The ghost of Jack Bogle…

I’ve been with the same financial advisor for near on 20 years. I’ve had very few complaints, aside, perhaps, from his being not quite as aggressive when picking investments as my own comfort level would allow. I appreciated someone who was “fiduciarily neutral” to act as a sounding board to discuss changes, goals, and long-term planning. Now that he’s set to retire, I have to wonder if I’m willing to peel off 1% a year to build that same relationship with whatever new guy comes in to take over the shop.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve held back a small amount in a separate investment account that I tinker with directly. I’m not a stock picker. I don’t have the time or inherent analytical ability to do deep evaluation on this stuff. I am, however, good at recognizing that over time, a broad index of the whole market has given me returns in that account that are perfectly acceptable. I’ve observed the same function in the Thrift Savings Plan sponsored by our beloved Uncle. Its core funds – again, broad market indexes – grind out ample returns over time. Set it and forget it until it’s time to rebalance.

The account I held with my old advisor has always been something I thought of as a fallback – a failsafe that would prevent one disastrous, misguided decision on my part from wrecking the entire house of cards. I wonder, though, if maybe it’s time I take the whole thing in hand for a decade or so… at least until I need to come up with a plan to move from the accumulation phase to it becoming a cash flowing source of income. With less than a handful of index funds being fed automatically every two weeks, it doesn’t feel like the occasional rebalancing should be something that’s too hard for me to manage. Saving the yearly fees until we reach a point where there’s heavy duty planning to do would also be a nice little bonus.

It’s all easy to say here, but does, however, require a tremendous leap of faith in my own ability not to fuck things up in the absence of a safety net. Maybe what I’m really waiting for is a late-night visit from the ghost of Jack Bogle to reassure me that “Nothing is simpler than owning the stock market and holding it forever.” Yeah. That would go a long way towards easing my mind on this one. 

In the end, they’re all Monday…

It’s Monday. Again. This morning, I reached deep into the cabinet where I store my fucks, but alas those shelves were bare. It’s a sad state of affairs that my increasing lack of fucks to give is even seeping into telework days now. Historically, it’s mainly been a problem reserved to those days when I’m required, for reasons defying logic and common sense, to schlep over to the office and sit with other people all day.

But here we are. Trying to come up with new and interesting ways to say what I’ve probably said 137 times here already. Gods, I’m not sure I could be less interested even if I put maximum effort into it. That’s probably some moral failing in me as a person. Meh. So what?

It’s probably a gift that I don’t have to be particularly interested in something to do it tolerably well. If it were otherwise, we could be in a real spot of trouble here. As it is, I’ll sit here with a dog sleeping on my feet, a cat trying to occupy the keyboard, and tinker about with some PowerPoint slides (while trying not to dwell too much on the four Monday equivalents left to go before my time is wholly my own again). 

The debt ceiling shouldn’t be a suicide pact…

The debt ceiling has been an evolving creature since 1917 and started life as something of a thought exercise. In handing over some of their spending power (a Legislative Branch function) to the Treasure (an Executive Branch department), long dead Members of Congress thought that if their future selves had to have their votes counted in order for the U.S. Government to continue taking on large tranches of debt, maybe it would restrain them from profligate borrowing. Some of the more wild-eyed optimists among them, I’m sure, thought that it might even usher in a new day of not constantly spending more money than the federal government takes in.

For most of the last hundred years, though, raising the debt ceiling became just a normal part of doing business. No serious person ever considered putting the United States Government in a position where it would default on its lawfully begotten debts. That’s changed in the last 20-30 years, of course. I suspect there’s now more than a few Members of Congress who would cheer on a default and smile for the cameras while they watched the resulting economic chaos.

Republican controlled Congresses have raised the debt ceiling. Democratic controlled Congresses have raised the debt ceiling. Divided Congresses have raised the debt ceiling. Presidents of both parties have presided over these increases while gnashing their teeth about runaway spending.

Can we please, then, just stop pretending that the debt ceiling is anything more than a bomb we’ve allowed to grow in the heart of the government? With the total federal debt now standing at $31 trillion dollars, let us admit that the debt ceiling is a work of fiction that has don’t nothing to stand between us and racking up unimaginable levels of indebtedness. The only thing it’s really done is create a mechanism by which it’s possible to decimate the global economy if the hands of the incompetents and ideologues now serving in Congress. Better that this failed experiment in limiting federal spending be put on the ash heap of history than allowing it to linger around like some kind of damned suicide pact.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 16 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 16 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

2. Missing motivation. You know it’s bad when I don’t even want to sit down and write. I do more reading on days like that, so it’s a bit of a trade off, but still, it’s not exactly good tidings. I’m assuming my current lack of being motivated by anything is part and parcel of the mid-winter doldrums when the yard is a mud pit, I see very little sunlight, and the temperature very rarely claws above 50 degrees. It’s about as bland a time of year as you could ask for and it can’t help, it seems, from seeping into my bones. The days, though, are ever so slightly longer than they were a month ago, so help on the way. Probably.

3. National sales tax. Republicans are currently hung up on pushing a national sales tax. If it were to, in fact, replace the current Byzantine income tax regime with a dead simple x% addition to the cost of goods and services, I could probably get behind it. What the whole program will end up being, though, is a sales tax in addition to an income tax. I mean even if, despite all odds against, Republicans manage to implement a sales tax and eliminate the income tax, does anyone really believe that some future Congress wouldn’t come back to the income tax trough so that John Q. Taxpayer ends up getting hit with both a federal sales and income tax? In the absence of a Constitutional amendment declaring for all time that income taxes are abolished, I’m a hard “no” on a national sales tax.

He’s no Baron Baltimore…

I like having divided government in Maryland. For the last eight years it restrained the Democrats who perennially control both the House of Delegates and the Senate from relentlessly raising taxes unchecked and launching new programs for every wild do-good idea that someone in PG or Montgomery County pitches to them. Those moderating tendencies are also what kept the whackjob MAGA wing of the Republican Party from taking over the state and installing a treason apologist in the governor’s office.

But here we are now with the Democratic Party controlling both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. It feels like a sure bet that it’ll once again be the season to tax everything under the sun – up to and including the rain that falls upon our golden shores. Those revenues will inevitably flow towards the urbanized counties while western and southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore will be politely told to sit down, shut up, and keep our checkbooks out.

I agree with almost none of Wes Moore’s political philosophy. From taxation, to guns, to his “social justice” initiatives, our new governor will be carefully calibrated to hit all of the Democratic Party’s sweet spots. That’s a strong departure from former Governor Hogan, who regularly annoyed the extreme right wing of his own party while holding moderate policy positions across his tenure in office.

On his inauguration as 63rd Governor of Maryland (not inclusive of our great and illustrious proprietary and royal governors prior to 1776), I wish Mr. Moore joy of the day. I hope he leaves the state better when his term ends than it was when he found it… but I suspect what we’ll see is a growing tax burden, excessive and onerous legislation and regulation, and governmental policy designed more around making people feel good than achieving any objective real world goals.

The increasing fuckery of Twitter…

Twitter has never exactly been a walled garden, but over the last couple of years I’ve been able to curate the kind of experience I wanted to have using the platform. For the most part, the posts I was seeing were of interest – ranging between current day Army policy, to politics, to general history and more specifically the age of fighting sail. 

The last few weeks, I’ve increasingly seen posts (and ads) that are of no particular use or interest to me. This morning, for some reason, the theme mixed in with my normal fair was posts and ads from whack job conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine organizations. 

I just can’t muster the time or interest to deal with that. I want to like Twitter. I find it an incredibly useful tool for breaking news and information. I even appreciate the often serendipitous posts that land in my feed. 

What I don’t appreciate is having those normal bits of my feed shouted down in favor of whoever happens to be the loudest, most obnoxious people using the app. I more or less abandoned Instagram when its “new and improved” features ceased providing the experience that added value to my life. I feel Twitter slowly and surely following the same route. Increasingly, it feels like the direction the whole universe of social media is taking. 

I’m going to give it one more try to adjust the settings and lay in some new “words to never show me,” but it’s quickly descending into “more trouble than it’s worth” territory. It almost feels inevitable that eventually I’ll just withdraw from the socials altogether into a world of books and animals where everything else can bugger directly off. I’m fast approaching the hard limit of the amount of fuckery I intend to allow into my life.

From there to here…

Twenty years ago today, at about 8:00 in the morning, I walked into Shoney’s in Petersburg, Virginia having no idea what to expect. Three weeks earlier, I had celebrated Christmas by walking away from my still poppin’ fresh teaching career in the middle of the school year. Between getting my old condo ready to rent, the U-Haul expense, and setting up housekeeping in a new apartment, I was lucky to scrape together enough spare change to be flush enough to order breakfast somewhere so fancy. It was a starving time – the flattest of flat broke I’ve been as an adult before or since.

With that career turning 20 today, it’s been hard not to linger on where it’s taken me – from Petersburg and Richmond, to the Columbia River gorge and The Dalles, Honolulu, DC, Memphis, and finally back home to Maryland and the shores of the Chesapeake. I’ve met some absolutely brilliant minds and more than a few complete and utter shits. A few of the former, I’m lucky to consider dear friends. The latter are unavoidable no matter how hard you try.

No matter where the geography took me, it’s always been a job – the thing I do to pay the bills and afford to do all the other stuff. That’s ruffled the feathers of the true believers whose paths I’ve crossed. It cost me a few points here and there and maybe made me more than one low key enemy… but I have very few regrets. I’ll bitch about Uncle’s batshit crazy, incredibly frustrating, and outmoded way of doing things until the day I die, but it’s been a good living and it’s given me the opportunity to build a good life with not too many compromises. That ain’t nothing.

I’m just a bit shy of 2/3 of the way through this unexpected career of mine. With 20 down and 12 to go, I do find my thoughts turning a lot more frequently to its end than I do to its beginning. It’s nice, though, this one time a year, to sit down and think about the truly bizarre series of events and decisions that led me from there to here.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. AFGE Local 1904. Here we are 15 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if 30 months of operating nearly exclusively through telework didn’t prove that working from home works. All this is ongoing while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. It’s truly a delight working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated and perfectly acceptable policy for supervisors was published 15 weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for failing their members (and those of us who they “represent” against our will) for not getting this shit done.

2. Eggs. You can’t swing a dead chicken without reading or hearing a story about the price of eggs. People like eggs, you see. The current period of inflation has coincided with a months-long bird flu outbreak that has hit domestic chicken flocks particularly hard. Even if we assume that demand for eggs has been stable, there are fewer chickens laying them and therefore fewer eggs coming to market. With the product in shortage, the price has increased markedly. It’s not a plot. It’s not surprising. It’s literally the fundamental free market elements of supply and demand doing their thing to find equilibrium. One more story about the sky falling really, truly, isn’t going to make a difference.

3. Humanity. I read a lot. No shock there. This week I’ve been served up several articles about computers or AI “eclipsing” humanity. To that, I mostly offer a shrug. Look around at the masterful job we’ve done running the place as the apex species. We’re collectively like the kid that was sent to school and eats his textbook. Why not let AI run the show for a while? Do we really think it’ll make a worse hash of things or are we terrified it would do better?

Bailing twine and happy thoughts…

It would be easy to sit here tonight and throw rocks at the FAA. Whether their computers were hacked, threw up a blue screen of death, or tried to run a patch at an inconvenient time, the resulting temporary collapse of air travel across the United States feels like something that should have been avoidable. 

It probably only feels that way, though. Being myself a daily victim of whatever cheap as hell IT solutions our wealthy Uncle Sam contracts for, all I was really thinking as the story unfolded this morning was “there but for the grace of God go I.” The number of times I’ve had the low-bidder piece of shit equipment I’m assigned completely crap out at the most inopportune times possible is pretty much beyond counting. If I’m facing a big day where my laptop absolutely, positively has to work flawlessly, I go into it just assuming that there will be an equipment failure at some point. The only real question is when during the day it’s going to happen. My expectations are rarely disappointed. 

I’m full of sympathy for the poor chowderheads at the FAA who struggled mightily this morning to unfuck their system. I’m equally full of rage at the bureaucracy and political leadership that allowed the free movement of people about this country to hang by such a precarious thread. There’s an inevitable price for, year upon year, holding everything together with bailing twine and happy thoughts.

It’s just not that hard…

The discovery of classified documents in an office used by the then former Vice President Biden, frankly, is no less troubling than the documents recovered from former President Trump’s home/resort in Florida. Some will point to the difference between the Biden documents being found and immediately turned over to representatives of the National Archives versus Trump’s tantruming fight to keep those he possessed as being a significant difference. I’m not at all sure I agree. 

The fact that the current president and his immediate predecessor are both caught up in a situation where classified documents were mishandled is, in a word, troubling. If a few more words were called for, I might wonder aloud what the actual fuck is wrong with these people we entrust with the highest levels of executive power?

Is it that they’ve been empowered so long that they believe rules simply no longer apply, or is it alternately that they’re too ragingly incompetent to keep up with basic procedures governing the care and use of classified materials? Is it malicious? Intentional? Is anyone working for them at least attempting to keep their shit squared away?

Maybe I only get incensed about this because I know what happens to people a lot further down the food chain than the Executive Office of the President when they misplace or otherwise fail to secure their red-edged paperwork.

I welcome a full and complete investigation into the circumstances surrounding the mishandling of classified information at the highest level and can only hope the guilty party receives the appropriate level of sanction for their abject fuckery. I promise you, it’s not that hard to keep information secured appropriately. Whoever cocked it up, whether president or peon should be roundly pummeled about the head and neck.

Say what you feel you need to about me, but one thing I can promise, is that my position on these issues is never, ever about the utter triviality of political party. I want to see the guilty hang regardless of what color tie they wear.