What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Twitter. I follow a pretty eclectic mix of personalities on Twitter – celebrities, politicians, news outlets, historic buildings, porn stars, military thinkers, military do-ers, and government organizations. With few exceptions, the dumpster fire that is Twitter has turned both more dumpster-y and more fiery over the last weeks and months. It’s become considerably less fun. It may be time to clear out the ol’ Twitter feed with a chain saw to see if we can correct that issue before deciding whether or not platform is hopelessly beyond redemption.

2. Government spending. The only time the US Government spent more money than it is right now, we were fighting a war of national survival against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Now I don’t mean to imply that the Great Plague and its fallout haven’t been bad, but I’m not sure it has been end of western civilization bad. That won’t stop us from collectively throwing absolutely shit tons of money at it though. We seem to have gotten use to throwing around dollar amounts denominated in trillions over the last year, but the reality is the amount of debt we’re collectively financing to pay for short term stimulus versus long term growth is simply staggering. If it’s true that we ended the Cold War, in part, because we spent the USSR into oblivion, I don’t have a hard time imagining the day when we, too, reach the upper limit of our national line of credit. It’ll make what we currently think of as hard times feel like the most welcoming Spring day.

3. Walkers. The warm weather this week, as it does every spring, has brought out the neighborhood walkers in force. This fine. Good on them for wanting to be out stretching their legs at bit. Personally, I prefer taking the air in my own yard and woods, but to each their own. People wandering past all afternoon doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m tucked in to the back of the house with better views than out to the street. The problem, because of course there’s a problem, is that as much as I don’t mind, at least one of my canine residents minds terribly… and shows it by frantically barking at every single thing that moves anywhere within his line of sight. I can’t stop people from walking, but I am strongly considering bricking up every window on the front of the house. 

I’m a sucker…

I looked in on the news this morning. We’re apparently having a national fist fight about paying for the Department of Defense and sending out bigger and better stimulus checks. 

This is where my old fashioned small government, fiscally conservative roots will undoubtedly show. 

Having lived as a very small cog in the vast machinery of the Department for the best part of two decades now, I can tell you that it is vastly over funded in order to account for the unimaginable sums that are pissed away on pet projects, systems that don’t work, or things that have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining or improving the national defense. I’d cut the budget with an ax if someone made me king for the day… but since we don’t have time for that, just override our goofy-assed president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and move on. 

Next up, we want to chuck another $500 billion onto the $900 billion second round stimulus that’s already been approved. Sure, the cause of giving “everyone” another $1400 is a feel-good story, but holy hell. I know that no normal person really grasps just how big a number a billion is, but sweet little baby Jesus, that’s a shit ton of real money that we have to borrow from somewhere (or call into being from thin air) when we’re already $25 trillion in debt. At some point, even good (or feel-good) ideas become unaffordable, right? Right.

In the last decade, we’ve bailed out everyone – banks, home owners, the auto industry, renters, big business, small business, state and local governments. Soon enough they’ll tell us that we have to throw billions more at anyone with a student loan. We have to save everyone and everything from every possible negative consequences and to hell with the price.

I’m the dumbass who took tens of thousands of dollars to the closing table so the sale would go through when his house was underwater. I lacked the foresight to just make minimum payments on my student loans forever in hopes that someone else would just pick up the tab. The tax man didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a picture of whose $3200 stimulus I’m carrying the freight on since momentarily being “rich” after selling the condo last year disqualified me from getting my own cash back. Sally Struthers use to do that if you sponsored a child for “less than the price of a cup of coffee a day.” Getting the same treatment from Uncle doesn’t feel like too big an ask.

So yeah, I’m apparently one of those suckers born every minute. At least that’s something I know now. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Deficit spending. If reports are to be believed, in the first four months of FY 2020, the US government took in a single quarter record amount of tax dollars – some $1.18 Trillion. It also had record quarterly expenses of $1.57 Trillion. In the first four months of this fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of approximately $444 Billion. In a budget where millions of dollars are effectively rounding errors, I’m left to wonder if the problem isn’t so much that taxes are too low as it is that we collectively just spend too damned much money. Once upon a time there was a subset of Republicans called deficit hawks who raged against borrowing money to finance the operation of the government. They’re long gone, of course. No one in the elected levels of government has any interest in slowing down the gravy train. Having seen the inner workings of government, I find it absolutely laughable to think that in the last 90 days we’ve put $1.57 Trillion to its best and highest use. The percentage of it that’s been wasted would be staggering to behold if anyone was able to do the accounting. The first order of business should be slaughtering the sacred cows. Until that happens, I’ll stand firmly on my platform of not one more penny in new taxes.

2. The pall of ambivalence. I’m kicking off a 4-day weekend and the last couple of weeks have cast such a gloom on the proceedings that I’m, at best, mostly indifferent. Maybe my mood will improve a bit after a string of days allocated to hanging out with the animals and reading. It usually does… but I’m not optimistic about how long the restorative effects of that brief interlude will last.

3. Out of office messages. As a “professional” I understand that out of office messages are supposed to contain brief, helpful information such as the date you should return or an alternative point of contact people can reach in your absence. As such, I can’t shake the feeling that they really don’t convey the more subtle message that the sender is conveying. For instance, instead of saying something trite and derivative like “I will respond to email and voice messages as quickly as possible when I return,” I feel that the more frank and honest out of office message might read something like “I’m burning off a day of vacation time in an effort to hold on to the one small shred of sanity I have left. I’m not checking my office email or voicemail. If you call me at home or send me a Facebook message asking about work stuff, I’ll ignore you and do whatever I can, whenever I can to make your life less pleasant. Whatever the issue is, as far as I’m concerned it’s more of a “next week” problem and not something I’ll be spending any time thinking about between now and then.

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.

Playing the numbers…

With the collapse of deficit reduction “supercommittee”, once again the inestimable Congress of the United States has failed to do, well, anything at all. Since their collective approval rating hovers around 9%, you’d think that almost every member of the House and 1/3 of the members of the Senate would be looking for work after the next election. The fact is that over the last twenty years, House members seeking reelection are victorious well over 90% of the time. For their re-electable colleagues in the Senate, that number is closer to 80%. Still better odds than you’ll ever get in Vegas (unless you’re the house, of course). Using some roughly accurate statistics, that’s a long way of saying that unless something dramatic changes between now and the election, the Congress we have now is largely going to be the Congress we have after the election. If that doesn’t make you queasy, you’re probably not paying much attention.

Partisans on the left and the right will tell you that this is the perfect reason we need term limits imposed on elected officials. I submit that it’s not so much an issue of term limits being needed as it is a clear message about how engaged electorate is. Cycle after cycle, a small percentage of eligible voters go to the polls and select the guy whose name they’ve heard before, or the one who has the prettiest yard signs, or the one who had the nicest looking piece of direct mail. In doing that, the voters just don’t stop to ask if their particular senator or representative is part of the problem. If that person is currently serving, here’s a hint: He or she is the problem and needs to be replaced. Two years from now, if that new individual has become part of the problem, they need to be replaced. And again until voters stumble on someone responsive to the needs of the country and who’s putting national priorities above regional benefits or party politics.

Until that happens, we’re going to continue to get the kind of government we deserve. That is to say a government that is hopelessly dysfunctional. Elections are won based on who shows up. If all most people do is bitch and complain and let the same 20% who always show up to vote have their way, well, we’ll get the same level dysfunction we’ve all come to know and loathe. If you’re pissed off, if you want something different then it’s on you to get educated, make smart decisions, and actually go to your polling place. If you can’t be bothered to do even that much, then you’re a bigger part of the problem then the asshats we keep electing.

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.

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.

Default and disfunction…

Watching the nightly news or reading the newspaper headlines is something of a lesson in dysfunction. If the two major political parties that have run the country for the last 100 odd years can’t come to grips with the fact that the thought of the US Government defaulting on its debt should be unthinkable, perhaps it’s time to consider the value of having either of those parties around. The men who founded this republic literally risked their lives just by signing a document proclaiming themselves free from Great Britain. Today’s politicians, both Republican and Democrat, are so entrenched in ideology and in playing to their base that they seem willing to let the ship of state sink with all flags flying and their hands around each other’s throat. So much for heroics. So much for for their obligation to the republic they were elected to serve.

I’m not a mathematician, but the formula seems obvious. For the staggering debt this country labors under to come down, spending must decrease and revenue must increase. Yes, some social programs will go away and that will hurt some people. Yes, some taxes will go up and that will hurt some people also. It’s going to be painful for many of us to adjust to a world more austere than then one we think we’re entitled to. It was painful for our grandparents, too, when they went though the “economic adjustment” of the Great Depression, but they emerged from it and worse to be recognized as our greatest generation.

Where are our great leaders today? Where’s our FDR with his Hundred Days? Where’s this generation’s Reagan standing toe-to-toe with the Soviet Union? Where’s our Kennedy calling on men to reach the moon? Where’s our Nixon opening China? Maybe such men don’t even exist anymore. Today’s politicians aren’t fit to carry the water for those giants of the 20th century and shouldn’t be in the same history books with the leaders of our distant past like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.

This current crisis doesn’t have to end in catastrophe, but only if the men and women we’ve elected start behaving more like statesmen and less like common street thugs. How optimistic are you?