seen two heavily commented on social media posts that were, for lack of a better term, triggering. 

The first, from the NRA, was a post singing the praises of an Iowa school district that had decided to allow some portion of its teachers to carry a firearm inside the school. I don’t have any deep philosophical problems with that if people are willing and able, but I was amazed at the number of far-right commenters arguing that all teachers should be armed or that it should be required in all school districts. I suspect that a fair number of them were the same people who over the course of the Great Plague were busy calling out teachers as groomers, screaming bloody murder about “unsuitable” books in the classroom, and raging that teacher’s sole purpose was to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into a vast leftist conspiracy. Suddenly, teachers are the last, best guardians of their children. If that’s not inconsistent, I have no idea what is.

The second post, once again related to guns, was a bland piece stating emphatically that only the police should have “high powered” weapons. The comments are exactly what you’d expect – agreement right down the line from precisely the same people who during the Great Plague shouted themselves hoarse that the police couldn’t be trusted and should be defunded and disbanded.  Either the police are a trusted agent to apply state sanctioned force or they’re not. The alternative illustrated by this particular meme seems to be that the police are wildly untrustworthy, but absolutely should be armed well beyond the ability of any citizen or group of citizens to resist their power. I can’t be the only one that sees the logical conflict here, right?

Given the level of engagement with both of the subject posts, I can only assume that applying even some cursory analysis to ideas isn’t something most people do regardless of where on the political divide they fall. That probably shouldn’t be surprising at this point… and I’m really not surprised in any traditional sense of the word. I’ve long since given up on the vast mass of people being anything other than dumber than dog shit. 

None of this sad tale of woe is a surprise, but it can’t help but be a disappointment.

My violently split ticket…

For me, this past Saturday was Election Day. I double checked my printed ballot, did some last-minute research on a couple of candidates for local office, and filled in all the appropriate ovals. Then I trundled off to the county building and dropped off my ballot. In a few days I expect to get an email notification from the county board of elections that it has been received. I’ll get another when it gets counted. As much as I always enjoyed physically going to the polls in person, this new way of doing things is undeniably more convenient.

I’ve never shied away from splitting a ticket. Since I turned 18, my rule has always been to vote for the candidate rather than the party. This year, I had an even simpler rule – I refuse to cast a vote for any candidate that supported, excused, convoluted, or in any way attempted to justify the Republican-led insurrection of January 2020. I don’t have a single vote to give to election deniers, anti-vaxers, or conspiracy theorists. It led to a ticket split in a variety of ways.

For Maryland governor, I’d vote for a warm bucket of spit before I cast my ballot for Dan Cox. Chalk that one up for the Libertarian candidate.

For Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, I cheerfully voted for the Democratic candidate and against Andy Harris, our very own local election denying, insurrection supporting, Trump-ist incumbent representative. As a medical doctor, his stated position on vaccines is more than enough to ensure I can’t trust his judgement on other issues. His support for a violent overthrow of the legislative branch in which he serves was really just icing on the cake.  

For Comptroller, I actually voted for the Republican, not because he’s a Republican or because he has a chance of winning a statewide race in Maryland this year, but because at the height of Republican office holders dipping their toes in the water of treason, Barry Glassman called out Congressman Harris by name as an example of what was wrong with the Republican Party. If he’s willing to publicly stand against that running tide and agitate the MAGA base, he earned my vote.

The rest is a long list of state and local offices for which Republican candidates are running unopposed. A quick social media search on most of them led me quite quickly to using the write in option. So, there are a few Cecil County residents known to me personally to be of sound judgement who will be receiving at least one vote attempting to elevate them to high public office in lieu of the nominated Republican for those offices.

I’m absolutely confident that my ticket has never been more split.

Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

It’s not about your rights, it’s about their power…

Every time someone mentions requiring a formal system of voter identification, a hue and cry arises that it’s just people placing a structural and financial impediment in the way of someone exercising their rights under the Constitution. It’s all I can do not to laugh them out of the room when they roll out that old chestnut.

Let’s assume I’m a responsible adult with no criminal record who has never owned a firearm, but wants to purchase a handgun to protect my home and property. In order to exercise my rights under the Second Amendment, here’s a taste of the structural and financial hurdles the State of Maryland throws up between me and my rights.

To begin the process, I need to apply for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). All told, the basic requirements involve paying a $50 application fee after completing a 4 hours course ($95) and submitting fingerprints ($65). Then I’ll wait for between 2-4 weeks while the state adjudicates my application. After that, I can go to a gun shop, purchase the handgun I want and wait an additional week or longer for that application to be reviewed by the state. This first hurdle involved a minimum of $210, 4 hours of class time, and 3-5 weeks of various waiting periods. Assuming everything is approved, I’ll then pay $20 every 10 years to renew my HQL. 

In order to take the next step and be approved to carry my handgun outside the home, I’d need to check off all the boxes to secure the Maryland Wear and Carry Permit. Submitting this application involves a $75 application fee, another set of fingerprints ($65), and a 16 hour class ($350). The state then has 90 days to review the application. The cost of meeting all the requirements for the wear and carry permit is $490, 16 hours of classroom time, and up to a 90 day wait. If successfully approved, the wear and carry permit in Maryland requires renewal after two years for the initial permit and three years for each subsequent renewal. There is a $50 renewal fee and 8 hour class ($125) for each renewal application. 

Without factoring in the additional costs of renewal or the cost of the actual gun, the all in cost to fully exercise your Second Amendment rights in Maryland involves $700 cash out of pocket, 20 hours in the classroom, and about 120 days of wait time. Talk about setting up financial and structural roadblocks.

So, you see, when they screech that the $24 fee for state issued photo identification that can be issued on the day it’s applied for is a roadblock to someone’s right to vote, I find that argument wildly unmoving… unless, of course, their argument really isn’t about helping people exercise their rights and more about maintaining institutionalized power among the political class. In that case, it makes perfect sense.