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.

Seven months…

About a week ago, I surpassed the point where the total amount I’ve socked away towards my defined contribution retirement plan (think 401k) this year finally outstripped the amount of federal taxes I’ve paid over the same period of time. For seven full months of every year, there’s more deducted towards the maintenance and upkeep of the federal government than there is for my own maintenance and upkeep in old age. By the end of the year, I’ll have stashed away about $600 more in my 401k equivalent than will be deducted in federal income tax.

If you extend this mental exercise to include Social Security and Medicare, the numbers get even more egregious since the reasonable assumption is to expect the big-ticket entitlement programs to either see payouts reduced, be means tested, or go extinct between now and the time I’ll be eligible to tap them as a source of income / benefits. It takes an awfully big leap of faith for someone in my age bracket to think of either Social Security or Medicare as anything other than an additional tax drag for which we’ll never get back out what we put in.

Uncle Sugar knows his flagship entitlement program is running out of cash. Social Security was “saved” in the 80s using a combination of accounting gimmicks and changing the “terms of service.” It’ll have to be “saved” again sometime between now and 2035, when the most recent projections say it will no longer be able to pay out its full promised benefit. Coincidently that’s right about the time I’ll otherwise be eligible to walk out the door after a 33-year career, so I have more than a passing interest in what fuckery our alleged leaders will get up to in order to avoid grabbing the political third rail with both hands.

It seems to me that we have a system intentionally designed to encourage reliance on big government generosity rather than personal responsibility and savings. God knows I’d be in a far better position now if every nickel taxed away under the FICA withholding had been invested conservatively in a broad market index fund rather than converted into a Ponzi-esque promissory note. Encouraging people to invest their own money responsibly, though, doesn’t keep them beholden to Uncle for doling out a meager old age pension. It’s easier to tax their income at the state and federal level, tack on a bunch of various “withholdings,” and make it incredibly challenging to carve out enough income over and above day-to-day bills to generate a credible, independent nest egg. It’s a sure way to guarantee people will scream bloody murder if they’re told their entitlements are in danger.

However it’s “fixed” in the future, I operate from the assumption that none of the changes will be to my benefit no matter how much cash I’ve poured into the machine over my working life. Like most games, this one is rigged in favor of the house and at this point, I just take it as a given that the money taxed away is lost and gone forever. The only advice I’ve found that feels applicable is to shelter what you can, stash as much as you can of what you can’t shelter, and accept that in all likelihood you’re going to need to self-finance your last act. It’s annoying as all hell, but once I accepted it as reality, it got a whole lot easier to plan for that particular future instead of just being pissed off… but rest assured it’s going to chap my ass every single time I see a pay stub and the reminder what’s going where and how deeply the political class have their hands in our collective pocket.

Don’t simp for sleazy, scumbag politicians… 

I spent a good amount of time raging about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified email back in 2016. I believed then and I believe now that if I stored classified email on my home computer, I’d be at best fired and at worst prosecuted and imprisoned. She shouldn’t receive special consideration due to her august and lofty position. 

In 2017 I called out Jared Kushner for use of private email to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. I recommended that his files and records be subpoenaed and if there was evidence of guilt he should be charged and tried.

In 2018 I called out Ivanka Trump for using her personal email address to conduct official business on behalf of the U.S. Government. 

Here, now, in 2022, I’ll state publicly and for the record that if Donald Trump is suspected of having unlawfully retained, stored, folded, spindled, mutilated, sold, or otherwise misused classified materials, his residence and/or place of business absolutely should be subject to a lawful search. If evidence is found based on that search, he should be tried. That would be my position regardless of whether we happened to be discussing a sitting president, a former president, or a private citizen.

Maybe it’s easier for me to say because I’m beholden to neither of our major political parties, though I like to think it’s simply because I have the intellectual integrity not to have different rules of behavior depending on what party I happen to support. I have many bad qualities, but being a hypocritical asshat isn’t one of them.

I know it’s far too much to expect people to dispense with their partisan blinders at this point. They’re too entrenched – too invested in the position that they’ve staked out. No one wants to admit they bought a pig in a poke. There’s too much face to lose. Nothing I say is going to change minds, so I’ll just be over here eternally grateful that I never wrapped so much of my own identity up in a sleazy, scumbag politician to have hurt feelings when they go out and do sleazy, scumbag politician stuff.

On brand…

I was having a text conversation this morning with someone who was decrying the increased likelihood of political violence following the upcoming midterm election. Given the level of Republican fuckery over the last few years and the already demonstrated propensity towards violence of the extremist element among them, I’d say it’s almost unavoidable. Perhaps it won’t be immediately following the next election, but sooner or later I fully expect to see levels of domestic terrorism in the United States on par with The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the last half of the 20th century.

It’s not a future I’m particularly looking forward to, but it feels definitively on brand for America. We are, after all, a country founded in part due to a violent rebellion against a three-penny tax. In 1794, the ink of our Constitution barely dried, federalized troops were called out to put down a rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, again, over taxation. Sixty years later, we fought a bloody, four-year civil war. All the years before and after are pock marked with acts of individual and group violence. It ebbs and flows as a common thread through the history of the Republic.

I can’t deny the nagging feeling that we’re on another up swing towards conditions that will almost certainly be worse than anything seen in living memory. Just because we haven’t personally experienced it, though, we shouldn’t pretend that this is something altogether new and different. The only real question in my mind now is whether this generation will develop the will and personal fortitude of a Washington or Lincoln and put down this latest accumulation of rabble before they manage to do any lasting damage.

Maryland Republicans…

Yesterday, Marylanders went to the polls to vote in the state’s primary election. In a fit of absurdity, Maryland’s Republicans have voted to set up an election denying, insurrection supporting, Trumpist as their standard bearer for 2022.

In one of the most liberal states in the Union, this is who Maryland republicans have decided is their best hope to keep the governor’s mansion. Maybe it’s the kind of play that will work in Tennessee or one of the Dakotas, but it doesn’t carry water in Maryland. I can only assume Maryland Republicans have well and truly lost their collective minds. 

Running to the hard right is not how Republicans get elected to state-level office in Maryland. As much as I’ve never been in love with Larry Hogan, he was precisely the kind of moderate conservative that can get elected in this blue state. If nothing else, having a solid moderate governor helped mitigate the more wildly liberal impulses of a General Assembly that’s perennially controlled by Democrats. With a legislative branch that’s never met a tax, toll, or fee it didn’t like, that wasn’t nothing.

What Maryland Republicans have said with their vote is they’re more concerned with the Trumpian nightmare vision of Party Purity than in actually holding on to the governor’s office. As a result, come November, they’ll get a governor that will cheerfully go along with and lead the charge for whatever flurry of new taxes, regulations, and laws the Democratic legislature dreams up.

Maryland Republicans have made their wishes known… and I’m looking forward to November, when I’ll have the chance to vote against every single election denying, insurrection loving, Constitution loathing, anti-republican (small “r”) candidate they’ve saddled themselves with. Believe me when I say I’ll cast every one of those votes with a smile in my heart because the Constitution and this republic are not negotiable. 

A warm bucket of spit…

Let me put the bottom line up front: Regardless of your philosophy, neither the Democratic nor Republican Party are your friend. That couldn’t be any clearer than when, 15 minutes after the Supreme Court announced their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, both parties had fired off fundraising emails to their every-person-whose-name-ever-ended-up-on-one-of-their-mailing-list lists. To be clear, when the country needed leadership, the response from both parties (and many of our individual politicians) was “Hey, send me $15.”

Republicans have, since 1973, stated often and loudly that their goal of undoing Roe v. Wade. The fact they did it once they had the power to do so shouldn’t be shocking. They’ve literally been saying it to anyone who would listen for 50 years. Over that half a century, though, I can’t remember one single serious effort by the Democratic Party to enshrine a woman’s right to choose or bodily autonomy into law. Instead, they relied on the judgement of the court and used Roe as a never-ending fundraising opportunity. 

The Republican Party, stalwart defenders of the Second Amendment, have treated gun rights the same way. Given ample opportunity when controlling the presidency and having majorities in Congress, they inexplicably failed to legislate a national right to carry or even just to refine and expand the law to codify an individual right to self-defense. At every turn, though, Republican politicians have used supporters if the Second Amendment to fill their coffers. 

In their own way Roe and the ambiguity of the Second Amendment were the gifts that kept on giving for politicians who never saw a dollar they didn’t want in their own campaign war chest. Maybe I’m too cynical, but it seems to me that our legacy political parties are far more invested in keeping these marquee issues alive as fundraising platforms than in making sure it doesn’t take just five votes to undo one, or all of our rights.

So, I wish everyone would spare me with all the posts about Democrats rallying to defend the right to choose or Republicans defending the right to carry. Neither party is “fighting for our rights.” They’re fighting for their own self-interest. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Democrats are rallying to the cause of some of our rights while ignoring plenty of others. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Republicans are fighting for some rights while likewise ignoring plenty of others.

As for me, I’ll stand where I always have – shoulder to shoulder with anyone who seeks to advance the cause of liberty. I’ll support all the rights, because I don’t want a single one of them ever left to the whims of mere, feckless politicians. Maybe that’s the difference between me and those who cling to their label as “Democrat” or “Republican.” Our rights, all of them, are wealth beyond value… and our legacy political parties increasingly prove that they’re not worth a warm bucket of spit.

Detached from reality…

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. It wasn’t a fact blatantly obvious at the close of election day, but one that became rapidly inescapable as absentee or mail in ballot totals were added to in person vote totals over the next few days. Certainly, by Friday of that week, the trend – and outcome was clear. I knew it. You knew it. The media knew it. The political class knew it. The overwhelming majority of American people knew it. 

Hard as Trump and his people might spin tales of election fraud, the claims were not reflected by the evidence – a fact that court after court found as one ruling was handed down after another, while other, wilder claims were thrown out as having no merit on their face. It seems that everyone except Donald Trump and perhaps his inner core of true believers was well aware of the state of play.

Bill Barr, in his testimony before the select committee appointed to investigate the January 6th insurrection, asserted that when then President Trump went before the cameras claiming theft and fraud, “he was detached from reality.” Let that phrase sink in. That’s a man who has twice served as Attorney General of the United States observing that the guy we’ve entrusted with the nuclear launch codes was having a hard time telling reality from make believe. 

I’m increasingly convinced that on January 6th we stood a hairs breadth from an American chief executive, gotten high on his own supply, refusing to leave office. How close we came to overwhelming the creaking, 200+ year old Constitutional safeguards that have always been more than enough to guide better men who held the office, is absolutely horrifying to behold. 

 If seeing these facts and patterns of behavior laid out now, when not caught up in the heat of the moment, doesn’t give you even a moment’s pause, I don’t have any idea what would. We got incredibly lucky that the American system, under incredible and unprecedent pressure, worked. We’d be well served to never run it that close to the red line ever again, because I fear being delivered safely out the other side had a lot more to do with luck than skill. 

Some thoughts concerning the bipartisan framework on gun control…

It appears that the United States Senate, in a rare bit of bipartisan effort, has cobbled together a framework for new gun control laws. As one of those people who will be stuck complying with whatever goofy laws the state and federal government come up, I have some thoughts on the issue. I’ll try to get through them in some kind of logical order.

I think most people who know me will be a bit surprised as they get through (most of) the rundown:

  • Clarify who must register as a licensed firearms dealer. This feels like a bit of a no-brainer. Clarifying current regulations defining who’s “engaged in the business of selling firearms” should make it easier to understand exactly what that phrase means and who needs to be in compliance in order to conduct that business appropriately.
  • Enhanced penalties for straw purchases. If you knowingly and intentionally purchase a firearm with the intention of reselling or otherwise giving it to someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, you ought to have the book thrown at you. I have no idea what percentage of total sales are straw purchases, but each one of them is an insult to every one of us who jumps through all the hoops in order to stay in compliance.
  • Closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Makes sense. If you’ve been convicted of abuse against your domestic partner – whether married, living together, or in a “serious dating relationship” – your propensity to violence or poor decision making is documented and the state therefore has a vested interest in limiting your ability to escalate that violence.
  • Increased mental health funding. Sure. Is anyone out there really saying that we don’t need to improve access to mental health in this country? I’m not going to turn this post into a brief history of mental health failures over the last century, but getting past the idea that “they’re nuts and there’s nothing we can do about it” is probably a good idea.
  • Enhanced school security. This one feels like something of a red herring. School shootings and “mass shootings” as a whole grab the headlines, but they make up a vanishingly small portion of overall violence in which a perpetrator uses a firearm. I mean sure, more security for soft targets is fine, but you’ll get more bang for your buck in getting people who commit crimes using a firearm off the streets and keeping them there.
  • Enhanced background checks for buyers between 18 and 21. Personally, if we’re going to make gun owners a suspect class, I’d say go all the way back and make sure the review includes juvenile records as well. Walking in with a clean record on your 18th birthday shouldn’t count for more than being a little felon as a minor.

Of course, there’s one bit of this proposed framework, that I’ll be watching with intense interest: Expanding red flag laws.

In Maryland, our red flag law takes the form of the Extreme Risk Protection Order and allows a spouse, domestic partner, dating/romantic partner, relative, law enforcement officer, or medical professional to potation the court to require an individual to surrender firearms and ammunition to the state and to refrain from purchasing new ones. It further provides the court with the ability to refer the individual for emergency mental health evaluation. Some states are more or less restrictive on who can waive the red flag to trigger this process.

It sounds eminently reasonable on its face, but feels replete with opportunities to be abused – by those who might file for an ERPO illegitimately, by an overzealous judiciary, and by the government agency that can continue to hold an individual’s firearms days and weeks after the ERPO has expired or been rescinded.

Unlike some, I don’t think these red flag laws necessarily violate any kind of due process expectation on their face. I do expect, however, that they need to be very strictly constructed and closely overseen in order to prevent them from slipping towards a scenario where those subject to an ERPO find themselves like those Americans who were incorrectly placed on government “no fly” lists with no recourse besides a faceless, shrugging, government bureaucracy.

Personally, if I were king for the day and I wanted to get after gun violence, I’d spend my time chasing better legislation to put violent offenders in the deepest, darkest hole that local and state government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could find. Commit a crime with a firearm and the whole world ought to fall down on your head. Instead, we continue to usher these individuals into the revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release, wash, rinse, and repeat… but that’s not the story that’s going to ever lead the headlines and captivate public attention, so we are where we are.

Joe…

Let me say it straight from the shoulder… I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden as president. From spearheading America’s flight from Afghanistan to the current conflicted economic environment the administration is determined to cheer as rosy, while simultaneously decrying as hard times and painfully inflationary, it feels like the presidency is his in name, but that the hard work of the office remains, somehow, out of his grasp. 

I’ve never met him, but maybe he’s a nice enough old man. I’d be willing to go so far as to say he’s probably well intentioned. He might even be successful his role as head of state (à la Elizabeth II) where the main function is unveiling plaques, making proclamations, and waiving at crowds. I have to believe that even those who supported him during the election have found him wanting when exercising his awesome constitutional role as head of government. His performance when it comes to the hard stuff could, charitably, be called something between mixed and abysmal.

I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the batshit crazy administration of Donald Trump and his band of merry insurrectionists, but the fact that Joe was popularly recognized as the best available option really should concern every one of us. The best thing he could possible do would be to, as soon as the midterms are over, go on television and announce that he won’t seek a second term. I’m sure I’ll still hate the next contender’s policies, but the job deserves someone more engaged and energetic.