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.

Cartoon villains…

If I had any standing left as it is with the Republican Party, I’m sure I’d lose it when I confirm for you that despite my disagreement with him on many policies, I don’t hate his living guts. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m in any way looking forward to listening to him address a joint session of Congress later tonight.

In part it’s because I just can’t imagine anything like break news happening during a tightly scripted prime time speech. I’m also not sure I have it in me to sit through another lengthy diatribe against anyone in the country who has the audacity to have more than $37 in their pocket.

Sorry, I’m just not going to be the huckleberry who buys into the notion that class warfare is the solution to any problem beyond the abject jealousy some people feel for those who have more money. At this stage of the game it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll ever break into that currently demonized group of “households earning more than $400,000 a year,” though I know a fair number of people who are… and I don’t see any reason why I should support Uncle Sam jamming his hand further into their pockets than I would my own.

Elections, as they say, have consequences. There’s nothing to say that I have to be happy with them. As long as this old body of mine is sucking air, I’ll be on the side of keeping as great a portion of every dollar I earn as possible – and I’ll extend that same courtesy to everyone else… even if the Biden administration wants me to think of those “others” as cartoon villains with top hats and monocles.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Twitter. Like so many other sites I’ve already abandoned, Twitter is quickly climbing the list of platforms that aren’t improving my life in any meaningful way. In fact, over the last few days I’ve noticed that I’m happier at the end of the day when I don’t check in periodically with Twitter. As always, the far right wants me to be outraged over A, B, and C while the leftists want me to be outraged by D, E, and F. I’m left to sift through the ginned-up outrage to find the nuggets of history, books, and sundry other content that I’m interested in. I really do like the concept of Twitter, but I’m increasingly less interest in endless social outrage and those who seem to thrive on it that are cluttering the space.

2. Anti-vax. I would love to see a Venn diagram of people who vocally won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 because “who knows what it’ll do to my body” on one side and people who smoke, drink, or use/sell “nutritional” supplements and essential oils on the other. I don’t think It would be a perfect circle, but I have a hunch there would be some considerable overlap. 

3. Court packing. It seems there’s legislation drifting around the halls of Congress that would add four seats to the Supreme Court. I have to ask, if this new court packing scheme is allowed to move forward, what’s to stop the next Republican administration and Congress from adding four more… and then four more the next time Democrats hold power, and so on indefinitely into the future? Aside from the obvious – that it’s a blatant attempt by Congressional Democrats to change the rules purely because they don’t like who the previous administration nominated – it sets a dumb precedent based on the assumption that their party is going to hold all the levers of power forever. Based on the historical record, is a patently ridiculous assumption. I suspect that once the consequences of treating the size of the high court as something that should be changed at will are fully realized, we’ll find that this legislation, if passed into law, simply created another battlefield where the issue will never fully be settled and there will be no end to the self-inflicted turmoil that ensues.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Historical context. Despite having featured prominently in an Obama Administration read across America event in 2015, Dr. Seuss is now, apparently, the author of racist content. The guy was born in 1904 and did his most prominent work in the mid 20th century. Expecting that his writing would reflect whatever ultra-woke orthodoxy is in vogue here in the 21st century is patently ridiculous. If we’re going to judge every writer who ever put ink on paper by modern standards, the allowed reading list is going to be awfully restricted. If your goal is to only allow approved, untroublesome content that supports your philosophical notion of how the world ought to be on your shelves, I suppose it’s a good position to stake out. Personally, I’ll go ahead and keep a wider range of books on my shelves. Then again, I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of a little historical context seeping in around the margins. Being shocked that people are products of their times and don’t exist in accordance with contemporary beliefs would be adorable if it weren’t so incredibly dumb.

2. The US House of Representatives. The House is closed for business today because of the threat of a follow-on insurrectionist attack. That sends exactly the wrong message. It speaks to fear and intimidation – that the rebels of January 6th were at least partially successful. Holding up the business of the republic out of fear of common rabble is nothing more than a missed opportunity. Better keep on, draw them near, and then crush them utterly. 

3. Taxes. I got my prepared tax return back from the accountant’s office this week. Seeing the gory details all there in black and white is just about enough to make me gag. As my favorite for instance, in 2017 the top 50% of income earners in this country paid 96.9% of all income taxes (with the evil 1% paying 38.5% of all income taxes collected). We’re not just taxed on income, of course. Individuals also face payroll tax, capital gains tax, property tax, a whole universe of excise taxes, and more. You’ll never convince me that the problem is that we’re not being taxed enough in this country. We’ve got a veritable orgy of spending that’s been getting worse regardless of what party holds the whip hand, but as long as votes can be bought with dollars from the treasury, I can’t imagine ever getting it under anything approaching control.  

Tax stuff…

Presidents Day is more than just a federal holiday. Historically it’s the day I sit down and pull all my “tax stuff” together so it can be sent off to my friendly semi-local accountant. Yeah, I know, I’m not in any way a creature of habit.

Put another way, Presidents Day is my own personal day of rage as I start getting a sense of just how much of the last year I spent working just to avoid being thrown into state or federal prison for non-compliance with an extortion racket backed by the full force of government. 

Then I start to ponder the fact that the national debt will crash through $28,000,000,000,000 in short order… and realize that it would take more than 1.5x the current Gross Domestic Product to pay off our current dept.  I have no idea how that level of debt is sustainable over the long term, unless, of course, we adopt some wildly confiscatory tax scheme. That comes with its own inevitable pitfalls too. 

I’ve heard it said that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” but as I’m sitting here looking at sheets full of numbers, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we can reasonably expect the government to carry the full freight of those costs. Given the profound ineptitude of our elected officials, I’m even more incredulous about why we’d even want them involved in all the nooks and crevices where they’re currently spending our tax dollars.

According to some random website, 71% of people surveyed currently disapprove of how Congress is going its job. Allowing an organization that more than 2/3 of the country believes is doing the wrong thing to walk around with an open checkbook and cheering while they spend feels like the height of absurdity. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. But the rioters! Look, no one called out the rioters more than I did over the summer. Rioting is bad. Burning cities is bad. I don’t have any sympathy or offer any support for anyone who engaged in those activities. Bad as those things are, though, attempting to subvert the lawful transfer of executive power by engaging in a seditious attempt to overthrow the Congress is worse. Far worse. I have no idea how that’s so very hard for some people to understand. Believe me when I tell you it’s entirely possible to loath the actions of both rioters and seditionists without excusing one or the other in any way.

2. They were mean first! My Facebook timeline is filled with posts saying something like “Well, Democrats said mean stuff about Trump so I’m saying mean stuff about Biden.” Ok. That’s a fine argument if you’re either five years old or know nothing about American political history.  Republicans definitely didn’t talk shit about Obama. And Democrats absolutely didn’t talk shit about George W. Bush before him. Way the hell back in 1800, partisans in favor of Jefferson labeled Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” while those who support Adams railed that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” That’s what happens in the heat and battle of a campaign… but you’ve got to be an unbridled idiot to think that’s the way anyone can be expected to actually govern. 

 
3. Fight them on everything! My Republican friends seem to want to double down on their electoral loss. The reality is, the Democrats now hold the presidency have the majority in both houses of Congress. That just the mathematical fact of it. We Republicans can either work with them in an effort to moderate some of their more extreme notions, or we can stand on the sidelines and stomp our feet for at least the next two years. If you’re not a wild eyed partisan who can’t imagine a world in which you don’t always get your own way, this is the time for working out the best deals we can to protect Republican priorities. Failing to play ball isn’t a show of strength. It’s a concession that we’re afraid our ideas can’t compete – and one that will allow the Democratic majority to run the table without so much as consultation with the opposition party. But hey, if you want to spend the next two years watching a Democratic Congress jamming through everything they want, with precisely the language they want, on a strict party line vote, feel free to keep being obstinate for no good reason.