What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I missed out on the mortgage and rent relief in 2008 and 2020 because I pay my bills and don’t over extend my line of credit. I missed out on stimulus because I spent a decade from age 23-33 moving around the country following jobs that increased my take home pay. I missed Maryland’s vaccine incentive lottery because I got my jab from the first available source – directly from the feds. Now, the Biden Administration wants to give a fresh new hundred-dollar bill to any of the holdouts that show up to get their shot. My question is: At what point, if ever, will doing the right things and making good decisions be specially rewarded? I only ask because the underlying message I’m seeing pretty consistently is “You’ve made good choices and done the right stuff… so sit down, shut the fuck up, and cheerfully fork over those tax dollars so we can pay out and reward people that didn’t.”

2. Personal liberty. I’m a big believer in personal liberty. My position is often best explained in the notion that my rights are inviolate right up to the point where they violate the rights of someone else. Put more colloquially, my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose. I suppose that’s why I’m confused by so many Republicans and Libertarians who are intent on decrying vaccinations, particularly mandated vaccination, as some kind of violation of their personal liberty. My understanding, and I’m quite sure the logic of the Constitution will bear me out on this, is that we have no protected individual right to spread communicable disease while there is a compelling government interest in reducing the spread of an illness that has proven to be a clear and present threat to public health, the overall economy, and body politic at large. To argue that we do have such a right makes you sound like a goddamned idiot.

3. The World Health Organization. The WHO has decided that America shouldn’t even consider giving anyone COVID-19 booster shots; demanding instead that all doses be funneled out of the country. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on this, but since the WHO dropped the ball back in the early days of the Great Plague by not demanding full disclosure from Communist China, I don’t feel like we need to put all that much stock in what the choose to demand now. Americans are a generous people for the most part. We’re exporting hundreds of millions of doses of the various vaccines – every one of which the American taxpayer footed the bill to research, develop, and produce. We rented the hall and engaged the band, so I have no earthly idea what gives the people from the WHO the absolute stones to think they should be calling the tunes.

Honoring the public debt…

It feels like only yesterday that we were last arguing about whether or not the government was going to (or should) raise or suspend the debt ceiling – the legislatively applied limit to the amount the US Government is allowed to borrow in order to keep on conducting business as usual. I’m the first to tell you that Uncle Sam’s hallways and offices are filled to the brim with wasteful spending… but trying to get after that waste by passing a law that says we can only borrow $X unless Congress passes another law to say we can spend $Y more isn’t a recipe to actual limit or reduce government spending. At best, the debt ceiling creates political theater. Now that it’s a thing we have, however, failure to raise the self-imposed limit and drive the federal government into default would result in all manner of catastrophic outcomes. 

I see today that we’re now in the period where the Treasury has begin exercising “extraordinary measures” that should be sufficient to keep us out of default for the time being. The congressional office responsible for making such projections says it’ll probably be October or November before we actually run out of wiggle room. Based on recent history, that will be about the time Congress gets around to doing something. 

Before we go into default and our bond rating collapses, though, we have to get through what’s supposed to be the federal budget season. Given the current state of our politics, I’m not in any way expecting there to be an actual approved operating budget when Fiscal Year 2022 kicks off on the October 1st. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up with a perfect storm of impending default and no functioning bureaucracy simultaneously. That feels like a recipe for good times. 

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here restocking my supply of beans and spam in case we need to ride out a post-plague economic apocalypse. Given the kind of leadership we have in all quarters it feels like the only reasonable course of action. I mean I’m due for some extra time off… with eventual back pay, of course.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Twitter. I follow a pretty eclectic mix of personalities on Twitter – celebrities, politicians, news outlets, historic buildings, porn stars, military thinkers, military do-ers, and government organizations. With few exceptions, the dumpster fire that is Twitter has turned both more dumpster-y and more fiery over the last weeks and months. It’s become considerably less fun. It may be time to clear out the ol’ Twitter feed with a chain saw to see if we can correct that issue before deciding whether or not platform is hopelessly beyond redemption.

2. Government spending. The only time the US Government spent more money than it is right now, we were fighting a war of national survival against Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Now I don’t mean to imply that the Great Plague and its fallout haven’t been bad, but I’m not sure it has been end of western civilization bad. That won’t stop us from collectively throwing absolutely shit tons of money at it though. We seem to have gotten use to throwing around dollar amounts denominated in trillions over the last year, but the reality is the amount of debt we’re collectively financing to pay for short term stimulus versus long term growth is simply staggering. If it’s true that we ended the Cold War, in part, because we spent the USSR into oblivion, I don’t have a hard time imagining the day when we, too, reach the upper limit of our national line of credit. It’ll make what we currently think of as hard times feel like the most welcoming Spring day.

3. Walkers. The warm weather this week, as it does every spring, has brought out the neighborhood walkers in force. This fine. Good on them for wanting to be out stretching their legs at bit. Personally, I prefer taking the air in my own yard and woods, but to each their own. People wandering past all afternoon doesn’t particularly bother me. I’m tucked in to the back of the house with better views than out to the street. The problem, because of course there’s a problem, is that as much as I don’t mind, at least one of my canine residents minds terribly… and shows it by frantically barking at every single thing that moves anywhere within his line of sight. I can’t stop people from walking, but I am strongly considering bricking up every window on the front of the house. 

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.