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. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blame and credit. OK, it’s fashionable to blame Joe Biden for interest rates and inflation and gas prices and whatever else anyone believes is going off the rails at any given time. Fine. Taking the blame is an occupational hazard of being president. I think, though, we’re missing some of the up side of the current economic environment – namely that gas prices and generationally high inflation levels have apparently made backyard fireworks a budget line item that was ripe to dramatically decrease or be cut out completely for people in 2022. With only a few individual outliers, personal fireworks displays within earshot of the homestead were constrained almost exclusively to between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM on Independence Day and were dramatically smaller and less intrusive to the general peace and tranquility of the evening than they have been in previous years… so, thanks, Biden. I mean if we’re going to blame him for global economic forces at work, he might as well get some credit for the good stuff he doesn’t have any control over.

2. Time. The standard work week lasts approximately 375 hours. A week of vacation time wraps up in just short of one hour and 26 minutes. I know here are psychological reasons why we perceive the passage of time differently under various conditions, but that doesn’t make the fact any less annoying – particularly when your most recent batch of days off is quickly diminishing. It this case, perception is stupid and I hate it.

3. Religion. I’ve covered it before, but it bears repeating: I’m under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to follow the tenants of your religion. I don’t care if you follow the old gods, the new gods, the Greek pantheon, Sol Invictus, Vishnu, Buddha, or Jesus Christ himself. Your beliefs govern the way you live your life. The minute you turn your faith into a belaying pin to cudgel others about the head and neck, no matter what peace and love you preach, I’ll oppose you loudly, at length, and with whatever force is necessary to get you to cease pummeling others with your interpretation of faith and goodness. You’d think in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two we might have left some of this medieval fuckery in the rear view, and yet here 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. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Virtually in person. Monday was one of those days where I was in the office fulfilling the (in my opinion) questionable requirement that our little team must always have a warm body in the building. Like the ravens at the Tower of London, the whole enterprise would collapse should we all simultaneously be doing the work from anywhere other than our assigned badly lit, gray-toned workstations. The only meeting I had that day involved seven or eight people… half of whom were also physically in the office. It’s awfully telling that despite so many people being on site, the whole meeting was held over Teams with everyone participating from their desk. If we’re all going to be meeting virtually from our own section of cubicle hell, I’d really love a non-corporate speak explanation of why there’s even a push to have more and more people in the office? You’ll never convince me it doesn’t defy logic and plain common sense.

2. Pulling rank. This week, as I may have mentioned, was the yearly spectacle where I attempt to stage manage / executive produce a three-day series of presentations. This year there were 9 organizations and 21 separate presentations across three days. This event rated permanent support from me, three guys who managed the IT infrastructure from soup to nuts, and a handful of rotating support personnel from each of the participating organizations that fell in for their portion of the event and then buggered off. By way of contrast, there was another event on Tuesday morning. This one lasted 90 minutes. It rated support from a staff director, six subject matter experts, three guys to manage IT, and another half dozen aides, support staff, and various strap hangers. If it sounds like I’m in any way angry and a little bitter, I like to think it’s justified hostility and just one of the many reasons why I hate the last week of April.

3. Choices. At the princely cost of $4.25 per gallon, I filled up the truck this morning from about a quarter tank and spent $77.60. I didn’t jump online to “Thank Brandon” or scream “Orange Man Bad” because I know the American president has next to no direct control over setting global commodity prices. I paid my bill without much comment, because paying his way in this endlessly beshitted world is a man’s job. Well, that and because no one twisted my arm 12 years ago in west Tennessee when I bought a big V8 powered pickup truck knowing full well that on its best day, I might get a little more than 16 miles per gallon. Brandon didn’t do that. I did… and so did everyone else who opted for size and power over efficiency. Want to find someone to blame? Take a hard look in the mirror.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The United Nations. According to reports, the UN press office has instructed staff not to call the current Russian war against Ukraine a “war” or “conflict.” I’m sure somewhere, somehow the UN manages to do something useful, but I’m equally sure this ain’t it. Having spent the last two decades in the belly of one of the world’s great bureaucracies, I know ass covering when I see it. It’s not surprising from an organization that continues to allow Russia to chair the Security Council while simultaneously committing countless war crimes against clear and obvious civilian targets. It’s not surprising, but it’s damned well disappointing. 

2. Our Arab allies. Leaders of both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have refused phone calls from the President of the United States in recent weeks. These “allies” of ours are quick enough to pick up the receiver whenever the need to re-up an order of military hardware or need a big bad superpower to keep their neighbor in line. When the issue is opening up the spigot and pumping some more oil, tough, we’re met with a deafening silence. If we had any sense as a country it’s the kind of thing we’d remember and exact a price for the next time our allies need spare parts for their fancy American fighter jets.

3. Off ramps. The Twitter space is filled with voices calling for the world to find an “off ramp” for Vlad the Invader. The world, they say, needs to give Vlad a way to back away without smelling like he’s fallen directly through the outhouse floor. I’m sorry. No. Vlad needs to put his tail between his legs and slink back to Moscow having been bled militarily by a country he assumed would roll over and crippled financially by a resolute western alliance. The world will get far better terms once he squeals than if he’s allowed to thump his chest and claim some sort of victory no matter how pyric. Treat him like North Korea’s glorious leaders – put him in a box and mostly ignore him. 

Three word mantras…

If I’m honest, finding something relevant to drop here every day is getting to feel a bit like swimming against the tide. Sure, I’ve got opinions about damned near everything, but I’m not a foreign policy expert. I’m not an Eastern Europe expert. I’m not an economist. Even though I studied political science, most days I even struggle to get my arms around what American domestic politics has turned into in this stupid century of ours. The way I learned to understand the world is often enough no longer the case or impolite to say out loud.

The best I can manage is trying to take in information from people who are experts in a wide array of fields and try to filter those through my own philosophical and, yes, ethical, lens. I like to think I hit more right notes than not, but the only real way of telling will be looking back here in 20 or 30 years and seeing how it all turned out.

All I feel particularly competent to guarantee at this point is that I intend to keep grappling with events in a legitimate effort to understand the world around me. Here, if nowhere else, it will never devolve into grand over-simplifications like “Orange man bad,” or “Let’s go Brandon.” The world is entirely too complex to be distilled down into three word mantras. I’ll call the balls and strikes as I see them based on as much intelligent commentary and information as I can get my hands on at the time.

Unaffiliated…

Since the face of the Republican Party today is Lauren Boebert and her wide-open orifice during the State of the Union Address, I’m extra pleased to announce that according to the confirmation email, I’m officially no longer a registered Republican on the voting rolls of Cecil County. 

With hucksters like Boebert, her fellow-traveler Marge Green, and leadership luminaries like Kevin McCarthy holding down the right wing of the House of Representatives, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance where I could ever find myself even nominally aligned with where the loud and obnoxious minority want to drag the party. 

It’s a pity that we’ve collectively lost the concept of having any sense of personal shame, because the behavior of Boebert and the other such sewer dwellers reflect nothing but shame on themselves, the institution they were elected to, and the nation as a whole. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are manifold ways to disagree without being a completely trash human being.

So, here’s to being politically homeless, or “unaffiliated” as Maryland is determined to call it. It’s far better than remaining unhappily in a party that seems to be determined to become that which it swore to destroy. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Right wing outrage. Should the president call a reporter a stupid son of a bitch? Probably not… but watching the right wing clutching their pearls over Joe Biden’s calling out Pete Doocy is the operative definition of a tempest in a teapot, particularly considering Don Trumps regular pronouncements from the podium that the media were collectively “enemies of the state.” The same people fainting from fits of the vapors now are the ones who cheered it on 18 months ago. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I don’t pretend their outrage is in any way sincere or worthy of consideration. A president should be above such comments (in public at least). Joe Biden recognized this and personally apologized, which is something his predecessor never had the personal fortitude or desire to do.

2. Sleep. Whatever I’ve been getting between the hours of 10:00 PM and 4:30 AM these last couple of days is probably technically sleep, but it hasn’t been restful. I know this from how many twists the sheets and covers have in them by the time I wake up. I’m not known for having the sunniest of dispositions on my better days, so I’ll leave you to imagine the full foulness of my mood just now. 

3. The weather. For the last four or five days, the possibility of a “winter weather event” has been tracked by the local professional (and amateur) forecasters. I’ve seen regional predictions of everything from just some wind to 30 inches of snow within an hour’s drive of where I sit writing this. Some have opted to make no prediction at all, continuing to report that they’re monitoring possible adverse weather. Hey, look, the atmosphere is the very definition of a dynamic system. It’s complicated… but this deep into the 21st century it feels like we should have a pretty good grasp on what the prevailing conditions will be a scant 24-36 hours into the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Schedule. I’m deep in the weeds of designing a schedule for a three-day event where, at best, there’s one day of real content. The inevitable result will be a proposal that nobody likes – but that everyone will eventually go along with because no one else wants to come up with a better alternative. It’s just another week in the belly of the bureaucracy as an event planner, I suppose. Thank God there’s no real-world events taking place globally that would be a better place to allocate limited time and effort.

2. Joe Biden. I get it, he’s not Don Trump. At some point, though, that has to stop being enough reason to give the guy a pass. I never had particularly high expectations for a Biden Administration, but setting aside our policy disagreements on the proper role and function of the federal government, the first year has been less successful than even I expected. From the bungled evacuation of Afghanistan to rampaging inflation to failure to ramp up testing for COVID, most of what’s come out of the White House in the last 365 days has felt botched in many greater or lesser ways. Maybe it’s just me, but I expected more polish and poise from an administration who are largely old hands inside the beltway.

3. Google. About a decade ago, I set up a “Gmail for Your Domain” account to support jeffreytharp.com. It gave me up to 50 “branded” email address overlayed on the gmail.com platform and some other nice integration features. At the basic tier, that was a “free” service provided by Google (presumably for giving them the right to data mine your various inboxes). For a long time, it’s been a totally painless experience. They’ve just announced the end of this as a free service and now I have to decide if $6 a month is enough of an annoyance and pain point to motivate me to find an alternative and migrate to it between now and May 1st. Otherwise it’s a matter of abandoning tens of thousands of emails and other records in place and starting fresh with a new provider. Stupid Sophie’s choice.

Elections still have consequences…

There are a million talking heads and bloggers saying this, but it bears repeating: the results of the 2021 off year election would scare the hell out of me if I were a democrat expecting to be on the ballot in the 2022 midterm election.

Republicans won state wide office in what the experts a year ago would have called “reliably blue Virginia.” New Jersey, not exactly known as a hotbed of conservative politics, has a governor’s race decided by a razor thin margin. The “Defund the Police” referendum in Minneapolis went down to defeat.

Keystone pieces of President Biden’s agenda, even after being dramatically descoped, remain stalled in the Democratic controlled Congress. His approval rating is sinking towards 40%. If Democrats want to hold on to power in 364 days, they’re going to need better arguments than Trump Bad and a solidly left-wing agenda.

What the election yesterday tells me is that even though voters soundly rejected a second Trump term, they didn’t go off to embrace wild “progressive” policy positions. The American Moderate, labeled almost extinct by pundits, is apparently alive and well and making their presence felt at the polls.

There’s obviously still plenty of room for Democratic candidates to win, but that path gets harder if they collectively insist on just keeping on with what they’ve been doing for the last twelve months.