They’re always self-inflicted…

One of the tasks that more or less defines my job was impossible to do this week until around 10:00 this morning thanks to a bit of software that had been migrated to a new and improved flavor last week and then promptly shit the bed.

Look, I don’t personally care. If Uncle wants me to do the work, he’ll make sure the systems and software all function. I can sit around twiddling my thumbs with the best of them. I am, after all, a highly seasoned bureaucrat. It’s the sort of thing that comes with the territory. 

The only catch is when systems are down for days on end, it tends to create a backlog and then when the boffins over in the IT office get sorted, the whole log falls directly on your head. That’s where we ended up on today – with at least three days of backlogged work in the queue plus whatever extra came in over the side before close of business. 

To at least one person, every bit of it was something ranging between “important” and “urgent.” To me, of course, it’s all just something to blast through as quickly as possible while trying to get about 80% of it tucked into the right places. If I’m being perfectly honest, since I read every single item that passed through my hot little hands today, I can tell you none of it was actually important, let alone urgent. It was mostly the living embodiment of the kind of electronic ephemera the bureaucracy passes around to continue justifying its own existence. It’s the kind of morass you really want to take a bit at a time rather than in anything resembling large chunks. 

It’ll get done – mostly because I don’t particularly want to deal with this particular hot mess again on Monday. It’ll get done, but I’ll piss and moan about it the entire time, because it’s just another wound we inflicted on ourselves for no discernable reason. If that doesn’t define government work, I don’t know what does.

Disgust and disdain…

Just like that, election season 2024 is underway. As someone who’s had a passing interest in politics his entire life – and whose paycheck depends in large part on the elected “leaders” of the government not making the entire creaking edifice dysfunctional – I look on the entire spectacle with disgust and disdain. The thought of spending the next 24 months listening to these contemptible assholes stroking their own egos and stoking up the lowest common denominator among their respective bases just leaves me wanting to eat a cyanide sandwich and wash it down with an ice cold glass of bleach.

Maybe that’s slightly exaggerated. Maybe. It probably depends on the day when you ask me about it.

It’s like the classic car crash scenario… no matter how much I want to look away from the burning hot mess, I won’t. The shitshow in which we find ourselves caught has to be seen to be believed – or disbelieved – whichever happens to be your preference.

If they ever come up with a relatively non-invasive way to fry the little part of the brain that gives a shit about politics and leaves the rest undiminished, you can sure as shit find me in line on opening day.

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. 

Should’ve known better… 

State and local officials in Florida are catching three kinds of hell for not issuing evacuation orders earlier last week in advance of Hurricane Ian. The buck has to stop somewhere, I suppose, but I’ve got a slightly different take on where that particular responsibility lies. As much as I want to jump aboard the smack Ron DeSantis around train, I’m just not there.

Let’s say for purposes of argument that I’m a resident of Sanibel Island. It’s late September and a large hurricane is gathering strength in in the Caribbean. About the time it has taken a bite out of Cuba and starts tracking towards the west coast of Florida, I’m paying very focused attention and going through my own checklist of what needs to happen before I get the hell out of Dodge. When I’ve completed my personal risk assessment, knowing full well that I’m on a barrier island, there’s limited accessibility under the best conditions, and that the big one could cut off communications, water, electricity, and access to pretty much all modern services. At some point in assessing that reality, I’m going to make the decision to flee or ride it out.

It’s the same thing I do on a different scale when there’s snow falling on a weekday. I know that both routes from the outside world to my little homestead here involve negotiating both up and down hills that tend to ice over and get treacherous after a few inches of snow. Even with 4-wheel drive getting in or out can get a little problematic – more often than not because of other area residents who have already tried and failed to negotiate those trouble spots. That’s why I make my own decision about whether it’s safe to go to the office, whether I need to leave early to head home, or whether it needs to be a working from home kind of day. Waiting around for the bureaucracy to make an official decision just means conditions will already be shit by the time I get on the road, so I take the decision into my own hands – because no one is more concerned about me than I am myself.

The problem we run into is a really an issue of what we mean by “mandatory” evacuation. It’s hard to imagine (or expect) that even in the face of an incredibly destructive hurricane your state or local government is going to walk into your house, physically restrain you, and haul you out of your home against your will. They’ll certainly advise. They’ll caution. They may even warn, but ultimately the go/no-go decision is on your own head. The “I didn’t know it was going to be so bad” excuse only goes so far. Even here in north eastern Maryland plenty of reports were cutting through the static about Ian and all the potential damage he carried along. Living on a barrier island in south Florida during hurricane seasons kind puts a lot of the onus on each individual to have a bit of heightened awareness.

Sure, you’ll tell me that some people had no choice. In every natural disaster there’s always some subset of the impacted population that can’t afford to evacuate, or don’t have a car, or have some other extenuating circumstance. Those don’t seem to be the ones raising three kinds of hell during television interviews or in the print media. Then again, there’s a world of difference between “can’t” evacuate and “won’t” evacuate. For the former, it’s a tragedy. For the latter, it feels a lot more like a case of should’ve known better.

Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Protests. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember a sign waving, getting in the way of things protest that I’ve ever knowingly supported. The tactics most protesters employ seem almost perfectly designed to guarantee that I’ll either quietly oppose them or openly mock and deride them. The small “r” republican protestors who have been popping up in London this week aiming to disrupt the most solemn state occasion of the late Queen’s funeral are probably exactly the kind of friendless cranks you might expect to engage in that kind of ill-timed, boorish behavior. I’m not saying the Crown should necessarily haul them off to the tower, but if the rest of the populace got together and heaved them directly into the Thames, I’d likely look the other way and then have a good laugh about it.

2. Lindsey Graham. For the last six months every Republican who could find a TV camera earnestly declared that abortion was an issue that should rightly be resolved by the states. That the federal government has gotten too large and overreaching is a reasonable argument. The remedy, of course, isn’t to hand that misbegotten power to the states, but rather return it directly to the people, who are the font of power under the American system, and allow them each to decide based on their own particular light. But then here comes Lindsey Graham, boldly introducing a bill that not only flies in the face of small government orthodoxy, but which will be wildly unpopular with 60% or more of the electorate. It might buy him some votes from the Republican base in South Carolina, but otherwise it makes him look like a fucking moron.

3. Eyes. My eyes suck and have since I was a kid. Take away my glasses and I could probably squint my way through things at very close range, but forget about telling the difference between a car and a cow more than a couple of dozen yards away. I’m headed off to my annual eye exam tomorrow, where I plan to spend my hour griping and complaining that by 8PM, my eyes are shot. It’s a situation that’s beginning to interfere with my evening reading and that obviously can’t be allowed to stand. With the return of wasting hours of the week commuting to the office for reasons that defy logic, but make perfect sense to management on the near horizon, I can’t afford to lose another hour or two in the evening with my eyes running everything together into lines of black smudge. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shopping local. There’s a local shop that will remain nameless that I’ve been trying to go to for weeks now. According to the sign on the door and the internet, they open at 10:00 every morning seven days a week. I know they’re not closed as I’ve seen the place open when I’ve been on my way to do other things, but the three times now I’ve tried to go there between 11:00 and noon on Saturday, they’ve been locked up tighter than a drum. Sometimes their “open” light will even be on, but the place is dark and the tumbleweeds roll across the parking lot. I like doing business with this outfit – otherwise I wouldn’t have already given them three chances – but there’s way too much competition out there from other brick and mortar shops and the internet to keep getting met with a dark storefront at the times that are convenient and when you’d think would be some of the most lucrative sales hours of the week.

2. Good help. As the master bathroom limped towards completion, I began turning my attention towards a few minor projects I wanted to have knocked out before the cold weather arrived. The first, getting the exterior trim scraped and painted, was lined up. It would have been a quick hit, $1,000 “fill in” project. Something one painter could have knocked out in half a day when they had down time between other, larger projects. I thought we were set to go, but the painters have gone radio silent. The second, an upgraded and improved whole-house water filter was also on the drawing board. Water tests were done and the design was supposed to be in progress. And now the plumber has stopped replying to calls and messages. Don’t get me started on the gutter people who said they’ve been here but weren’t (as evidenced by the lack of them being on camera and the fact that they never sent me a bill).  I’ve got jobs to do and cash money to spend, but finding someone who wants to do the former to get the latter is like pushing shit uphill. I absolutely get why people say “no one wants to work anymore.” So instead of hiring a local company, I’ll go out and spend twice as much with the big national or regional outfits that have consistently showed up when I’ve called.

3. Free shit. In the last fifteen years we’ve been given every kind of handout you can imagine. From the days of the 2008 financial crisis to student loan forgiveness, there’s cash flowing for everyone. Well, as long as you’re the right kind of everyone, I suppose; one that checks the box on whatever social, demographic, or political group our elected representatives are trying to curry favor with at the time. My key take away is that I don’t fit into any of those groups. I apparently fall into a separate category that’s always the billpayer and never the beneficiary of the largess that’s poured out the Treasury’s back door. A million years ago when a group of us asked our high school principal to schedule an expanded slate of AP classes, he waived us off by explaining “You smart kids will do okay no matter what we do to you.” I think he even believed that was some kind of compliment. It’s different lyrics, but the same old song.

Moron…

Lauren Bobert, the Republican representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, has gone on record as being in favor of giving up America’s centuries old experiment as a continent-wide constitutional republic in favor of adopting Christian theocracy as our fundamental basis of government.

Notwithstanding the Constitution’s First Amendment, which says, in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Lauren argues that “The church is supposed to direct the government.” Apparently after careful study of the constitutional issues involved, she’s just “tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

I could go into the historical antecedents of why there is a separation between church and state in this country. I’ll spare you the details, but I’d start with the Pilgrims, then maybe move on to Maryland’s founding as a safe haven for English Catholics before discussing revolutionary era resistance to the established Church of England. Then I’d finish up with Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. Those are just sort of the off the top of my head indicators of why Lauren is wrong. 

What the distinguished representative from Colorado is advocating is nothing short of an American Christian version of the Taliban, where we all live under whatever grotesquely perverted tenants of the faith a Pastor-in-Chief decides are going to be enforced on any given day. The very idea of it would be laughable if she wasn’t being applauded by so many kooks and weirdos who have slithered their way into positions of greater or lesser power – and the followers who lap up whatever goofy bullshit is laid out in front of them.

Lauren, based on her words and deeds, is obviously a moron who has absolutely no failsafe between whatever dumbass idea is rattling around between her ears and what comes out her mouth. As a sitting member of Congress, she took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. You’d think maybe she’d have taken the time to glance through the paperwork before signing off on it. Then again, maybe civics is just one of those things they don’t teach in Colorado until after the point she decided she had enough book learning.

A warm bucket of spit…

Let me put the bottom line up front: Regardless of your philosophy, neither the Democratic nor Republican Party are your friend. That couldn’t be any clearer than when, 15 minutes after the Supreme Court announced their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, both parties had fired off fundraising emails to their every-person-whose-name-ever-ended-up-on-one-of-their-mailing-list lists. To be clear, when the country needed leadership, the response from both parties (and many of our individual politicians) was “Hey, send me $15.”

Republicans have, since 1973, stated often and loudly that their goal of undoing Roe v. Wade. The fact they did it once they had the power to do so shouldn’t be shocking. They’ve literally been saying it to anyone who would listen for 50 years. Over that half a century, though, I can’t remember one single serious effort by the Democratic Party to enshrine a woman’s right to choose or bodily autonomy into law. Instead, they relied on the judgement of the court and used Roe as a never-ending fundraising opportunity. 

The Republican Party, stalwart defenders of the Second Amendment, have treated gun rights the same way. Given ample opportunity when controlling the presidency and having majorities in Congress, they inexplicably failed to legislate a national right to carry or even just to refine and expand the law to codify an individual right to self-defense. At every turn, though, Republican politicians have used supporters if the Second Amendment to fill their coffers. 

In their own way Roe and the ambiguity of the Second Amendment were the gifts that kept on giving for politicians who never saw a dollar they didn’t want in their own campaign war chest. Maybe I’m too cynical, but it seems to me that our legacy political parties are far more invested in keeping these marquee issues alive as fundraising platforms than in making sure it doesn’t take just five votes to undo one, or all of our rights.

So, I wish everyone would spare me with all the posts about Democrats rallying to defend the right to choose or Republicans defending the right to carry. Neither party is “fighting for our rights.” They’re fighting for their own self-interest. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Democrats are rallying to the cause of some of our rights while ignoring plenty of others. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Republicans are fighting for some rights while likewise ignoring plenty of others.

As for me, I’ll stand where I always have – shoulder to shoulder with anyone who seeks to advance the cause of liberty. I’ll support all the rights, because I don’t want a single one of them ever left to the whims of mere, feckless politicians. Maybe that’s the difference between me and those who cling to their label as “Democrat” or “Republican.” Our rights, all of them, are wealth beyond value… and our legacy political parties increasingly prove that they’re not worth a warm bucket of spit.