What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Logging in. When I boot up my work computer in the morning, I have to log in using my access card and PIN. When I log into Outlook, I use my access card and PIN. One Drive? Access card and PIN. Teams. One more time, log in with access card and PIN. Just to start the day I have to log in using the same credentials four to five times depending what opens on startup. I’m sure there’s some important network security reason this is necessary, but it feels dumb and is 100% a daily irritant. 

2. Upgraded masks. For the last two years, I’ve survived plague free by 1) being vaccinated and boosted, 2) generally avoiding people as much as practical and 3) wearing a standard cloth face covering whenever I had to go into a questionable indoor environment. It hasn’t felt like all that big an ask. With the latest variant, word has gone out that it’s advised to switch over to more robust masks – primarily N95 or KN95 style respirators. That’s well and good, but I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money so far on various upgraded masks and a host of add on extenders, inserts, and other bits to get a better fit. So far, no combination of any of them has given me a mask that doesn’t immediately blow hot air around my nose and cheeks and turning my glasses into a solid wall of fog sitting on the end of my nose. Not falling victim to the Great Plague is important, but if I can’t be both maximally protected and fog-free, I’m going to have to err on the side of being able to see what the hell I’m doing when I need to leave the house.

3. Maryland’s Republican governor has proposed eliminating taxes on retirees as a means to discourage people from spending their working lives here and then immediately decamping for jurisdictions that don’t tax retirement income. For those who will face a potential tax bill from Maryland when they retire, it has to be a consideration. For instance, if you have the longevity to enjoy a 20-year retirement and the state reaches into your pocket to the tune of $4,000 a year, that’s upwards of $80,000 you’re leaving on the table for the convenience of not moving to a more tax friendly state. That’s not the kind of win the Democratic controlled general assembly will want to hand a popular Republican governor. Given Maryland’s historic love of raising taxes on its residents, it’s not the kind of thing they’d want to do if there the governor was a Democrat, either. I’m an unabashed lover of my native state, and I’d love to be able to make a plan to stay here along the shores of the Chesapeake forever, but unless our fearless leaders end up endorsing a plan like this, finances are all too likely to dictate otherwise when the time comes.  

Elections still have consequences…

There are a million talking heads and bloggers saying this, but it bears repeating: the results of the 2021 off year election would scare the hell out of me if I were a democrat expecting to be on the ballot in the 2022 midterm election.

Republicans won state wide office in what the experts a year ago would have called “reliably blue Virginia.” New Jersey, not exactly known as a hotbed of conservative politics, has a governor’s race decided by a razor thin margin. The “Defund the Police” referendum in Minneapolis went down to defeat.

Keystone pieces of President Biden’s agenda, even after being dramatically descoped, remain stalled in the Democratic controlled Congress. His approval rating is sinking towards 40%. If Democrats want to hold on to power in 364 days, they’re going to need better arguments than Trump Bad and a solidly left-wing agenda.

What the election yesterday tells me is that even though voters soundly rejected a second Trump term, they didn’t go off to embrace wild “progressive” policy positions. The American Moderate, labeled almost extinct by pundits, is apparently alive and well and making their presence felt at the polls.

There’s obviously still plenty of room for Democratic candidates to win, but that path gets harder if they collectively insist on just keeping on with what they’ve been doing for the last twelve months.

Not my election day…

It’s election day in America. Well, not technically my election day, but there are people out there voting. In the run up to every election day, I try to convince myself that I’m just going to turn it off. I can check in tomorrow and catch up in five minutes with whatever needs to be known. It would surely do my blood pressure a favor not to follow the minute-by-minute horserace. 

Every time, though, I find myself inevitable drifting to the wall-to-wall coverage offered by the talking heads on three cable “news” channels and a bevy of websites and twitter feeds run by even bigger political junkies than the networks employ.

I’ve kind of made my own peace with the idea that a youth spent overly interested in politics and four years studying it as an undergrad have probably left me deeply incapable of ever really turning it off. Even so, the political theory I learned those decades ago now almost feels antique. The old rules and norms no longer seem to apply. The institutional formulas from the 20th century no longer seem to work. 

The world is a strange and different place than it was when I learned the art and science of politics from the sages who were mostly old enough to have fully formed memories of administrations headed by Eisenhower and Kennedy. In spite of myself, though, I can’t help but want to get my arms around it. This pathological desire to at least try understanding the what, why, and how probably indicates some deep personal failing on my part… but here we are.  

Weak in size and spirit…

The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.

One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.

If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.

So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.

Shutdown prep…

Years ago, the federal government was touted as stable employment, promising a career that wouldn’t make you rich, but ensured that you wouldn’t die poor. It was a guarantee of a solidly middle class lifestyle during your working years and a comfortable retirement when the time came. The trade off, for such stability was forgoing the big salaries that could sometimes be had for similar work in the private sector. Those salaries, of course, came with risk that the contract that paid so well could disappear overnight.

Stable is a relative term, of course. Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked through hiring freezes, furloughs, and more government shut downs than I can really remember. That’s not the hallmark of a particularly stable employer. Then again, when I look at the elected officials who the people, in their questionable wisdom, have sent to Washington to represent them, “stable” isn’t a world I’d choose to use for many of them – both the politicians and the electorate.

So here I am, with the next government shut down hovering in the wings, once again preparing to defer or stop payments and dramatically reduce the scope and scale of operations at Fortress Jeff.

I’ve got enough years on me now to ride out a run of the mill government shutdown if I must. Still, planning for a few weeks or months without pay does make you question going with the “stable” choice all those years ago. If you’re going to be planning how to cut spending down to the bone every couple of years anyway, maybe some of those contract jobs would have been better in the end.

Our elected representatives are increasingly incapable of acting like grown adults, but then again, the same is true of the people who elect them. The curse of democracy is we continue to get exactly the kind of politicians, government, and society that we deserve.

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. 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.

Preferences, party, and hurt feelings…

I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve cast out from my various social media friends lists because their response to insurrection supported by the sitting President of the United States and certain serving members of Congress was “Well, yeah, it’s bad, but the liberals are…”

That’s the most childish and ill-conceived argument I can imagine putting forward (unless you include the couple of Q-inspired, lizard people fearing, false-flaggers who want their absolute shitshow conspiracy theory version of reality given voice). 

“But,” they cry, “Biden is going to push policies I don’t like.”

Yeah. He is. The Biden Administration is going to push for policies I have spent my adult lifetime opposing with my voice and my vote.

Hard as it is to imagine, you can actually voice your opposition (or support) for something without laying siege to the Capitol or burning down your local Wendy’s. In our system of government, there is no legitimacy in violence. The two-century long tradition of transferring power between competing parties is an absolute miracle of American politics. It’s a tradition worth defending against those who would undo it in a fit of not getting their way at the ballot box.

Today, in the wake of an attack at the heart of the American political system, preserving that system by putting down the violent insurrection raised against it, takes precedence over everything – your policy preferences, your party, and your hurt feelings. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Expectations. Facebook is filled with people who can’t wait for this year to be over. As if they expect someone to wave a magic wand and January 1, 2021 will magically recreate the world as it was in December 2019 – The before time.  2020 wasn’t great for most people. I get it.  Will 2021 be better? Maybe. Maybe not. It will simply be different. Spending weeks and months believing it’s going to be the pinnacle of good times, or even in any significant way different than today feels, in a word, delusional.

2. Republicans. Every idiot coming out of the woodwork to cry “fake news” or “stolen election” is systematically working to suppress the number of Republicans who come out to vote in the Georgia special election for two open Senate seats. If you’re a Republican and not laser focused on holding a firewall in the Senate, you’re letting your teenaged girl-like infatuation with one person get in the way of seeing the whole board. You can stan Donald Trump as much as you want, but he lost. Period. We’ve got a chance to save the Senate and through that body temper the more extreme legislation being pushed from the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party. If you’d rather litigate history than get suited up for that fight, honestly, I have no idea what you’re doing here other than wasting your damned time.

3. Pay freeze. I see that the White House has joined the Senate in calling for an FY21 pay freeze for federal employees. Trump, Obama, Republican, Democrat. Party doesn’t matter as they’re both happy to implement pay freezes during their tenures in office. In a year that saw a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 bailout and individual cash payments of up to $1,200 per person (if you didn’t have the audacity to sell a property in 2019 and be ranked in the 1% for the 15 minutes between closing the sale and paying off the mortgage), pleading governmental poverty feels like a stretch… especially when the original proposal called for an already austere 1% increase and the federal government (despite the virus) is on track to receive a near-record amount of tax payments.

If Nixon could go to China…

Joe Biden wasn’t my choice for president. He wouldn’t have been my second choice for president, either.

My own preferences notwithstanding, and subject to the convening of the Electoral College, Joe Biden is now the President-Elect of the United States. He was elected in accordance with the laws and customs of our country. In the fullness of time, votes will be certified, Electors will meet, their votes will be counted by the Congress, and former Vice President Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States.

I can already hear the voices raging “Not My President” across the internet. In case you’re wondering, it sounds just as stupid coming from the right as it sounded coming from the left for the last four years. I didn’t vote for him, but at noon on January 20th, 2021, he will take the oath of office. He will be the president. My president. Your president. America’s president.

I congratulate him. I congratulate Vice President-Elect Harris. I wish them a term of unprecedented peace and prosperity and it’s my fervent hope that they lead our country with wisdom, openness, and integrity.

Sure, I fully plan to oppose 75% or more of the Biden Administration’s likely agenda, but that’s no reason I can’t be polite and take a moment to recognize the wonder of the world that is a peaceful transfer of power in our ever more contentious political universe. If Nixon could go to China, surely we can manage these small acts that help to bring back a touch of the old civility between our countrymen.