My own agenda…

I use to treat the State of the Union Address like my own version of the Super Bowl – an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry while consuming the massive amounts of information being beamed directly into my head from the well of the House and a few well-selected news sites. It was good times, even with the understanding that what was being delivered live on television was, at best, a wish list of ideas rather than any definitive statements of policy.

Politics for the most part has joined the increasingly large number of topics that I mostly lack the interest in dealing with on the wholesale level. Yes, there are a few areas I care passionately about and pay close attention to, but the broader discussion of how many times a speech is interrupted by applause, or who did something stupid 25 years ago, or gods forbid, said something that someone, somewhere might find in poor taste. I’m sorry, but the field in which I grow my fucks is desolate and barren. I have not one more to give on “issues” like those.

So, like the actual Super Bowl that preceded it, I will not be tuning in to hear the president’s remarks on the State of the Union tonight. I know I can rest assured that by the time I wake up tomorrow morning Twitter will be sure to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to think about it. I’ll read the highlights. Probably.

Congress and the president have their own agendas and I have mine. Between the three, I’ll let you be the judge of which one I think is the most important. 

The never-ending presidential election cycle…

It’s January 2018 and as far as I can tell, 47 people have already declared themselves candidates for president. For the 2020 election cycle. For an election that is still 21 months away. 

I would honestly rather be kicked in the testicles once a day from now until November 10, 2020 than listen to any of these hopefuls spend the next too many months screaming “look at me, look at me” in their pursuit of their fifteen minutes in the national spotlight. 

It’s not that I’m disinterested in politics, it’s just that in January of the year before a scheduled election, I’m not interested in paying attention. No one giving their stump speech to a sparse crowd in the depths of an Iowa winter is going to convince me to change policy positions I’ve held my entire life. What on earth do I have to gain from listening to them at this point other than a few extra points the next time someone decides to take my blood pressure?

For an election on the national stage, I’m not paying all that much attention until about a month before the Maryland primary. The candidates still in the race at that point are the ones who might have a chance of being my party’s nominee, whose positions I will actually need to consider before casting my ballot. 

There’s no way you’re ever going to convince me that the ones out there jibber jabbering now are out to do anything more than hear themselves talk. With the limited time and attention I have available, I can promise you I won’t be spending it on indulging them.

My problem with Trump…

My friends on the left like to opine regularly that President Donald Trump is some combination of crazy, evil, a nazi, morally bankrupt, criminally corrupt, beholden to the Russians, or all of the preceding. In the same breath they want to believe he is simultaneously dumb as a stone as well as the mastermind of the greatest con in the history of the republic.

My actual problem with Trump isn’t any of these things, though. From my wheelhouse, I agree with a fair number of his basic policies. Even here in over-taxed Maryland I benefited from his tax reform plan. I believe the we ought to have tight control over who is allowed into the country and a strong defense on the southern border… and the northern border… and at all the air and seaports in between. I think the federal government would best served by getting out of the education policy business – funding schools through block grants to the states if we collectively insist that the federal government absolutely has to be involved in some way. 

By the same token I soundly disagree with his approaching the State Department and international diplomacy as an afterthought. I question his positions on when and how to employ the mailed fist of the US military. Unlike some people, though, I somehow manage not to slobber all over myself while articulating what I believe.

At the heart of it, I suspect that’s what I find most troubling about the age of Trump. He’s a man with no indoor voice and no filter. There are ways to get most of his agenda accomplished – or there were when his party held all the reigns in congress. Most of those ways, though, required some deft maneuvering, horsetrading, and not saying much – basically old school political wrangling.

I never found Donald Trump a particularly appealing candidate. His approach to politics is boorish and largely ineffective and that’s my biggest problem with him. You’d think The Art of the Deal would have included a chapter on subtilty, keeping your own council, and the value of working the system behind the scenes. As for the shrill crowing of the “progressive” left, well, I discount a fair amount of that noise as more or less what they’d be casting at any candidate who dared not share their particularly skewed view of the world. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Running out of time. Even as I grudgingly accept the fact that it’s necessary to work in exchange for money which I can then exchange for goods and services, I cannot quite shake off the feeling that I’d rather be safely tucked into Fortress Jeff with an endless supply of hot coffee and a mountain of books to read. Mentally preparing myself to go out and rejoin the world is, in a word, traumatic. It’s times like this I can see how one might just get suckered into the fool’s gold appeal of something like a “universal basic income” scheme.

2. January finances. As a professional adult head of household, January has always been a budget buster of a month for me. It’s the month when my biggest bills come due for the year – car insurance, home owner’s association dues, paying off Christmas gifts and travel expenses, the start of the winter heating season, and a few others. No matter how well the year is budgeted, January always comes around like a swift kick in the teeth and throw in one more large dollar item than I was projecting. It’s like the new year giving you a rabbit punch just to remind you that just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s anything more than business as usual.

3. Congress and the president. If you thought having the executive and legislative branches run by the same party put the “fun” in dysfunctional, just wait until you see the magnificent shitshow that Washington devolves into this afternoon when Democrats assume power in the House of Representatives. To all those who scream “false equivalency” or who want to blame one side or the other, I’ll simply say go fuck yourself. A pox on both their houses. No one sitting in our hallowed halls of power is an innocent.

You ain’t seen nothing yet…

There are approximately 76 million news and commentary sites you can go to today that are perfectly happy to drone on and on about what they expect Democratic control of the House of Representatives, a more entrenched Republican position in the Senate, and the host of other election results to mean. What’s going to happen when the 116th Congress is gaveled into session on the 3rd of January? Opinions will range from the president and congressional leaders finding some compromise on massive infrastructure spending to a wildly vindictive House leadership that will investigate the president to within an inch of his political life and then impeach him. On this Wednesday after election day, either one feels like it’s within the realm of possibility.

What’s really happening, though, is that across the country 435 current and elect-members of the House are waking up, smiling at their good fortune, and kicking off their fundraising efforts for the 2020 election cycle. Current and future senators will be doing the same thing, although some with a slightly less focused sense of urgency with their next election cycle as far as 6 years off. Political pros from across the spectrum are dusting off their presidential election year plans and looking for ways to fill up their war chests. Those with an eye towards the presidency in 2020 have already been building their machine, quietly, for two years or more.

Campaigns are never really over. There may appear to be a pause between one and the next, but that’s just because the news cycle focuses on something else for a little while – Firing an Attorney General is an especially effective distractor if you have one you can spare. The fundraisers, staff, and key volunteers who under-gird elections in this country are hard at work laying the groundwork for the next iteration of Who Wants to be a President.

If you thought 2016 was bad, or 2018 made you clutch granny’s pearls, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Eight hours under gag…

As an employee of the Executive branch, I’m covered by what’s commonly known as the Hatch Act of 1939, otherwise known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, or Public Law 76-252. The intent of the Hatch Act is fairly straightforward, even if the means and methods by which it is enforced are somewhat murky. The act, essentially, says that as a federal employee, I cannot seek election to a partisan office for the duration of my employment and more importantly that I can’t use my official position or government time and equipment for purposes of campaigning, fundraising, promoting, or engaging in political activity while I’m “on the clock.”

Old Man Hatch had a pretty good idea about establishing and keeping the core of the civil service reasonably non-partisan as we transact the day to day business of government. Personally, I’ve I’ve never seen an employee willfully undermining the executive branch while on the clock in my tenure serving under both Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t know if that’s because of the Hatch Act or because we started killing off the spoils system in 1883 with the Pendelton Act. Of course how “non-partisan” the bureaucracy is when it comes to which parties and candidates it supports in our spare time is wide open for debate.

The Office of Special Counsel, supreme adjudicator of all things Hatch Act, has a number of laundry lists filled with what various types of executive branch employee may or may not do. What most of them boil down to is “don’t advocate for a particular candidate or party on government time.” It seems like a reasonable rule. It’s why you find me posting at all during the typical weekday it’s a funny, funny meme or a news article. I try very hard to live within Hatch’s spirit and intent as well as within its letter.

I do, however, want the record to show that being Hatched makes sitting quietly on social media on days like today a monumental exercise in self restraint. Something for which I don’t think we get nearly enough credit every other November.

Birthright…

For most of the history of the republic there have been three main pathways to citizenship. You could be born to parents who were American citizens (citizenship by blood), or born physically inside the territorial boundaries of the United States (citizenship by soil), or you could go through the process of naturalization by renouncing your allegiance to a foreign country and swearing allegiance to the United States. That seems simple enough, right?

Except, of course, nothing is ever that simple. Maybe it was once, but from our seat here in the 21st century, when every aspect of government has been bureaucratized and politics has been almost weaponized, it’s not as simple as it seems. Or perhaps it’s not as simple as it even should be.

The complexity arrives in the form of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, in part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”

At first glance, it’s straightforward enough. If you’re born or naturalized in the United States, you are a citizen. Except maybe not. The argument here rests on what the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means. Is the physical act of being withing the boarders of the United States sufficient to meet the threshold of being subject to the jurisdiction? Does it apply only to those who find themselves lawfully within the jurisdiction (green card holders, for example)? If you are in the country illegally does that in itself create a situation where you have placed yourself, by definition, in a position of being not subject to the jurisdiction by virtue of not abiding by the laws and statutes governing immigration.

Among the many things I’m not is a constitutional scholar, but I am an avid student of history. The president, it’s reported, intends to test the limits of the 14th Amendment with an Executive Order. Since the court has been silent on this particular constitutional detail for the last 120 years, the administration seems to feel the time is ripe for a test case. Sure, it will cause both sides of the political spectrum to lose their minds even more than usual, but the discussion of constitutional merits by people who can manage to keep their heads will be fascinating.

For years studying history and politics all I heard was “how could you do that” or “oh, it’s so boring.” It’s 2018 and if you’re bored by politics do you even have a pulse?