Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

Doubts…

Maryland’s governor started out a few weeks ago cautioning residents about the virus. Over the last several weeks, those advisories took on ever increasing urgency as it because clear that politely asking people to stay at home wasn’t working – as they continued to congregate at beaches, parks, and bars. Then he ordered those places shuttered… and people found other ways to gather. This morning he announced a wide reaching “stay at home” order, providing criminal penalties for for doing those things we were previously advised to avoid.

Aside from my own instinctive chafing at government so dramatically curtailing the scope of our collective liberty (even in the name of a good cause), I have serious doubts about the average citizen’s ability or willingness to comply with what are currently open ended orders to stay put. Americans have a long and storied history of going where the government of the day tells them not to go. It’s in no small part the story of our nation’s westward expansion… although I don’t think the desire to move the family west to homestead Nebraska is going to be the issue in the here and now.

I’ve spent a large portion of my adult life being utterly happy staying home. That’s not true for most people. It’s even less true when you can’t tell them how long they’ll be expected to stay put. Many of us are starting week 2 or 3 of this new normal and despite the gallows humor that suffuses social media, there’s a decided undercurrent of fear and worry out there too. How long my fellow citizens are willing to sit in their homes with those two companions remains to be seen. 

I’ve got my doubts that “indefinitely” is going to be an answer some, or even many, will accept as the weeks continue to stretch on, even if that means going about against the best medical advice and in violation of our newly instituted executive orders. 

What Annoys Jeff this week?

1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.

2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.

3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.

A Maryland Republican…

I’m a Maryland Republican. In most places in the middle part of the country that would make me all but a Democrat. With the reliable rift of blue stretching down from Baltimore County through the suburban counties south of DC, Maryland is effectively a one party state – but one that allows for an occasional quirk of electing Republican governors.

I’m not the biggest fan of Larry Hogan. There are issues he’s given up on that I would dearly like to see him fight for – though in a state where the Democratic controlled legislature can overwhelm any gubanatorial veto easily, those fights would be barely more than a gesture. He’s actually done better than I expected and that earned him my vote for a second chance at the big chair.

Even knowing the long odds of any Republican running for state wide office here in the Old Line State, I schlepped to my polling place after work. In reliably ruby red Cecil County, there were plenty of races where my vote will make a difference. Unlike the state offices, for local races here at the upper edge of the Eastern Shore, the Republican primary basically makes the general election a foregone conclusion.

I’ve done my bit to make sure the state has a fighting chance of not getting lost into single-party hellscape of forever higher taxes, runaway spending, and increasingly invasive government “services.” Maybe we can’t hold the line indefinitely, but I’ve got another 16 or so years before I can bail out for somewhere where the state government doesn’t seem determined to be all things to all people so I’ve got to do what I can when I can.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. First Amendment. It doesn’t mean what people seem to think it means. The 1st guarantees that the government shall not muzzle or punish speech except in the most extreme or dangerous circumstances. It means that government won’t stop you from saying any stupid thing that crosses your mind. It does not protect you from the consequences of saying that stupid thing, however. It doesn’t in any way prevent popular backlash against your asinine idea. Your friends are free to shun you. Companies are free to no longer sponsor you. Other people are free to call you a sanctimonious asshat. See, you’re free to say what you will, but you are far from free of the social consequences of stupid things that fly out of your mouth. Sometimes the right to speak is best expressed by using it to say nothing at all. More people should avail themselves of the opportunity to just shut the fuck up.

2. School start date. I’m perplexed at the at why the day public schools open across the state of Maryland is this an issue for the governor. I vaguely recall Republicans being the party of small government. And this is precisely the kind of issue that’s best decided at the local level. I like Hogan. He’s an iconic red governor in a blue state. But on this one I’m just wondering why on earth he’s decided to wade into this non-issue.

3. Quite frankly I’m starting a four day weekend just now, so there is absolutely no third thing that annoys me at the moment. There may well have been earlier this week, but now it’s simply faded into the background of a million other annoying things that I don’t need to deal with or in any way think about until Tuesday.

Baltimore burning…

Having lived in Memphis, I though I’d seen some of the worst behavior I could expect out of a city. But no, Baltimore has gone and set the bar far, far higher (lower?) than anything I experienced on the banks of the Big Muddy.

Senior city leaders appear to be absent. The Baltimore Police Department has clearly been instructed to be non-confrontational and do as little as possible to protect life and property – I’m assuming the powers that be have some misguided notion that the rioters will just wear themselves down, everyone will go home, and tomorrow will be sunshine and puppy dogs. The fact that those officers are resisting the urge to bang heads while bricks and bottles fly at their heads is a huge statement about their professionalism. Under the same circumstances I wouldn’t be so disciplined.

After four hours of mob rule, the governor did finally declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard, but that’s not an “instant on” solution. It’s too little, too late and now night is falling.

I love Maryland. I sacrificed to get back to my home state to build a life with my feet firmly planted on my native soil. Tonight though, I am embarrassed that the Old Line is being seen around the world as a state that let its major city burn. I’m embarrassed at the behavior of my fellow citizens. I’m embarrassed by our elected leaders who wanted to “give the protestors room” to destroy things. And I’m embarrassed that we don’t have the fortitude or political will to put down these rioters using every tool in our arsenal. If they’re not going to respect the rule of law, at least let the bastards fear the consequences of that disrespect.

No surer way…

There’s no surer way to convince me to do something than to tell me I can’t. That’s why I take Maryland’s new gun laws set to go into effect on October 1st a personal affront and challenge. The modern sporting rifle (a.k.a. Assault Rifle; a.k.a. Evil Black Gun; a.k.a. Military Style Rifle), isn’t something I would have picked up for my own collection. I’m not a rifle guy for the most part. I’ve probably put more rounds through an old beat up tube-fed .22 than I have any combination of the other rifles I’ve ever had my hands on. Then the governor and state legislature of MD_CompliantMaryland did something stupid. They told me and every other law abiding gun owner in the state that we shouldn’t be allowed to have these “scary” looking rifles because someone, somewhere might use them for devious purposes. The same thing could be said of kitchen knives, of course. I mean does anyone really “need” that big, scary looking butcher knife or meat cleaver? Just think of all the needless kitchen related injuries we could prevent if we were only allowed to buy paring knives. Sigh. I’m exhausted from making hundreds of variations of that argument every time someone asks why I insist on exercising my Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, I would have lived out my life and been perfectly happy with an old bolt action rifle if my state’s governor wasn’t dead set on telling me what I should or shouldn’t want or be able to own. We arm NATO countries. We arm the Iraqis. We arm the Egyptians. We arm the Afghanis. We arm the Syrians. Hell, within my own lifetime we even armed the Iranians. We send guns to Mexico that are turned on our own. But when it comes to allowing Americans to arm themselves against threats to our life, liberty, and property, well, that’s a bridge too far.

I don’t understand a world where that makes sense. And that’s why as soon as some official in Washington or Annapolis says I shouldn’t want something, I feel the compulsion to run out and start hoarding it. I’m not sure I can put a finger on the last law passed in either place that didn’t result in more taxes out of my pocket or being allowed to enjoy fewer personal liberties. Until that trend reverses course, exercising all your rights at every possible opportunity just makes good sense.

Maybe that day will never come. If it doesn’t, at least I’ll be able to say I’ve done my small part.

Molon labe.

Misfire one and two…

Like most of the things I do when driven by good intentions, I should fes up to two misfires in the last 24 hours. The first, a blog post that went live on a Friday night around 8:30 based on the assumption that everyone would be paying attention to other things, proved to be my single most viewed post since March 2011. The next time I try sliding something past you people, I’ll show up at 3:30 on a Wednesday morning.

The second misfire came this morning, with my plan to drop in on the first big local gun show of the year. I’ve got a list of items I’m looking to pick up… some functional, some esoteric, and others, as the saying goes, just because I can (at least for the time being). That was my thinking anyway. Since my experience with gun shows has been almost exclusively in states that once rebelled against the Union, I was decidedly unprepared for the strict scrutiny, litany of nausea inducing rules, and sheer tonnage of regulations that the state of Maryland applies to it’s subjects who wish to exercise their rights enshrined in the Second Amendment.

The bottom line is that I opted out of the circus that I’m sure descended on the state fairgrounds this morning. For the time being there remain more efficient and still legal ways of doing business. I have no interest in becoming a felon, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to subject myself to the whims of the state legislature and of our most mighty and exalted lord governor unless I absolutely can’t avoid it.

Emissions Inspection…

One of the things that apparently changed here in the great state of Maryland while I was gone is a requirement for a regular vehicle emissions test. Since I’ve never seen a smoggy day here in Cecil County, I’ll assume that little gem and its $14 fee is one of the governor’s non-tax taxes. I’m not even going to go into the general ridiculousness of needing to get an emissions test on a vehicle that passed the invasive state vehicle inspection less than a year ago and that’s only 2 years old with less than 40,000 miles on it to begin with. I’d honestly feel better about it if the MVA would just send me a letter saying send us $14 or we’re going to suspend your license. Admitting that the state wants money for nothing would at least be honest, but that’s probably too much to expect when it’s so easy to just give the illusion of doing something productive. According to the print out, I’m good now through August of 2014, or until they decide they need to look at some other pointless thing and bill me $20 for the privilege.

Welcome to the People’s Republic of Maryland…

One of the last discussions about taxes I remember hearing in Tennessee was the need for an amendment to the state constitution that would permanently bar the government from levying a state income tax. Lord knows the state, county, and city still got their cut of your income through use fees, car registration fees, sales taxes, and property taxes so it wasn’t exactly like Tennessee was some kind of bizarre tax-free never-never land. Now that I’m back in my beloved Maryland and starting to pay attention to things again, I’ve seen a governor that has already increased tolls across the state and now wants to increase the state income tax and gas tax as well as increasing just about any fee he can think of.

Now I had my share of issues with Tennessee, but the tax thing is one that they were addressing pretty well. If I would have rented an apartment instead of becoming a property owner, by tax footprint there would have been almost negligible. Here in Maryland I’m already seeing a ridiculous percentage of my pay getting sucked up my direct taxes and by a laundry list of special fees and excise taxes… and that’s before I get around to buying a house and paying yet more taxes. Still, the governor says he needs more, but hey, he was able to slow the rate of spending growth to only 2% this year so we should all be congratulating him. That’s not a 2% decrease in spending, people… It’s “only” growing spending at 2%. If my income were growing at the same 2%, I’d be happy to kick in a little extra every month, but since it’s been frozen for two years it’s hard to be very sympathetic.

Maybe the General Assembly will stave off some of the more wild-eyed increases, but I suspect that most of the governor’s agenda will pass in some form or another. It may not be a mortal lock, but it’s a safe bet that come July 1st, we’re all going to have more bills to pay. Thank Governor O’Malley, kids.