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.

Your tax dollars (possibly) not at work…

This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.

There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.

I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.

Primary colors…

While I was thinking about tomorrow’s Republican debate it occurred to me that the great state of Maryland is not holding its primary election until April 26th, over three months from today. Only 10 states and territories hold their Republican primary or caucus later in the spring.

By the time the polls open in Maryland, in all likelihood there will be a presumptive nominee – if not a nominee-in-fact. Failing that, the race will have winnowed out many of the current contenders until only a handful remain – the ones who are still able to raise funds and pay campaign staff so late in the game. For those of us at the tail end of the primary process that means there’s damned little reason to pay more than passing attention to what happens from the podia. By that time it seems likely my favored candidate will be filed as an also-ran and gone home to tend his crops before I get the chance to vote for him.

Partially it saddens me that there isn’t a “national” primary date in order to give equal weight to each vote cast. Of course that smacks of federal overreach into an area of government reserved for the states to adjudicate as they see fit and thus my libertarian streak won’t allow me to advocate for such a move. While it means my primary vote in Maryland is nearly hollow in terms of selecting my party’s candidate, it does mean that at least I can blow off the next few weeks and just check in for the box score every Tuesday night after Iowa kicks things off.

By that painfully twisted logic I can therefore absolve myself for not enduring two more rounds of debate. It almost feels like a fair trade.

Say my name…

FullSizeRender 2The United States Office of Personnel Management is the big daddy human resource office for the federal government’s executive branch. From hiring, to pay and benefits, to security clearance investigations, there’s OPM, standing watch over a treasure trove of government employee’s personal information. So bungling are they at the job of protecting that information that 20-odd millions past and present employees are now “protected” by a third-party identity theft prevention company.

So well protected are the data stored in OPM’s vast archive that they apparently don’t know who’s who themselves. Which might help explain why I got a letter addressed to an Edward Tharp at my current mailing address. I’m not now nor have I ever been known as Edward Tharp (which they’d know if they had bothered to reference any of the information I have on file with them). Edward isn’t even my middle name, so that excuse won’t carry them very far.

In the vast swath of the bureaucracy, I’m sure somewhere there is an Edward Tharp wondering why he didn’t get his security breach letter.

Mistakes happen. I make plenty of them. But mixing up something like an employee’s name and home address when you’re trying to restore trust that you are on the job protecting our personal information really just reinforces the idea that you have no bleeding idea what you’re doing down there. Name and address should be up there near the top of our HR folders. That should be an easy win for you guys… but if you can’t get that right, I hope you’ll forgive me if I remain permanently skeptical of your ability to handle the big things.

A week with no Wednesday…

Since this is the first of 10 more furlough weeks to come, it should be noted that for purposes of record keeping I’ll be dividing the week as follows:

– Monday and Tuesday will be held as scheduled.

– Thursday replaces Wednesday and is immediately followed, as usual, by Friday, which will take over Thursday’s old time slot.

– Saturday Part I is allocated the space formerly occupied by Friday.

– Saturday Part II is takes the place of the traditional observance of Saturday.

– Sunday remains in its historic place as the day that keeps Saturday (Part II) and Monday from crashing together.

Please note that until further notice, Wednesday will no longer being observed by jeffreytharp.com. While posts will continue to appear as normal, official business will only be transacted on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday as outlined above. Saturday (Part I and II) and Sunday are considered non-working days and will be subject to lying about on the couch watching trashy daytime television, surfing the internet, perfecting a diabetic-friendly rum punch recipe, arguing with the evening news, and otherwise being an unproductive member of society.

We regret that Uncle Sam has made this drastic step necessary and hope that Wednesdays will be restored to service as soon as funding levels allow.

But not the others…

One of the worst arguments I’ve seen repeatedly in the gun control debate over the last six months almost always goes along the lines of: Well, you have to have a license to drive a car, so why not a license to own a gun? The thing is, the Constitution does not specifically address your right to transportation – by car, horse and buggy, train, air, slow boat, or on foot. Ownership of a car does not require licensure or permission from the state or federal government. If a 15 year old has the coin in his pocket (and his parent’s permission as a minor), he can buy and possess any car on the lot. Licensing drivers conveys the privilege to operate the car on the roads, not the “right” to own it in the first place.

Since gun ownership is a right defined by the Constitution, the more analogous argument would be in requiring a state and or federal license to speak publically. Since words are so often used to bully people and that bullying directly results in emotional and physical harm up to and including suicide, before someone is allowed to exercise their “right to free speech,” they should be required to take a four hour word safety course and obtain a license from their state indicating that they understand how harmful words can be. Perhaps we should also extend the licensing requirement to the right to vote, since elections, too, have real world consequences. In order to exercise your vote as a citizen, you should be required to show identification and pass an exam showing a minimum proficiency and understanding of the issues of the day. Since we’re free to abridge one constitutionally protected right, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be equally free to abridge the others in order to make the world a safer, more harmonious place.

As much as I hate to say it, for me it’s not a pro-gun/anti-gun position that’s the real issue here. I would be every bit as apoplectic if the state and federal government were trying to restrict the other right that I enjoy as a free citizen of the United States of America. The right to keep and bear arms is just the one that the powers that be have decided to come after first. I’m a good enough student of history to know that once one right falls, the others are all the more endangered. I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with how people can love some freedoms, but not the others.

Essential…

In light of what seems to be an impending shutdown of the United States Government (yeah, Congress, I’m looking at you), there has been much discussion about what makes one an “essential” part of the workforce. Air traffic controllers? Yeah, makes sense. Nuclear submariner? Yep, you make the cut. But where the line of essential stops, there is a vast gray area of things that seem important, but no one can say for certain that they are technically speaking, essential to public safety.

That being said, there’s something profoundly disheartening about getting the official email that not only are you nonessential, but so is your entire office and everyone else in your building for that matter. In fact, you’re so nonessential that when the funds run out, you’re going to turn the lights out, lock the doors, and just walk away. It does give someone given to a somewhat cynical outlook reason to ponder what that could really mean in the teeth of exploding deficits and a Tea Party that seems to want a federal government that operates under the Article of Confederation.

It’s fair to say that my PowerPoints aren’t going to put an end to the war(s) or inspire an economic rally, but I have a secret, unredeemed belief that with the right (or any actual) leadership, both here locally and at the highest levels things do not have to be as they now are. If not essential, we can certainly be productive… but only when we have leaders worthy of good and faithful followers.