In continued opposition to right wing nutters…

A year ago we watched as conspiracy theory fueled, right wing violent extremist nutters stormed the Capitol after being egged on by then President Trump. 

Today, I’d be hard pressed to say that anything has gotten better with the exception of Donald no longer being able to use the machinery of government to circumvent the laws and Constitution. It seems a not insignificant percentage of the country still thinks that disgraced carnival barker is still the rightful president. About the same percentage think that the COVID-19 vaccines are a one world government effort to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids or some such abject fuckery. I’d expect the Ven diagram there to be a near-perfect circle. That would make fine fodder for a separate, but related, post on the price we pay for the rise of disinformation, willful ignorance, an America’s peculiar strain of anti-intellectualism.

If anything, I suspect conditions have deteriorated as positions have hardened. Little or nothing has been done to sure up the institutions of government, making it more difficult to subvert the peaceful transfer of power following an election. Baring something unexpected, we could even see Donald back again as the presumptive Republican candidate for president in 2024. A second Trump presidency reinforced by a sycophantic Republican controlled Congress is the nightmare scenario, because then all brakes, guardrails, and safeties would be off.

I used to think a terrorist loose with a nuclear weapon on the streets of Washington or New York was the worst-case scenario. Now I’m far more worried about the ring leader of a domestic terror movement seizing control of the government and all the levers of power that go along with it. 

Our Constitutional government is, perhaps, more endangered than it was when insurrectionists briefly seized the seat of American government and sent the Legislative Branch into hiding. Republican leaders won’t condemn the vile, treasonous creatures who lead, financed, and participated in the Capitol insurrection – but I will curse their names and memory for as long as I have breath… and I’ll consistently use my voice to oppose any and all who seek to undermine our Republic

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.

Gordon Gekko versus the do-gooder Senators…

The Thrift Savings Plan (hereafter TSP) is billed as the world’s largest defined contribution retirement plan. Having in excess of $700 billion of assets under management, I’m sure it makes a very tempting target for politicians looking for some new and interesting way to make their mark or get their name in the papers.

Most recently, Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), have sent a letter of interest to TSP’s managing board encouraging them to increase the presence of “racially, ethnically, and gender diverse asset managers” overseeing this giant pot of money.

That’s fine, I suppose, if what you’re into is some kind of feel good, hold hands, and sing along kind of moment. When it comes to TSP, though, the only thing I care about is that the fund managers are the very best money makers that can be found for the job. I want the people in charge of growing my principal retirement account to be relentless and absolutely ruthless in finding better returns. It’s simply never occurred to me to care whether they also happen to be black, white, brown, yellow, straight, bi, gay, men, women, or other.

However admirable the above listed senators believe their goals may be, when it comes to managing a vast portfolio for millions of current and future retirees, the old adage is true – if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense. As such, I’d encourage these distinguished members of the US Senate to take their genuine imitation do-gooder tendencies and pandering elsewhere.

Maybe I should just run for Congress. From the sounds of it, getting your jollies by telling other people how to live their lives or what they’re supposed to care about is a far better way to feather your nest anyway.

Weak in size and spirit…

The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.

One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.

If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.

So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.

Shutdown prep…

Years ago, the federal government was touted as stable employment, promising a career that wouldn’t make you rich, but ensured that you wouldn’t die poor. It was a guarantee of a solidly middle class lifestyle during your working years and a comfortable retirement when the time came. The trade off, for such stability was forgoing the big salaries that could sometimes be had for similar work in the private sector. Those salaries, of course, came with risk that the contract that paid so well could disappear overnight.

Stable is a relative term, of course. Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked through hiring freezes, furloughs, and more government shut downs than I can really remember. That’s not the hallmark of a particularly stable employer. Then again, when I look at the elected officials who the people, in their questionable wisdom, have sent to Washington to represent them, “stable” isn’t a world I’d choose to use for many of them – both the politicians and the electorate.

So here I am, with the next government shut down hovering in the wings, once again preparing to defer or stop payments and dramatically reduce the scope and scale of operations at Fortress Jeff.

I’ve got enough years on me now to ride out a run of the mill government shutdown if I must. Still, planning for a few weeks or months without pay does make you question going with the “stable” choice all those years ago. If you’re going to be planning how to cut spending down to the bone every couple of years anyway, maybe some of those contract jobs would have been better in the end.

Our elected representatives are increasingly incapable of acting like grown adults, but then again, the same is true of the people who elect them. The curse of democracy is we continue to get exactly the kind of politicians, government, and society that we deserve.

Honoring the public debt…

It feels like only yesterday that we were last arguing about whether or not the government was going to (or should) raise or suspend the debt ceiling – the legislatively applied limit to the amount the US Government is allowed to borrow in order to keep on conducting business as usual. I’m the first to tell you that Uncle Sam’s hallways and offices are filled to the brim with wasteful spending… but trying to get after that waste by passing a law that says we can only borrow $X unless Congress passes another law to say we can spend $Y more isn’t a recipe to actual limit or reduce government spending. At best, the debt ceiling creates political theater. Now that it’s a thing we have, however, failure to raise the self-imposed limit and drive the federal government into default would result in all manner of catastrophic outcomes. 

I see today that we’re now in the period where the Treasury has begin exercising “extraordinary measures” that should be sufficient to keep us out of default for the time being. The congressional office responsible for making such projections says it’ll probably be October or November before we actually run out of wiggle room. Based on recent history, that will be about the time Congress gets around to doing something. 

Before we go into default and our bond rating collapses, though, we have to get through what’s supposed to be the federal budget season. Given the current state of our politics, I’m not in any way expecting there to be an actual approved operating budget when Fiscal Year 2022 kicks off on the October 1st. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a perfect storm of impending default and no functioning bureaucracy simultaneously. That feels like a recipe for good times. 

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here restocking my supply of beans and spam in case we need to ride out a post-plague economic apocalypse. Given the kind of leadership we have in all quarters it feels like the only reasonable course of action. I mean I’m due for some extra time off… with eventual back pay, of course.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Scolding. “Your test results are always oddly good for someone… like you. That won’t last forever.” Doc, look, no one knows better than I do that I’m a walking timebomb. Someday this glorious temple of gluttonous debauchery will fall down and sink into the swamp. I know that. But today, it seems, is not that day. And I don’t intend to spend every day from this day to that inevitable day at an indeterminate time in the future doing things I hate (like jogging around the neighborhood) or eating things that I hate (like kale). Even the healthiest of us eventually drop dead. There’s nothing all the gifted practitioners at Johns Hopkins can do to stave off the end that comes for us all. Better to spend those limited days, I think, doing and eating, things I enjoy.

2. Agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. I never feel entirely well when I find myself agreeing with Speaker Pelosi. Fortunately it’s something that doesn’t happen particularly often. In the case of the House select committee on the insurrection of January 6th, it’s the only investigative vehicle left open to the Speaker in the face of a Republican congressional caucus that would rather hide from or obfuscate the truth than nail down the details of what really happened, who was involved, and what motivated them. Sedition and insurrection are among the most vile offenses against our republic. Making the details surrounding what happened plain is in the vital national interest. If elected Republicans are too afraid of the results of the investigation to call for one, well, that’s probably a decent sign that one is needed without delay.

3. Seven hours. There are seven working hours between me and a nine-day weekend. If that’s not legitimate grounds to be annoyed, I don’t know what is.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Parking. One of the only perks of going to the office occasionally during the height of the Great Plague was that parking was absolutely amazing. There were always spots directly in front of the building, no more than 10 spaces back, regardless of what time you arrived or whether you had the audacity to go out to grab lunch. It was an absolute idyll compared to crossing acres of burning pavement to your car in the Before Times. Alas, what was old is becoming new again. Parking is still decent, but landing the really prime spots is getting harder and harder to do as people are forced back to their cubicles. I’ve said it before, but I really will miss the plague months of 2020-21 as a wildly underappreciated golden age.

2. Matt Gaetz, Mike Waltz, et al. The testimony of General Mark Milley and Secretary Lloyd Austin before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday illustrated what’s probably my bigger frustration with Republican lawmakers. Matt Gaetz, Mike Waltz, and their ilk demonstrate through their questioning that there’s an undeniable stripe of fear among this group. They’re knee-knockingly afraid of ideas. If they were truly convinced they are right, they’d have no hesitation of having a conversation, of encouraging study, or gaining broader understanding. Instead, they assert the rightness of their position as received truth. No further information is needed. Dissent is not to be tolerated. Personally, I tend to think critical race theory and most of the other touchy feely soft science theories that posit everyone is oppressed or needs a hug are largely hokum… but like the good general, I’ll keep reading Mao, Marx, Lenin, and their modern equivalents while being utterly unafraid I’ll be injured by ideas.  

3. Twitter. Of all the social media I consume, Twitter is, in my estimation, the most toxic. I’ve made a point to greatly reduce my time over there for the last few weeks and it’s made for considerably less crazy making. The thing I struggle to remember sometimes, is that even though everyone is entitled to their opinion, I’m under no obligation to in any way pay attention to them. Ignoring them won’t make asshats any less asshatt-y, but like a tree falling in the forest, I don’t need to care if it makes a sound.

The commission…

Following major events in our political life, the United States has a long history of setting up national commissions to conduct investigations and issue authoritative reports outlining key facts and findings. The most familiar of those are probably the 9/11 Commission or Warren Commission. For those of us of a careening into middle age, we may even have vague childhood memories of the Tower Commission.

In general, these bipartisan commissions, armed with subpoena power and an army of staff investigators, are given the charge of uncovering exactly what happened during the moments leading up to and following key historical events or moments of great controversy. 

Establishing a commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Capital Insurrection of 2021 should be a no brainer. I suppose it is a no brainer for anyone who’s idea of acceptable political activity doesn’t including storming and attempting to occupy the seat of government in an effort to overturn a lawful election.

In what I can only consider a truly bizarre turn of events, I find myself agreeing with Speaker Pelosi in that voting against establishing a commission fully empowered to investigate the facts and details of what drove insurrectionists into the halls of the Capitol and to uncover who gave them leadership, aid, and comfort, would be an unmistakable, and unforgivable, act of personal cowardice.

I’d like to think House and Senate Republicans might at some point display the barest hint of possessing a spine… and yet I expect to see them inexplicably doubling down on fervently licking the boots of the failed candidate who led them to wrack and ruin.

With a song in my heart…

I remain, for now, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. How much longer that remains true depends largely on how Republicans respond in this moment. The decision now is simple, does the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan continue to follow a disgraced carnival barker ex-president down the path towards its eventual destruction and historical irrelevancy, or does what’s left of the sane center manage to haul in the reigns and rebuild a Republican brand that’s focused on rolling back creeping socialism, confronting growing international threats, and presenting a clear-eyed conservative vision for the future of America.

The Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t survive a transition to standing only for “Trump good, everyone else bad.” A modern political party should have a vision of America’s future beyond perpetually rehashing the 2020 election while excluding such inconveniences as science, evidence, and basic common sense. 

With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, Republicans stand a fighting chance of retaking one or both houses of Congress in 2022. History says it’s fairly likely. If those seats are filled by slavering conspiracy theorists, the long-term fate of the party could likely be set. Retaining Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Conference presented Republicans with an opportunity to save ourselves from the ascendency of the small, but vocal batshit crazy wing of the party. It could well be the last viable exit ramp and we’ve now put it squarely in the rear view mirror.

I don’t expect many of our elected representatives to have the personal courage to take that kind of stand. Going along with the lie is far easier than speaking out, standing up, and making yourself a target of lunatic outrage. To quote Liz Cheney, though, “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” 

I’ve served the republic nearly all of my adult life. If the price I pay for continuing to support it now in opposition to a loud and determined cult of personality is dirty looks, angry comments, and “unfriendings,” it’s an easy cost to bear – and even if we reach a point, perhaps during the 2022 election cycle, where I can no longer in good conscience do so under the banner of the Republican Party, I’ll pay it with a song in my heart.