What Annoys Jeff this Week? The

1. Water and ice. I had to pull the refrigerator out for the first time since I moved in to Fortress Jeff. It’s a nice enough refrigerator and it came with the house, but I’ve always been a little annoyed that it didn’t have an ice maker – or better yet, water and ice through the door. After almost three years of living here I’ve now officially discovered that the place is actually plumbed for a refrigerator that could make all the cold water and ice I could ever want. And now I’m even more annoyed by the people who made the conscious decision not to buy a fridge that takes advantage of it. Seriously. Who does that?

2. Republicans. I remember when one of the central planks of the Republican Party was controlling the deficit and reducing the national debt. The “budget bill” now before Congress is something that would make any decent Reagan-era Republican choke. I miss real Republicans.

3. Democrats. I remember when one of the central planks of the Democratic Party platform was building up social programs that benefited America’s most needy citizens. Based on the fight being put up in the House of Representatives, the Democratic Party now seems more concerned with securing rights for foreign nationals who are in the country illegally than they are taking care of business for actual United States citizens. I miss real Democrats.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Greece. What’s the problem? You ginned up a mountain of bills and now suddenly don’t want to pay because it’s too hard. It’s unfair. The big countries are picking on you. God it sounds so familiar – like exactly what happened when so many people in this country found themselves in homes they couldn’t afford “through no fault of their own.” Except see, there is fault. There is definite fault when you spend other people’s money without any reasonably expectation of ever being able to pay it back. Putting your financial house in order is painful. It sucks. All the free stuff people thought they were entitled too is suddenly not free – or not there because you can’t afford it. And the only way the economy keeps on working is if people who loan money can expect to get that money back. It’s a loan, not a gift after all. I feel ever more strongly that the US is headed in a similar direction to our Greek friends. $18 Trillion in loans aren’t going to pay back themselves – and they’re certainly not going to get paid while we continue to add more debt to the pile. If Greece’s gnashing of teeth is any indicator of the howl that will go up when the US realizes we can’t afford to be all things to all people, we’re in for one hell of a rough ride.

2. Negotiating with terrorists. According to the US government it’s now OK for our fellow citizens to negotiate with terrorists. While I won’t pretend to imagine the nightmare that is having a family member or loved one in the hands of ISIS, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want my family to be responsible for providing aid and comfort to the enemy in the form of a substantial cash donation on my behalf. What I would like, on the other hand, is for the armored fist of the most powerful nation in the world to come crashing through the terrorist’s front door in an effort to a)rescue me and b) eradicate the terrorists who believe kidnapping an American citizen will end well for them. If Option A and Option B are mutually exclusive, please feel free to exercise Option B with as much lethality as necessary to get the job done. And then drop a few more 1000-pound bombs just to stir up the dust and make the rubble bounce a bit for good measure.

3. The joys of home ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I love the house. It crossed off just about every feature I had on my list. Having been in it now for three months, though, some of its warts are showing… and by warts I’m referring to the perpetually moist basement / piss poor foundation grading and drainage / sieve-like window well combination that I’ve been fighting since spring time turned into Maryland’s version monsoon season. Between the landscape contractors looking at fixes to my own modest efforts at improving the around-the-house drainage situation trying to get a grip on the underside of this not so old house has become something of a second job. Now I know it’s mostly just a function of sealing up the window well, correcting the drainage, and adding on a secondary source of electricity to keep the pumps chugging along… but just now, with another couple of days of rain in the forecast, my patience – something never know to be in vast supply – is wearing even more thin than usual.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: Usually this space is reserved every Thursday for three of the week’s petty annoyances. Breaking with that tradition, tonight’s post features the one big annoyance we should all be feeling. Tonight I want to talk directly to the blogiverse about the problem with claiming victory.

I’ve seen a lot of articles, Facebook posts, and general commentary claiming last night’s vote to raise the debt ceiling and restart those parts of the government that remained shuttered as a victory. Some say it was a victory for Democrats, others the Tea Party, others hail it as a personal victory for Senator Cruz. They’re all wrong. Last night was no victory. All sides who claim victory are celebrating over ashes – the ashes of dysfunctional Congress, the ashes of a more than $17 trillion national debt, and the ashes of our apparent inability of the great American people to govern themselves at all, let alone do it effectively. Last night’s vote was a failure of our politics, not a victory.

Eventually there will be an unavoidable reckoning that government can no longer afford to do all things for all people. The sooner we make the hard decisions about entitlements, government overreach, and a bloated defense budget, the sooner we’ll have a real victory… but that will never be achieved by men and women who are satisfied holding their breath, stomping their feet, and congratulating themselves when they simply manage to turn the lights back on and kick the hard decisions down the road for another few months.

There must be a grand discussion of national priorities – and nothing can be held off the table. The sacred cows of the left and right must be equally available for slaughter. We, as a country, need to evaluate the role we want government to play in our lives and in the world and then budget and spend accordingly. In his message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln states, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln didn’t save the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Tea Party, or the Toga Party. He saved the country. That’s serious work for serious people, not the work of the raving ideologs on the lunatic extremes. Still, it’s work that needs done. It’s work we must demand of those who claim to represent the people. It’s work that every American voice should cry out for today… that is unless we’re collectively satisfied with increasingly hollow victories and the slow descent of the nation to the status of a second tier power.

Two days…

I’m back at work. Have been since last week. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped paying attention to the grand game of “How Many Asshats can We Fit in One Building?” that our political “leaders” are playing on the Hill. As bad as it is that Republicans and Democrats seem physiological incapable of talking to one another, that’s nothing compared to the truly remarkable feat of House Republicans apparently not even being able to talk amongst themselves. That takes political incompetence to a whole new level. Impressive work, Congressmen.

From my reading of the tea leaves, we’re inside the 48 hour mark now. Either these jackasses will get around to doing the hard work of governing or they’ll crank the throttle wide open and let it all fly off the rails. I’m a reasonable close watcher of politics and a betting man by nature, but even if I wasn’t owed back pay and had a fist full of cash, I wouldn’t lay a bet on which way this shitshow is going to break.

Universal wisdom is that careening headlong into the debt ceiling would be bad. The fun part? Absolutely no one knows how bad it might be. My reading pegs it somewhere along the scale of Accidental Nuclear Detonation in Times Square Bad. Even if it’s less bad than that, it’s going to be bad. Defaulting on the sovereign debt and/or other financial obligations of the United States is simply unimaginable from any sane, reasonable perspective. To do it over an issue of personal pride or to make cheap political points is damned near treasonous.

We have 536 “leaders” in Washington and there’s apparently not one damned statesman in the bunch.

Maybe Uncle Really is Broke…

Nothing warms the heart of the guy who just snuck in the door before the hiring freeze snapped its icy jaws shut then sitting in a staff meeting talking about how his new agency will be offering early retirements and voluntary separation incentives between now and the end of the year. Those options are the last line of defense to head off a more general reduction in force if the total number of employees does not drop below the approved baseline. Fortunately, I’ve got enough years of service to not show up on the absolute bottom of list, but a far cry from enough to be anywhere in the top half or maybe even in the top two-thirds. Still, it looks like we could be in for a long winter game of I bump you, you bump me, and some old timer comes in and bumps both of us closer to the bottom of the list. That’s a great way to spend the long cold months of the year. Uncle usually offers pretty good work when you can get it, but it appears that we’re about to enter unusual times. So in the meantime, if anyone needs the services of a freelance blogger-logistician-analyst feel free to contact the business manager here at http://www.jeffreytharp.com.

Regardless of what you call it, when you creditors agree to write off 50% of your existing debt you are, by definition in default. Call it a haircut. Call it a Pontiac. It’s a default. Period. End of story. Fortunately, the world is polite enough to call it something different in the hopes that no one will notice and in the process they can prevent the European Union from flinging itself apart. When the rest of the world goes to all this trouble, the polite thing to do would be to say thank you and then go on about the business of trying to salvage your national economy. But that’s not your style is it, Greece. Oh no. You’re going to ask you voters, who have already demonstrated their inability to face reality, vote on the idea as a national referendum. Seriously? Are you trying to make a name for yourself as the go-to country for dysfunctional government? As a citizen of the United States, I thought we had a lock on that one, but you’re making a damned good run at it.

Look, it’s only a matter of time before the rest of us have to take our share of the bitter, bitter austerity medicine. Yes, it sucks being the one stuck going first but that was just the luck of the draw. Could have happened to any of a dozen debtor nations. We can kick and scream that it’s not fair until we’re all blue in the face, but guess what… the universe doesn’t care about fair. We can do the hard things now, while we still have some options, or we can wait a while and then spend the next two decades just reacting to things that could have been avoided if we’d have taken action sooner.

Superpower America (or How’s that for Mixed Metaphors)…

The actual future is going to look different than the future we thought we were going to have. That’s true if only because we’re notoriously bad at predicting the future – We’re all still waiting on our flying cars, right? I don’t think it’s going to be radically different to the point that Canada starts being cool or Hollywood starts making good movies (that would be some kind bizzaro universe). I actually have a sneaking suspicion that the future is going to be painful. Painful in that we’ve spent the last 30 years binging on cheep booze and grease ball cheeseburgers and now we’re about to wake up with a national hangover the likes of which none of us has ever seen. The fight to raise the debt ceiling ain’t nothing compared to the battle that will be joined when we realize we’ve got to actually start paying down the debt itself.

The future is going to seem painful because there’s every possibility that we’re about to experience a world where Superpower America isn’t. Those of us who grew up beyond the shadow of the cold war are going to have the hardest time adjusting because we’ve never had to moderate our expectations about anything really. You guys know I’m not exactly an alarmist, but my read of the situation is that bottom line: Superpower America is too expensive. How we go about fixing that with the least pain possible (the no pain option is well off the table), remains to be seen. So too does whether we have the national will to collectively make hard decisions about what is in the long term national interest and what isn’t; what we can pay for and what we can’t. These decisions matter. Economic realities matters.

Don’t believe me? Ask Superpower USSR how it works out when you pretend economics is an imaginary science. Spending ourselves into oblivion isn’t an option, but I wonder who’s going to be the first to offer up their sacred cows so we can try to avoid slaughtering the whole herd.