What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Historical context. Despite having featured prominently in an Obama Administration read across America event in 2015, Dr. Seuss is now, apparently, the author of racist content. The guy was born in 1904 and did his most prominent work in the mid 20th century. Expecting that his writing would reflect whatever ultra-woke orthodoxy is in vogue here in the 21st century is patently ridiculous. If we’re going to judge every writer who ever put ink on paper by modern standards, the allowed reading list is going to be awfully restricted. If your goal is to only allow approved, untroublesome content that supports your philosophical notion of how the world ought to be on your shelves, I suppose it’s a good position to stake out. Personally, I’ll go ahead and keep a wider range of books on my shelves. Then again, I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of a little historical context seeping in around the margins. Being shocked that people are products of their times and don’t exist in accordance with contemporary beliefs would be adorable if it weren’t so incredibly dumb.

2. The US House of Representatives. The House is closed for business today because of the threat of a follow-on insurrectionist attack. That sends exactly the wrong message. It speaks to fear and intimidation – that the rebels of January 6th were at least partially successful. Holding up the business of the republic out of fear of common rabble is nothing more than a missed opportunity. Better keep on, draw them near, and then crush them utterly. 

3. Taxes. I got my prepared tax return back from the accountant’s office this week. Seeing the gory details all there in black and white is just about enough to make me gag. As my favorite for instance, in 2017 the top 50% of income earners in this country paid 96.9% of all income taxes (with the evil 1% paying 38.5% of all income taxes collected). We’re not just taxed on income, of course. Individuals also face payroll tax, capital gains tax, property tax, a whole universe of excise taxes, and more. You’ll never convince me that the problem is that we’re not being taxed enough in this country. We’ve got a veritable orgy of spending that’s been getting worse regardless of what party holds the whip hand, but as long as votes can be bought with dollars from the treasury, I can’t imagine ever getting it under anything approaching control.  

The price of power…

Apparently in Texas you can sign up for a “wholesale” electricity plan. Just like a loan with a floating interest rate, it could be a real benefit to the consumer when rates are low. The catch is, the interest rate for loans or the wholesale cost of electricity changes over time. Sometimes it changes both dramatically and quickly.

Signing up for the “wholesale” plan makes eminent sense when gas and oil is flowing and prices are low. All it takes, though, is a single unexpected event to make such a decision catastrophically wrong. It’s the inherent risk of pinning your plans on a floating rate that’s governed entirely on the vagaries of supply and demand in a potentially volatile marketplace.

While I feel badly for the people who woke up this week to a $16,000 bill for electricity, I presume the contract they signed included a pretty large warning that price moved both up and down and often does so with great rapidity. I felt sorry, too, for people who signed up for zero percent mortgages only to realize that when their mortgages rest to the “real” rate they couldn’t afford both the principle and the interest.

In both cases, these are people who willingly bypassed traditional service agreements or mortgages in favor of “exotic” options. The low up-front cost of exotic options, even if no other explicit warning is made, should be a clear indication to the average consumer that they are assuming a greater than normal degree of personal risk. Both are just one step better than walking in to the local casino and putting your month’s mortgage or rent payment on red and hoping for the best.

Though I feel sorry for both groups, I don’t feel any more sense of personal responsibility to bail out electricity consumers who made bad choices than I did for bailing out homeowners who took on unreasonable levels of debt. Expecting to enjoy all the benefits of low prices without encountering the corresponding negative possibilities smacks of immature thinking. Constantly protecting people from the natural consequences of their own actions clearly hasn’t done us any favors, as it seems no one has taken any of the lessons to heart. 

Now because I’m not a complete bastard, I could be convinced that low-interests emergency loans for those needing relief is a reasonable idea, but simply wiping out legitimate debt because it’s politically expedient sends an appalling message. Mine won’t be the popular opinion, of course, since no one wants to be responsible for themselves and politicians don’t win votes in this modern world of ours by expecting anyone to live up to their personal obligations when a billion dollar bailout is available. So, really, those whole post is about nothing more than yelling into the void.

Lack of substance…

I’ve long been in favor of informed debate over just about any issue you could name. Note carefully that I didn’t say argument. I also didn’t say just “debate.” In context, “informed” is the operative part of this sentence. I’m in favor of informed debate.

This means you need to know actual facts and use them to support your asserted position. 

“I disagree” isn’t a debate point.

“You’re stupid” isn’t a debate point. It’s even less of a debate point when it’s “Your stupid.”

“That’s dumb” isn’t a debate point.

If you want to support your position, you need to assert statements of fact. Say something like “X happened on Y date and these three things happened as a result.” I’m always happy to consider new information. It’s historically how we as a species learn things.

Asserting that “If you don’t believe X, Y, and Z, you kick puppies and hate America” isn’t a statement of fact. More than likely it’s a mindless regurgitation of some less than reputable cable television talking head or “internet personality.”

I’m up for just about any debate on the modern political landscape that you’d like to have, but I’m not going to pretend that I have to lend any credibility to people who flail their arms, stomp their feet, and pretend they’re defending a well-reasoned and intelligent position. 

We could be having a great national debate on the merits of the issues that confront our republic. We won’t, though, because throwing a tantrum on national television or social media is easier and creates a better five second clip to use so you can get many, many likes. 

I’ve finished with pretending adults who can’t behave like grown-ups are worth the time and effort it takes to engage with either in the real world or across the universe of social media platforms. I welcome a debate. I welcome learning new things… but statistically speaking, I’ve burned through a little more than half of my allotted time on this rock, so I no longer welcome ideas or people wholly lacking in substance. I have neither the time for, nor interest in entertaining them.

Disorienting but comfortable…

I’ve lived through the four presidential transitions as an adult. They all come with the same basic features – mostly the victorious and defeated parties trying to figure out the shape of their brave new world.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for in 2021, though, was just how quickly Donald dropped off the radar (unless you’re steadfastly tuned in to “alternative news” sources).  After hearing his steady drumbeat for 4 years, waking up each morning and scrolling Twitter before my feet hit the floot to see what batshit crazy thing happened overnight, the last few days have been a remarkable return to politics being just politics. 

It’s like having walked through a foggy landscape only to emerge, unexpectedly, into a bright, clear upland of well-known surroundings; disorienting, but comfortable.

I’ll be railing against President Biden’s agenda soon enough, but I’m kind of determined to take the weekend and really just appreciate the wonder of how completely different it feels.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Assessments. I made the mistake of opening my property tax assessment on Sunday morning. I was having a perfectly nice day up until that point. Look, I mean it’s great that the county thinks I’ve picked up that much equity over the last three years, but that in no way means I’m happy about throwing more money to the Cecil County executive and council to piss away buying up even more land for regional parks that seem to be accessioned specifically to provide a place for people to go overdose. 

2. The new normal. I’m looking forward to getting started on the Biden presidency and the conclusion of the Trump impeachment trial. I, for one, am sick and tired of finding myself siding with things members of the Democratic Party are saying and look forward to getting back to opposing 60-70 % of their policy agenda. I’m tired of living in a world turned upside down.

3. Stats. If this week has taught me anything, it’s that my blog readers either a) don’t want to read about insurrection, politics, and all that or b) the zone is so flooded with posts that things aren’t getting through. Views are more than 50% off where I’d expect them to be in a normal week. This, of course, has been anything but a normal week. I’m going to keep doing what I do, even if it’s just me shouting into the void.

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. 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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Two parties. If the last two general election cycles have shown us anything, I think it almost has to be that he two party system has failed us in a pretty spectacular way. I mean here we are, a continental country of 300+ million people and the winnowing process arrived at Donald Trump and Joe Biden as the best candidates we could muster for the office of President of the United States. The 2016 campaign didn’t offer better results. Both ended up being contests between people representing each party that half of the electorate couldn’t stand and that some large part of the electorate would never accept as “legitimate.” We’ve collectively poisoned the damned well and gotten exactly the kind of government we deserve.

2. Reports. For the last seven months, I’ve spent a day or two of most weeks updating various reports. It’s a simple process of adding on new entries, marking off old ones, changing some color coding, and shipping them off to various destinations. The catch, of course, is that no time in the last eight months has anyone so much as asked about the content of these reports. In fact, the only feedback I’ve ever gotten from any of them is “received, acknowledged.” It’s theoretically possible that these are, in fact, tremendously important bits and bytes of information… but based on the distinct lack of feedback being generated, it’s hard to shake the notion that it’s just another exercise in pushing paper.

It turns out there’s no third thing this week since I’ve spewed most of my bile in previous posts. I should probably take this as a win, though if I find myself becoming too satisfied, I fear that Thursdays here will get awfully dull. Somehow, I can’t imagine that really being a problem.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Algorithms. Facebook has recently decided that all of my personalized advertising should be focused on selling me condos in New York, Philadelphia, or DC. I’d be hard pressed to think of where I would want to live less than any of those places. I mean if there was property for sale in a Molokai at the leper colony, I’d be decidedly more interested in it than I am in East Coast city living. Chalk this one up to one of the small ways I know Big Tech still hasn’t completely figured me out.

2. Sport. If COVID-19 hasn’t done anything else, it’s at least muted the coverage of sports in America. With wall to wall coverage of the pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, and the presidential election, professional sports, even in the midst of their own protests, has largely been a below-the-fold story. It’s a pity it won’t stay there once the other stories run their course. Athletes, like the rest of us, are entirely entitled to have an opinion… but I remain under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to care what a bunch of grown adults who spent their time chasing a ball think about the topics of the day.

3. Baltimore. Fifty people were shot in Baltimore last week. It would be easy to blame that on guns – it’s what various Mayors and councilors of Baltimore have done for years. It’s always easier to blame the tool than blame the trigger-pulling constituents themselves. I wonder, though, how much of it is really do to what I have observed as the general ineptitude of city government throughout my adult lifetime. Currently the city can’t manage to keep up with the most basic services like trash collection. What hope, then, is there that the same august group of august leaders will stumble upon the secret sauce to bring violent crime under control? I have great faith that we can rely on them to keep doing what they’re doing while expecting different results.