Fourteen election days…

It’s election day. Again. It keeps coming back… like we’ve all collectively been eating bad oysters. If my math is right this will be my 14th election day as a registered voter.

This is the time when I usually do a little bit of prognostication. The only thing I still know with any certainty, though, is the “way it works” I learned 20+ years ago sitting in my American politics courses no longer feels particularly valid. From here on out, I’m going on sheer guess work. 

With that said, I think at the national level, Republicans are going to have a good night. The weird economic conditions are just too much headwind for the incumbent party to achieve much in the way of gain. If I were forced to call the ball, I’d say Republicans pick up 15 seats in the House and get +1 in the Senate… leaving us with the most divided of divided governments.

Locally, it feels like a foregone conclusion that the Democratic candidate will win the governor’s race. Andy Harris, the crank, crackpot, insurrection supporter, and all around shitty human being will retain his seat representing Maryland’s First Congressional District.

None of these are the results I want. Of course, I’ll never get the results I want because most of the candidates I’d really want to vote for have been dead for a very long time – a few for decades and others for centuries. 

The only thing I feel confident in saying is that our politics will continue to get worse. We’re not even going to take a breath when the polls close tonight before we’re off to the races and running for the 2024 election cycle. And in the process, we’re going to get exactly the kind of government we, the people, deserve… because we’ve allowed it to get this bad by continuing to send the same set of asshats back to do our work. 

Mother Russia…

Russia rattling its nuclear saber and its foibles being the butt of jokes is honestly just more fuel for the way back machine. If you didn’t listen too carefully to the news over the last few days, I think you could be forgiven for wondering if you woke up sometime in 1985. New faces, new flag, but the same old, worn playbook of threats played out against the backdrop of an economy teetering on the brink of collapse. The only difference this time is in the internet age, the entire world can see the rot and dysfunction in Russia when back then it was largely hidden behind the iron curtain and a wall of silence.

For all his bluster, Mr. Putin can’t hide that his country is a shambles if not an outright sham. Seventy years of Soviet policies followed by 30 years of kleptocracy apparently don’t build up a productive and vibrant system. Who would have guessed, right? I, of course, mean aside from anyone who was alive to watch the Soviet Union collapse under the weight of its misguided and misbegotten policies.

I don’t in any way intend for this to sound triumphant, because I know well enough that even a tired, sick, and old elephant hurts if it happens to fall on you. The takeaway, though, is that we need a full reevaluation of how we think about Russia and Russian power in the future. We should also use this brief period of western democratic ascendency and unity to put as much of our own house in order as we can while it lasts. Putin or no Putin the world is a dangerous place that’s markedly more well ordered when its great democracies aren’t busy bickering among themselves.

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

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Blood in the street”. The first financial news I consciously remember hearing was during the great bull run of the 1980s. In January 1987 the Dow cracked 2000 for the first time. I was eight years old and heard the news that day in my grandparent’s living room. Today, 30+ years later, after a two plunge, the Dow stands at 25,052.83. I’m not a financial expert by any stretch. I’m not a stock picker. I pay a limited about of attention to broad trends because I do have a vested interest in being able to retire at some point in the middle-ranged future. What I’ve learned from keeping an occasional eye on these trends over the last 20-years of having a small dog in the fight, is just this: prices go up, prices go down, prices go up again. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Yes, I hate seeing account balances bleeding away as much as anyone, but the blood in the streets reporting from major news outlets feels completely overblown.

2. “California is underrepresented.” I’ve seen it a few times now – the “infographic” that shows California has only 2 senators while the 7 least populous states in the west have 14. The conclusion is that Californians, therefore, are underrepresented. They conveniently fail to mention that the same seven states are represented by only 13 representatives in the House while California weighs in with 53 members of that august body. Such posts, of course, neglect to discuss the intricate system of checks and balances designed into the Constitution – where the House of Representatives was designed as the direct representatives of the people and senators were elected by the state legislatures for purposes of representing individual state interests within the federal framework. You could almost be forgiven for believing that the United States was a democracy and not a federal republic. After all we so regularly and incorrectly use the words republic and democracy interchangeably. It’s safe to say that the founders knew a little something about mob rule and its dangers to good order and civil society. The whole massive machinery of federal government was designed, in part, to ensure that radical change couldn’t be rolled out across the country at the whim of the mob. Rest assured I’ll be at least one consistent vote against dismantling any such bulwark restraining the passions of a would-be mobocracy.

3. Reply All. Sometimes an email gets out by accident, launched across the ether using a distribution list that sweeps up all people, everywhere regardless of whether they need the information contained in the message or not. Here’s a helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff: If you receive an email message via distribution that’s obviously not meant for you, you can literally just delete it and the offending email goes away. Or you and 27 of your closest friends can “reply all,” ask to be removed from the offending distribution, and be revealed as the enormous twatwaffles that you are. I mean I know from personal experience that people barely read the email that’s addressed to them for action. Why in seven hells the reply all is the one they choose to engage with is just simply beyond the limits of human understanding.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Panera. About once every three months lunch from Panera Bread sounds like a good idea. I’ll walk in, order something that sounds tasty, get it back to my desk, and then promptly be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It’s not their fault. If I would just show up and order soup and a bread bowl everything would turn out alright. This dissatisfaction is precisely what I get for walking in and trying something new when I already know there’s something on the menu that I like… but apparently I need periodic $10-12 reminders of why new things are bad.

2. Politics isn’t personal. Hard as it is to believe, I don’t hate people who have the audacity to disagree with my political positions. It’s never occurred to me to pick or maintain friendships based on whether anyone approves or disapproves of the right to bear arms, or to have an abortion, or on tax policy. Politics, in my mind at least, is mostly a “business” function. Although many of my beliefs are deeply held and intensely personal, I’m smart enough to know instinctively that with about 300 million other Americans all wandering around with their own moral compass and free will, there’s a chance that some of them might disagree with my positions. Some of them might even disagree intensely. That’s fine. Once upon a time that kind of disagreement was even considered healthy in a democracy… but that never stopped people from being able to share a drink or a meal together across the aisle. That sort of thing is probably out of fashion now, but fortunately that’s not something likely to dissuade me.

3. Game of Thrones. The idea that it’s going to be another twelve months before another Game of Thrones episode airs is just really sinking in. As much as I appreciate its far ranging filming locations and production values second to none, I despise the HBO programming model that delivers only ten new episodes per season. Although it’s apples and oranges, the first season of Star Trek booked a whopping 29 episodes. Sure, It’s a classic first world problem, but since I live in the first world that’s usually the kind I tend to encounter. It just feels a bit like perhaps there’s a happy medium that falls somewhere between the 11th and 29th episodes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. 2 for $5. In the late 1990s I worked at McDonald’s. Every couple of months the sandwich specials would come along pushing two Big Macs or two quarter pounders for two dollars. Aside from the occasional Egg McMuffin for lunch these days, I’m not a real connoisseur of the golden arches. I did notice their billboard a few days ago advertising their current special listed as two sandwiches for five bucks. Inflation and decreasing profit margins are a bitch, even for a company as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. That being said, I’m not sure that half-sized portions at double the cost from back in the “good old days” is what anyone would call a deal. Now you damned kids get off my lawn.

2. Leisurely conversation. I know some people come in to the office later than I do. When I’m on my way out the door at the end of my day, theirs may have another hour or two to run. What those people shouldn’t do is try to sidetrack me in the lobby and want, expect, or otherwise think about having a detailed conversation. A polite “have a good night,” or a “see you later,” is just fine. Wanting to talk details, schedule, and priority of effort are issues best – and only – left until I’m on the clock. These people may be under the false assumption that I’m focused on what their saying in order to contribute meaningfully to whatever-the-hell they’re talking about. In reality I’m trying to use the sheer force of my will to set their head on fire. Getting in my way at the end of the day is really the only sure way to guarantee that whatever you think is so very important drops to the very bottom of my list of things to do.

3. Eliminating the Electoral College. Every time I see a post about eliminating the electoral college, I want to grab people by the scruff of the neck and give them a “friendly” shake. Despite what your civics teacher told you the United States isn’t a “democracy.” It is, however, a federal republic operating under a representative democratic framework in which the states are sovereign, but ceed certain powers to the central government. You see, after ye olde Revolutionary War, we existed as thirteen new and sovereign countries – states – not as a federal government with a baker’s dozen of geographic subdivisions. We’re not a direct democracy and the founders never intended us to be. If anything, they fully intended to add a few degrees of separation between the government and the batshit crazy tendencies of “the people” as a whole. The fact that the results of the election are other than your desired outcome doesn’t mean that the system is broken so much as it means your side happened to lose the election based on the rules under which the election was held. It feels like a leap in logic to assume that if I don’t like the results it’s automatically a problem with the rules rather than with just not getting enough votes overall to keep the nitnoidy details of constitutional government from coming into play in the first place.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Detroit. Apparently now indoor plumbing is a human right. At least according to the United Nations, who it seems wants the city of Detroit to provide water to everyone without regard to who has paid for the service and who hasn’t. And that’s where I have the problem, because you see, eventually someone will have to pay. The building and maintaining the infrastructure used to purify and delivery water certainly costs money. At some point, someone has to pay in order to keep the system running – typically that means those receiving the service (city water) pay for what they receive and when they stop paying they stop receiving. It feels like a pretty straightforward pay-as-you-go arrangement. But if the customer base stops paying, who picks up the tab? Whose responsibility is it to pay for something you use? The city? The state? The people who actually pay taxes and their utility bills. Surely we could just charge them a little bit more, no? We have a real problem in this country when huge swaths of society feel entitled to the fruits of labor that isn’t theirs. Detroit’s water woes are just the latest example of nice people being well intentioned, but inherently stupid.

2. Work versus email. The number of messages you send is a really shitty way to measure how much “work” you get done. A) It doesn’t take into account the length, complexity, or content of said emails. B) Being “busy” passing out electronic missives doesn’t mean you’re adding anything of value to whatever you’re engaged in. C) Chances are whoever receives your email is going to misinterpret at least part of it. Sending a lot of email is not a substitute for doing the work. More often than not it’s a sure sign that you’re spending too much time electronically “talking” and not enough time actually thinking.

3. Gaza. Despite what social media apparently want you to believe, the Palestinians and Israelis are not morally equivalent. For as long as there as been an Israel – actually since before then in British Mandate Palestine – they’ve been engaged in a fight for their national survival against a numerically superior foe whose stated ambition is to drive them into the sea. My take on the current Gaza situation is basically the same as if Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia decided Delaware was the odd man out and started hurling missiles into Wilmington. Expecting Delaware in this case to not use every resource at its disposal to make that stop happening would be ridiculous. It’s not the cool or popular stance these days, but I’m saying it out loud and in print: I stand with Israel. Our only real ally in the Middle East and the region’s only functioning democracy deserves at least that much.

The Glorious Fourth…

We live in troubled times. Love of country is seen as the exclusive province of the closed-minded and Patriots are derided as jingoistic bombasts. The good that America has done and continues to do in the world is swept under the rug in favor of discussions on where our steps have faltered. The long list of our national accomplishments are pushed aside and only our mistakes are held up to the light of public scrutiny.

Two hundred thirty one years ago, 55 patriots, working under conditions of secrecy and in contravention of the instructions that had brought them together, voted for independence from Great Britain. Those colonials, mistreated and abused by the king’s government, launched the world’s greatest experiment in representative democracy. We fought a great civil war to determine if such a nation could endure. In the century just passed, we fought two world wars to ensure that this legacy of freedom did not perish and a long cold war that pitted America against the forces of an evil empire. Now, America’s bravest sons and daughters stand post in places with names like Kabul and Tikrit, just as their predecessors held the line in the la Drang Valley, at the Chosin Reservoir, in the snows of Bastogne, and the muddy trenches of the Marne.

Today is Independence Day and I remain committed to the proposition that our country, warts and all, remains the last, best hope of earth; that, as it was at the beginning, it is a shining city upon a hill.