It’s not about your rights, it’s about their power…

Every time someone mentions requiring a formal system of voter identification, a hue and cry arises that it’s just people placing a structural and financial impediment in the way of someone exercising their rights under the Constitution. It’s all I can do not to laugh them out of the room when they roll out that old chestnut.

Let’s assume I’m a responsible adult with no criminal record who has never owned a firearm, but wants to purchase a handgun to protect my home and property. In order to exercise my rights under the Second Amendment, here’s a taste of the structural and financial hurdles the State of Maryland throws up between me and my rights.

To begin the process, I need to apply for the Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL). All told, the basic requirements involve paying a $50 application fee after completing a 4 hours course ($95) and submitting fingerprints ($65). Then I’ll wait for between 2-4 weeks while the state adjudicates my application. After that, I can go to a gun shop, purchase the handgun I want and wait an additional week or longer for that application to be reviewed by the state. This first hurdle involved a minimum of $210, 4 hours of class time, and 3-5 weeks of various waiting periods. Assuming everything is approved, I’ll then pay $20 every 10 years to renew my HQL. 

In order to take the next step and be approved to carry my handgun outside the home, I’d need to check off all the boxes to secure the Maryland Wear and Carry Permit. Submitting this application involves a $75 application fee, another set of fingerprints ($65), and a 16 hour class ($350). The state then has 90 days to review the application. The cost of meeting all the requirements for the wear and carry permit is $490, 16 hours of classroom time, and up to a 90 day wait. If successfully approved, the wear and carry permit in Maryland requires renewal after two years for the initial permit and three years for each subsequent renewal. There is a $50 renewal fee and 8 hour class ($125) for each renewal application. 

Without factoring in the additional costs of renewal or the cost of the actual gun, the all in cost to fully exercise your Second Amendment rights in Maryland involves $700 cash out of pocket, 20 hours in the classroom, and about 120 days of wait time. Talk about setting up financial and structural roadblocks.

So, you see, when they screech that the $24 fee for state issued photo identification that can be issued on the day it’s applied for is a roadblock to someone’s right to vote, I find that argument wildly unmoving… unless, of course, their argument really isn’t about helping people exercise their rights and more about maintaining institutionalized power among the political class. In that case, it makes perfect sense.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Shopping local. There’s a local shop that will remain nameless that I’ve been trying to go to for weeks now. According to the sign on the door and the internet, they open at 10:00 every morning seven days a week. I know they’re not closed as I’ve seen the place open when I’ve been on my way to do other things, but the three times now I’ve tried to go there between 11:00 and noon on Saturday, they’ve been locked up tighter than a drum. Sometimes their “open” light will even be on, but the place is dark and the tumbleweeds roll across the parking lot. I like doing business with this outfit – otherwise I wouldn’t have already given them three chances – but there’s way too much competition out there from other brick and mortar shops and the internet to keep getting met with a dark storefront at the times that are convenient and when you’d think would be some of the most lucrative sales hours of the week.

2. Good help. As the master bathroom limped towards completion, I began turning my attention towards a few minor projects I wanted to have knocked out before the cold weather arrived. The first, getting the exterior trim scraped and painted, was lined up. It would have been a quick hit, $1,000 “fill in” project. Something one painter could have knocked out in half a day when they had down time between other, larger projects. I thought we were set to go, but the painters have gone radio silent. The second, an upgraded and improved whole-house water filter was also on the drawing board. Water tests were done and the design was supposed to be in progress. And now the plumber has stopped replying to calls and messages. Don’t get me started on the gutter people who said they’ve been here but weren’t (as evidenced by the lack of them being on camera and the fact that they never sent me a bill).  I’ve got jobs to do and cash money to spend, but finding someone who wants to do the former to get the latter is like pushing shit uphill. I absolutely get why people say “no one wants to work anymore.” So instead of hiring a local company, I’ll go out and spend twice as much with the big national or regional outfits that have consistently showed up when I’ve called.

3. Free shit. In the last fifteen years we’ve been given every kind of handout you can imagine. From the days of the 2008 financial crisis to student loan forgiveness, there’s cash flowing for everyone. Well, as long as you’re the right kind of everyone, I suppose; one that checks the box on whatever social, demographic, or political group our elected representatives are trying to curry favor with at the time. My key take away is that I don’t fit into any of those groups. I apparently fall into a separate category that’s always the billpayer and never the beneficiary of the largess that’s poured out the Treasury’s back door. A million years ago when a group of us asked our high school principal to schedule an expanded slate of AP classes, he waived us off by explaining “You smart kids will do okay no matter what we do to you.” I think he even believed that was some kind of compliment. It’s different lyrics, but the same old song.

Seven months…

About a week ago, I surpassed the point where the total amount I’ve socked away towards my defined contribution retirement plan (think 401k) this year finally outstripped the amount of federal taxes I’ve paid over the same period of time. For seven full months of every year, there’s more deducted towards the maintenance and upkeep of the federal government than there is for my own maintenance and upkeep in old age. By the end of the year, I’ll have stashed away about $600 more in my 401k equivalent than will be deducted in federal income tax.

If you extend this mental exercise to include Social Security and Medicare, the numbers get even more egregious since the reasonable assumption is to expect the big-ticket entitlement programs to either see payouts reduced, be means tested, or go extinct between now and the time I’ll be eligible to tap them as a source of income / benefits. It takes an awfully big leap of faith for someone in my age bracket to think of either Social Security or Medicare as anything other than an additional tax drag for which we’ll never get back out what we put in.

Uncle Sugar knows his flagship entitlement program is running out of cash. Social Security was “saved” in the 80s using a combination of accounting gimmicks and changing the “terms of service.” It’ll have to be “saved” again sometime between now and 2035, when the most recent projections say it will no longer be able to pay out its full promised benefit. Coincidently that’s right about the time I’ll otherwise be eligible to walk out the door after a 33-year career, so I have more than a passing interest in what fuckery our alleged leaders will get up to in order to avoid grabbing the political third rail with both hands.

It seems to me that we have a system intentionally designed to encourage reliance on big government generosity rather than personal responsibility and savings. God knows I’d be in a far better position now if every nickel taxed away under the FICA withholding had been invested conservatively in a broad market index fund rather than converted into a Ponzi-esque promissory note. Encouraging people to invest their own money responsibly, though, doesn’t keep them beholden to Uncle for doling out a meager old age pension. It’s easier to tax their income at the state and federal level, tack on a bunch of various “withholdings,” and make it incredibly challenging to carve out enough income over and above day-to-day bills to generate a credible, independent nest egg. It’s a sure way to guarantee people will scream bloody murder if they’re told their entitlements are in danger.

However it’s “fixed” in the future, I operate from the assumption that none of the changes will be to my benefit no matter how much cash I’ve poured into the machine over my working life. Like most games, this one is rigged in favor of the house and at this point, I just take it as a given that the money taxed away is lost and gone forever. The only advice I’ve found that feels applicable is to shelter what you can, stash as much as you can of what you can’t shelter, and accept that in all likelihood you’re going to need to self-finance your last act. It’s annoying as all hell, but once I accepted it as reality, it got a whole lot easier to plan for that particular future instead of just being pissed off… but rest assured it’s going to chap my ass every single time I see a pay stub and the reminder what’s going where and how deeply the political class have their hands in our collective pocket.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Busses. I spent more of the week than I want to admit thinking about busses. One of the “other duties as assigned” that landed on my desk years ago for reasons that still defy logic, is facilitating a couple of charter busses to haul people from the office down to DC for an annual trade show every fall. It’s a boondoggle that was happily suspended due to the Great Plague for the last two years. It’s back with a vengeance for 2022, though, so now I’m in a great paper chase to figure out what hoops must be cleared to reserve, pay for, and fill up a couple of busses for people who are mostly interested in walking the exhibit floor and filling their bags up with cheap giveaway swag. 

2. Duplicate names. I do my best when it comes to naming posts not to repeat myself. After 3,715 posts, though, some dupes slip through. It makes me absolutely buggy when I catch the site address reading something like jeffreytharp.com/duplicate-name-2. If I’d have had any idea that I’d be almost 4,000 posts deep all these years later, I’d have probably kept better track of titles as I went along, but it seems that ship has probably sailed. I’m certainly not going to go back and try to track it all at this late date. Just know, when you see a duplicate name it’s just a small thing that makes me want to burn down the whole internet. 

3. Reality avoidance. So, we have stubbornly high inflation, two quarter decline in gross domestic product, and a midterm election barely three months away. The president has released a statement saying, in part “we are on the right path.” It’s hard to imagine a more tone-deaf thing to say minutes after the Bureau of Economic Analysis releases their quarterly report indicating that we’re now in an economic environment that’s commonly called recessionary. In 1988, George H.W. Bush got throttled at the polls because he was out of touch with the domestic economy. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was turned out of office largely on the back of high inflation and negligible economic growth. I get that most people like to forget history, but if I’m a Democrat running in a competitive race in 2022, I’m scared to death that my party’s leaders are determined to avoid reality.

Moron…

Lauren Bobert, the Republican representing Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, has gone on record as being in favor of giving up America’s centuries old experiment as a continent-wide constitutional republic in favor of adopting Christian theocracy as our fundamental basis of government.

Notwithstanding the Constitution’s First Amendment, which says, in part “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” Lauren argues that “The church is supposed to direct the government.” Apparently after careful study of the constitutional issues involved, she’s just “tired of this separation of church and state junk.”

I could go into the historical antecedents of why there is a separation between church and state in this country. I’ll spare you the details, but I’d start with the Pilgrims, then maybe move on to Maryland’s founding as a safe haven for English Catholics before discussing revolutionary era resistance to the established Church of England. Then I’d finish up with Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. Those are just sort of the off the top of my head indicators of why Lauren is wrong. 

What the distinguished representative from Colorado is advocating is nothing short of an American Christian version of the Taliban, where we all live under whatever grotesquely perverted tenants of the faith a Pastor-in-Chief decides are going to be enforced on any given day. The very idea of it would be laughable if she wasn’t being applauded by so many kooks and weirdos who have slithered their way into positions of greater or lesser power – and the followers who lap up whatever goofy bullshit is laid out in front of them.

Lauren, based on her words and deeds, is obviously a moron who has absolutely no failsafe between whatever dumbass idea is rattling around between her ears and what comes out her mouth. As a sitting member of Congress, she took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. You’d think maybe she’d have taken the time to glance through the paperwork before signing off on it. Then again, maybe civics is just one of those things they don’t teach in Colorado until after the point she decided she had enough book learning.

A warm bucket of spit…

Let me put the bottom line up front: Regardless of your philosophy, neither the Democratic nor Republican Party are your friend. That couldn’t be any clearer than when, 15 minutes after the Supreme Court announced their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, both parties had fired off fundraising emails to their every-person-whose-name-ever-ended-up-on-one-of-their-mailing-list lists. To be clear, when the country needed leadership, the response from both parties (and many of our individual politicians) was “Hey, send me $15.”

Republicans have, since 1973, stated often and loudly that their goal of undoing Roe v. Wade. The fact they did it once they had the power to do so shouldn’t be shocking. They’ve literally been saying it to anyone who would listen for 50 years. Over that half a century, though, I can’t remember one single serious effort by the Democratic Party to enshrine a woman’s right to choose or bodily autonomy into law. Instead, they relied on the judgement of the court and used Roe as a never-ending fundraising opportunity. 

The Republican Party, stalwart defenders of the Second Amendment, have treated gun rights the same way. Given ample opportunity when controlling the presidency and having majorities in Congress, they inexplicably failed to legislate a national right to carry or even just to refine and expand the law to codify an individual right to self-defense. At every turn, though, Republican politicians have used supporters if the Second Amendment to fill their coffers. 

In their own way Roe and the ambiguity of the Second Amendment were the gifts that kept on giving for politicians who never saw a dollar they didn’t want in their own campaign war chest. Maybe I’m too cynical, but it seems to me that our legacy political parties are far more invested in keeping these marquee issues alive as fundraising platforms than in making sure it doesn’t take just five votes to undo one, or all of our rights.

So, I wish everyone would spare me with all the posts about Democrats rallying to defend the right to choose or Republicans defending the right to carry. Neither party is “fighting for our rights.” They’re fighting for their own self-interest. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Democrats are rallying to the cause of some of our rights while ignoring plenty of others. Plenty of individuals who happen to be Republicans are fighting for some rights while likewise ignoring plenty of others.

As for me, I’ll stand where I always have – shoulder to shoulder with anyone who seeks to advance the cause of liberty. I’ll support all the rights, because I don’t want a single one of them ever left to the whims of mere, feckless politicians. Maybe that’s the difference between me and those who cling to their label as “Democrat” or “Republican.” Our rights, all of them, are wealth beyond value… and our legacy political parties increasingly prove that they’re not worth a warm bucket of spit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Political (and non-political) violence. The halls of Congress, school, the workplace, the local supermarket, and nearly everywhere has always been filled with people who make me want to crack skulls. Somehow, I’ve always managed to resist the temptation to threaten or carry such notions into action. I’ve never found it particularly hard to avail myself of that restraint. Increasingly, issuing threats, tantrum throwing, and violent outbursts seems to be turning into the default setting. I’ll never for the life of me really understand why this section of the population can’t glom on to the notion that there are always going to be people doing shit they don’t like and the best solution is to just go home, have a highball, and remember that 99.99% of what anyone else does has absolutely no impact on their daily life. For the other .01% of the time, hire a lawyer and let them fight it out instead of acting like some kind of bloody ill-bred yokel.

Door-to-door sales. As a 44-year-old man, I can honestly say that I’ve never purchased anything (Girl Scout cookies excluded), from someone shilling their wares from door to door. There’s a long and storied tradition of this type of marketing, but this is the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two and I can order almost anything I can imagine for two-day delivery directly to my doorstep without the add inconvenience of needing to tell an over-eager salesman no. I appreciate that everyone needs to work, but I’m not looking for a drive-by power washing any more than I’m looking for a new selection of Fuller Brush products or a set of encyclopedias.

Magically appearing new rights. Food is a right. College is a right. Healthcare is a right. A house is a right. Transportation is a right. This is a right. That is a right. Every damned thing you can think of is suddenly a right and should be provided to people at no cost to them. Except, of course, someone is always going to have to pay. Usually they mean “the government” should pay for it, but which they mean that whatever they’d decided is a right today should be paid for by those of us who are a) Paying the local, state, and federal income taxes the government will use to pay these things and b) Already paying for our own food, college, healthcare, house, and transportation. If I wanted to support a local family of four, I’d have had one of my own by now. You know what I see very little discussion of when people talk about their “right” to other people’s money? If you guessed getting a job and being responsible for yourself, your actions, your decisions, and your future, you’re a spot-on guesser. Well done.

The limit of endorsements…

Although my days of voting in Republican primary elections are over, I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop keeping an eye on them. It was gratifying to read reports last night coming out of Georgia that both the governor and the secretary of state, officials who stood as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s attempt to illegally overturn election results, both won their primary fights against Trump endorsed opponents. It gives me at least a bit of home that even though Donald’s voice remains loud within the party, it may not command the unquestioning obedience that it once did. 

On the other side of the coin, we have utter wackjobs like Marg Green winning her primary in the Georgia 14th. That’s a clear indication that we remain miles and miles away from what anyone could reasonably call “normal,” but it’s a just barely a shuffle in the right direction… even if It’s probably still worrisome that the measure of a candidate is “well, at least this one isn’t crazier than a bed bug.”

Now, having said all that, I don’t mean to imply that any politician anywhere that won their primary yesterday is actually any good. The older I get, the more I hold the opinion that they’re all either useless, self-serving, creeps, crooks, or weirdos. Many of them seem to be all those things simultaneously. It’s a matter of picking through the trash heap in hopes that some of them are very slightly less awful than the others.

What a wreck we’ve made of a perfectly nice republic.

I support personal liberty and choice…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

Well, it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hand down a ruling this summer that will overturn 50+ years of “settled law” and precedent. On January 22, 1973, the court’s ruling in Row v. Wade found that the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion and that right could not be broadly restricted by the government. Associate Justice Blackmun hung his argument on the idea that such restrictions violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Blackmun’s opinion in Roe was further exercised in a number of subsequent cases to enlarge a Constitutional protection of personal privacy rights. And before anyone says it, no, a specific right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the text of the Constitution. The right to privacy, however, is strongly implied by a plain text reading of the 4th, 5th, and the 14th Amendments. The whole intent of the Constitution was and is to restrain the actions and behavior of government. One might say there’s a compelling national interest in keeping the various levels of government as far out of people’s business as possible.

The people are, after all, the font of sovereignty in this country. And on this particular issue those people believe that Roe should be upheld by a 2-to-1 margin. 

My position on abortion is consistent with my position on most other things. Don’t want a gun? Don’t buy one. Don’t want a gay marriage? Don’t get married to someone of the same sex. Don’t want an abortion? Don’t have one. See what I’m getting at here? Personal liberty = good. Jamming your religio-political beliefs down everyone else’s throat = bad.

Yeah, if the thing you care so desperately about doesn’t actually impact you in any way, just mind your own goddamned business. I have no idea why that’s idea is so hard to glom onto for 25-30% of the people in this utterly beshitted country of ours.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pope Francis. In a report this week, the Pope has said NATO is responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I’m sure His Holiness is a wise and intelligent churchman, but I have to encourage him to get the fuck directly out of here with that line of thinking. The person directly responsible for the invasion of and subsequent destruction in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin. Period. Full stop. John Paul II took a courageous stand against Soviet repression across Eastern Europe. It seems his successor would rather stand with tyrants… and that heaps nothing but shame on him. 

2. Page views. My page views fell off a damn cliff this week and I have absolutely no idea why. As of this evening, views are down 68% from this time last week. Mercifully I’m not trying to sell anything here, because that’s just abysmal. Is it something I said? Was there a tweak to the algorithm? I’ve got loads of metrics about this page, but not one of them is giving me any particularly helpful insight. I’ll keep plugging away, of course, because more than anything else, this blog exists as a platform to vent my spleen before I get a chance to bottle it up. Past that, the added views are just kind of nice to have. I’d still be doing it even if no on were reading. Which at the rate these views are dropping could be sometime early next week.

3. Politicians. I’ve been looking, among other things, at the varied responses to the draft Supreme Court opinion on abortion, the continued agitation for free money handouts to those who took out student loans, the thus-far lackluster efforts of the January 6th committee, and clear disconnect between what Republican “leaders” said about Trump in private versus what they say for public consumption. The conclusion at which I’ve arrived is that it doesn’t appear that there is one single national-level politician anywhere in the country that I have any interest in voting for… for anything. Except maybe for expulsion to a desolate island in the South Pacific. They’re collectively just about the most uninspiring bunch I can imagine. I’d be hard pressed to think of anything they’ve done that makes me more likely to vote for a single one of them than I am to just throw my damned vote in the sea. They are, to a man and woman, about as useless a bunch as we’ve ever had the misfortune to seat at the highest levels of government.