Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

On Taxes and why I won’t vote blue…

The good news is that I’ve now sold my condo and the proceeds have been deposited. The bad, but not unexpected, news is that thanks to the money grubbing politicians in DC and Annapolis, I get to keep a whopping 50% of the profit from the sale.

I’ll say this slowly for those whose response to every issue is “tax the rich:” Capital gains taxes are taxes on the middle class. They’re taxes on every man and woman who has used a little bit of their already taxes income to invest in their own future. 

If you want to know why I’m firmly in the #NeverVoteBlue camp, it’s the fact that they’re the party of more taxes even when government revenue is already at an all time high. It’s the fact that after 20 years of paying property tax, tax on rental income, and generally trying to look out for my own future, the state and federal revenue agents feel like they’re entitled to get another bite of the apple. It’s almost as if they’ve got beef with someone who’s trying to take care of their own future rather than accept a subsistence level life doled out monthly and overseen by political hacks.

Enough already. Unless you’re planning on giving me a handy, keep your damned thieving mitts out of my pockets.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Boxes. I’ve moved five times in the last 15 years and I always, always grossly underestimate the number of boxes it’s going to take to get the job done. Sure, the planned upcoming move clocks in at just three miles on the nose, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend three weeks shuffling crap back and forth 20 boxes at a time. This is the operative definition of wanting to work out a one-and-done situation. I’d settle for two or three, but the heavy lifting is going to get done in one shot. In the meantime I guess I’ll have to live with the every growing mountain of cardboard that’s slowly taking root in each room.

2. ISIS. I think I’ve made it clear that I harbor no love for ISIS and those who adhere to it. I guess you can chalk the fact that they’re currently busy grinding historic artifacts that have survived thousands of years into powder because they’re “heretical” and go against the teachings of Islam as just another reason. Since these artifacts were created a few thousand years before anyone bothered to come up with the tenets of the Islamic faith, I guess they’d pretty much have to be. If setting people on fire and cutting off heads wasn’t enough of an indicator that we’re dealing with savages, the fact that they want to ignore every part of the vast sweep of human history that doesn’t agree with their crackpot view of the world is a pretty good sign that they shouldn’t be allowed to exist in the modern world.

3. Legalization. If the people of the District of Columbia want to legalize, regulate, and tax, marijuana I say God bless. Yes, I know, it’s a federal district granted limited home rule by the Congress, but just for the sake of argument I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the US Congress has more important things to do than legislate whether John Q. Pothead is entitled to smoke up. As long as we’re a nation that likes its cigarettes, beer, whisky, and prescription meds (and we’re ok making enormous amounts of money taxing those things), I’m not buying the argument that mary jane is a gateway to anything more dangerous than a late night snack.

Revisiting Katrina…

The 50% of my job that doesn’t deal with PowerPoint is almost exclusively taken up by reading and writing. (We’re going to pretend for purposes of this discussion that good productive time isn’t serially wasted by the requirement to attend meetings.) This week I’ve been katrina_satellitereading up on some rather elderly documents that led me all the way back to late August 2005. To set the stage, it was hot and humid in Washington, DC and all hell was breaking loose along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana.

My memories from Katrina differ pretty significantly from what most people remember seeing on the news. I remember a federal response effort that practically pleaded and begged state and local leaders in Louisiana to ask for assistance and that staged people, equipment, and mountains of “stuff” as close to the Louisiana border as possible when it became obvious to everyone but those officials that Katrina was going to overwhelm their capacity to respond. The Louisiana governor and New Orleans mayor had a different perspective, of course. All I know is the information showing up hourly on my desk in stacks of reports didn’t jive with the story they were telling in front of the camera. The real truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

I’d be hard pressed to reveal myself to be a bigger geek than you already think I am, but for me it was fascinating combing through the files of a different organization with a wholly different mission and reading their take on what was going on in Louisiana that summer. Reading accounts that weren’t filled with statistics of water, ice, temporary roofing material, and body bags on hand or tons of debris removed gave me a little fresh appreciation for what we were trying to do that summer. I guess that’s not all that surprising. With a degree in history I’ve always had a penchant for looking to the past to make informed guesses about what the future may hold.

Katrina was what one might call a significant emotional event for many and I’m not trying to make light of that in any way. At the same time, for me, Katrina started 60 days of some of the best professional work I’ve ever done. It was equal parts rewarding and exhausting – often simultaneously. Eight years after the fact, I won’t deny that I’m finding myself looking back on it with a bit of fond nostalgia. I suppose that’s fairly easy to do when you rode out the storm and its aftermath hunkered down in DC with electricity, running water, and a Starbucks in the lobby.

First line of defense…

There’s no good or diplomatic way to talk about what happened in Washington this morning. Good men and women, faithful servants of the republic, and their families are hurting tonight because of the brazen acts of cowardly few. The discussion will be made political soon enough, but that part of the discussion won’t start here. Not tonight.

Tonight’s post is my simple reminder that no matter how secure we think we are, there’s no substitute for vigilance when it comes to keeping yourself and those around you safe.

– Be aware of your surroundings and remember if something doesn’t look right, it’s not right. Trust your self-preservation instincts.

– Whether you’re in a restaurant, your office, or a driving down a street in your neighborhood, know more than one way out of wherever you are. You never know when Plan B will need to become Plan A.

– Find concealment or cover when it’s called for; Run when it’s called for; Stand and fight when it’s called for. You should know which situation you’re facing and act accordingly.

The world is the world and bad things happen to good people every day. That means it’s up to each one if us to be aware of our surroundings, learn to recognize and react to what looks or feels out of place, and acknowledge that we’re all our own first line of defense when it comes to our health, welfare, and safety.

The thing I miss least…

Now and then I post about things I miss about working in DC. Today I was reminded about one of the great big hairy things that I don’t miss – trying to fight my way into and out of the city when the work day coincides with a major event or demonstration on the National Mall. Whether it’s a march on the Capitol or a memorial dedication, there’s nothing worse than being some schlub just trying to get to the office when there are roads closed all over town and hippies are packed into metro like sardines. When you’re just a guy trying to make a buck, thirty minutes of ye olde protest songs sung in an enclosed space and people dragging train cars full of kids to “see something historic” really just have a way of getting under your skin. Don’t get me started on the douchebaggery of not knowing you should walk to the left and stand to the right.

From those of us whose time in commuter hell is complete, all I can say is good luck and Godspeed you brave suburban voyagers. May your travels tomorrow not end in chaos and gridlock. If you can’t have that, at least try to remember it’s technically illegal to jump the curb, drive down the sidewalk, and run over the tourists. Sometimes staying out of jail is as much of a victory as you can expect.

The art and science of the commute…

I think of myself as a fairly seasoned driver. I cut my commuting teeth on the DC beltway, it’s safe to assume there isn’t much traffic can throw at me that I haven’t experienced before. A 90 minute delay because the drawbridge was open? Check. Snow-induced gridlock on 95? Done it. Five hour office to home drives because a tractor trailer hauling gasoline fell off an overpass? Yep. Run a line of red lights at 5 AM on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast because certain unsavory characters got a little too close? Did that too. Snow, sleet, hail, rain, wind, all manner of natural factors have conspired against my daily commute at one point or another and I’ve bested all of them.

It’s been a long time since I’ve run the beltway gauntlet and you’d think that living in the backwoods of Ceciltucky would leave me free of most of the urban and suburban commuting hazards I faced while fighting my way into and away from the District every day. Commuting is an art and a science, but the one thing making the drive down 95 every morning prepared me for was the complete asshattery of the people who stop in the middle of the road during a driving rain storm. I don’t mean that they slow to a crawl. I mean they come to a full and complete stop right there in the travel lane as if nothing could have prepared them for the sight of liquid falling from the sky.

Look, if you need to pull off to the side and wait it out, good on ya. God bless. But for the love of Pete can we at least agree that stopping in the middle of the road, when by your own actions you’re admitting that visibility is less than ideal, is a very bad idea? And if, for some unknown reason, you do feel compelled to stop in the middle of the road, how about cutting the rest of use a break and flipping on your hazard lights so we have a fighting chance of seeing you before your cute little toy car becomes my hood ornament. Yeah. That would be just great.

Oh. And I had to drive over a tree today. A tree. Right there in the middle of the road. That was a first in 19 years of being a licensed driver. Surely that adds something to my cachet as a recognized power commuter… like earning my “Rural Living” merit badge.

Some days leaving the house serves no purpose other than reminding me why I do it as little as possible.