Strange or strong…

I used to really geek out for the yearly State of the Union Address. I’d cheer and boo and deliver a running commentary to the television the same way some of you guys will watch the Super Bowl this weekend. Now there’s a better than average chance I’ll be asleep not long after the president delivers the near mandatory, if almost farcical, assessment that “the state of our Union is strong.”

It’s a subjective assessment. I mean I’m not sitting here expecting Civil War 2 to break out on Thursday, but we hardly feel as unified and well put together as we were, say, in the heyday of the Eisenhower Administration. 

Now if President Biden walked into the well of the House and proclaimed the Union “stranger” than ever, he’d be on to something. Between the current oddball economic conditions, Russia flailing around in eastern Europe, China doing China stuff, and the modern Know Nothing Party being determined to wreck the institutions of government for shits and grins, strange feels like the more apt description. 

Wrap everything up in the bow of a 24-hour news cycle that’s obsessed with views, and clicks, and clout and even the smallest fire can give off the illusion of burning out of control. With all that in mind, I’m sure I’ll watch the opening number, but there’s really very little that this president or any other could say to convince me that the state of the Union is far stranger than it is strong. 

He’s no Baron Baltimore…

I like having divided government in Maryland. For the last eight years it restrained the Democrats who perennially control both the House of Delegates and the Senate from relentlessly raising taxes unchecked and launching new programs for every wild do-good idea that someone in PG or Montgomery County pitches to them. Those moderating tendencies are also what kept the whackjob MAGA wing of the Republican Party from taking over the state and installing a treason apologist in the governor’s office.

But here we are now with the Democratic Party controlling both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office. It feels like a sure bet that it’ll once again be the season to tax everything under the sun – up to and including the rain that falls upon our golden shores. Those revenues will inevitably flow towards the urbanized counties while western and southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore will be politely told to sit down, shut up, and keep our checkbooks out.

I agree with almost none of Wes Moore’s political philosophy. From taxation, to guns, to his “social justice” initiatives, our new governor will be carefully calibrated to hit all of the Democratic Party’s sweet spots. That’s a strong departure from former Governor Hogan, who regularly annoyed the extreme right wing of his own party while holding moderate policy positions across his tenure in office.

On his inauguration as 63rd Governor of Maryland (not inclusive of our great and illustrious proprietary and royal governors prior to 1776), I wish Mr. Moore joy of the day. I hope he leaves the state better when his term ends than it was when he found it… but I suspect what we’ll see is a growing tax burden, excessive and onerous legislation and regulation, and governmental policy designed more around making people feel good than achieving any objective real world goals.

It’s just not that hard…

The discovery of classified documents in an office used by the then former Vice President Biden, frankly, is no less troubling than the documents recovered from former President Trump’s home/resort in Florida. Some will point to the difference between the Biden documents being found and immediately turned over to representatives of the National Archives versus Trump’s tantruming fight to keep those he possessed as being a significant difference. I’m not at all sure I agree. 

The fact that the current president and his immediate predecessor are both caught up in a situation where classified documents were mishandled is, in a word, troubling. If a few more words were called for, I might wonder aloud what the actual fuck is wrong with these people we entrust with the highest levels of executive power?

Is it that they’ve been empowered so long that they believe rules simply no longer apply, or is it alternately that they’re too ragingly incompetent to keep up with basic procedures governing the care and use of classified materials? Is it malicious? Intentional? Is anyone working for them at least attempting to keep their shit squared away?

Maybe I only get incensed about this because I know what happens to people a lot further down the food chain than the Executive Office of the President when they misplace or otherwise fail to secure their red-edged paperwork.

I welcome a full and complete investigation into the circumstances surrounding the mishandling of classified information at the highest level and can only hope the guilty party receives the appropriate level of sanction for their abject fuckery. I promise you, it’s not that hard to keep information secured appropriately. Whoever cocked it up, whether president or peon should be roundly pummeled about the head and neck.

Say what you feel you need to about me, but one thing I can promise, is that my position on these issues is never, ever about the utter triviality of political party. I want to see the guilty hang regardless of what color tie they wear.

Arizona independent…

I mean you’re not really surprised Krysten Sinema has left the Democratic Party, are you? Over the last two years, Sinema, along with Joe Manchin, built themselves into the powerbrokers of the Senate. That’s easy enough to do when you’re one of two critical votes giving the Democrats majority control. With the just finished election in Georgia giving the Democrats a true Senate majority, Sinema’s departure was the only real way to prop up her status as a Senate dealmaker or deal breaker in the next Congress.

I haven’t read any opinion pieces on it – and probably won’t at this point. Sure, it’s a blatantly self-serving tactic to preserve her power and influence, but that’s just politics. Democratic leaders in the Senate will still need to court her vote and give her voice an outsized hearing in the great debates to come. If anything, they’ll need to be even more solicitous as long as she keeps at least one foot outside the big tent of the Democratic Party. 

I don’t expect a newly Independent Krysten Sinema changes all that much. It’s not as if she’s going to start suddenly voting in bloc with the Treason Wing of the Republican Party. She can, though, be a voice of restraint against any serious far left tomfoolery the progressive caucus in the Senate dreams up. Really, it leaves us more or less exactly where we have been – and honestly a Congress that’s busy tying itself in knots and not passing a metric shit ton of unnecessary new laws isn’t the worst thing I can think of at the moment. I mean an actual federal budget would be nice to have, but as long as they can stumble along and get the continuing resolutions passed on time, maybe that government is best that governs least. 

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Still waiting. Here we are 6 weeks past the “end of max telework” world and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published six weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

2. Just a cold. I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve heard, “oh, I know I look awful but it’s just a cold.” You’d think that over the last three years one thing we might have collectively learned is bringing your germs to an enclosed working environment maybe isn’t a great idea. But no. People are absolutely re-goddamned-diculous and operate under the illusion that this 200+ year old institution can’t possibly operate without them. It can. It has. And it will. Take your sick ass home and work from there if you think you’re that important. Jesus wept.

3. November surprise. In a surprise to no one but hard-core Republican partisans, it turns out that if you single mindedly pursue a laundry list of policies the majority of the electorate disagrees with, nominate a wide slate of candidates who redefine the phrase “sleazy politician,” and hew in lock step with a twice impeached former president who attempted to raise a rebellion against his own government, then come election day you might have a bad time of it. In a mid-term being held amidst historic inflation and economic angst, the party out of power should have walked away with big wins across the board. Republicans should have had a banner night. It turns out that policy still matters. Candidates still matter. Messaging is important. Even if the Republicans squeak out a majority in the House or Senate, this election should be a wakeup call. It probably won’t be. The true believers will double down and get even more loud and obnoxious. 

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. 

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed…

Inconsistency makes me just a little bit crazy. This week, I’ve seen two heavily commented on social media posts that were, for lack of a better term, triggering. 

The first, from the NRA, was a post singing the praises of an Iowa school district that had decided to allow some portion of its teachers to carry a firearm inside the school. I don’t have any deep philosophical problems with that if people are willing and able, but I was amazed at the number of far-right commenters arguing that all teachers should be armed or that it should be required in all school districts. I suspect that a fair number of them were the same people who over the course of the Great Plague were busy calling out teachers as groomers, screaming bloody murder about “unsuitable” books in the classroom, and raging that teacher’s sole purpose was to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into a vast leftist conspiracy. Suddenly, teachers are the last, best guardians of their children. If that’s not inconsistent, I have no idea what is.

The second post, once again related to guns, was a bland piece stating emphatically that only the police should have “high powered” weapons. The comments are exactly what you’d expect – agreement right down the line from precisely the same people who during the Great Plague shouted themselves hoarse that the police couldn’t be trusted and should be defunded and disbanded.  Either the police are a trusted agent to apply state sanctioned force or they’re not. The alternative illustrated by this particular meme seems to be that the police are wildly untrustworthy, but absolutely should be armed well beyond the ability of any citizen or group of citizens to resist their power. I can’t be the only one that sees the logical conflict here, right?

Given the level of engagement with both of the subject posts, I can only assume that applying even some cursory analysis to ideas isn’t something most people do regardless of where on the political divide they fall. That probably shouldn’t be surprising at this point… and I’m really not surprised in any traditional sense of the word. I’ve long since given up on the vast mass of people being anything other than dumber than dog shit. 

None of this sad tale of woe is a surprise, but it can’t help but be a disappointment.

Towards a more curated experience…

A weekend with virtually no news seems to be precisely what the doctor ordered. It was a helpful reminder that there’s enough going on within my span of control to absorb every bit of free time I want to have on any given day. It was kind of great to focus in on those things rather than spending a lot of time focused in on external issues.

My news and media brown out only lasted until I sat down with a computer terminal in front of me this morning. Then I was greeted by headlines warning that “Poll reveals staggering polarization ahead of midterms,” “Fundamentals flashing red; Last pillar of credit crumbles,” and, of course, any number of stories highlighting Donald Trump being his normal, beshitted self. None of those are apt to keep one’s blood pressure down, but what else would anyone really expect on a Monday morning?

I like to imagine I now have all the all the input I need to start scaling back on the amount of hard and soft news I’m consuming on a daily basis, but breaking the habits of a lifetime is probably something of a slow burn. Even if it were possible, I’m not sure I’d ever want to wander through the world completely unaware of what’s happening – if for no other reason than it would create a whole lot of white space when it comes time to sit down every day and do a bit of writing. Short of turning this space into a blog focused on petting dogs and cats, reading books, and highlighting the occasional home cooked meal, keeping a bit of a grip on current events is probably inevitable. 

In any case, I think what that leaves me with is a strong desire to begin curtailing how engaged I am with broad-sourced news coverage – maybe a little less Drudge and a bit more heavily curating Google News to spit out coverage on more tailored issues. It feels like a good idea… and I have no idea if it’s the kind of change I can make work for the long term. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Mail in ballots. I printed out my general election ballot over the weekend. So far all it’s done is sit here on the corner of my desk like a lump. It hasn’t jumped up and subverted an election. It hasn’t even tried to multiply itself or throw itself into the trash so it couldn’t be counted. I’m highly disappointed that this mail in ballot doesn’t seem to have any of the magical qualities that Republicans have been warning me about for the last two years. In fact, it’s almost like they’re making up stories about evil mail in ballots on the spot and talking out their collective asses for their own devious purposes. 

2. The union. We’ve been paying attention to the Great Plague since about March 2020. That’s two and a half years the union that nominally represents most non-supervisory employees at my place of work has had to get their act together in negotiating what right looks like in terms of an updated policy for telework. Their failure to get it done has left us falling back on the policy that was in force in 2019 and bears little resemblance to the post-plague reality of information work. I don’t know what pie in the sky fuckery the executive board was demanding, but I know management’s proposal of two days per week in the office is miles ahead of where they wanted to be when the issue was discussed 18 months ago. From where I’m sitting, it looks like the union is all that’s standing between us and picking up an additional day of telework each week. I didn’t have much use for federal employee unions before this, but dragging out the process on this just adds insult to injury. I strongly encourage AFGE Local 1904 to unfuck themselves as soon as humanly possible because right now all they seem to be is an obstacle.

3. Vehicle repair. I’m driving a 12-year-old truck with nearly 140,000 miles on it. I’m all too aware that we’ve reached a point in our relationship when some repair work is just going to be unavoidable. More than the repairs themselves, it’s just the inconvenience of it that really gets to me. Getting it diagnosed, dropping it off for an unknown about of time to have the service done, arranging for alternate transportation from the shop to home and back again for pick up. It’s just filled with bits and bobs that conspire against my well worn in day-to-day habits.  So, you could say it’s more the inconvenience of it that the actual work that needs doing… and it’s all before whatever the absurd cost ends up being. Alas, that last bit is an inevitable consequence of my being a mechanical incompetent, so there’s no one to blame there but myself.